"She's Baldly Lying": Dana Frank Responds to Hillary Clinton's Defense of Her Role in Honduras Coup

April 13, 2016


Dana Frank

professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an expert on human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras. Her piece for Foreign Policy is called "Just Like Old Times in Central America."

As Hillary Clinton seeks to defend her role in the 2009 Honduras coup, we speak with Dana Frank, an expert on human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras. "This is breathtaking that she’d say these things. I think we’re all kind of reeling that she would both defend the coup and defend her own role in supporting its stabilization in the aftermath," Frank says. "I want to make sure that the listeners understand how chilling it is that a leading presidential candidate in the United States would say this was not a coup. … She’s baldly lying when she says we never called it a coup."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Honduras, we are joined by—Hillary Clinton and the legacy of the 2009 coup—Dana Frank, is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an expert on human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras.

Professor Frank, it’s great to have you with us. Well, Hillary Clinton said a lot in this five-minute exchange with Juan González. Respond.

DANA FRANK: Well, I just want to say this is like breathtaking that she’d say these things. I think we’re all kind of reeling that she would both defend the coup and defend her own role in supporting its stabilization in the aftermath. I mean, first of all, the fact that she says that they did it legally, that the Honduras judiciary and Congress did this legally, is like, oh, my god, just mind-boggling. The fact that she then is going to say that it was not an unconstitutional coup is incredible, when she actually had a cable, that we have in the WikiLeaks, in which U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens says it was very clearly an illegal and unconstitutional coup. So she knows this from day one. She even admits in her own statement that it was the Honduran military, that she says, well, this was the only thing that was wrong there, that it was the military that took Zelaya out of the country, as opposed to somehow that it was an illegal thing we did—that the Honduran government did, deposing a president.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to that WikiLeaks cable on Honduras. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, sent a cable to Washington on July 24, 2009, less than a month after the coup. The subject line was "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup." The cable asserted, quote, "there is no doubt" that the events of June 28, 2009, "constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup," unquote. The Embassy listed arguments by supporters of the coup to claim its legality, and dismissed each of them, saying, quote, "none ... has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution." The Embassy went on to say the Honduran military had no legal authority to remove President Zelaya from office or from Honduras. The Embassy also characterized the Honduran military’s actions as an "abduction" and kidnapping that was unconstitutional. Again, this was the U.S. Embassy memo that was sent from Honduras to Washington. Professor Frank?

DANA FRANK: Well, I want to make sure that the listeners understand how chilling it is that the leading presidential—a leading presidential candidate in the United States would say this was not a coup. The second thing is that she’s baldly lying when she says we never called it a coup; we didn’t, because that would mean we have to suspend the aid. Well, first of all, they repeatedly called it a coup. We can see State Department statements for months calling it a coup and confirming, yes, we call it a coup. What she refused to do was to use the phrase "military coup." So, she split hairs, because Section 7008 of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act for that year very clearly says that if it’s a coup significantly involving the military, the U.S. has to immediately suspend all aid. So she—they decided to have this interpretation that it was a coup, but not a military coup. So, she, Hillary Clinton—and Obama, for that matter, I want to make clear—in violation of U.S. law, that very clearly said if there’s a coup, they have to cut the military aid and that—all other aid to the country, she violated the law, decided, well, it wasn’t a military coup, when of course it was. It was the military that put him on the plane, which she says in her statement.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the memo is very clear.

DANA FRANK: Well, the Hugo Llorens cable is very clear. But look, even what she said on Saturday, she says, well, the military put him on the plane; that was the only problem here. She’s admitting it was a military-led coup and that so, therefore, she’s in violation of the law—so is Obama—by not immediately suspending the aid. And here she’s saying, "Well, we never called it a coup." I mean, hello, we have so many public statements in which the State Department called it a coup.

AMY GOODMAN: In March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to meet with the Honduran president, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, whose election was boycotted by opponents of the coup that overthrew Zelaya. Hillary Clinton urged Latin American countries at the time to normalize ties with the coup government.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: We think that Honduras has taken important and necessary steps that deserve the recognition and the normalization of relations. I have just sent a letter to the Congress of the United States notifying them that we will be restoring aid to Honduras. Other countries in the region say that, you know, they want to wait a while. I don’t know what they’re waiting for, but that’s their right, to wait.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton in 2010, Professor Frank.

