I am not going to pretend to know anywhere near as much as stacyx does on the subject of Honduras. But this article came up today on my “Love Hillary” feed, and while it lays out a number of different views of the situation it touches on the probable reason the “m” word is being eschewed by the Obama administration at this moment. Why Obama Won’t Use the M-Word for Honduras’ Coup (By Tim Padgett Time).
As recently as last weekend, we were seeing, on msm tickers, suggestions that the State Department, and Hillary herself, were prepared to take this significant step, but this was prior to her meeting with ousted President Zelaya this past week and the subsequent small group NSC meeting on Thursday which did not result in a change of designation. In a September 3 teleconference press briefing of the State Department Press Corps, Senior Administration Officials explained the administration’s position.
Padgett argues (emphasis mine):
But the Administration also sent a significant mixed signal. It didn’t use the m-word: Military. Its lawyers have determined that while Zelaya’s overthrow was a coup d’etat, it was not technically a military coup. The main reason: even though soldiers threw Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint, in his pajamas, he was not replaced with a military leader. Instead, Micheletti, a civilian who headed Honduras’ Congress, was made President. Other “complicating factors,” as the U.S. calls them, include lingering questions about which Honduran institution — Congress, the Supreme Court or the Army — actually ordered Zelaya’s removal after he openly defied a high court edict not to hold a non-binding referendum on constitutional reform.
The legal semantics matter. If the State Department labels a coup “military” — the most brutal and anti-democratic kind of overthrow — it automatically triggers a suspension of all non-humanitarian and non-democracy-related U.S. aid. In the case of Honduras, State Department officials insist that those measures have already been taken without the military-coup tag. But critics, who fear Obama is keeping the Honduras coup designation downgraded to mollify conservative Republicans, argue that further steps, like freezing Honduran bank accounts in the U.S., are still available to the Administration.
What we had originally seen on the tickers last weekend, was that somewhere between $180 and $200 billion could be suspended with a change of designation, so this suspension of funds is nowhere near what could be expected if the coup is designated military.
Here’s my two cents on this issue. Neither the Senior Administration Officials nor Padgett have addressed the term “military coup” quite the way I have always understood it (initiated AND carried out by a military coalition) and clearly the problem here is one of definition. What exactly IS the definition of a military coup? Is it a function of who is installed following the coup? Padgett suggests this. Is it a function of what body carries out the coup? Or is it a function of where the coup was initiated. This is NOT simple. It is very complicated. If installation defines the coup, this was not military since they installed a civilian as de facto President. If we take the actors as definition, the coup was carried out by the military, so it could be so designated. It appears that the Honduran Supreme Court initiated this, and ordered the military (illegally) to remove Zelaya (Congress may also have been involved, but if so neither were they following their consitutional law). If branches of the government initiated the coup, regardless of what body carried it out, perhaps it does not fit the current definition of a military coup.
My memories of Latin American military coups include the one in Chile where the military took the national palace and, following Allende’s suicide, a junta took over from three branches of the military and one from the police force. Agusto Pinochet rose from this junta to individual power. Three years later, Isabel Péron was overthrown by the military and was replaced by Jorge Videla’s military regime. Those are very clearly military, from the initiation, to the actors, to the defacto leader installed. Honduras is different . Things are not so clear-cut – perhaps intentionally so. But the conundrum remains. What kind of coup d’état WAS this?
We can see what the complications are, and we can understand the hesitancy here. It may be time to redefine the term “Military coup” or perhaps to expand and elaborate.
Now with regard to stacyx’s final comment on the last post, I agree that this explanation would be clear and well-taken if stated by Secretary Clinton who does not mince words and tends to speak in a way that people understand. Yes, perhaps a Sunday morning show would be appropriate. Not to be – CBS has Duncan on H1N1, NBC has Axelrod on Healthcare, Stephanopoulos has Gibbs and my deepest sympathy for pulling THAT short straw. (Not that Axelrod is any picnic, either. Does anyone besides Hillary in the administration NOT have a language tic?)
But now is now, and later is later. Moving into the future, among the many things needing to be addressed at State ( and Hillary has a HUGE agenda) is perhaps a revision of our definition of military coup. The fate of a nation is hanging on a word.