A new president in Honduras – same old Uncle Sam

By: Cyril Mychalejko
Bucks County Courier Times
January 20, 2010

Some things in Latin America never change – like U.S. foreign policy in the region.

In the early hours of June 28, Honduran Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, a graduate at the infamous “School of the Americas” in Fort Benning, Ga., led a group of approximately 100 soldiers to the home of then-President Manuel Zelaya, kidnapped him at gunpoint, and forced the president while still in his pajamas onto a plane bound for Costa Rica.

While the world community called for the “immediate and unconditional” return of Zelaya, President Barack Obama mildly criticized the coup, stating he was “deeply concerned” and that “any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

The de-facto regime, led by Roberto Micheletti (the former head of Congress), had other plans. The coup regime used the armed forces and police to unleash a campaign of terror – which included shutting down and occupying media outlets, as well as arresting, murdering, torturing and disappearing members of the massive pro-democracy (anti-coup) movement. This violence shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering that Micheletti’s security adviser, Fernando “Billy” Joya, is a former member of Battalion 316, the country’s notorious death squad from the early 1980s. Yet the Obama administration never strongly condemned the acts of state terror which have been documented by numerous international human rights organizations.

The violence and repression continued through the Nov. 29 election, and continues today, with conservative Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa slated to be inaugurated as the country’s new “president” on Jan. 27. Again, the Obama administration found itself at odds with virtually the rest of the world by officially recognizing the fraudulent election.

What Zelaya was “guilty” of was raising the minimum wage by 60 percent, investing in social programs, and having diplomatic and beneficial commercial relations with Venezuela. But according to the coup plotters he was a power hungry protege of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who violated the constitution when he tried to re-write the document in an attempt to extend his rule as president of the country.

This is untrue.

What Zelaya did was propose a poll to determine whether people supported having a question on the November ballot (which he was not on as dictated by his term limit) about whether to have a constituent assembly. Zelaya’s proposal was legal and in complete agreement with Honduran law.

Adrienne Pine, a senior research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and author of “Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras,” dismisses the allegations that Zelaya was a radical, or a puppet of Chavez. Instead, she claims he was rather centrist. Pine noted that Honduras’s entry into a trade agreement with Venezuela was ratified by both Micheletti and the Senate, while also pointing out that Zelaya ratified the largely unpopular Central American Free Trade Agreement.

So the real “crime” was the threat to Honduras’ oligarchy that a constituent assembly represented: potentially progressive legal reforms championing participatory democracy and empowering traditionally marginalized segments of the population which would challenge the ruling elite’s monopoly on wealth and power.

“Zelaya did something the Honduran elite has never done. He listened to the people,” said Pine, who teaches anthropology at American University. “The processes under way in Honduras were specifically Honduran, relating to grassroots Honduran demands to revisit Honduras’s poorly constructed constitution.”

Time Magazine, in reaction to the Obama administration’s handling of the Honduran coup, published an article in December titled “Obama’s Latin American Policy Looks Like Bush’s.” But to be fair, this kind of attitude and policy toward Latin America dates back to the Monroe Doctrine.

“Obama is one more president of the United States who is fundamentally not changing the historic mold by both Democratic and Republican presidents of the role the U.S. plays,” said Grahame Russell, co-director of Rights Action, a human rights organization that works in Central America. “What the U.S. does, rhetoric aside, is support governments and movements that it ideologically agrees with, and seeks ways to support them, work with them, all the while legitimizing them with whatever argument needed,” often using the rhetoric of “democracy,” “liberty” and “human rights,” even when it is obvious that those ideals are being attacked and violently repressed.

President Obama has unapologetically continued this tradition. This offers neither hope, nor change.