A Coup, A Political Prisoner, and US Complicity in Honduras


Ten years ago today, Honduran security forces kidnapped Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras, and forced him onto a plane to Costa Rica.

Compared to today, relatively few Americans were paying attention to Central America at the time (the “border crisis” that dominates our current news cycles would not be manufactured until years later), and in the months that followed, the Obama administration quietly played a pivotal role in helping the coup-plotters consolidate power.

Since then, the Honduran state has transformed into a narco-kleptocracy, where political and business elites work in tandem with organized criminal groups to oversee a system of self-enrichment predicated on corruption, violence, and impunity.

Most Americans, even those who would prefer that the United States turn migrants and asylum seekers away at the border, intuitively understand why people from Central America flee poverty and violence. There is even bipartisan agreement that the root causes that drive migration ought to be addressed through aid and assistance to Central America.

But within US political discourse, there is a deeper conversation that needs to take place, one in which  Americans grapple with the ways in which US government policies, spanning Democratic and Republican administrations, have helped sustain corrupt governments to the detriment of ordinary citizens who want to hold their own governments accountable.

That’s why on this day, as thousands of Hondurans take to the streets to mark the 10th anniversary of the coup and call for President Juan Orlando Hernández to resign, it is worth considering people like Edwin Espinal, a man who once lived in America, and now sits in a maximum-security prison for protesting fraudulent elections in Honduras. Edwin’s life, like so many Hondurans’, has been shaped directly and indirectly by US foreign policy.

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