One of over two hundred and fifty thousand State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks reveals the coup in Honduras, the forced removal of President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, was understood to be illegal.
According to Just Foreign Policy, this revelation means the U.S. should have cut off all aid to Honduras except "democracy assistance," as required by U.S. law. But, the State Department chose to maintain matters were murky and who did what to whom was hard to discern. In a press conference, it chose to hide behind semantics and say that this was not a proven "military coup" and instead just a "coup" so that changed what laws the US had to follow.
The semantics are proven to be bogus when one reads the "Comment" section of the cable. The cable, while noting the reality that politicians in Honduras were trying to deal with a man they thought had abused power, states, "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." And, it adds, "The coup's most ardent legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya's alleged crimes to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica." [emphasis added]
In August 2009, the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) noted that typically the U.S. had "responded to other coups by cutting U.S. aid within days. In these cases -" in Africa -" there was no lengthy deliberation on whether a "coup" was a "military coup."
""A key difference was that Honduras is in Central America, "our backyard," so different rules applied. Top officials in Washington supported the political aims of the coup. They did not nominally support the means of the coup, as far as we know, but they supported its political end: the removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. On the other hand, they were politically constrained not to support the coup openly, since they knew it to be illegal and unconstitutional. Thus, they pursued a "diplomatic compromise" which would "restore constitutional order" while achieving the coup's central political aim: removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. The effect of their efforts at "diplomatic compromise" was to allow the coup to stand, a result that these supporters of the coup's political aims were evidently content with""Zelaya was moving toward rejecting neoliberalism, an ideology that has come to define US actions in the global economy. Since the US had capabilities to guard against such a move and since political forces existed in Honduras that could provide cover for delegitimizing a leader favoring a shift toward a different way of economics or politics, the US ultimately opted to go along with the illegal coup.
Coups as they relate to US foreign policy are a live issue. They are especially a problem for countries in Central and South America. In addition to Honduras, the US has had involvement in coups in Venezuela in 2002, in Bolivia in 2008 and Ecuador in 2010. And recently, President Evo Morales of Bolivia publicly condemned the US for supporting coups against people they consider to be "left-wing leaders" in the region.