Berman: Call Honduras crisis a coup

The House Foreign Affairs chairman is calling on the White House to get tough on the ouster of the Honduran president.

The declaration of the ouster as a coup, which the State Department must officially make, would require the United States to suspend most of its foreign aid to the Central American country until democratic governance is restored, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday.

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"This one looks, walks and quacks like a duck. It's time to stop hedging and call this bird what it is," Berman wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "And if, for whatever reason, the State Department lawyers do not conclude that this was a coup, Congress should examine other ways by which it can directly affect the flow of aid."

It remains to be seen whether the State Department will agree with Berman, but it is likely that a coup declaration — or any effort to further limit U.S. aid — would anger congressional Republicans, many of whom support former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s ouster.

In recent days, some GOP lawmakers — including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Republican — have even called on the Obama administration to offer more assistance to the interim, contested Honduran government.

“It is difficult to understand how U.S. interests are served by the strong-arm tactics the U.S. is employing to force Manuel Zelaya’s return to the Honduran presidency in violation of the Honduran constitution and rule of law," Ros-Lehtinen said last week. “Now is not the time to cut further assistance ... I urge the State Department to take a step back and consider the long-term impact of our current policy approach to the Honduran political situation."

The federal government, meanwhile, has approached the crisis in Honduras rather quietly, Berman wrote. With the help of the United Nations, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have tried to negotiate a settlement between interim leader Roberto Micheletti and Zelaya, but the talks remain stalled. Both Clinton and Zelaya, however, will meet again Thursday to discuss the evolving political situation.

The U.S. has already suspended military aid to the de facto government and revoked the diplomatic visas of officials including the supreme court judge who signed the order to arrest Zelaya.

But the White House's faith in a diplomatic solution has not stopped a number of other countries, including the entire European Union, from suspending billions in aid to Honduras. Berman hopes the United States — in light of the Central American nation’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections — will soon follow suit.

"Cutting off assistance is a blunt instrument, one that should not be wielded lightly. It can affect livelihoods and families and industries, in addition to targeting those at the top," Berman said. "But Honduras will hold presidential and parliamentary elections Nov. 29, and every passing day gives Micheletti and his associates the chance to tighten their illegitimate hold on the reins of power.”