Seven Weeks After Honduran Coup, Washington Still Lagging the Region on Restoring Democracy

August 21, 2009

Mark Weisbrot
The Guardian Unlimited, August 21, 2009

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Seven weeks after the Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras, the divide between the United States and Latin America continues to grow – although you might not get that impression from most mainstream media reports.

The strategy of the coup regime is obviously to run out the clock on President Zelaya’s remaining months in office. A presidential election, in which Zelaya is not eligible to run because of Honduras’ one-term limit, is scheduled for November 29.

In response to that strategy, the Union of South American Nations – UNASUR – issued a declaration on August 10 that it would not recognize any government elected under the coup regime. It is worth noting that this was a unanimous decision – even close U.S. allies Colombia and Peru approved the declaration.

Then on August 17, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, who has grown increasingly impatient with the delaying tactics, issued a joint statement with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico saying the same thing. Calderon is a right-wing president and was one of President George W. Bush’s few allies in the region.

The next step would be for the Organization of American States, where all countries in the hemisphere – except Cuba – are represented, to take this position. But it operates mainly by consensus, and the United States is reportedly blocking that move. Of course, Washington can’t be seen to be the sole opposition, so it has recruited some right-wing governments, according to sources involved in the OAS discussions:  Canada and Panama, along with a couple of other small country governments that can be bribed or bullied into joining Washington’s rapidly shrinking regional coalition of the willing.

The millions of Americans who gave their votes, contributions or energy to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in the hope that he would change U.S. foreign policy probably didn’t expect to see this administration fishing around for right-wing allies to help block Latin America from trying to reverse a military coup. But that appears to be the reality. In fact, the State Department has still not even determined that a military coup has taken place. It’s not clear what else you would call it when the military storms the home of the elected president and forces him at gunpoint, in his pajamas, to board a plane out of the country.

A few days ago an official of the Zelaya government told the press that this plane actually stopped at the Palmerola air base in Honduras, home to 600 U.S. troops, on its way out of the country. According to the Associated Press, the official offered this as evidence that the United States was involved in the coup. U.S. officials declined immediate comment, but later followed up with a statement that the U.S. “had no knowledge or part in the decisions made for the plane to land, refuel and take off.”

This does not seem to be a credible story. To believe this denial, we would have to believe that the U.S. military has such complete confidence in Honduran security that it allows them to monitor and control the airspace over this base where 600 U.S. troops are stationed, as well as takeoffs and landing – without any involvement of U.S. personnel. A tough swallow, especially given the post-9/11 concerns about terrorist attacks against U.S. military personnel stationed abroad.

The one thing we can be pretty sure of is that no major U.S. media outlet will look further into this matter. The general attitude of the press toward U.S. involvement in military coups is, “we don’t want to hear about it – or talk about it.” This was true of the coup that overthrew Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002, where there State Department acknowledged that the U.S. government paid people and organizations involved in the coup, and CIA documents showing advance knowledge of the coup combined with White House lying about the coup provided substantial evidence of U.S. involvement. But no major U.S. newspaper – including the Post – ever gave any credence to that possibility. U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide – in both 1991 and a second time in 2004 – has also been almost completely ignored, despite some compelling evidence.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, August 19, Amnesty International issued a report, “Honduras: Human Rights Crisis Threatens and Repression Increases,” documenting widespread police beatings and brutality against peaceful demonstrations, mass arbitrary arrests, and other human rights abuses under the dictatorship. The Obama administration has remained silent about these abuses – as well as the killings of activists and press censorship and intimidation. To date, no major media outlet has bothered to pursue them for an on-the-record comment.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

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