Sunday, September 6, 2009

Does The Honduran Coup Hold Lessons For The Future Of The United States?

Clashes between the Honduran military and demonstrators have received far less press in the US than the clashes that happened with Iran's stolen election. Why is that I wonder?

The coup in Honduras, for which the US refuses to give the designation 'military coup', clearly points out the agenda of three conservative forces: unfettered capitalism and the wealthy, the military who support them, and ultra conservative Christian forces. The unifying principle is control of the populace by people who consider themselves the only ones with the correct solutions. Their rationale for force is the common good, and in the interests of their definition of the common good, the individual has no rights. This first article gives an overview of how the coup came to be, and their US connections. The second article tells the story of the coup's effect on Honduran women.

Honduran Coup: The U.S. Connection
Conn Hallinan August 6, 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus

While the Obama administration was careful to distance itself from the recent coup in Honduras — condemning the expulsion of President Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica, revoking Honduran officials' visas, and shutting off aid — that doesn't mean influential Americans aren't involved, and that both sides of the aisle don't have some explaining to do.

The story most U.S. readers are getting about the coup is that Zelaya — an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — was deposed because he tried to change the constitution to keep himself in power.

That story is a massive distortion of the facts. All Zelaya was trying to do is to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention, a move that trade unions, indigenous groups, and social activist organizations had long been lobbying for. The current constitution was written by the Honduran military in 1982, and the one-term limit allows the brass-hats to dominate the politics of the country. Since the convention would have been held in November, the same month as the upcoming presidential elections, there was no way Zelaya could have remained in office in any case. The most he could have done was to run four years from now.

And while Zelaya is indeed friendly with Chavez, he is at best a liberal reformer whose major accomplishment was raising the minimum wage. "What Zelaya has done has been little reforms," Rafael Alegria, a leader of Via Campesina, told the Mexican daily La Jornada. "He isn't a socialist or a revolutionary, but these reforms, which didn't harm the oligarchy at all, have been enough for them to attack him furiously."

One of those "little reforms" was aimed at ensuring public control of the Honduran telecommunications industry, which may well have been the trip-wire that triggered the coup.

The first hint that something was afoot was a suit brought by Venezuelan lawyer Robert Carmona-Borjas claiming that Zelaya was part of a bribery scheme involving the state-run telecommunication company Hondutel.

Carmona-Borjas has a rap-sheet that dates back to the April 2002 coup against Chavez. He drew up the notorious "Carmona decrees," a series of draconian laws aimed at suspending the Venezuelan constitution and suppressing any resistance to the coup. As Chavez supporters poured into the streets and the plot unraveled, Carmona-Borjas fled to Washington, DC. He took a post at George Washington University and brought Iran-Contra plotters Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams to teach his class on "Political Management in Latin America." He also became vice-president of the right-wing Arcadia Foundation, which lobbies for free-market policies. Weeks before the June 28 Honduran coup, Carmona-Borjas barnstormed the country accusing Zelaya of collaborating with narco-traffickers.

Carmona-Borjas' colleague, Reich, a Cuban American with ties to right-wing factions all over Latin America and former assistant secretary of State for hemispheric affairs under George W. Bush, has been accused by the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization of "undeniable involvement" in the coup.

This is hardly surprising. Reich was nailed by a 1987 congressional investigation for using public funds to engage in propaganda during the Reagan administration's war on Nicaragua. He is also a fierce advocate for Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, both implicated in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1973 that killed all 73 on board.

Reich is also a ferocious critic of Zelaya. In a recent piece in the Weekly Standard, he urged the Obama administration not to support "strongman" Zelaya because it "would put the United States clearly in the same camp as Cuba's Castro brothers, Venezuela's Chavez, and other regional delinquents." (The irony here is that if we continue our middle of the road policy we will put Honduras solidly in that camp, and foment more right wing military takeovers at the same time.)

One of the charges that Reich levels at Zelaya is that the Honduran president is supposedly involved with bribes paid out by the state-run telecommunications company Hondutel. Zelaya is threatening to file a defamation suit over the accusation.

