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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Indiana University expert: Honduras coup breaks new ground in region's history

June 30, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Military coups used to be a regular occurrence in Latin America, but the coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya early Sunday was quite different from those of the past, said Jeffrey L. Gould, a Central America expert at Indiana University Bloomington.

The primary difference: the United States, along with virtually every other nation, has condemned it. During the Cold War, the U.S. supported or even abetted the overthrow of leftist leaders. "It seems the new government in Honduras is likely to be without international recognition, at least for the short term," said Gould, Rudy professor of history at IU Bloomington.

What's less clear, Gould said, is whether international opposition can reverse the coup and restore Zelaya to power. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said the coup was not legal, and they consider Zelaya to still be president. But Roberto Micheletti, the head of the Honduran Congress who was appointed to replace Zelaya, has vowed to remain in control. Gould said economic pressure and trade sanctions could have an impact.

"On a very feeble economy like Honduras, that could have tremendous repercussions," he said.

While Zelaya had forged close ties with leftist leaders such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Gould said the Honduran president lacks charisma and a significant level of popular support. He has instituted a major increase in the minimum wage, a move that has been well received by the country's poor but alienated the economic elite. He had scheduled a nonbinding vote on Sunday to set the stage for eliminating presidential term limits; but the move seemed unlikely to keep him in power.

"Even if you make the argument that Chávez represents a strategic threat to the U.S., there's no way to apply that to this guy who has a limited political base and who, regardless of the vote, would step down from office in January 2010." Gould said.

To speak to Gould, contact Steve Hinnefeld, IU Office of University Communications, at 812-856-3488 or