Wednesday, September 26, 2012

False Savior: Barack Obama (6) - The Honduran Coup

Although officially opposed to the 2009 coup (Obama publicly opposed it, saying it set a "terrible precedent") President Obama did nothing to defend democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, and much to oppose him. Washington joined the Organization of American States in criticizing his overthrow, but it did not withdraw its ambassador in protest, as did Latin American and European countries, a more appropriate reaction to thugocracy, but only if one truly opposes authoritarian rule. However, U.S. leaders have what is called a "pragmatic orientation," which means that they judge right and wrong based on whether or not it advances their power agenda. So what's good for Wall Street and the Israel fanatics is good for the country.

Manuel Zelaya's sins were unforgivable. He had raised the Honduran minimum wage, while also carrying out other populist reforms, declaring undeferentially that U.S. aid did not "make us vassals" or give Washington a unique right to humiliate the country. He also began to improve relations with Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, joining the Venezuelan-subsidized oil program Petrocaribe, and then the anti-"free trade" bloc ALBA as well. (Washington supported the 2002 coup against Chavez in Venezuela and is determined to limit his influence to this day.) And Zelaya had taken steps toward allying himself with liberation-theologian priests and other environmental activists protesting mining and biofuel-induced deforestation. So when he raised the minimum wage, the U.S.-trained military kidnapped him in his pajamas, put him on a plane, and flew him out of the country.

Institutional support for the Honduran military was not interrupted by the coup. Washington continued to train Honduran officers, and the largely U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund extended a $150 million loan to the coup regime, this after having withdrawn loans to the democratically-elected Zelaya government because of disagreement over his economic policies.

Obama separated the U.S. from virtually all of Latin America and Europe by accepting the coup government, which he refused to describe as such, and by recognizing subsequent elections under military rule. With no sense of irony, Obama's ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, called the coup-produced elections "a great celebration of democracy." Meanwhile, Arturo Valenzuela, Obama's State Department official in charge of Western hemisphere affairs, told the press that the coup had majority support: " . . .the issue is not who is going to be the next president . . . The Honduran people decided that." How? By choosing between two coup supporters while the elected president Zelaya was holed up in the British Embassy. Adding sting to the insult, Obama's representative to the Organization of American States instructed Latin Americans, long regarded by Washington as naive simpletons on a wayward course, that they should abandon their "world of magical realism" and accept the legitimacy of the coup.

Whatever is, is right. Long live democracy.

After Zelaya was expelled to Costa Rica in June 2009, economist Mark Weisbrot, an experienced analyst of Latin American affairs, commented that the social structure of the coup was "a recurrent story in Latin America," pitting "a reform president who is supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president." Whatever their moral flaws, "mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt leaders" are better than populist democracy for U.S. business interests, so they tend to win Washington's backing.

Economist Edward S. Herman, professor emeritus at the Wharton School of Finance points out that, "Obama's support of the June 28, 2009 military coup that ousted a democratically elected president is a throwback to the National Security State years . . . it is clear that the (Obama) Administration knew the coup was going to happen and did nothing to stop it. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was actually shipped out of his country through the U.S. base in Honduras. It is also clear that while there have been occasional verbal criticisms of the coup, and even penalties, the United States has stood alone, supported only by a few reliable Latin American clients - Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia - in accepting the coup. . . . The [subsequent] election was a coup-ratification effort with no alternative candidates, under conditions of state terrorism." Amnesty International reported that after Zelaya was overthrown thousands of Hondurans were arrested, hundreds beaten and hospitalized, dozens charged with sedition. Many more were kidnapped, raped, tortured, 'disappeared' and assassinated. (Edward S. Herman, "Liberals and Military Dictatorships: From Johnson to Obama," Z Magazine, January 2010)

Key members of the Honduran military involved in the coup were trained at the U.S. School of the Americas (known as "the school of coups" in Latin America, and now renamed, "The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" in the U.S.), including Generals Romeo Vasquez and Luis Javier Prince. As mentioned, after the coup the Pentagon continued training members of the Honduran military at Fort Benning, Georgia, so Obama's weak criticism of the coup was merely rhetorical.

At the Summit of North American Leaders in Mexico in August 2009, Obama tried to portray his refusal to come to the aid of a democratic government being overthrown by the military as evidence of his anti-interventionist politics! "The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we're always intervening . . . If these critics think that it's appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations that certainly is not going to guide the policy of my administration." Of course, no one had advocated that Obama dispatch the Marines to Tegucigalpa, merely that he take concrete actions to see that democracy was restored, which he refused to do.

Even the more reactionary governments of Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Felipe Calderon of Mexico felt the need to denounce the Honduran coup. But when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if "restoring the constitutional order" in Honduras required restoring Zelaya, she would not say yes. Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of of Public Affairs at the State Department, stated that the coup should serve as a "lesson" for the deposed Zelaya, who had signed trade and oil accords with Venezuela. This is the "pragmatic orientation" at work. It's useful, so we must overlook incidental matters like the mass arrest, torture, and murder of Honduran civilians justifiably outraged at seeing their democratic government overthrown.

The evidence of recent years demonstrates that the era of U.S.-supported coups is far from over. Washington supported the Venezuelan coup in 2002, kidnapped and exiled the president of Haiti in 2004, and aided and abetted coups in Honduras and Paraguay in 2009 and 2012 respectively. Obama is just the latest imperial handmaiden of Wall Street's America, the White House Negro mopping up for his Masters.


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