On a visit to the website of the US State Department yesterday, I was greeted with a map of Honduras. Accompanying explanations for the map consisted of a link to a July 1 “Teleconference Background Briefing by Two Senior Department Officials,” who are appropriately referred to throughout the transcript as Senior Administration Official One and Senior Administration Official Two. The briefing starts with a Mr. Kelly kicks off the event thus: “I think we’re going to start off with some opening remarks. So, go ahead, Mr. Senior Administration Official.”
Senior Administration Official One’s opening remarks include the details of Articles 20 and 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, currently being test-driven on Honduras by the Organization of American States (OAS):
“Article 20, in the event of an interruption of democratic and constitutional order, authorizes the Secretary General of the OAS to use his good offices to begin diplomatic initiatives to try to address the underlying causes of the interruption of democratic order and try to restore that order. And Article 21, in the event that such diplomatic initiatives fail, authorizes the General Assembly to suspend the member-state for an ongoing interruption of democratic and constitutional order.”
What all of this boils down to, Senior Administration Official One goes on to clarify, is that overthrown Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is currently in Panama attending the inauguration of President Ricardo Martinelli while the Secretary General of the OAS is “in the process of fashioning his diplomatic initiatives which will involve outreach to those in Panama who undertook this coup.” Lest the world become concerned that there has been an interruption of democratic and constitutional order in Panama, as well, a conscientious teleconference listener interjects: “In Honduras?”, to which Senior Administration Official One replies: “Yes, in Honduras.” He does not, however, address why diplomatic initiatives that have recently proven fruitful in Iran are not being applied to the Latin American nation, and why Zelaya is not being encouraged to make mobile phone videos of his antidemocratic experience and post them on Facebook.
Teleconference mediator Mr. Kelly apparently does not classify “In Honduras?” as a question and announces to the audience: “Okay. We’re ready for your questions.” The first two questions come from Arshad Mohammed, whose first question concerns the administration’s “holding off on a determination on whether [the coup in Honduras] was indeed a military coup” and “therefore, whether the aid cutoff is triggered.” The second question concerns whether impending political solutions to the crisis must take into account the “misgivings” of sections of the Honduran population when it comes to non-binding referenda on constitutional change.
Senior Administration Official One affirms that the events in Honduras constitute a coup but fails to establish whether it is military in nature, or whether the fact that “[t]he focus of our assistance programs is the well-being of the Honduran people” has noticeably altered the country’s poverty rate. He then poses a question of his own, which is: “What was your second question again?”
The briefing continues. In response to a question of whether Zelaya’s flight to Costa Rica “could have possibly been arranged without the complicity of the Costa Ricans”—which we can only hope is being fully investigated by the Secretary General of the OAS—Senior Administration Official One replies: “In regard to the flight itself, obviously, for a flight to leave Honduras and enter Costa Rican air space it would need over-flight authorization from the Costa Ricans.”
Senior Administration Official One is eventually dragged back to the topic of whether or not the coup is military. He devises the explanation that “the coup, while it had a military component, it has a larger – it is a larger event.” Evidence of its largeness is discovered later in the briefing when we review how “the congress’s decision to swear in its president, Micheletti, as the president of Honduras indicates that the congress and key members of that congress played an important role in this coup.” Senior Administration Official Two meanwhile stages his/her debut by reiterating the importance of reestablishing democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.
A question from Mary Beth Sheridan prompts the following exchange:
QUESTION: …If I could just clarify a little bit more on that latter question on the military aid. You mentioned since the coup, the U.S. has reduced, to the extent possible, all contact with those that conducted the coup and reduced the other contacts. So the announcement today, does that reflect something that happened sort of from Sunday, or is this a new, you know, different type of, you know, level of, you know, stopping certain activities or something?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Which announcement?
QUESTION: The Pentagon said today that they had ceased cooperation with the Honduran military. So I’m just a little bit confused because you said, you know, as – when the coup – since the swearing-in, rather –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
QUESTION: — the U.S. cut off contact with the coup guys —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Right.
QUESTION: — and, you know, reduced other contacts. So is the announcement today just acknowledging something that happened a few days ago, or is this – you know, is this something further affecting, you know, I guess we assume joint, you know, sort of anti-drug type activities, or regional, I guess, anti-drug activities, right, at Soto Cano and that kind of thing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I mean, this was – the announcement was a formalization —
QUESTION: I see.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: — of a decision that had already been made.
QUESTION: I see.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: But I would really direct you to U.S. Southern Command –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: — and DOD for a kind of more precise definition or response to the question.
A question from Paul Richter prompts further thought-provoking commentary by Senior Administration Official Two:
QUESTION: There’s been discussion about Zelaya returning but with limited powers. And I wonder if the U.S. would support that kind of solution since it would seem to be a breach of democratic process.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: By breach of democratic process, what do you mean?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, what do you mean?
Richter explains why limiting the powers of an elected head of state would constitute a breach of democracy, though he does not delve into how past US participation in coups against Hugo Chávez might also constitute such a breach. Senior Administration Official One reiterates support for democratic and constitutional order in Honduras and denies being able to predict adjustments to that order, as these “will be shaped in the course of negotiations if they’re successful. If they’re not successful, then the question’s moot.”
Condoleezza Rice had demonstrated similarly high hopes—and a similarly solid basis for negotiations—during the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, when she continually discouraged a UN-brokered ceasefire based on the fact that conditions of everlasting peace had not yet been inflicted on the Lebanese nation. Impediments to peace are not an issue in Honduras, where Senior Administration Official One assures us he is not aware of any plans to take the issue to the UN Security Council.
Belén Fernández can be reached at email@example.com.