What Obama Could Do in Honduras
By Atilio A. Borón
In the face of the impasse currently taking place in Honduras, plenty of voices are rising up to denounce the White House’s weak response to the coup d’etat, which oscillates between verbal acknowledgments that Manuel Zelaya is the only legitimate president, and in contradiction, surreptitious validation of the coup through the presentation of an obedient spokesman for the empire, Oscar Arias, as a “mediator” in the conflict. By now, it’s evident that the categorical condemnation of the coup, formulated by the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, was a break with this organization’s deplorable tradition and, just as surely, provoked Washington to quickly remove him from the scene, substituting the docile Costa Rican president in his place.
Facing criticism, Obama’s defenders say that the United States can’t do any more than it’s already doing, and that a military intervention to restore the constitutional president to power would be absolutely unacceptable. Putting things in these terms, the White House washes its hands and ends up favoring, albeit indirectly, the position of the coup perpetrators. The problem for Obama is that if the United States persists with this attitude and the coup manages to consolidate itself, all his rhetoric about a “new beginning” in the hemisphere’s relations will end up irreparably damaged and the illusions nourished by his election will dissipate forever, and not just in Latin America. Furthermore, the consolidation of the putschists would show that the White House’s current occupant is not in control of the United States’ state apparatus and that his supposed subordinates, above all those in the CIA and Pentagon, can maintain policies that are expressly contrary to those of the commander in chief.
But Obama has other alternatives at his disposal that are far more effective than a mediation by Oscar Arias. By taking advantage of the long experience acquired over nearly half a century through the blockade of Cuba, Washington could take certain similar measures, which would provoke the immediate toppling of the Honduran putschists. For example, he could do what George W. Bush threatened to do on the eve of the 2004 presidential election in El Salvador when Chafik Handal had a comfortable lead in the race: block the remittances of Salvadoran immigrants to their home country and warn U.S. businesses that they should prepare a contingency plan to leave the country should the FMLN candidate win. That announcement was all it took for panic to rule among the Salvadoran public and the candidate of the conservative ARENA party swept to victory at the polls. If the White House were to do the same, and bureaucratically stifle the remittances of Honduran immigrants to the U.S. without further delay, as well as warn U.S. businesses that they must plan for a rapid withdrawal from Honduras, Micheletti and his gang would last less than the blink of an eye. If the immediate recall of the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras and the instant interruption of all forms of economic or military aid were added, while the White House asked its European friends to abstain from relations with Tegucigalpa, the days of the putschists would be numbered. Does Obama have the necessary courage to impose this alternative? Or is he resigned to being a simple figurehead for a reactionary alliance that experienced its most glorious days during the years of George W. Bush?