When the editorial board of the New York Daily News interviewed Hillary Clinton on April 9, the Democratic presidential front-runner was asked about the 2009 coup in Honduras and her role as Secretary of State during that time. This issue has dogged the Clinton campaign for a while now, to the point that a campaign spokesperson once described the Honduras allegations to Latino USA as “simply nonsense.” What follows is a transcript of the Daily News question and how Clinton answered it:
Daily News: Secretary Clinton, I’d like to ask you if I can about Latin America and the policies specifically you were directly involved in, the coup in Honduras. As you know in 2009, the military overthrew President Zelaya. There was a period there where the OAS [Organization of American States] was trying to isolate that regime, but apparently some of the emails that have come out as a result of the State Department releases show that some of your top aides were urging you to declare it a military coup, cut off U.S. aid. You didn’t do that. You ended up negotiating with Oscar Arias a deal for new elections.
But the situation in Honduras has continued to deteriorate. There’s been 300 people killed by government forces, and all these children fleeing and mothers from Honduras over the border into United States. And just a few weeks ago, one of the leading environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, was assassinated in her home. Do you have any concerns about the role that you played in that particular situation, even not necessarily being in agreement with your top aides in the State Department?
Clinton: Well, let me again try to put this in context. The legislature, the national legislature in Honduras and the national judiciary actually followed the law in removing President Zelaya. Now I didn’t like the way it looked or the way they did it but they had a very strong argument that they had followed the constitution and the legal precedence. And as you know, they really undercut their argument by spiriting him out of the country in his pajamas, where they sent the military to take him out of his bed and get him out of the country. So this began as a very mixed and difficult situation.
If the United States government declares a coup, you immediately have to shut off all aid including humanitarian aid, the Agency for International Development aid, the support that we were providing at that time for a lot of very poor people, and that triggers a legal necessity. There’s no way to get around it. So our assessment was, we will just make the situation worse by punishing the Honduran people if we declare a coup and we immediately have to stop all aid for the people, but we should slow walk and try to stop anything that the government could take advantage of without calling it a coup.
So you’re right. I worked very hard with leaders in the region and got Oscar Arias, the Nobel Prize winner, to take the lead on trying to broker a resolution. Without bloodshed. And that was very important to us that… Zelaya had friends and allies not just in Honduras but in some of the neighboring countries like Nicaragua, and that we could have had a terrible civil war that would have been just terrifying in its loss of life.
So I think we came out with a solution that did hold new elections, but it did not in any way address the structural, systemic problems in that society. And I share your concern that it’s not just government actions. Drug gangs, traffickers of all kinds are preying on the people of Honduras.
So I think we need to do more of a Colombian plan for Central America, because remember what was going in Colombia when first my husband and then followed by President Bush had Plan Colombia, which was to try to use our leverage to rein in the government in their actions against the FARC and the guerillas, but also to help the government stop the advance of the FARC and guerillas.
And now we’re in the middle of peace talks. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a number of years, but I want to see a much more comprehensive approach towards Central America because it’s just Honduras. The highest murder rate is in El Salvador and we’ve got Guatemala with all the problems you know so well.
So I think in retrospect we managed a very difficult situation without bloodshed, without a civil war that led to a new election, and I think that was better for the Honduran people, but we have a lot of work to do to try to help stabilize that and deal with corruption, deal with violence and the gangs and so much else.