Friday, 17 July 2009

Military Coup in Honduras & the role of the U.S.

Crisis en Honduras

On Sunday, June 28, approximately 200 members of the Honduran military surrounded the presidential palace and forced the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, into custody and then flew him to Costa Rica. In the days following, the role of the U.S. has become clearer - this coup was U.S. supported.

The Honduran state television was taken off the air. The electricity supply to the capital Tegucigalpa, as well telephone and cellphone lines were cut. [… T]he people of Honduras are going into the streets, in spite of the fact that the streets are militarized. From Costa Rica, President Zelaya has called for a non-violent response from the people of Honduras, and for international solidarity for the Honduran democracy.
Manuel Zelaya, president since 2006, is an improbable revolutionary. A wealthy landowner with timber and cattle interests, he was the candidate of the Liberal party, one of the two traditional parties of the Honduras oligarchy that have controlled the country's political system for most of the past century, with a sizeable input from the armed forces. Foreign journalists of a certain generation have a vivid memory of Honduras in the 1980s when the country was a military base, organised and funded by the United States, for the operations of the "contras", the paramilitary forces that invented a civil war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua. … [ F]ew of those who voted at the elections in November 2005 imagined that Zelaya would embark on a programme of radical change. He won with only a slim majority over his rivals.
The official tenuous justification for the military coup d'état is that Zelaya was to hold a referendum to extend presidential terms beyond a single four-year term. This, it is argued, would be unconstitutional. Yet constitutional amendments are not uncommon, between the year of its approval, 1982, and 2005, the only years that it was not amended were 1983 and 1992. The constitution itself was approved during a period of heavy U.S. interference.

The genuine motivation for the coup d'état is that Zelaya allied Honduras with the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) - an alternative to Free Trade Area of the Americas. The U.S. feared that Honduras could turn into a 'pacifist state', at the cost of a U.S. miltary base, as happened in Ecuador.
Zelaya, always dark-suited, cuts a strange figure alongside such fiery radicals as Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, not to mention Raúl Castro. Yet in his small country of 7 million people, he has sought to introduce a range of social programmes, including a minimum wage, and to mobilise the poor majority. His success has been sufficient to summon up a violent challenge from the traditional elite before it is too late.
The subsequent period has been characterised by protests, military suppression, the interim president Roberto Micheletti forming a new cabinet, former cabinet misters going into hiding, and the poor fearing sanctions and greater economic hardship.

Crisis en Honduras

On July 6th the Honduran military blocked Zelaya’s planned return to Honduras and fired tear gas and live ammunition on protesters, who had initially intended to welcome the Zelaya’s. Estimates regarding injuries and deaths vary slightly.

While the Obama administration have said that the coup is illegal and that Zelaya remains the only legitimate President of Honduras there has also been some vagueness. Unlike the ALBA governments the US has not recalled its ambassador from Honduras or refused to recognise the new government. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, when asked at a press conference if the US commitment to a return to democratic and constitutional practices in Honduras meant the restoration of Zelaya to office, gave no clear answer. It’s possible that the Obama administration’s attitude to Zelaya is ambiguous, or alternatively that it’s attempting to avoid handing ammunition to right wingers (including some Democrats) in the US congress who consider Chavez and Zelaya to be ‘dictators’ and enemies of the US or who want to revive the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It may even be, as Hugo Chavez has suggested, that Obama opposed the coup but other elements in the US government, military and intelligence agencies backed it

However Honduras’ military remains heavily US armed, funded and trained (there are even 300 US troops permanently based in the country) and it seems likely that if the Obama administration really wanted to restore democracy in Honduras it would only need to suspend all military aid and arms sales until Zelaya was restored to power. Many of the officers involved in the coup were trained at the notorious US School of the Americas in the 1980s and 1990s, including the main leader of the coup, General Romeo Vásquez Velasquez. Latin American History professor Greg Grandin says that “The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras....Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances. So if the US is opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward. Zelaya will return.”
Since Duncan McFarlane’s post (quoted above), more evidence has come to light of U.S. interference. Eva Golinger reports that
Things are getting worse each day inside Honduras. Over the weekend, two well-known social leaders were assassinated by the coup forces. Roger Bados leader of the Bloque Popular & the National Resistance Front against the coup d'etat, was killed in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Approximately at 8pm on Saturday evening, Bados was assassinated, killed immediately by three gun shots. Bados was also a member of the leftist party, Democratic Unity (Unificación Democrática) and was president of a union representing workers in a cement factory. His death was denounced as part of the ambience and repressive actions taken by the coup government to silence all dissent.

Ramon Garcia, another social leader in Honduras, was also killed on Saturday evening by military forces who boarded a bus he was riding in Santa Barbara and forced him off, subsequently shooting him and wounding his sister. […]

Meanwhile, the coup government has hired top-notch Democrat lobbyists in Washington to make their case before Congress and the White House and convince the US people to recognize them as a legitimate government. The New York Times has confirmed that Clinton lobbyist Lanny Davis, former Special Counsel for President Bill Clinton from 1996-1998, and close advisor to Hillary's campaign for president last year, has been hired by the Latin American Business Council - an ultraconservative group of Latin American businesses - to represent the coup leaders in the U.S.
In a more recent report several key facts have been established
  • The Department of State had prior knowledge of the coup.
  • The Department of State and the US Congress funded and advised the actors and organizations in Honduras that participated in the coup.
  • The Pentagon trained, schooled, commanded, funded, and armed the Honduran armed forces that perpetrated the coup and that continue to repress the people of Honduras by force.
  • The US military presence in Honduras, which occupies the Soto Cano (Palmerola) military base, authorized the coup d'etat through its tacit complicity and refusal to withdraw its support of the Honduran military involved in the coup.
  • The US Ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Hugo Llorens, coordinated the removal from power of President Manuel Zelaya, together with Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon and John Negroponte, who presently works as an advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • The Department of State has refused to legally classify the events in Honduras as a "coup d'etat," nor has it suspended or frozen its economic aid or commerce to Honduras, and has taken no measures to effectively pressure the de facto regime.
  • Washington manipulated the Organization of American States (OAS) in order to buy time, therefore allowing the coup regime to consolidate and weaken the possibility of President Zelaya's immediate return to power, as part of a strategy still in place that simply seeks to legitimate the de facto regime and wear down the Honduran people that still resist the coup.
  • The strategy of "negotiating" with the coup regime was imposed by the Obama administration as a way of discrediting President Zelaya - blaming him for provoking the coup - and legitimizing the coup leaders.

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