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Obama vs. Clinton on Honduras?

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Apparent differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are threatening to confuse American policy towards the coup in Honduras.

The differences seem to go back to the 2008 presidential primaries when Obama embraced a broad new direct diplomacy while Clinton hewed to a tougher traditional stance. Clinton era advisers like James Carville and Stanley Greenberg had gone on to become political consultants for Latin American presidential candidates favoring free trade policies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico, and Argentina, as depicted in the documentary film "Our Brand Is Crisis."

Now Obama, fresh from a hemispheric summit in Trinidad, is trying to collaborate with the Organization of American States [OAS] in its unified pressure and isolation against the coup leaders in Honduras. The newly-appointed "foreign minister" of the coup-based regime has called Obama "that little black guy who doesn't even know where Tegucigalpa is located." [NYT, July 12] So much for the character of the coup plotters.

Secretary Clinton, while formally supporting the Obama/OAS initiative, has questionable links with the coup leaders through two close associates. First, her pugnacious media spokesman from campaign days, Lanny Davis, is the paid spinner and lobbyist for the Latin American equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce, the alliance supporting h leader Robert Micheletti. One of Davis' first moves so far was to announce that "foreign minister" Enrique Ortez had been removed from office for calling Obama an ignorant "little black guy." Otherwise, Davis is a launching a full-court press to change Obama's policy in Honduras from rejecting the coup as illegitimate to one of open-ended talks that could last indefinitely, allowing the coup to consolidate.

At the same time, another close Clinton ally, Bennett Ratcliff, was appointed -- along with his interpreter -- as an actual member of the negotiating team for the coup in current talks being held in Costa Rica. According to a source cited by the New York Times, "Every proposal that Micheletti's group presented was written or approved by the American." [July 12]. Who, one wonders, does Bennett report to? He comes from the high-powered consulting firm of recently-deceased Bob Squier.

Obama cannot long support both the OAS efforts at isolating the coup plotters and also tolerate Clinton-identified political consultants lobbying on behalf of the military-installed regime.

Even the Clinton-chosen mediator of the talks, Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, told the US that Honduran elections scheduled for November will be illegitimate if sponsored by the coup organizers. [NYT, July 12]

Obama could recall the American ambassador to Honduras. In addition to suspending $18.5 million in US military assistance, Obama can disallow the $180 million presently in the pipeline. Spending that money is arguably illegal under the 1997 Leahy amendment to prohibit assistance to a military which overthrows an democratically-elected government, as Honduran forces did on June 29.

The background narrative here is the rise of an irrational Cold War mentality, echoed by the mainstream media, in response to the surge of independent nationalism in Latin America. Anyone who has spent time in Honduras knows it is desperately poor, lacks a social safety net, and is dominated by an extremely repressive military trained and supported by the United States. But the Beltway and the Pentagon detect a threat in the Honduran government's alliance on certain issues with Venezuela. The specific threat is that President Zelaya wanted a popular referendum this week on whether Honduran voters wished to vote on a constitutional assembly, which could lead, in the future, to a voter-mandated revision of term limits on the presidency. Thus the coup.

If the US fear of new bogeymen seems overdone, one must ponder Clinton's other gaffe of the week, this one exposed by Washington Post reporters. Our well-briefed and highest foreign policy official actually declared that Iran was building a monster embassy in Nicaragua, "and you can only imagine what that's for." This flap was about an embassy, not about a military base. But the embassy allegation wasn't even true. One wonders how old cronies might have misled Clinton into this fantasy projection. The largest embassy in Nicaragua continues to be the American one. [Washington Post, July 13.]