DANA FRANK: I mean, what she did at the time was she played out the strategy—Obama and Clinton played out the strategy—that they would delay negotiations. They treated Micheletti, the post-coup dictator, as an equal partner to democratically elected President Zelaya, moved the negotiations into a sphere they could control and then delayed until the already scheduled elections in November. The problem, as you say, is that this—that almost all the opposition had pulled out of that election. All international observers, like the Carter Center or the U.N., had pulled out, refusing to observe that election—the only observers were the U.S. Republican Party—and saying that this was not a legitimate election. And then, the very first—that day, even before the polls close, the U.S. recognizes the outcome of the election. And this is what we used to call a demonstration election: Let’s just have any election and call this over and call that election—call that election legitimate.

AMY GOODMAN: Also in 2010, at the annual meeting of the Organization of American States, member nations remained divided over whether to allow Honduras back into the OAS. Honduras was expelled from the body the year before, after the military coup ousted Zelaya. This is Hillary Clinton then.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Our ongoing discussions about Honduras makes clear the urgency of this agenda. As we emphasized, when the United States along with the rest of the hemisphere condemned the coup in Honduras, these interruptions of democracy should be completely relegated to the past. And it is a credit to this organization that they have become all but nonexistent in the Americas. Now it is time for the hemisphere, as a whole, to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community.

AMY GOODMAN: In her memoir, Hard Choices, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton wrote about the days following the 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted the democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya. She wrote, quote, "In the subsequent days I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot," unquote. That was from the hardcover version of Hillary Clinton’s memoir. That section was later removed from the paperback version. The significance of this, Professor Frank?

DANA FRANK: Well, I mean, it’s incredible this woman is a presidential candidate, that she’s doing like things like this, the fact that she would say we wanted to "render the question of Zelaya moot," we wanted to bury the democratically elected president’s existence and act like the coup didn’t happen. I mean, that’s why it’s so terrifying that today—or rather, on Saturday, she would say—she would defend this coup, say it wasn’t a coup, and defend her actions in installing this terrifically horrific, scary post-coup regime. And, of course, that she would cut that out of her memoir, in the paperback version, is also very scary.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of Hillary Clinton’s stance then? And let’s remember, she was secretary of state serving the president—the president, of course, Barack Obama. What responsibility does the secretary of state have in this? And what did it mean for Honduras right up through today?

DANA FRANK: Well, Obama handed Latin America over to her and allowed her to carry forward this policy. I mean, it was certainly—Obama made some noises the very first day or two, and then, after that, was largely silent and handed over to Secretary of State Clinton. Clearly, he was her boss. If he didn’t approve of this, it wouldn’t have happened. And so, I think it’s really important when we talk about Hillary Clinton, the candidate, what she’s doing, to also talk about Obama’s responsibility for that and Obama’s responsibility for what’s happened since, because I think, as a lot of people know, that coup and the illegitimate election that followed it, that Hillary Clinton is celebrating so clearly in her statements, opened the door to this complete—almost complete destruction of the rule of law in Honduras. People hear about, oh, the gangs and violence and drug traffickers are taking over. Well, that’s because the post-coup governments, both of Micheletti, Lobo and now Juan Orlando Hernández, have completely destroyed the rule of law, because they’re in cahoots with these various forms of organized crime and drug traffickers and violence against the Honduran people. So, this whole post-coup regime has also led to this tremendous corruption of the judiciary and the police and the military, for that matter. So, that’s just—what’s happened to Honduras, it’s not just like there are randomly violent people down there. This is a U.S.-supported regime. The aftermath of the coup, if you look at all these statistics—yes, there was no—it’s not like there was a golden age before the coup, but this tremendous destruction of the basic rule of law in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to what happened most recently in Honduras. Last month, gunmen assassinated Berta Cáceres, a well-known Honduran dissident, winner of the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environment Prize. They assassinated her in her home. In 2014, Berta Cáceres spoke about Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2009 coup with the Argentine TV program Resumen Latinoamericano.

BERTA CÁCERES: [translated] We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Honduran environmentalist, indigenous activist Berta Cáceres speaking in 2014, murdered last month in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Talk about what Berta Cáceres said and the significance of her assassination, this horror that took place in Honduras, what she—why she was so prominent and top of the target list in Honduras.

DANA FRANK: Well, Berta Cáceres was this amazing, inspiring indigenous leader and environmental activist. And also—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know her?

