On Rick Santorum and Honduras

There are many reasons I find support for Rick Santorum befuddling, but #28 on this list has to be the most baffling yet. When asked to describe why she supports Santorum in five words or fewer, one Iowan voter responded:

“He knows about Honduras.”

First, this is a strange thing to have as a top priority for any voter. As a historian of Latin America, I certainly pay attention to what different candidates say about the region, and it is of some small importance in my voting, but there are other issues that seem of even greater importance than Latin American policy. Additionally, of all countries, to focus on Honduras (and not Brazil, or Mexico, or Venezuela, or Argentina, or…) as your reason for supporting any candidate seems…odd.

And that’s to say nothing of Santorum’s supposed “knowledge” of Honduras. When asked about Israel and Iran, Santorum said that Israel must attack Iran, because the United States would attack Honduras if the Central American country had a nuclear weapon and threatened the United States. Seriously:

Imagine if Honduras had been making noise about trying to destroy the United States and that they were developing a nuclear weapon, and we had a report saying they were in a few months of developing a nuclear weapon. Would we just sit there knowing that they had made comments that they would destroy our country and they were about to get a nuclear weapon?

The flaws in this logic are numerous and should be obvious to most people: Honduras isn’t Iran; the United States isn’t Israel; this is a problematic foreign policy, to say the least, in any number of ways, albeit in ways that fit within Santorum’s broader foreign policy vision.

Yet at least one voter seems to have been drawn to Santorum because he “knows about Honduras.” Could she be talking about Honduras in another capacity? It’s a possibility – back in 2008 and 2009, Santorum was a critic of democratically-elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, whom the military illegally removed in a coup in June of 2009. It is possible that the woman who answered that “he knows about Honduras” is fiercely anti-Zelaya and remembers Santorum’s characterizations of the deposed, democratically-elected Honduran president as Hugo Chavez Jr. He even mentioned his opposition to Zelaya and support for the coup in one lone interview with Washington Post hack Jennifer Rubin, while the Honduras-Iran analogy has been much more a part of his grassroots campaigning, as he explains his stance on Israel to conservative voters.

However, it seems unlikely that his opposition to Zelaya, who has been out of office for more than two and a half years, is the main engine driving anybody’s support for Santorum. So you effectively have at least one person (and maybe more) supporting a man for president because he “knows about” a small Central American country in spite of the fact that what he has said about this country has been built on support for a coup that most of the world condemned and a poor analogy to Iran, and little else, which can only lead to one conclusion: the American primary voter is an odd creature indeed.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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7 Responses to On Rick Santorum and Honduras

  1. post says:

    Hi Colin,

    I am the editor of Honduras Weekly ( http://www.hondurasweekly.com ), and I would like to ask your permission to reprint your article “On Rick Santorum and Honduras” in our newspaper. Of course, I would include your byline and reference that the piece was originally published on your blog “Americas South and North”.

    Thank you,

    Marco Caceres
    Honduras Weekly
    editor@hondurasweekly.com

    • Hi Marco,

      I’d be honored and pleased if you republished it (and I appreciated your original story on Honduras as well – hopefully the link was enough, but if you’d like a byline/more direct credit, feel free to let me know, and I’ll edit the original post). But feel free to disseminate it in the way you mentioned above, and I appreciate it.

      Colin
      americassouthandnorth@gmail.com

  2. Blue Samuel says:

    Allow me to put the 2009 Honduran crisis into terms you may understand. What if right now during 2012 primary season Obama announced he was going to tear up the Constitution and write a new one, dissolving all but the Executive Branch of government? And what if he denied state-run medical services to the poor unless they voted “yes” on a referendum ballot in support of this extreme proposition? And what if there were no way to stop him, no law enforcement, no jails that would hold him, violent rioters in the street acting with impunity, and, perhaps worst of all, no language in the Constitution allowing for impeachment?

    That’s what Zelaya was doing in Honduras. Do you think the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court would allow him to go through with it? And what about the Military, sworn to protect the Constitution? Would they cross their arms and allow a rogue President to tear it up?

    I know some people derive a sense of enjoyment from belittling the plight of smaller nations, but I would expect opinion-leaders of a serious publication about foreign policy to abstain from such diversion and approach a subject on which they are ignorant with a quantum of respect.

    Santorum was one of the few people along with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Connie Mack, and Jim DeMint, and the WSJ’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who actually had an informed opinion on what was truly happening in Honduras.

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  4. Daniela says:

    I completely agree with Blue Samuel´s comment. I couldn´t have said it better myself. Thank you, Blue Samuel, for your excellent explanation of the events that really took place in 2009.

    Mr. Snider, you write in your article: “Additionally, of all countries, to focus on Honduras (and not Brazil, or Mexico, or Venezuela, or Argentina, or…) as your reason for supporting any candidate seems…odd.”
    I guess what you´re really trying to say is, “Why are we even talking about this poor little country that can do nothing for us (as opposed to other Latin American countries, such as Brazil, which are better off economically or Venezuela, with its precious oil resources). I find this offensive in so many ways, but mostly because you´re saying that because it´s a small underdeveloped country, who cares if democracy is threatened. If democracy is threatened anywhere, it is threatened everywhere. It was threatened in 2009, and Obama turned his back on us and sided with those very people who continue to violate democracy in Latin America till this very day.

