[News] After the Honduran Coup - Are the Gorillas Back?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 10 12:20:02 EDT 2009


July 10-12, 2009

Latin America Asks: Are the Gorillas Back?

After the Honduran Coup


Mexico City.

The June 28th coup d'etat in Honduras that toppled leftist president 
Mel Zelaya sends us back to the bad old days of the "gorillas" - 
generals and strongmen who overthrew each other with reckless abandon 
and the tacit complicity of Washington.

Perched on a hillside in the Mexican outback, we would tune in to 
these "golpes de estado", as they are termed in Latin America, on our 
Zenith Transoceanic short wave.  First, a harried announcer would 
report rumors of troop movement and the imposition of a "toque de 
queda" (curfew.)  Hours of dead air (and probably dead announcers) 
would follow and then the martial music would strike up, endless tape 
loops of military marches and national anthems.  Within a few days, 
the stations would be back up as if nothing had happened.  Only the 
names of the generals who ruled the roost had changed.

Guatemala was the Central American republic par excelencia for such 
"golpes."  Perhaps the most memorable was the overthrow of General 
Jacobo Arbenz by Alan Dulles's CIA in 1954 after Arbenz sought to 
expropriate and distribute unused United Fruit land.  Like Mel 
Zelaya, the general was shaken rudely awake by soldiers and booted 
out of the country in his underwear.

Coups in Guatemala continued unabated throughout the 1970s and 
'80s.  General Efrain Rios Montt, the first Evangelical dictator in 
Latin America, who had come to power in a coup himself, was 
overthrown in 1983 by the equally bloodthirsty Romeo Lucas, a 
much-decorated general.  In 1993, the Guatemalan military brought 
down civilian president Jorge Elias Serrano, the last gasp of the 
Gorillas until Zelaya was deposed last week.  It has been 15 years 
since the generals had risen in arms in Central America.

Zelaya's overthrow has stimulated generalized revulsion throughout 
the world.  The Organization of American States, the General Assembly 
of the United Nations, the European Union, virtually every regional 
organization in the Western Hemisphere, and the presidents of 33 
Latin American republics have condemned the Honduran Gorillas - yet 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can't quite get her 
plumped-up lips around the word "coup", preferring to describe the 
low-jinx in Tegucigalpa as an "interruption of democracy" or some 
such euphemistic flapdoodle.

One wonders what descriptives Hillary would have deployed if she and 
Bill had been aroused from a deep snooze in the White House master 
bedroom on a Sunday morning by gun-toting troops and put on the first 
plane for Ottawa in their pajamas?

Why is Clinton so reluctant to label the Honduran military coup a 
coup? Because such nomenclature automatically triggers a U.S. aid 
cut-off through which Washington subsidizes the very same Honduran 
gorillas who facilitated Zelaya's overthrow - $66 million of U.S. 
taxpayers' money is programmed for 2010 to this end.  Unlike 
Washington, both the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development 
Bank have suspended payouts to the coup plotters.

The U.S. works in cozy cahoots with the Honduran military.  Honduras 
sent a contingent to Iraq as part of George Bush's Coalition of the 
Willing.  Coup leader Romeo Orlando Vazquez and at least two other 
officers who participated in Zelaya's overthrow are School of 
Americas' graduates - according to School of Americas' Watch, the 
"coup school", as it is called by opponents, once produced two 
generals who returned to Honduras and overthrew each other. Nearly a 
thousand Honduran officers were trained in the U.S. under the IMET 
program in 2005-06, the last year for which numbers are available. 
The Pentagon calculates that the camaraderie between U.S. and 
Honduran military officers developed during such training enlists 
valuable collaborators for a generation.  In fact, these U.S.-trained 
assets threatened to scramble U.S. super light F5 fighter jets to 
prevent Zelaya from landing in Tegucigalpa a week after the coup.

In collaboration with the gorillas, Washington maintains an advance 
airbase in the country at Soto Cano (formerly Palmarola) with 500 
troops under the direction of the U.S. South Command on the ground at 
all times on the pretext of fighting the War on Drugs and Terrorism.

Gregorio Seltzer, the late great historian of U.S. imperialism in 
Latin America, described Honduras as "a county for rent" and from the 
1920s on, United Fruit rented this impoverished nation of 7.2 
million, transforming Honduras into the quintessential Banana 
Republic.  During the 1980s with revolutions raging in neighboring El 
Salvador and Nicaragua, the CIA rented Honduras as a platform for 
counter-insurgency.  The Nicaraguan Contras' supply lines began at 
Palmarola.  More discreet intelligence operations were housed at 
Puerto Castilla where suspected insurgents were reportedly tortured, 
dismembered, and fed to the crocodiles.

