Yes, it’s Fourth of July weekend, and a lot of you are on vacation – including most of the American media – but I’m toiling in the vineyards on behalf of Antiwar.com, and it’s business as usual on the international front: wars, coups, and plenty of drama.
Early Sunday, word was out that a plane carrying Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, recently deposed by the military, and UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, would depart from Washington and, some four hours later, arrive in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. The military junta had backed down from a pledge to arrest Zelaya – a move that would plunge the nation into civil war – and merely contended they would not allow the plane to land. In spite of that, however, the drama factor was increasing by the hour.
The growing isolation of the Honduran coup leaders was underscored the other day, when – in response to "president" Roberto Micheletti’s claim that Tel Aviv had agreed to recognize the military regime – the Israelis denied it. When you’re an international pariah and not even the Israelis or the Taiwanese will recognize you, it’s time to hire an expensive public relations firm.
It may be too late for that, however, and the government of Micheletti, while claiming most Hondurans support the coup, has taken the precaution of extending a curfew, cracking down on pro-Zelaya media outlets, and escorting Associated Press reporters to immigration offices and out of the country. The Miami Herald reports on the actions of these supposed "saviors" of "democracy":
"At the close of the one of this week’s nightly news broadcasts, Channel 21 news anchor Indira Raudales made a plea: ‘We have a right to information! This can’t be happening in the 21st century!’ If Raudales offered more details, viewers did not hear them: the screen briefly went to static….
"’They militarized Channel 36, which is owned by me,’ said Esdras López, director of the show, Asi se Informa. ‘They brought more than a battalion – 22 armed men – took the channel, and said nobody could come in and nobody could come out. I own this building!’"
Not anymore, you don’t, Señor Lopez.
The irony here is that the Honduran militarists, and their American supporters, are claiming the new regime is a bulwark against the evil influence of the socialist Hugo Chavez, from whose clutches the army saved Honduras. So what about Lopez’s private property – or has the Micheletti regime gone socialist?
I have another question for the coup’s American cheerleaders: If Micheletti has so much popular support, then why the crackdown? To ask the question is to answer it.
American conservatives echo the junta’s rationale for the coup, accusing Zelaya of following in Hugo Chavez’s footsteps, and, by calling for a constitutional convention repealing the one-term limit stipulated by the Honduran constitution, thereby extending his reign indefinitely. This is, in short, a lie. The text of the question that was to appear on the ballot asked voters the following:
"¿Está de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna en la cual el pueblo decida la convocatoria a una asamblea nacional constituyente? = Sí…….ó………..No"
"Do you agree with the installation of a fourth ballot box during the 2009 general elections so that the people can decide on the calling of a national constituent assembly? Yes or no."
Since the Honduran constitution forbids a president from succeeding himself or herself, Zelaya’s name would not even be on the ballot in the November election. How, then, could he have extended his term? Answer: He couldn’t, and, furthermore, he had no intention of doing so.
What’s happening in this poverty-stricken Central American banana republic is a lot more complex than a mere attempt by a self-interested politician to stay in office. The country is beset by multiple crises, all too many of which can be traced directly back to its longtime ally and big brother, the U.S. government.
For decades, Washington nurtured the coup-happy Honduran military, training its officers at the notorious School of the Americas and – during the Reagan years – using the country as a base for operations against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
More recently, the U.S. has been deporting members of criminal gangs back to Honduras. Fresh from American jails, these well-organized and ultra-violent maras have terrorized the streets of Tegucigalpa and other Central American cities. Driven to the U.S. by the civil wars that racked the region in the Cold War era, Central American illegal aliens – including many Hondurans – were excluded from Mexican gangs in the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods where they lived, and so formed their own. Hardened by jail time and then deported – on account of new immigration rules adopted by the U.S. – Honduran gang members have been the cause of a rising crime wave that shows no sign of cresting.
Indeed, an odor of criminality hangs like a pervasive fog over Honduran society, with the military and the police fully implicated. To take just the most prominent example, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the army commander in chief fired by Zelaya, and then reinstated by the coup, went to prison in 1993 for grand auto theft. Now that he’s stepped up in the world, Gen. Vásquez has gone into the business of stealing governments.
Corruption and outright criminality within the armed forces has long been rife, so the general’s record comes as no surprise. What’s astonishing, however, is how many prim-and-proper pundits are willing to acclaim this thug and his allies as "saviors" of Honduran democracy. The laughs never stop, do they?
The Honduran people, however, aren’t laughing: they’re mourning the demise of their hard-won democracy and the return of de facto military rule. The Honduran army, chased back into their barracks by popular opposition and threats of reduced U.S. aid, is back, and with a vengeance. This will create the conditions for a popular backlash, fueling the growing influence of Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian" brand of crackpot economics and visceral anti-Americanism.
What we are seeing in Honduras is the phenomenon known as "blowback," which often – very often – doesn’t manifest itself until many years later. After decades of military rule, subsidized and supported by Washington, the deformations of Honduran society are having a debilitating effect on the growth and development of a healthy democracy. In addition, the grinding poverty of the ordinary Honduran and the outsized impact of the global recession on the Central American economy enter into the equation.
Central and South America have long been ignored while most of our attention has been focused on the Middle East. American policymakers since 9/11 have been imbued with Middle East monomania, to the detriment of our interests elsewhere. It has taken a sharp fillip in the form of the Honduran coup to wake us up to the dire prospects for peace, liberty, and stability in our own hemisphere. From Mexico’s troubled border with the U.S. to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, the specter of political instability – heralded by widespread economic turmoil – represents a threat far more direct and substantial than anything coming out of Afghanistan.