Reich's charges against Hondutel are hardly happenstance, as he is a former AT&T lobbyist and served as Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) Latin American advisor during the senator's 2008 presidential campaign. McCain has deep ties with telecom giants AT&T, MCI, and Qualcomm and, according to Nikolas Kozloff, author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge of the United States, "has acted to protect and look out for the political interests of the telecoms on Capitol Hill."

AT&T, McCain's second largest donor, also generously funds the International Republican Institute (IRI), which has warred with Latin American regimes that have resisted telecommunications privatization. According to Kozloff, "President Zelaya was a known to be a fierce critic of telecommunications privatization."

When Venezuelan coup leaders went to Washington a month before their failed effort to oust Chavez, IRI footed the bill. Reich, as then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's special envoy to the Western Hemisphere, met with some of those leaders.

Republicans in Congress have accused the Obama administration of being "soft" on Zelaya. Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) protested the White House's support of the Honduran president holding up votes for administration nominees for the ambassador to Brazil and an assistant secretary of state. Meanwhile, Zelaya's return was unanimously supported by the UN General Assembly, the European Union, and the Organization of American States.

But meddling in Honduras is a bipartisan undertaking.
"If you want to understand who is the real power behind the [Honduran] coup, you need to find out who is paying Lanny Davis," says Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and current president of the Center for International Policy. Davis, best known as the lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial, has been lobbying members of Congress and testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in support of the coup.

According to Roberto Lovato, an associate editor at New American Media, Davis represents the Honduran chapter of CEAL, the Business Council of Latin America, which strongly backed the coup. Davis told Lovato, "I'm proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law." (This really means their definition of the rule of law, which means the law favors them.)

But White says the coup had more to do with profits than law. "Coups happen because very wealthy people want them and help to make them happen, people who are used to seeing the country as a money machine and suddenly see social legislation on behalf of the poor as a threat to their interests," says White. "The average wage of a worker in free trade zones is 77 cents per hour." According to the World Bank, 59% of Hondurans live below the poverty line.

The United States is also involved in the coup through a network of agencies that funnel money and training to anti-government groups. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contribute to right-wing organizations that supported the coup, including the Peace and Democracy Movement and the Civil Democratic Union.
Many of the officers that bundled Zelaya off to San Jose were trained at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former "School for the Americas" that has seen torturers and coup leaders from all over Latin America pass through its doors.
The Obama administration condemned the coup, but when Zelaya journeyed to the Honduran-Nicaragua border, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced him for being "provocative." It was a strange statement, since the State Department said nothing about a report by the Committee of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras charging 1,100 human rights violations by the coup regime, including detentions, assaults, and murder.

Human rights violations by the coup government have been condemned by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the International Observer Mission, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protest Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.
Davis claims that the coup was a "legal" maneuver to preserve democracy. But that's a hard argument to make, given some of its architects. One is Fernando Joya, a former member of Battalion 316, a paramilitary death squad. Joya fled the country after being charged with kidnapping and torturing several students in the 1980s, but he has now resurfaced as a "special security advisor" to the coup makers. He recently gave a TV interview that favorably compared the 1973 Chilean coup to the June 28 Honduran coup.

According to Greg Grandin, a history professor at New York University, the coup makers also included the extremely right-wing Catholic organization, Opus Dei, whose roots go back to the fascist regime of Spanish caudillo Francisco Franco.
In the old days, when the United States routinely overthrew governments that displeased it, the Marines would have gone in, as they did in Guatemala and Nicaragua, or the CIA would have engineered a coup by the local elites. No one has accused U.S. intelligence of being involved in the Honduran coup, and American troops in the country are keeping a low profile. But the fingerprints of U.S. institutions like the NED, USAID, and School for the Americas — plus bipartisan lobbyists, powerful corporations, and dedicated Cold War warriors — are all over the June takeover. (Click here if you would like the view of the Wall Street Journal. It's a somewhat different take.)


Military Coup Reverses Honduran Women's Gains in Human Rights
By Margaret Thompson, Women's Media Center. Posted August 31, 2009.

Women have been front and center in all of the massive peaceful daily marches opposing the regime, and military and police have responded with ever more violent repression.

