In the April 12 U.S. State Department briefing entitled “The Current Situation in the Kyrgyz Republic,” Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. explains to his audience that the purpose of his impending trip to Bishkek is to meet with interim leader Roza Otunbayeva and other members of the provisional government installed after riots last week caused Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee the capital. He continues:
My main goal will be to hear from the Kyrgyz administration about their assessment of the law and order situation, the steps that they plan to take during their six-month interim administration to organize democratic elections and a return to democracy, and how we might be able to help them to restore democracy and economic growth in Kyrgyzstan.”
The first question Blake receives is thus:
[D]oes this mean that you’ve basically thrown Bakiyev under the bus?”
Blake denies such a throwing and categorizes the situation with Bakiyev as “unclear,” given his refusal to surrender to authorities and apparent disagreements over whether his future should involve the underside of a bus or not:
There are some, I think, within the provisional government who would like to have him arrested. And there are others who are pragmatists who would like to perhaps see if there’s a way to get him out of the country. The United States really hasn’t taken a position in that. We think that this needs to be managed by the Kyrgyz themselves in accordance with the Kyrgyz constitution.”
The questioner accordingly asks: “But you don’t think that this has been an unconstitutional change in government?”, to which Blake responds: “Well, there’s – no change has yet taken place. So we can’t make a judgment about Bakiyev…”
The impossibility of a judgment is of course called into question by the fact that the two options Blake has detected for Bakiyev at this point are arrest or pragmatic expatriation; also curious is how no change in government has yet taken place when none of the following terms employed by Blake applies to the Bakiyev administration: “authorities,” “provisional government,” “six-month interim administration to organize democratic elections and a return to democracy.” He later refers to the Bakiyev crowd in the past tense as “the government of that time”; the alleged lack of change coupled with the prospect of democratic return meanwhile presumably compensates for the contents of Article 51 of the Kyrgyz Constitution outlining the requirements for dismissing a president from office.
Blake’s questioner remains skeptical of the idea that the Kyrgyz government has not changed, and eventually arrives at the crux of the matter:
QUESTION: Well, let’s say if you look back a week ago, the situation is certainly different now than it was then; correct?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: So there have been some changes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There have been some changes.
QUESTION: I mean, 81 people died.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: They did. But they weren’t – that was not by the current provisional government. That was in —
QUESTION: So you —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There were some – as you know, some demonstrations that took place. Many of the people who were killed that you refer to – I think about approximately 80 people were killed – many of those were killed by supporters of President Bakiyev, according to the provisional government. So I think that’s – again, that’s something for them to sort out under their own constitutional —
QUESTION: So you don’t see this as a coup?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We do not see this as a coup.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of coup d’état is “a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics; especially : the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group.” It thus appears that the State Department may have learned from its experience following last year’s Honduran coup that it is more expedient to deny government alterations flat-out rather than to declare a coup and then spend 9 months disappearing it, which Hillary Clinton did in March by proclaiming that the newly-inaugurated administration of Pepe Lobo had “taken the steps necessary to restore democracy.”
One step in the restoration of Honduran democracy appears to be ignoring the regular assassination of coup opponents. As for the apparent tendency of the State Department to focus on democratic restoration rather than the details of its derailment in the first place, U.S. ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens announced at an August meeting in Tegucigalpa that the U.S. should not under any circumstances boycott the impending Honduran elections, after referring to the overthrow of President Mel Zelaya first as “a clear-cut case of a coup” and then as a “whatever you call it.”
Claiming that the joint U.S.-Honduran Soto Cano Air Base had been “shut down” in accordance with the prohibition on military cooperation with a coup regime, Llorens subsequently refined his answer to specify that U.S. troops were still there but that they were not speaking with their Honduran counterparts. As for U.S. air bases in Central Asia rather than Central America, Blake reminded his audience at the Kyrgyzstan briefing that provisional government head Otunbayeva had “confirmed the Kyrgyz administration will abide by previous agreements” concerning the Manas Transit Center outside Bishkek—which is perhaps one of the reasons Blake has failed to perceive a change in the country’s administration.