Madam Secretary

Clinton: It’s a coup, but not officially

Secretary Clinton said the situation in Honduras “has evolved into a coup,” but said the U.S. government was “withholding any formal legal determination.” Basically, it was a coup, but not really, she’s saying. It’s a tricky situation for Clinton (seen above in Honduras on June 2). If the United States formally labels the expulsion of ...

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Hillary Clinton in Honduras, June 2, 2009 Secretary Clinton said the situation in Honduras “has evolved into a coup,” but said the U.S. government was “withholding any formal legal determination.” Basically, it was a coup, but not really, she’s saying.

It’s a tricky situation for Clinton (seen above in Honduras on June 2). If the United States formally labels the expulsion of Manuel Zelaya as a coup, then Honduras could lose U.S. aid that is conditioned on the country’s maintaining itself as a democracy. That aid includes a five-year $215 million Millennium Challenge grant and a proposed $68 million in development and military aid for 2010.

When asked about whether aid would be cut, Clinton responded:

Much of our assistance is conditioned on the integrity of the democratic system. But if we were able to get to a status quo that returned to the rule of law and constitutional order within a relatively short period of time, I think that would be a good outcome.

An even more trickier question is whether Zelaya, the ousted president, should be returned to power. When asked about it, Clinton said, “We haven’t laid out any demands that we are insisting on.”

It might not look so great to say Zelaya should be reinstated given that he was taking illegal steps in an attempt to stay in office. The de facto referendum he wanted was declared illegal by Honduras’s Supreme Court, and it was also opposed by Honduras’s Congress, nearly all political parties, the press, the business community, and electoral authorities.

Plus, the United States might not want Zelaya returned to power unconditionally. John Negroponte, former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, told the Washington Post, “I think [Clinton] wants to preserve some leverage to try and get Zelaya to back down from his insistence on a referendum.”

Between Honduras, Iraq, Iran, and a broken elbow, it looks like Madame Secretary has a lot on her plate.

Photo: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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