Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama, Washington and the Coup in Honduras

The Official US line on the coup is now one of condemnation. It became clear that all of the OAS countries, including the more conservative and neoliberal leaders such as Mexico's Right-Wing Felipe Calderon, unequivocally oppose the recent violent overthrow of a popular government elected by the people. The worldwide response, it must be said, is condemnatory.

But like everything that governments and their political spokespeople say in public, we should not take the US State dept's statement at face value. Moreover, the only real test of what the orientation of the US government is, will be to see what it actually does and not what it says at press conferences. This is particularly true for the Obama Adminsitration, who has made a rigorous science of making soaring rhetorical flourishes only to renege and opt for tepid alternatives to real reform.

The NYTimes published an article yesterday revealing that the Obama administration had been in contact with the coup plotters for several days before the coup. From the NYTimes:

"The United States has a history of backing rival political factions and instigating coups in the region, and administration officials have found themselves on the defensive in recent days, dismissing repeated allegations by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela that the C.I.A. may have had a hand in the president’s removal.

Obama administration officials said that they were surprised by the coup on Sunday. But they also said that they had been working for several weeks to try to head off a political crisis in Honduras as the confrontation between Mr. Zelaya and the military over his efforts to lift presidential term limits escalated."
Also, we read that:
The United States has long had strong ties to the Honduras military and helps train Honduran military forces. Those close ties have put the Obama administration in a difficult position, opening it up to accusations that it may have turned a blind eye to the pending coup.
While many NYTimes readers may be surprised to read of the US involvement in violent repression, military dictatorships, coups and so forth throughout Latin American history, there is nothing abstract about this for people who came of age in the 20th century in Latin America. It is therefore totally legitimate for Hugo Chavez, of all people, to make public statements pressing the suspicion that the US may have had a hand in the latest right-wing reaction against a popular government in Latin America. Suspicion, of course, is not tantamount to proof. But it is hardly outlandish to say that the burden of proof is absolutely on the party who has traditionally funded, participated, incited, supported and praised just about every single violent Right-wing military coup in Latin America throughout the 20th century, from Vargas to Allende to the most recent attempt to violently suppress the Bolivarian Revolution and attempts to whack Evo Morales.

But the issue is too unclear to say for sure what the precise role of the US was in the run-up to the coup. Speculation, therefore, is not helpful. What we do have, is a series of facts ripe for critical reflection and analysis.

We know that the US opposed Zelaya and his bid to change the Constitution to enable a president to run for re-election more than once. We know that the US has traditionally (as late as the 1980s) had very close ties to the Honduran military, who have now taken the lead in undertaking this coup. We also know that the US hedged at first and refused to take a clear stand against the coup and in favor of Zelaya. That they have done so now, in light of widespread condemnation globally, is not to say that their position hasn't shifted.

We also know that the US loathes Chavez, Morales, Correa and Ortega. We know that Washington would love to see these pan-Latin American socialists just go away. We know that big multinationals, some of whom have been given the boot from the above countries, feel the same way.

So the US is not heading into this crisis with the best of intentions. And for me, that's all that's important here to understanding this situation. Washington may or may not have been directly involved, they may have protested, they may have been lukewarm in telling the coup-plotters not to go ahead. I must say, however, that it doesn't appear that the US government was ever ademant or united in any kind of support for the coup. Nonetheless, whatever the situation actually is, it doesn't change all sorts of uncontroversial and trivial political facts we know about Honduras, the region, and the relationship of the former with Washington.

Of course, you wont find any critical reflection in tripe written by an ultra-conservative hack like Vargas Llosa for the NYTimes. If you ask him, the coup is a good thing, and moreover it has widespread 'popular support'. We should expect nothing less from Vargas Llosa, though, who has proven so consistently over the years that he has no intention of stating what actually is the case.

The truth is that there is currently there is widespread popular unrest trying to stop the coup-backers. There have been huge mobilizations as well as a general strike demanding that Zelaya be allowed to return. All of this has occured in spite of threats of violent military repression. Over 7.3 million in Honduras live below the poverty line; some 70% of the population.

When Zelaya talked about taking on the sweatshop industry and substantially increasing the minimum wage in his country, its not difficult to see why the majority of Hondurans got behind these reforms. Of course, when he also said he would "force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair" in terms of taxes, he wasn't making any friends with the forces who are trying to crush democracy in Honduras at present.

Of course, Zelaya is no saint. And, after all, he comes from the Liberal Party in Honduras, which is anything but unanimous in their support social justice or for Zelaya himself (on the contrary, there is a deep split, with many party elites opposing Zelaya's modest left turn). Only recently has he shifted toward more ALBA-centric policies and social reformism. While his populism is a welcomed alternative to the status quo in Honduran politics, it is clear that Zelaya is no Morales or Chavez. Nonetheless, for many in the country (particularly those in student organizations, trade unions and other social movements) the openings created by Zelaya's turn to the Left are likely worth fighting for, particularly when the oligarchs threaten to crush what modest headway Zelaya has attempted to make. I cannot say enough times: those empowered by he current configuration of politics in Honduras are frightened of losing their power. Their subsequent acts must be understood in light of this fact.

After all if, as cynical Right-wing hacks like Llosa would tell us, it is true that the coup has popular support and is backed up by a majority; why were the anti-referendum Oligarchs so deathly afraid of holding a vote designed to take a non-binding national poll over whether it would be a good idea to vote on reforming the Constitution? Why were they so afraid of letting people make their voices heard? Why were they blocking democracy through every institution and avenue available to them through the law (e.g. The Supreme Court, Congress, the Police and Military, etc. all of which the Right controlled in Honduras)? Why were those in power so scared that they eventually resorted to violence to forestall a democratic procedure from occuring?

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