Break the Silence: Hillary Clinton’s Role in the 2009 Coup D’Etat in Honduras

By Ellin Jimmerson

On June 28, 2009, when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown by a military coup. Under US law, all military aid to Honduras should have ceased immediately. Sec. Clinton was directly involved in continuing military aid to Honduras and in maneuvering behind the scenes to support the coup and thus the already beleaguered country’s downward spiral into poverty and violence, including rape and femicide, which it precipitated in Honduras. If you consider Honduras, it becomes impossible to argue that Clinton is in any meaningful way a protector of women and children specifically or of human rights generally. Christians may conclude they need to vote for her. That does not mean we have to look away from her record.

Zelaya had put in place free education and meals for children, subsidies to small farmers, lower interest rates, and free electricity. He supported a 60% raise in the minimum wage and the recovery of indigenous farmers' land rights.

Owners of American, Honduran, and other multinational corporations detested Zelaya, including California based Chiquita Brands International and Dole Food Company, according to John Perkins in Truthout. Writing two weeks after the coup, Nikolas Kozloff wrote that Colsiba, the Coordinating Body of Banana Plantation Workers in Latin America, compared the horrendous labor conditions on Chiquita plantations to “concentration camps”. While the comparison is inflated, it contains agonizing truth. Women and girls as young as 14 worked from 6:30 AM to 7:00 PM. Covered in rubber gloves, their hands burned. They had sued for damages against Chiquita for exposing them in the fields to DBCP, a pesticide which causes sterility, cancer, and birth defects in children.

Zelaya then steered to an upcoming election ballot a non-binding resolution asking voters whether they wished to reform the constitution so that rural farmers would no longer be subjected to foreign corporate mining practices.

The opinion poll was scheduled for June 28, 2009. Early that day, armed military forces kidnapped Zelaya at gunpoint and took him to Costa Rica.

US Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, cabled Clinton that the kidnapping “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Fifteen US House Democrats, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, according to Adam Johnson, agreed and insisted Clinton “acknowledge that a military coup has taken place” and suspend non-humanitarian aid “as required by law.” Clinton refused, making it possible for military aid to continue to flow to military forces.

It seemed obvious to dozens of countries and organizations around the world that the overthrow of Zelaya was illegal, i.e.a violation of international law, and dangerous to the concepts of national sovereignty, democracy, and constitutional order. The list includes Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Belarus, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada (equivocally), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guyana, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, whose president, Fernando Lugo, demanded those behind the coup be given prison sentences, Peru, Russia, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Israel supported the coup. The United States backed it.

Organizations which condemned the coup included the Association of Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Caribbean Community, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the European Union, the Inter-American Bank Development Bank, Mercosur, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, and the United Nations.

An organization which financially supported the coup, on the other hand, was the Millennium Challenge Corporation [MCC], a US foreign aid agency established by the US Congress under the George W. Bush administration. One of its strongest supporters is the conservative Heritage Foundation. Among the criticisms MCC received about this period was that it disbursed some $17 million to support the coup. Hillary Clinton was chair of the board of directors.

Many of the organizations and countries which condemned the coup announced they would not recognize a replacement government.

An election was set to choose a new president. According to Lee Fang, “major international observers, including the United Nations and the Carter Center, boycotted the election.” Nonetheless, Porfirio Lobo became the country's new president.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Clinton worked to avoid returning Zelaya to office. Clinton admitted she used the power of the State Department to support the coup: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere” Clinton wrote in her book, Hard Choices. “We strategized on a plan to . . . render the question of Zelaya moot.” In other words, she actively connived to prohibit the return of Zelaya even though he was the democratically elected president of Honduras by delaying any action that might help force the illegally elected Lobo government to step down. If you look in the paperback version of Hard Choices, you won't find these lines. They have been edited out.

The military coup catapulted already impoverished and violent Honduras into greater poverty and violence.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy, summarized the effects for Al Jazeera America. “The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity.”

According to Annie Kelly, women began to be murdered at the rate of one a day. In the month following the coup, according to Oxfam Honduras, there was a 60% rise in the number of femicides. In that month, the bodies of more than 50 women, in assassinations related to their gender, were found in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. The report accused the Clinton backed Lobo government of complicity in the femicides. By 2011, there were reports of 1,110 femicides.

The Mara gangs were among those who killed, raped, and threatened women with the deaths of their families if they resisted.

Hundreds of women and children fled to the US. Adrienne Pine concluded that “if it weren’t for Hillary Clinton,” there would not have been the “refugee crisis from Honduras at the level that it is today.”

In 2014, at the height of the surge of Central American women and children into the US, Clinton unsympathetically told Christiane Amanpour that, it was “safer for the children to remain in the US,” but they “should be sent back”. Dozens were returned to their deaths.

The most well-known of the women who were murdered in Honduras was Berta Cáceres.

On the day of the coup, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights placed Cáceres’s name on a list of people whose lives were in danger because of the coup and said that military forces had surrounded her home. Cáceres was known for protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and the presence of US military bases on indigenous Lenca land.

In 2014, Cáceres singled out Clinton for her role in the Honduran coup. Here is the Democracy Now! interview and transcript.

On March 3, 2016, Cáceres was shot and killed in her home by armed intruders. The Honduran government was supposed to have protected her.

In the days following the murder, Amnesty International condemned "the Honduran government's absolute lack of willingness to protect human rights defenders in the country" and noted that the Honduran authorities had failed "to follow the most basic lines of investigation, including the fact that Berta had been receiving serious death threats related to her human rights work for a very long time."

Did Hillary Clinton pull the trigger on Berta Cáceres? Did she carry out the military coup? Did she rape any young girl or woman in Honduras or threaten the lives of their families? Did she make vulgar statements about the genitals of women and girls? The answer to all these questions is, of course, “no”.

Yet, Clinton, as Secretary of State, actively supported and made possible the conditions which led to femicide, rape, and other human rights violations in Honduras. Those who vote for her have a moral obligation to tell the truth about her. We must break the silence.

Ellin Jimmerson is an award-winning documentary film maker and an advocate for migrants in the US illegally or legally with an H2 guest worker visa. Her film, The Second Cooler, narrated by Martin Sheen, won three top awards in eight film festivals. Jimmerson has a Ph. D. in Twentieth-Century U. S. History from the University of Houston, a Masters in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School with a concentration in Latin American Liberation Theology, and a Masters in Southern History from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. She was Minister to the Community at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama from 2006-2015 but resigned after she officiated at the first same sex wedding in Madison County, Alabama.

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