Monday, June 29, 2009

Update on Honduras

The OAS (of which the US is a member) has condemned the coup unequivocally. The official US line on the coup, now, appears to be also unequivocal condemnation and a call for the return of Zelaya to his rightful post as President. This is good to see. But as Golinger reports:
"A New York Times article has just confirmed that the US Government has been "working for several days" with the coup planners in Honduras to halt the illegal overthrow of President Zelaya. While this may indicate nobility on behalf of the Obama Administration, had they merely told the coupsters that the US Government would CUT OFF all economic aid and blockade Honduras in the event of a coup, it's almost a 100% guarantee that the military and right wing parties and business groups involved in the coup would not have gone through with it.

So, while many make excuses for the Obama Administration's "calculated" statements, had they been more firm with the coup leaders, instead of "negotiating", the coup may never have happened. Also, the State Department says they believed "dialogue" was the best way to resolve the situation, but their lack of clarity and firm position has caused multiple human rights violations to occur in Honduras and a lot of tension to take place in the region."
I agree. It is too strong to say that the above indicates that the US indirectly caused the coup through their communications with the coup-plotters, but I don't think its out of line to suggest that the US didn't do enough to prevent it. They should have unequivocally told the coup-plotters not to go through with it. The economic (and, historically, military) dominance of the US over Honduras makes this point even clearer. It is no stretch to say that this issue is, at least, quite complicated for the Washington foreign policy establishment. They would rather see (as is clear from the NGO investments in the country made by USAID and NED) a more business-friendly and pro-US regime than Zelaya's. But they hardly hate Zelaya enough that they would support a haphazard coup that the entire Latin American region deplored. It is instructive to recall here the behaviour of Washington and US corporate media during the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002. Washington staunchly supported (and was implicated in) that violent affront to Venzuelan democracy. Also- it is hardly a question whether or not the NYTimes, for example, has a principled objection to coups; they flatly do not. In a now infamous editorial, they cheered on the oligarch-driven military coup against Chavez's popular government and immediately strove to legitimate the short-lived military dictatorship as a boon to democracy. (Incidentally, the always-reactionary-on-foreign-policy WSJ has published op/ed's enthusiastically supportive of the recent coup).

Nonetheless, it is a welcomed departure from the Bush years that the US is working through OAS, and in fact joining up with Venezuela and others to unequivocally condemn this violent power grab. The mistake, however, would be to take this modest improvement to be a principled step away from US imperialism in the region. There are conjunctural and political reasons why this coup is being condemned and others were not. We should not expect that some major change of heart as it regards Latin American self-determination from Washington. (e.g. see the continuity of policy in Colombia from Clinton-Bush-Obama).

Apparently there are major protests outside the presidential palace and unrest throughout the country. Unfortunately for the oligarchs backing the coup, Zelaya has a great deal of popular support throughout the country and the coup-backers will not be able to brush this aside without violent repression.


No L said...

But T, isn't it problematic that Zelaya was seeking a chance to extend his time in power? Can you speak to that a little bit?

t said...

If a majority of people vote to amend the constitution so that Zelaya can stand for reelection more than one time, I see no problem. If Zelaya seeks to facilitate an expansion of democracy, I see no problem.

The current constitution in Honduras is from the Reagan era (1982 i think) and as such it is hardly an inviolable or sacrosanct document. In fact, the document itself was crafted to be amenable to those who already hold a great deal of power in Honduras and always have: the landed elite, the oligarchs, Capital, and the Military (all of whom have, historically, been close to the US... particularly the military who was trained by the US and was part and parcel to the death squads John Negroponte trained in the 1980s to slaughter Leftists in Nicaragua).

I don't think we can talk about anything happening in Honduras unless we admit that is a fundamentally divided society in which the majority are quite poor and always have been.

The real issue in Honduras is a fear from the ruling elite that Zelaya could pursue more expansive social reforms like land reform, increased social spending, select nationalizations of important social institutions and natural resources, etc. In short, they fear the social reformism that we are seeing in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, for example. Thus, they are doing what the Latin American Right and the ruling elites (usually backed by the US) have traditionally always done when a popular threat to their power emerges: they resort to a violent military coup. There are too many examples in the 20th century alone to note. Just about every single Leftist social movement in Latin American in the 20th century (putting aside the anomaly of Cuba) was brutally crushed under the boot of a pro-US military dictatorship.

And the refrain from the oligarchs and the military is always that the reformer in question was 'seeking too much power' or was 'totalitarian'. Of course, these post-Coup rationalizations are typically made after the elites have installed a brutal Military dictatorship which represses popular protests and murders dissenters.

They do this because they know that they cannot defeat Left-wing reform movements at the ballot box. Oligarchs and the rich elite (in an overwhelming poor country), after all, are a small percentage of the population. This is why the Oligarchs, corporate elite and elements of the wealthy middle classes in Venezuela attempted a coup to violently depose Chavez's popular government: they knew that there was no way they could beat him and the movement behind him in a fair, democratic contest.

I think something similar is happening Honduras right now. There is a swell of popular protest trying to fight the Coup-backers, and it is clear that Zelaya has huge popular support. This, after all, is why the ruling elites were so pissed that he called a non-binding national poll to survey the national opinion about the possibility of changing the Constitution. The ruling elites didn't want that democratic vote to ever happen -since it would prove that a majority of Hondurans want reform instead of a status quo favoring the rich. So, rather than let people vote, the Right violently deposed the democratically-elected president, blocked a vote, and has now installed a dictatorship. I find that highly problematic, to say the least, and I cannot see that there is anything noteworthy about the referendum or Zelaya which renders recent events there any less abhorrent, oppressive and antithetical to democracy.