[News] After the Honduran Coup - Are the Gorillas Back?
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
By JOHN ROSS
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
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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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