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On Clinton in Honduras

First, an assertion of ignorance: I do not follow politics a lot generally (although I’m working on it), and in particular I have no large-scale context for US foreign policy in Latin America. What follows is based on my personal experiences in Honduras in 2009-2010 and conversations I had with people there, hazily recollected, plus some hasty wikipedia research. I just wanted to share what observations I had, for what they're worth.

Here is wikipedia's article on Honduran President Mel Zelaya's removal from power in July 2009 (about a month before I arrived). The short version is that Zelaya introduced a referendum to rewrite the constitution, most of which can be amended or rewritten without such a referendum; a key exception is the part of the constitution dealing with term limits. The Honduran Supreme Court ruled that Zelaya's referendum was illegal and that he should cancel his referendum, he did not, and the Court orderd him arrested and removed from the country. A new president was to be elected during the regular elections in November. The US and some other countries said they would support this new president, while others said Zelaya's removal was an illegal coup and that they would not support the new government. A new president was indeed elected, and he stayed in office until 2014.

Hillary Clinton was at that time Secretary of State. She has admitted to helping ensure that Zelaya didn't refer to office, for which she's received a lot of criticism; I frequently see Honduras listed, without context, as an item in her list of foreign policy failures. That opinion piece linked is a good example of the language used to talk about her actions. It points out the deteriorating conditions in Honduras since Zelaya's removal, which are indisputable – a rise in homicides, the entrenchment of Honduras as a major drug trafficking route, and other significant issues – with the implication that they are Clinton's fault. It also points to what it calls her "false testimony" about concerns that Zelaya wanted to rewrite the constitution to allow himself another term in office.

Here is my perspective (with the disclaimer that I am weakly Clinton-leaning for the Dem primary). I spent a year in Honduras living in a small crossroads town several hours from the capital, an hour-plus from the gulf, basically a long, hot drive away from anywhere. We lived in a little house in a triplex and got to be good friends with our Honduran neighbors, a doctor and his stay-at-home wife, and we worked with a small group of Hondurans we got to know well. We were also a part of a mailing list for American expats in Honduras, mostly people living there long-term, some of them married to Hondurans.

From this perspective, I can tell you:
  • All of our Honduran friends and our American expat acquaintances were either ambivalent about the political situation or actively anti-Zelaya. We did not know anyone who supported him. He was considered corrupt, and there were many people VERY upset about his apparent plant to write himself a constitution that would allow him additional terms in office. Despite that line in the piece above about "false testimony," it was a very real concern locally. In general, public opinion was far from unanimous, but it was certainly not overwhelmingly pro-Zelaya.

  • US news coverage of the Honduran political situation was wildly distorted. There was a lot of talk about violence against protesters, and of the general violent and unstable situation, and much of it was frankly made up. My housemate remembers her mother showing her a file of newspaper clippings she'd saved, and one supposedly showed a picture of a grenade crater. My housemate says, "It was a pothole! And the guy behind it was just burning his trash."

  • It was considered common knowledge among local Hondurans that the much-publicized "protestors" in support of Zelaya were in fact being paid to support him by what was left of his regime. My housemate specifically remembers our boss looking at a copy of La Prensa, the local newspaper, pointing to a picture of the protesters, and saying "These are not regular people." He said they were from a specific people group, and presumably had all been hired together.

Obviously this comes with all sorts of disclaimers: this is all anecdotal, maybe people who liked Zelaya didn't feel comfortable telling a pair of Americans about it, etc. Also, it seems pretty clear Honduras is worse off now than it was before.

However, I still find the prevailing narrative of Honduras being one of Clinton's obvious foreign policy failures dubious at best. Were the results good? Clearly not. Should she be blamed for those results? Ehhhhh. Maybe it was obvious to Clinton at the time that supporting the new regime rather than the old one would have long-term detrimental effects on Honduras, but it's not obvious to me, based on what I've read and what I lived through. Nor is it obvious to me that Zelaya's reinstatement would have calmed things down again, which is another point I haven't seen mentioned. It was his actions in office that motivated the upheaval in the first place!

What's more, per those polls I link to above and supported by my own observations, the country as a whole seemed fairly split on Zelaya. There was certainly not overwhelming support to have him stay. It looks to me like Clinton supported what a slim majority or a near-majority of the country wanted, whatever her motivations. And that does not seem trivial to me.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Comment here or there. (comment count unavailable DW replies)


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2016 04:42 am (UTC)
Were there any US actions afterwards that could be blamed on the present hardships including the assassinations of civil rights workers?
Mar. 17th, 2016 04:49 am (UTC)
That I do not know. The criticisms I have seen of Clinton specifically have been about supporting the new government, and that's what this post is in response to. I can't comment usefully on anything past that, although I am still reading stuff!
Mar. 17th, 2016 05:08 am (UTC)
Okay, thanks...a lot of the criticism I've seen lately blames Clinton directly for the deaths of Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia.
Mar. 17th, 2016 11:14 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. I really appreciate the perspective of someone who was there at the time. I didn't even know this story about Clinton.
Mar. 17th, 2016 03:47 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I see a lot of offhand comments about Clinton being a terrible Secretary of State, and the list of reasons is usually Honduras, Benghazi, and something else - Egypt, maybe - provided without context. And granted, I'm way out of the political loop, but the mismatch between my memories of Honduras and how I see everyone talk about what happened then makes me a little wary of the conclusions being drawn. (Although, as I told someone above, IDK anything about what happened after I left.)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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