The military coup d’état in Honduras on June 28 has seriously eroded democratic institutions and hard-fought gains in women’s human rights and human rights in general. That was the finding of Feminist Transgressional Watch, a group of 22 journalists, human rights legal experts and activists from North and Central America and Spain. The group visited Honduras in mid-August during Women’s Human Rights Week to assess reported violations of human rights and observe feminist strategies to resist the military coup.

In one gathering, the delegation met with 18 women who were fired recently from the National Institute for Women (INAM) because they are feminists and opposed the coup. According to Gilda Rivera, director of CEM-H (Women’s Studies Center of Honduras), the coup resulted in the devastation and militarization of such democratic institutions as INAM, which was established in 1998 based on international agreements coming out of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women.

Feminists and other women have been front and center in all of the massive peaceful daily marches opposing the regime of Roberto Michelleti, and military and police have responded with ever more violent repression, including increased sexual aggression and torture of women, according to Honduran feminists and activists. "Women are playing a different role in society, breaking the traditional order," noted Daysi Flores, a young member of Feminists in Resistance of Honduras. "Since the coup we’re in the streets, we’re more visible, we call ourselves feminists, we occupy spaces and carry out political actions," a "serious breach" of traditional social norms. (Oh, Oh, a big buzz word for Opus Dei.)

Xiomara Castro Zelaya, wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, said she was surprised that more women than men are participating in many marches, and that "it’s hard to see people in the demonstrations repressed so brutally." The first lady was addressing an August 17 forum of the Coalition of Resistance in Teguciagalpa, Honduras.

One blatant violation of women’s human rights occurred on July 15, when several members of the Feminists in Resistance group staged a peaceful protest at INAM. They were speaking out against the loss of progress for women after decades of struggle—under a coup regime supported by the ultra right wing, including Opus Dei, a very conservative Catholic group that opposes many rights for women. The defacto Minister of Women María Marta Díaz called in security forces who chased the women protesters, hitting them with batons on their backs and buttocks, screaming verbally aggressive comments such as, "Whores! Go back to your homes!" Gilda Rivera of CEM-H noted that she had never heard of police hitting male protestors on the buttocks with their batons. Leaders of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean organizations who were staging their own peaceful march against the coup came to support the feminists in the attack. (Ms. Diaz, the de facto Minister of Women, is a card carrying member of Opus Dei.)

According to Kanya Irias, who was a technical director in INAM, Minister Diaz is a close associate of a military advisor to the new coup regime who was notorious for past brutality.

Feminist and human rights groups report that femicide and violence against women overall has greatly increased since the coup. Alda Facio, an international human rights lawyer from Costa Rica, calls it an undeclared war against women, something that often occurs in armed conflicts. During the month of July following the coup, 51 femicides were reported in the two largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedru Sula, a 60 percent increase over a typical month in the year before. Yet women have filed few complaints of street violence or domestic violence during this time. According to Sara Rosales, a human rights lawyer with CEM-H, women believe it to be both dangerous and futile to report such violence to the police, who are in part responsible for the brutal repression. (In the interests of brevity I cut this article, but you can finish reading it here.)


I don't suppose this should come as a shock, but the stated excuse for the involvement of Opus Dei and right wing Evangelical groups is that President Zelaya authorized the availability of 'morning after pills' for Honduran women. Hence the presence of Ms Diaz as Director of the Ministry for Women and her need to call in the military to put Honduran women back in their God given place.

As far as the official Catholic Church, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga gave a nation wide television broadcast on July 4th, two days after Zelaya was denied permission to land in Honduras. In it he told Zelaya: ‘I know that you love life…I know that you respect life, and until today not a single Honduran has died. But your return to the country at this point in time could lead to a blood bath. Please, meditate. Because afterward it would be too late’.

This is quite the statement if you think about it. First, at least two people had been killed by the military before this speech. One at the airport when Zelaya had tried to land, and the second, an oppositional leader, by kidnapping and dumping. Secondly Cardinal Maradiaga tries to make the the coup members the victims by blaming any blood shed on Zelaya's attempt to return. This is such a standard tactic by ecclesiastical authorities. This reversing the victim/perpetrator role is becoming repulsive in it's predictability.

