Wednesday, 22 July 2009

When a coup "isn't a coup"

Eva Golinger highlights an exchange during the U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State Phillip J. Crowley.*
QUESTION: Coming back to Honduras, we’re getting some reports out of the region that there might be some sort of rift now between Zelaya and the Venezuelan Government. Is that Washington’s understanding? And if so, is that something that can be leveraged as these negotiations move on? To put it another way, is Chavez out of the way, and does that make Washington happy?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson. [...]

QUESTION: When you say that the Venezuelan Government is – should not be an example of government for any leader -

MR. CROWLEY: I’m a believer in understatement.

QUESTION: Can you say that again? (Laughter.) It’s like – it’s justifying, sort of, the coup d’état, because if any government try to follow the socialist Government of Venezuela, then it’s fair, then, that somebody can try to make it – you know, defeat the government or something like that? Can you explain a little bit where we’re – what was your statement about Venezuela?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think, as we have talked about and as the Secretary has said in recent days, we have, on the one hand, restored our Ambassador to Venezuela. There are a number of issues that we want to discuss with the Venezuelan Government.

On the other side of the coin, we have concerns about the government of President Chavez, not only what he’s done in terms of his own country – his intimidation of news media, for example, the steps he has taken to restrict participation and debate within his country. And we’re also concerned about unhelpful steps that he’s taken with some of this neighbors, and interference that we’ve seen Venezuela – with respect to relations with other countries, whether it’s Honduras on the one hand, or whether it’s Colombia on the other. And when we’ve had issues with President Chavez, we have always made those clear.

QUESTION: Have you ruled this as a coup d'état there legally --

Golinger rightly infers from this that
The State Department finally concluded 3 weeks of ambiguity on its determination of whether or not a coup d'etat has taken place in Honduras. Despite the United Nations, European Union, Organization of American States and every Latin American nation clearly condemning the events as a coup d'etat, the United States government has today stated it doesn't consider a coup has taken place. The Obama administration joins only with the coup regime and its supporters (other coup leaders and/or executors of coups) in that determination. [... Furthermore] Crowley also made this statement, which appears to be a not-so-veiled attempt to tell President Zelaya and any other head of state overthrown by US allies that they better have learned their lesson: Washington will back (fund, support, design) coups against governments that align themselves with Venezuela.
In addition to drawing attention to Golinger's exceptional work on the Honduras coup and the coup itself, I wanted to highlight Crowley's criticism of Chavez. On the 11th April 2002 there was a failed coup d'état in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez, which involved some of the key actors in the Honduran coup. The coup attempt was heavily backed be the Venezuelan media, which can be seen in the film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. With this in mind, it is understandable that Chavez has a troubled relationship with his nation's media.

In her latest post, Golinger chronicles the latest events.
Washington is also the only government with a remaining ambassador in place in Honduras, and has broken absolutely no diplomatic, military or economic ties with the coup regime. Yesterday the European Union suspended over $90 million in aid to Honduras because of the coup.

The coup regime also issued an order to the Venezuelan Embassy declaring all Venezuelans to leave the country immediately. [...]

Meanwhile, the Honduran people are still out in the streets protesting the coup, on this 25th day since the de facto regime was first installed. The economy remains shut down by striking workers, schools remain closed because of teacher's strikes and there are disturbances throughout the nation. A national curfew is still in effect, imposed by the dictatorial regime.
Prior to the recent military coup d’etat President Manuel Zelaya declared that he would turn the base into a civilian airport, a move opposed by the former U.S. ambassador. What’s more Zelaya intended to carry out his project with Venezuelan financing. For years prior to the coup the Honduran authorities had discussed the possibility of converting Palmerola into a civilian facility. Officials fretted that Toncontín, Tegucigalpa’s international airport, was too small and incapable of handling large commercial aircraft. An aging facility dating to 1948, Toncontín has a short runway and primitive navigation equipment. The facility is surrounded by hills which makes it one of the world’s more dangerous international airports.

Palmerola by contrast has the best runway in the country at 8,850 feet long and 165 feet wide. The airport was built more recently in the mid-1980s at a reported cost of $30 million and was used by the United States for supplying the Contras during America’s proxy war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua as well as conducting counter-insurgency operations in El Salvador. [...]

In 2006 it looked as if Zelaya and the Bush administration were nearing a deal on Palmerola’s future status. In June of that year Zelaya flew to Washington to meet President Bush and the Honduran requested that Palmerola be converted into a commercial airport. Reportedly Bush said the idea was “wholly reasonable” and Zelaya declared that a four-lane highway would be constructed from Tegucigalpa to Palmerola with U.S. funding. [...]

But constructing a new airport had grown more politically complicated. Honduran-U.S. relations had deteriorated considerably since Zelaya’s 2006 meeting with Bush and Zelaya had started to cultivate ties to Venezuela while simultaneously criticizing the American-led war on drugs. [...]

Over the next year Zelaya sought to convert Palmerola into a civilian airport but plans languished when the government was unable to attract international investors. Finally in 2009 Zelaya announced that the Honduran armed forces would undertake construction. To pay for the new project the President would rely on funding from ALBA [...]

The Honduran elite and the hard right U.S. foreign policy establishment had many reasons to despise Manuel Zelaya as I’ve discussed in previous articles. The controversy over the Palmerola airbase however certainly gave them more ammunition.
*A full transcript is available from the government website, as is the video. For those that would like to see the words come out of his mouth, the first question comes at 24.19 in the video. An inarticulate question and a lot of hot air about mediation from Crowley follows, which is best skipped. The second exchange comes at 28:42.

No comments:

Post a Comment