Commentary Magazine


The Good Neighbor Policy in Honduras

Yesterday morning, the State Department posted an announcement of the termination of a broad range of assistance to the government of Honduras “as a result of the coup d’etat that took place on June 28.” The announcement stated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision was “consistent with U.S. legislation” calling for such a termination in the case of a military coup.

In the afternoon State Department press conference with Assistant Secretary Phillip J. Crowley, it turned out that the termination was not done pursuant to the legislation, since the State Department made no determination that there had been a “military coup” in Honduras. Crowley said that Clinton, in terminating the aid, did not have to reach a legal conclusion that it was a military coup. It was sufficient for purposes of the Obama administration that the president and the secretary of state had determined it was a “coup.”

MR. CROWLEY: . . . The President declared it. The Secretary declared it. We suspended the aid, and now we’ve terminated the aid. . . . There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case, that we — there will have to be definitive steps taken. . . .

Their only option at this point is to accept the principles in the Arias process, sign that agreement, and move Honduras forward towards a new government, subject, obviously, to the stipulations of the Arias process. . . .

QUESTION: But why isn’t it a military coup?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to parse complex facts and judgments here. The Secretary did not have to make that determination to take the action that she has taken.

QUESTION: I know, but –

MR. CROWLEY: Our action today is to send a very clear message to the de facto regime: Their strategy will not work. They have to sign on to the San Jose Accords. There are things that they must do. This is not about what the United States is doing. This is about what they must do if they’re going to get out of the hole that they have put themselves in.

The Obama administration has decided to tell Honduras it has only one option: it must sign that agreement. There are things they must do. They put themselves in a hole, and we have dictated what they must do to get out of it. Neither a determination by their Supreme Court that there was no coup nor the holding of a previously scheduled election will suffice.

At the end of the press conference, Crowley acknowledged that the administration had been looking at a “complex set of facts and the difficulty in understanding precisely what happened [in Honduras] and the role that various institutions played” and that “assessing those facts and drawing conclusions from them has been a challenge.” He emphasized that the termination of assistance was “independent of that judgment.” The termination, in other words, is not a matter of U.S. law but a political decision made independently of it.