    I thank all the Republicans who defended us when we needed it the most, Santorum being one of them, making “He knows about Honduras,” a perfectly VALID reason for voting for him.

    PS. Why anyone would want to disseminate an article that belittles Honduras is beyond me…

  5. First, let’s get what are clearly the still highly-charged politics out of the way. Accusations that Zelaya was changing the constitution so he could stay in power may or may not have been true, but there’s no way to say, because that’s not what ended up happening; people who say he was going to make a power-grab can level that claim as confidently as people who said he was not going to. Unless anybody in the pro- or anti-Zelaya forces had a perfectly clear vision of the future, nobody can be certain, so such allegations are useless.

    And for all those individuals on either side of the debate who made that claim, there were/are many others both inside and outside of Honduras who had no stake in his presidency whatsoever but who did acknowledge that the power structure in Honduras does need a major overhaul, given the perpetual power that the elite have to serve their own interests with very little social reform or improvement for the majority of the Honduran population. Constitutional reform is a way to that path; Zelaya proposed it; elites rejected it; Zelaya tried to at least let the Honduran people decide for themselves; and the moment it was suggested, the elites whose privileges were moderately threatened moved against Zelaya. This isn’t partisanship – it’s simple historical narrative. When he was overthrown, Zelaya was not on the verge of imposing these reforms unilaterally; he was not on the verge of seizing all power illegally for himself; he was on the verge of holding a national referendum, one that the elites did all in their powers to try to halt. Zelaya sought to initiate a process that would let Hondurans to express their will and participate in their country’s political procedures and state-building; the elites and military moved against him, and ultimately overthrew him in what, again, was very clearly a coup, something Honduran officials have since acknowledged.

    And there’s no guarantee that the referendum would have passed any more than there is any guarantee that the reforms were or were not what Zelaya intended; again, that’s just a partisan fight that only moves the goalposts from the original point of the post. The fact remains that there are mechanisms beyond an illegal and military-supported coup if you want to remove a president. Whether or not people supported or opposed Zelaya, it was a coup, as the non-partisan Truth Commission itself ruled, and a coup that Santorum supported. But again, to engage in that debate (which these comments have impelled me to do) is to move the goalposts from the original point of the post.

    As for belittling Honduras, talk about reading into things I never said. A comment that starting and ending your Latin American policy with Honduras (which is what Santorum through his comments did, and what this individual who supported him by extension did) is “odd” is not a belittling of Honduras itself, as it in no way, shape, or form comments on Honduras’s status. It’s a comment that an individual supporting Santorum on the fact that he, in discussing an entire region, is focusing on one Central American country (its economy, politics, society, culture, etc.) is odd. I think it’s more than fair to suggest that other countries may or may not have a greater impact on the region in the same reason that other countries may or may not have a lesser impact on the region. If somebody thinks that Honduras is representative of the whole region, or that all U.S. policies as they regard Honduras not even today, but in 2009, is where U.S. Latin American policy begins and ends, as Santorum’s comments suggest (until he discusses the region beyond Honduras, which he has yet to regularly do), then I’d say he or she is supporting a foolish and naïve view on international relations. And simply suggesting that a presidential candidate might want to talk about or focus on other countries as well if s/he wants to be taken seriously (and maybe Santorum doesn’t want to be taken seriously) is not a belittlement of some countries over others; it’s a realistic acknowledgement of the various dynamics and fluxes of power in the international community. Any policy that equates Honduras and Brazil, or Cuba and Argentina, or Bolivia and Mexico, or Guadeloupe and Honduras, or Jamaica and Venezuela, in all areas (again, economic, diplomatic, political, social, cultural) is simply foolish, uninformed, and un-nuanced. Each country in the region (including the U.S.) has different contributions, importance, and areas of need; to suggest that a presidential candidate might want to include other countries is in no way, shape, or form suggesting that some are better than others. Based on such an assumption, Alaska would be more important than Florida because it’s bigger, or Montana more important than New York, and I think anybody can see the flaw in such a logic. To suggest that, by pointing out that Honduras is not the only country in the region and that Santorum might want to move beyond just that when he talks about Latin America, I was creating some hierarchy that put Honduras near the bottom is ridiculous, as I never said any such thing.

    And again, what was the original point of the post? That supporting Santorum because “he knows about Honduras” struck me as strange, given the issues confronting the U.S. (and if we want to be more specific, the Republican Party, since it’s their primaries), including the economy, social issues like gay marriage and . Given the base, knowledge of Honduras is not unrealistic, but I think it’s also safe to say it’s not likely, either. Thus, “strange,” or “out of the ordinary; unusual; striking.”

    If you want to move the goalposts of the debate to what goods or evils Zelaya may have done (but, again, never did, because of the coup), or what countries matter more than others, fine. But please at least try to engage on the original substance of the post, namely, that support of Santorum due to his so-called “knowledge” just reminds us that “the American primary voter is an odd creature indeed.”

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