The nerve center for U.S. counter-insurgency in Honduras was 
Washington's embassy in Tegucigalpa, then under the thumb of the 
notorious John Negroponte, known throughout the Americas as the 
gringos' "pro-consul". Negroponte, of course, went on to become 
George Bush's Intelligence capo de tutti capos.  Events in Honduras 
suggest that he is still pushing buttons.

Latin American leftists often refer to the Central American country 
as "The U.S.S. Honduras."  Perpetual susceptibility to manipulation 
by Washington was perhaps best encapsulated by former president Jose 
Azcona (1986-90): "we are too small and too poor to afford the luxury 
of dignity."

Honduras is in fact the second poorest country in Latin America, a 
few degrees behind Haiti where the poor eat mud cakes for 
lunch.  Things went from "Guatemala to Guatapejor" as they say in 
Central America ("from bad to worse") in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, 
which leveled the region in October 1998. Hundreds of thousands of 
jobless refugees took to the roads headed for El Norte to escape the 
devastation of their homelands.  Nearly a million Hondurans are 
thought to have made it to the U.S., a seventh of the nation's 
population.  Many poured into New Orleans, a traditional landing spot 
for Hondurans, where they found slave labor employment in the Katrina 
clean up.  Remittances from relatives working in the U.S. are 
Hondurans' chief source of revenues.

Meanwhile back on the homefront, violence driven by unemployed youth 
holds the country in thrall. Over 30,000 Mara Salvatrucha gang 
members have turned the streets of Tegoosh and San Pedro Sula into an 
inferno.  86 perished in a Mara-induced prison riot in 2003 under 
Zelaya's predecessor Ricardo Maduro, one of the most deadly prison 
uprisings in Latin America annals, and 28 women and children were 
mowed down in a hail of gunfire when the Maras attacked a San Pedro 
Sula city bus in 2004.

The scion of a prosperous cattle ranching family from the north of 
the country with ties to the gorilla class, Mel Zelaya is an unlikely 
champion of the poor - during the anti-guerrilla campaigns of the 
1980s, human rights workers claim that suspects were burnt alive in 
bread ovens on one of the family's haciendas.  Backed by the Catholic 
Church and the oligarchy, Zelaya won high office in 2006 as the 
candidate of the right-wing Liberal Party - Honduras has two 
hegemonic parties, the Liberals and the Nationals, which take turns 
repressing the populace.

An early advocate of CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement 
that annexes the economies of the region to Washington, Zelaya beat 
back protests by labor unions, farmers' organizations such as Via 
Campesina, and the left Bloque Popular.  During 36 months in office, 
Mel Zelaya navigated through two general strikes and 771 social 
conflicts, according to data assembled by Mexican columnist (La 
Jornada) Luis Hernandez Navarro who contends that the president's 
flipflops did not inspire much enthusiasm for him on the Honduran 
left, despite his increasingly radical pronouncements, a flaw that 
proved fatal.  With congress and the military bitterly opposed to 
Zelaya's leftwards tack, the Honduran president's room for 
maneuvering was undercut by mistrust from down below.

Cheap oil was apparently what first attracted Zelaya to Hugo Chavez 
and the new Latin Left.  Under the San Jose Pact, Venezuela 
distributes low-priced petroleum to Central American and Caribbean 
governments (including Cuba) and Honduras was an eager beneficiary.

In recent years, Mel Zelaya has been a frequent guest of Comandante 
Chavez, appearing side by side up on the podiums with Big Hugo, 
Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and 
Raul Castro, and his government has joined the ALBA, Chavez's 
Bolivarian alternative to CAFTA and NAFTA.

Mel Zelaya's swing to the left did not much please the highly venal 
oligarchy that controls the Honduran Congress. Obligated to 
Washington via commercial and military pacts, the impresarios and 
gorillas who comprise that less-than-august body did their duty 
and  tossed out their Chavez-loving president.  In the words of 
Samuel Zemurray, owner of the United Fruit predecessor in another 
century: "I can buy the Honduran legislature for less than I can buy a mule."

Mel Zelaya's forcible removal from power was set in motion by a 
proposed popular consultation asking voters whether or not they 
favored rewriting the Honduran constitution, a document that heavily 
serves the interests of the oligarchy.  If the yes vote carried, the 
measure would have been placed on the upcoming November 29h ballot.

