No Justification for Coup
By Bertha Oliva
July 15, 2009
As a Honduran human-rights activist, it has been
disturbing to hear the drumbeat of voices in the U.S.
media justifying what is taking place in my country.
While the Organization of American States, the United
Nations and heads of state from countries across the
political spectrum worldwide have condemned the coup,
commentators in The New York Times, Washington Post and
The Wall Street Journal have called it a ''democratic''
coup, while others have blamed exiled President Manuel
Zelaya for it happening in the first place.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fl., has joined the chorus as
well, introducing a resolution in support of the de
facto regime in the name of ''the Honduran people,''
just days after the coup leaders murdered peaceful
citizens on the streets of Tegucigalpa.
The events that have unfolded in Honduras are a
forceful and illegal overthrow of a democratically
elected government. To justify this act by adding the
adjective ''democratic'' to the coup is not only an
oxymoron, but a blatant inaccuracy.
Many in the United States have declared that the
proposal by President Zelaya to hold a national
consultation on constitutional issues was so dangerous
that he somehow brought the coup on himself. To set the
record straight, what was scheduled to take place on
Sunday, June 28 was not a vote on Zelaya's ability to
continue in office, but a nonbinding survey on the
possibility of holding a constitutional assembly.
To purposefully misconstrue this as an aggressive,
''anti-democratic'' act is to stretch the truth to its
breaking point, in the service of a pre-determined
position against the Zelaya government's policies or
When our fragile democracy and millions of lives are at
stake, what is truly dangerous is for influential
opinion leaders in the United States to imply that
certain kinds of democratically elected governments
''deserve'' overthrow. In a society based on Rule of
Law, there are various mechanisms available for an
opposition to make claims against a sitting
administration. Kidnapping a president at gunpoint and
spiriting him over the border is not one of them and
declaring marital law is not one of them. Even the top
legal military advisors to the de facto regime in
Honduras admitted that their actions were -- and are --
My experience as the director of a human-rights
organization that has represented the families of
Hondurans ''disappeared'' for more than 20 years inform
my fears of a return to the horrors we lived in the
last century. Unfortunately, these fears have proven
The last few days have been an uncanny repeat of
atrocities that we thought were left behind in the
1980s: forced detentions, murder and violent repression
of peaceful protesters, media censorship and suspension
of constitutional rights. The situation has garnered
swift reproach from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty
International and other prominent watchdog groups, but
the stifling of dissent has only intensified inside the
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton have spoken up for democracy and human rights
in condemning the actions of the coup leaders. Now the
United States must put its money where its mouth is by
formally recognizing what happened as a coup d'etat and
suspending all aid to and trade with Honduras until the
legitimate president is restored to power.
Honduras is deeply dependent on the United States,
which is the market for roughly 70 percent of its
exports. U.S. trade and aid are the backbone of our
economy. If the U.S. does not cut ties with Honduras,
it is sending a clear signal of tacit support for those
who took power illegally as well as the abuses of power
we have seen in the week the regime has been in place.
Actions speak louder than words. The U.S. government is
uniquely positioned to play the deciding role in
whether or not Honduras is returned to democracy or
plunged into dictatorship. Along with my fellow
citizens, I pray that this is a moral and political
responsibility that the Obama administration will not
Bertha Oliva is director of the Honduran Committee of
Family of the Disappeared Detainees (Comite de
Familiares de Detenidos Desparecidos en Honduras --
COFADEH) in Tegucigalpa.