One of the more interesting cables to have been wikileaked so far is the United States’ official assessment of the overthrow of the president of Honduras on 28 June 2009, and whether or not it was a coup. On 25 August State Department officials were still pondering the question. The significance of their decision was that, if Zelaya’s ousting was officially recognised as a ‘coup’, the US government would have had to pull the plug on all aid going to the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa. Hillary Clinton and the rest of the US government very much wanted to avoid having to do that, so they wavered until it no longer mattered.
If they had wanted a timely and thorough assessment of the legitimacy or otherwise of Zelaya’s expulsion from office, all they needed to do was to refer to a cable sent by their ambassador. Hugo Llorens sent a cable to the White House and to senior State Department officials (including Clinton) on 24 July, less than a month after the event. Under the heading ‘Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup’ the 2700 word appraisal of the legitimacy of what happened takes apart the arguments of the coup’s protagonists, who claimed to be defending the constitution.
In our view, none of the… arguments has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution. Some are outright false.
In the ambassador’s judgment, neither the military nor congress (who had acted jointly to expel Zelaya) had the authority to remove a president. The cable concludes:
No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti’s ascendance as ‘interim president’ was totally illegitimate.
The assessment couldn’t be clearer, but it wasn’t what the State Department wanted to hear. Not long after assuming office, Barack Obama promised that the United States would be turning over a new leaf in its relations with Latin America. The ambassador in Honduras got the message, but it seems the State Department did not. They allowed the interim regime to run questionable elections at the end of last year, and support President Lobo despite continuing evidence of the regime’s human rights abuses.