DANA FRANK: Yes, I did. I didn’t know her very well personally. I had spent time with her in San Francisco and Oakland when she got the Goldman Prize last year. I remember first meeting her when she had gotten a phone call about the botched autopsy of the people that were killed by the DEA in Honduras. And, of course, her—we don’t even know the results of her own autopsy today, so the ironies of that are really chilling. I mean, she was so inspiring and so beautiful. If people google Berta Cáceres, you’ll see in every picture she’s glowing. You can just feel her presence. And it’s, of course, this tremendous heartbreak for all of us.

And I want to make sure people understand that this is the—this is the biggest assassination since the coup. There have been hundreds of people that have been assassinated, both by state security forces and by private actors and death squads, but they never touched the top leadership of the opposition. And Berta wasn’t just an indigenous environmental leader, she was a top leader of the opposition. In fact, when the resistance came to—came to the Lenca territories, she gave this beautiful speech welcoming everybody, that was one of the most beautiful speeches I’ve ever heard. And so, what’s going on now is the fact—and she was so internationally renowned. Speaker of the House—excuse me, ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi gave a whole reception in her honor last year. And we did—everybody did everything they could to protect Berta, and she was still assassinated. And this is a clear message by the Honduran elite, by the Honduran government, by the Honduran right, that they’ll kill anybody now. And that’s—I want people to understand how terrifying that is, that everybody in Honduras now feels they can be killed, no matter how famous they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Sunday, Bill Clinton, the former president, spoke at the New York Hall of Science in Corona, Queens. He was interrupted by protesters who were shouting in Spanish, "Hillary Clinton, you have Berta’s blood on your hands!"

PROTESTER 1: Hillary Clinton supports mass deportation! Hillary Clinton supports mass deportation! Remember Berta Cáceres! Remember Berta Cáceres!

PROTESTER 2: Today we went to protest an event that was appealing to Latino communities to support Hillary Clinton at the Hall of Science in Corona, Queens. And we had a banner that said, "Hillary has blood on her hands." And we were removed by the police immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters chanting, "Hillary, we don’t forgive. Hillary, we don’t forget," when Bill Clinton spoke at the New York Hall of Science in Queens this weekend. Professor Frank?

DANA FRANK: Well, I mean, it’s so beautiful just to see the protests and to understand that there’s a tremendous critique of U.S. policy on Honduras, that’s been going on since the day of the coup, that doesn’t get covered at all in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did the U.S. support the coup?

DANA FRANK: Ah, there’s a big question. I mean, I think it’s—I think it’s really about the U.S. pushback against the democratically elected governments of the left and the center-left that came to power in Latin America in the '90s and in the 2000s—Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, El Salvador, all these countries. And Zelaya was the weakest link in that chain. He, himself, did not come out of a big social movement base at the time of his election, certainly since the coup. And I think they were—the U.S. was looking for a way to push back against that. There's a very important military base, U.S. military base, Soto Cano Air Force Base, in Honduras. And Honduras has always been the most captive nation of the United States in Latin America. So, I think they were testing what they could get away with. And they got away with it. It was the first domino pushing back against democracy in Latin America and reasserting U.S. power, in service to a transnational corporate agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final comment, Professor Frank, in this 2016 presidential election year and in looking at U.S. policy towards Latin America and Honduras?

DANA FRANK: Well, we certainly need to hold Hillary Clinton responsible and to say how terrifying and chilling it is that she would defend a military coup. Like, who is it that we’re talking about here? And the second thing is to also see that this isn’t just about Hillary Clinton. It’s about Obama, it’s about Vice President Biden, who’s in charge of Latin America policy now, and it’s about Secretary of State John Kerry. They are very clearly celebrating and supporting and giving increased funding to the current government of Juan Orlando Hernández, that is continuing this war against the Honduran people. I mean, he’s a dictator. He has overthrown parts of the Supreme Court and illegally named a new Supreme Court that’s full of allegedly corrupt figures. He has—he backed the coup. He illegally named a new attorney—led the illegal naming of a new attorney general. And he has admitted to stealing—we don’t know the exact amount—into the tens of millions of dollars from the national health service and siphoning off into his own campaign. I mean, this is a criminal that the United States is supporting in office.

AMY GOODMAN: Dana Frank, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, expert on human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras. We’re on the road at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

When we come back, we’re going to look at U.S. policy toward Afghan refugees. And finally, John Kerry is the first U.S. sitting secretary of state to go to Hiroshima, the site of the only [sic] nuclear attack in the world. It was the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. We will look at nuclear policy over the last years. Stay with us.

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