Both the New York Times and Washington Post’s fact-checks on the GOP presidential debate Thursday night missed the mark regarding former Senator Rick Santorum’s (R – PA) comments about Honduras.
Responding to the question, “What would each of you do as president to more deeply engage in Latin America and, importantly, to support the governments and the political parties that support democracy and free markets?”, Santorum’s answer included this statement regarding the Obama administration’s response to the 2009 coup in Honduras:
Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. The way we have treated, in particular, countries like Honduras, Honduras, which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chavez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for re-election in Honduras, and the United States government, instead of standing behind the -- the people in the parliament, the people in the Supreme Court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras -- instead of siding with them, the Democrats, President Obama sided with two other people in South America -- excuse me -- Central America and South America. Chavez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras.
The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker wrote:
Santorum’s statement reflects a commonly held viewpoint among conservatives, but it glosses over the fact that there was a coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. The Obama administration, working with the Organization of American States, refused to recognize the parliamentary leader who had been named president and instead tried to broker a compromise that would have allowed Zelaya to serve out his term. But that effort failed. Eventually a new election was held and another man was elected president.
The New York Times’ The Caucus responded:
Some Republicans in Congress called for the United States to recognize Roberto Micheletti, a parliamentary leader who was installed in the presidency. But the White House refused, trying instead to broker a deal to bring Mr. Zelaya home from exile to serve out the remainder of his term. When that failed, the United States accepted the results of a new election, in which a third person, Porfirio Lobo, was elected president.
But both “fact-checks” fail to accurately report the Obama administration’s actions following the coup. While Santorum's remarks on Obama and Honduras were certainly absurd, in fact the Obama administration did almost everything it could to make that coup succeed, and alienated most of South America, including Brazil and Argentina, by doing so.
In fact, contrary to The Post’s Fact Checker assertion that the administration worked with the OAS to try “to broker a compromise that would have allowed Zelaya to serve out his term,” the Obama administration blocked an OAS resolution that would have required Zelaya’s return to Honduras as its rightful president before elections could take place. This is why the OAS “effort failed.”
It is also important to remember that coups d’etat have serious consequences for everyday people – not just for government officials and constitutional processes. As Honduras scholar Dana Frank describes in a New York Times op-ed today, “At least 34 members of the opposition have disappeared or been killed, and more than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the coup, according to the leading human rights organization Cofadeh.”