What is also predictable is that progressive priests are being targeted by the military and that the Jesuits, Dominicans, and the clergy and bishops of two poor dioceses have come out against the coup and in support of Zelaya. This is in direct opposition to the official Church position, which is mostly silent appeasement. Can anyone say El Salavador?
In point of fact, there are two distinct forms of Catholicism. Those two forms are split on political/economic (social justice) grounds far more than moral grounds. The moral theological battles are all smoke screens. See American health care reform debate.

Honduras could be the start of other right wing military coups through out Central America. Obama's tepid response is most likely giving great hope for success where none should be given. Hilary Clinton is looking more and more compromised every day, and there are still too many Bush shills in Obama's government--especially the state department. Why is the state department still employing Blackwater?

Honduras also points to something else Americans don't want to deal with: we are not the democracy we like to think we are. It's looking more and more like we are a sham democracy. We have what international corporate interests, coupled with wealthy right wing social activists, let us be. The only real difference between the US and Honduras is the US still has a complacent middle class which is less vested in getting to the truth. That is changing, as more and more American citizens no longer have access to their token piece of the pie. The middle class is on a serious downward trajectory matched by the subsequent concentration of American wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

One picture of America's potential future can be seen in Honduras. We too have the same three pieces in place: Powerful international corporate interests backed by wealthy individuals, a vocal religious right perfectly willing participate with wealthy interests in order to acheive their regressive social aims, and a military which is becoming more and more evangelical.

If Obama is truly his own man, he needs to act in Honduras, call a spade a spade and declare it a military coup. Other wise there will be more right wing coups, and that's not good for what ever is left of democracy in the US.


  1. Sham religious groups such as Opus Dei, sham democracies, sham Christians.... a lot of shams and no Jesus in the picture. Women called whores by the ones who are the biggest whores of Babylon and the legions of demons for power and money and glory for themselves. Hypocrites!

    The same scenario, Colleen, as in years past. We have our Vietnam War again in the Middle East. We have the coups in which American US corporate interests and the CIA join with political forces in foreign countries to sweep away any real democracy.

    This scenario keeps playing out over and over again like a worn out broken record. No one has learned the lessons, except for disinterested for truth. No one really cares to learn any lessons from it. Their perspective in life is not to learn or get closer to Jesus, but to obtain the power they are seeking over others.

    They simply deny Jesus Christ in their acts, when they order police to go after women who are marching peacefully with batons and beat them on the rear and call them whores. I am thoroughly disgusted with this same scenario played out in history.

    Obama and Hillary Clinton need to wake up and denounce the Honduran Coup and Blackwater needs to be fired immediately and all such mercenary groups disbanded and their arms taken away.

    We here in the USA will soon be like Central America with coups and bloodshed unless the leaders that we elected do something to ensure a future democracy here. Church leaders need to wake up as well before it is too late and all of our freedoms are gone.

  2. Evidence of the symptoms of the US becoming like a third world country with the majority of its people living below the poverty line are the Tent Cities around every major US city that are growing, which needs news coverage AND the increasing number of gangs and shoot outs in the inner cities.

    Also evidence of this is that college graduates cannot find a job in the field that they studied and paid a lot of money to do. My son tells me that a lot of young people that he knows are taking medication for depression and anxiety. The demands placed on them in positions they need for medical benefits are increasing as the number of hours they work for salary increases while their amount of pay does not increase, as the value of the dollar has decreased.

    The downsizing and outsourcing of American jobs is killing our kids and their future. I am wondering how they will ever afford to have a family. My son is lucky to save up to take a girl out on a date. I try to encourage my son that he will one day find the job that he went to school for.

    It is so sad that young people are essentially used and encouraged to continue their education after high school and spend tons of money doing that, but unless you went to an Ivy League school, you are out of luck and not in with the club that is hiring. So sad. As a mother I am sad. If I am sad, how can I encourage my son?

  3. I fear we are in for even worse times ahead.

  4. Butterfly, it does very much resemble a broken record, but this is the age of the internet not turn tables.

    Things are moving and the broken records can't keep skipping on the same groove. Have faith, the old always make way for the new. We just have to keep the Kleig lights on them.

    Captcha is UNdandys. That's interesting.