Aug 13, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama on "Hypocrisy"

At the Summit of North American Leaders in Guadalajara, President Obama uncharacteristically lit into critics of his administration's actions (or lack thereof) to crack the coup in Honduras.

Obama said, "The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we're always intervening and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America."

"If these critics think that it's appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their -- their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations that certainly is not going to guide the policy of my administration."

That stung. Feeling myself directly alluded to, I sent a letter to the White House. Here is the letter, and below are a few more things I would have said if I hadn't had a two thousand character limit on the form.

Dear Mr. President,

It is hard to express my disappointment at your remarks about those of us who have been working to end the military coup in Honduras. Calling us hypocrites was uncalled for, to say the least, rude, and grossly inaccurate.

The United States government has already declared that what happened on June 28 was a coup d'etat and the law demands that sanctions be applied to an illegal regime. This is not intervention; it is U.S. law. We have never demanded that the U.S. "intervene". We have only demanded that it be consistent with its own policies and resolutions and with actions taken by countries throughout the world. I have been truly concerned as a citizen and as a policy analyst who works on promoting democracy in Latin America that the U.S. position has not been entirely consistent and that the relative weakness of this position has been a factor in the intransigence of the coup.

Mr. President, many of your initial statements about the coup were firm and principled. I welcomed those statements as a decided change from the ideological posturing of the past.

Now I find that I am publicly slighted and and sidelined for calling for stronger measures. It is one thing to have a difference of opinion on how to end this bloody coup, which we all would agree has gone on for way too long. It is quite another to call on citizens to get involved in your government and then misrepresent our positions and insult our character when we do.

When outlining a new approach to Latin America, you have quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt's principle of "mutual respect" in foreign relations. This principle must begin at home, between the president who ignited hopes for a new U.S. foreign policy and the citizens who are working to bring it to about.

I honestly believe an apology is in order, to me and to the thousands of people in faith-based organizations who have called for further sanctions in Honduras. I also urge you to review your administration's actions since June 28, the options still available, and the current stalemate, with the aim of developing a stronger pro-democracy position that is not "interventionist" but thoroughly in line with international and national law.

Sincerely and Respectfully,
Laura Carlsen

It is probably no coincidence that these remarks came out one day before the International Day of Action on Honduras. Scores of U.S. organizations, including national church organizations, unions, migrants groups and human rights networks have called for citizens to urge the Obama administration to withdraw the U.S. ambassador, apply economic sanctions and freeze assets of coup leaders. A letter written by Rep. Grijalva is circulating that calls for the above and that asks the government to speak out on human rights violations under the coup. The Delahunt-Serrano-McGovern Resolution in Congress calls for suspension of non-humanitarian assistance to the coup regime.

Obama's remark insults these widespread citizen actions, which are exactly the kind of grassroots mobilization and participation in policy and democracy that he encouraged as a candidate. There is a derogatory stereotype at the root of the remarks too. We are all lumped into some "Yankees out of (fill in the blank)" class that is not only explicitly accused of being hypocritical but also portrayed as having knee-jerk and uninformed opinions.

"These same people", may or may not be veterans of past campaigns against U.S. intervention in Latin America. In many cases, it is the organizing experience, knowledge and dedication of many who did indeed help to bring to light U.S. illegal involvement in the Central American dirty wars and contra activities that is structuring the grassroots movement in the U.S. against the Honduran coup. Many of them helped elect Obama. His snide criticism has called into question for them the administration's commitment to real change in the policies they fought so hard to banish and that have done so much damage to the U.S. image abroad. Many U.S. delegations have traveled to Honduras in the past month, have studied the Honduran Constitution and reviewed the chain of events since June 28. Their views are not uninformed and much less inconsistent

Today Hondurans from all over the country are converging on Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in a show of strength to protest the coup. They have called on the U.S. government to cut off the lifeline it still holds out to the coup. They have not asked for intervention, just a chance to restore democracy in their country.

At the same time, the coup-controlled Honduran press is having a heyday with the Obama remarks. La Tribuna has a picture of Obama on the front page with the headline "Hypocrisy to Call for Intervention in Honduras"

The distinction between intervention and cutting off the coup is a no-brainer, and it's likely that Obama knows that. Given the international consensus that this is an illegal regime, sanctions follow by law. They are a withdrawal of support for a military-backed action condemned by the entire international community, not support for one legitimate faction over another in an internal democratic dispute.

The definition of hypocrisy is to have a pretense of a belief or commitment you do not actually hold or act on. Doubt about the true aims of the State Department in Honduras are on the rise as time goes by with funds flowing to the coup government, no further action on the part of the administration, and the coup still entrenched in power.

I would like to believe the administration's commitment to democracy in Honduras and the hemisphere is real. But the time has come to show some proof of that beyond resolutions and rhetoric. If the Obama administration fails to act on its stated commitment to restore President Zelaya to power, it opens itself up to the same accusation Obama rashly leveled at us in Guadalajara.


  1. Good letter, Laura. I sent a similar one to the White House and encouraged my congressional delegation to sign onto the Delahunt Resolution.

    I thought about it for some time. The sting comes from the lie at the heart of the accusation. We believe we are standing up for the rule of law and for just behavior. So, to be accused of promoting intervention, itself a crime under international law inverts the truth. The sting comes from the lie, and from the realization that Obama is capable of using unfair rhetorical tactics in the service of doing wrong when we had placed him in office to tell the truth and do right.

    --Charles of Mercury Rising

  2. Thanks for your excellent letter, and your remarks on Democracy Now.

    As you say, there's quite a big gulf between having a different opinion and insulting those who disagree. That Obama made the same dig (in a slightly different form) the day before is an indication that it was no off-the-cuff slip, something said in a moment of impatientce.

    The only comfort I can take from the ugly little display is that he's feeling pressure. Let's turn up the heat a bit more.

    I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for an apology; insulting putdowns based on stereotypes of left activists have been a feature of Obama's rhetoric for at least the last two years. I'll settle for some decency in word and deed directed at ending this insidious coup.

  3. My dear friends, I do not mean to offend you, but picture for a moment to Mr. Obama colluding with Vladimir Putin to change the US Constitution adopted on September 17, 1787, disregarding the Supreme Court rulings, Congress and the Attorney General.

    I am a Honduran and I tell you, I was expecting Zelaya completing his term, but he was full of himself.

    Zelaya thought he was above the Law, his constitutional crimes started last year, when he did not present a National General Budget for 2009, which was due on September 2008. At the moment of his removal he had not presented it.

    Zelaya did not present a budget because he wanted to get away with all the money directed to his project, more than 500 million Lempiras were used in the media campaign and to pay “followers”.
    Zelaya was twisting arms to anyone on his way; he kept congressman and congresswomen without pay for more than three month. Imagine Mr. Obama stopping the cash flow to pay Congress, Supreme Court or the US Army.

    Not presenting a National Budget had another strategy behind; Zelaya wanted everyone to feel insecure about November´s General Elections.

    In his fourth year in office, Zelaya had a miraculous conversion to XXI Century Socialism (equals neo-communism), a hidden agenda with Hugo Chavez Friaz (treason??).

    Again, picture Mr. Obama with a hidden agenda to install neo-communism in the US, what do you think American’s would do?.