International Affairs:

Review of U.S. Response to the Honduran Political Crisis of 2009

GAO-12-9R: Published: Oct 20, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2011.

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On June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was detained by his country's military and flown to Costa Rica. Zelaya's removal from Honduras followed several months of political polarization within Honduras in response to a number of controversial actions taken by Zelaya, including efforts to hold a national poll on June 28, 2009. Zelaya's stated purpose for the poll was to ask Hondurans if there should be a referendum on whether the country should convoke a national constituent assembly to approve a new constitution. However, Honduran officials from other government institutions stated that they believed Zelaya would use the results of the poll to suspend the Honduran constitution. Immediately following the removal of Zelaya, the Honduran National Congress voted in Roberto Micheletti, President of the National Congress at the time, to replace Zelaya as President of Honduras. U.S. policy toward Honduras in the months preceding Zelaya's removal was to support the rule of law and the Honduran constitution, and to encourage Honduras' political actors to resolve their differences consensually and within Honduran law. In response to Zelaya's removal, U.S. officials characterized the events of June 28, 2009, as a coup. On the day of Zelaya's removal, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released statements calling on Hondurans to respect democratic norms and the constitutional order, and to resolve their political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. The U.S. Ambassador to Honduras characterized Zelaya's removal as a breakdown of the constitutional order and noted that President Obama would only recognize Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras. U.S. policy after Zelaya's removal was to assist Honduras in reaching a legal, constitutional, and negotiated resolution to the political crisis, which would include allowing for Zelaya's return to the Honduran presidency. As the crisis persisted, U.S policy also sought to ensure that the already scheduled November 2009 presidential election would be conducted in such a way that the international community could accept the results and recognize the winner as the legitimate president of Honduras. In response to congressional request, this report provides unclassified information we obtained to describe U.S. actions in response to President Zelaya's removal, including efforts to help Honduras resolve the political crisis. We are issuing a separate classified report that provides further details on U.S. actions in response to the Honduran political crisis and describes U.S. actions in response to events leading up to President Zelaya's removal from office..

In response to Zelaya's removal from office, the United States took diplomatic and economic measures against the Micheletti-led government and played an influential role in negotiations to resolve the crisis between Zelaya and Micheletti. These measures included instituting a no-contact policy with Micheletti-led government officials; terminating several U.S. security, economic, and development assistance programs in Honduras totaling almost $36 million of $51 million of fiscal year 2009 and prior year U.S. funds; and imposing diplomatic measures, including revoking U.S. visas for selected Hondurans. At the same time, U.S. officials encouraged Zelaya and the Micheletti-led government to enter into negotiations to resolve the crisis and return to what the administration considered to be constitutional order in Honduras. When negotiations stalled, senior administration officials traveled to Honduras to urge Zelaya and Micheletti to reach agreement. After an accord was signed in October 2009, U.S. officials encouraged its implementation so the international community could accept the legitimacy of the Honduran presidential election taking place in November 2009. The United States then recognized the results of the presidential election as generally free and fair. Following the elections, State continued to urge Honduran officials to implement the remaining provisions of the accord. In addition, State revoked visas held by selected Hondurans in January 2010 to push the Micheletti-led government to accelerate the accord's implementation. In March 2010, Secretary Clinton determined that U.S. conditions for resuming aid to Honduras had been met and allowed U.S. assistance programs to resume.

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