At this writing, a week into the coup, it appears that those 
elections are on hold.  All civil liberties have been suspended by 
the gorilla government of Roberto Micheletti and a witch-hunt of 
"communists" and foreigners instigated - the military urges citizens 
to report suspicious types speaking in "foreign accents" and dozens 
of purported Nicaraguans and Venezuelans have been 
arrested.  Micheletti and his goons have sworn out an Interpol arrest 
warrant for Zelaya alleging drug dealing among other criminal acts.

Although Zelaya's proposed constitutional reform was multi-faceted 
and included such items as agrarian reform (anathema to the 
oligarchy), CNN and the New York Times et al fixated on the Honduran 
president's intentions to write "re-election" into the nation's Magna 
Carta.  Similarly, presidential re-election has been incorporated in 
constitutional reforms recently passed in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

But reforming constitutions to allow for re-election is not just the 
property of the left. Having rewritten Colombia's constitution twice, 
right-wing president Alvaro Uribe is now looking at a third term in 
office.  Indeed, the U.S. electoral process is motored by the 
possibility of presidential re-election.

U.S. involvement in the Honduran coup remains veiled but clearly 
Washington had prior knowledge that Mel Zelaya's overthrow was in the 
wings. For Barack Obama who, like Zelaya, aspires to re-election, the 
Honduras uproar represents his baptism in Latin American 
upheaval.  Informed of Zelaya's ousting while hosting Colombia's 
Uribe at the White House, El Baracko stumbled through a sparsely 
worded condemnation. In response, the gorillas' new foreign minister 
Enrique Ortez called Obama "a negrito (black boy) who knows nothing."

Perhaps the U.S. president would not have been so constrained in his 
comments had he perused the volume gifted him by Hugo Chavez during a 
recent Latin American summit.  Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of 
Latin America" chronicles centuries of U.S. intervention in the 
Americas in precise detail.  Nonetheless, Obama's chief spokesperson 
Robert Gibbs characterized the book as "a work of fiction."

The key question for Latin America is whether Honduras is a nostalgic 
aberration or a whiff of what's in the wind for newly left regimes 
throughout the hemisphere?  Certainly, the Honduran scenario must 
excite the current generation of the gorilla class.  But making a 
coup is mostly a function of the strength of alliances between the 
military and the oligarchy and how closely their interests 
coincide.  Coup-making in Latin America in 2009 is also very site-specific.

In Bolivia, for example, a nation that suffered 193 violent changes 
of government between liberation from Spain in 1835 and 1981 when 
civil rule was restored (the two presidents prior to Evo Morales were 
overthrown by popular rebellion), threats by right-wing, white 
landowners in the lowland "media luna" provinces to secede from this 
dirt-poor Andean nation have had faint scratch with the military, 
largely a highland Indian army.

Similarly, although Venezuela has an active right-wing oligarchy that 
appears to be active in the Honduras "golpe", the military was 
neutralized by the short-lived 2002 coup to unseat Hugo Chavez 
engineered out of the U.S. Caracas embassy by Bush henchman Otto 
Reich, that was foiled when a million citizens descended on the 
presidential palace to demand the return of the kidnapped Chavez, 
himself a failed coup plotter.

In the southern cone, Argentina has a resurgent right-wing but the 
military remains so discredited by the memory of the 1976-79 "dirty 
war" in which 30,000 leftists were thrown to their death from 
airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean that a coup remains out of sync 
with reality.  Ditto in Chile where a new Pinochet will not emerge 
any time soon.

In other newly left countries like Ecuador (where the army has 
sometimes sided with the left) and Paraguay, now governed by the 
former liberation bishop Fernando Lugo, father of at least two, the 
military is unpredictable and the emergence of civil society serves 
to counterbalance residual right-wing sympathies.

Perhaps the most likely proscenium for a Honduras-like "golpe" 
remains coup-prone Guatemala where military gorillas thrive, 
right-wing death squads enjoy unbridled impunity, and the civil 
society is weak.  History, in fact, points in this direction - Alvaro 
Colum is the first president to be elected from a left-wing party 
since Jacobo Arbenz who, 55 years ago, was forced to flee Guatemala 
in his underwear.

John Ross will present "Iraqigirl" (Haymarket Books) at Modern Times 
in San Francisco July 30th.  Ross developed and edited the new 
volume, a coming-of-age diary of an Iraqi teenager growing up under 
U.S. occupation that has been called "An Anne Frank for our times." 
He can be reached at: <mailto:johnross at igc.org>johnross at igc.org

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