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Unified Latin America Challenges Failed US/Canada Policies on Drug War, Cuba, and Finance April 16, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I love the photo that accompanies this article.  Obama and Clinton, do they not appear to be dinosaurian?  They think they are huge and powerful and indestructible, at the same time as they are on their way to extinction.  The two great leaders of the Democratic Party, staunch defenders of the Monroe Doctrine in the twenty-first century, custodians of the collapsing American Empire.  Our only hope is that they don’t bring the rest of the world down with them.

Published on Monday, April 16, 2012 by Inter Press Service

‘Last Summit of the Americas without Cuba’ sees alternative rise to challenge hegemony of US policy

  by Constanza Vieira

CARTAGENA DE INDIAS, Colombia – “What matters at this summit is not what is on the official agenda,” said Uruguayan analyst Laura Gil, echoing the conventional wisdom in this Colombian port city, where the Sixth Summit of the Americas ended Sunday without a final declaration.

Latin American nations say there may not be another summit unless the US overcomes its objections to Cuba. (AFP)

The Fifth Summit, held in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009, had a similar outcome.

At the Sixth Summit, which opened Saturday Apr. 14, the foreign ministers failed to reach prior agreement on a consensus document.

Key points of discord were the continued U.S. embargo against Cuba and Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

Gil, an expert on international relations who lives in Colombia, told IPS that “a consensus on drugs seems to be forming among the countries of Latin America.”

“These three issues are precisely the ones that are dividing the hemisphere in two, or confronting the countries of Latin America with the United States and Canada,” she said.

“The Summit of the Americas process is in crisis. What the Sixth Summit clearly shows is that certain issues cannot be put off any longer, particularly that of Cuba,” excluded from the Americas summits due to pressure from the United States, she added.

In Gil’s opinion, “there will not be another summit without Cuba. Either Cuba is included, or there will not be a summit at all. The absence of (Ecuadorean President Rafael) Correa is a red alert,” she said, referring to the Ecuadorean president’s promise not to attend any further hemispheric meetings to which Cuba is not invited.

According to the expert, “Colombia positioned itself as a bridge, able to facilitate relations between contrary ideological blocs. But from this position, Colombia cannot work miracles.

“This summit reminds us that ideologies are still a force to be reckoned with. The limitations are plain to be seen,” she said.

The Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton – a former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia and the U.S. – told the Colombian radio station RCN Radio: “This is a rebellion by Latin American democracies against U.S. and Canadian hegemony.”Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba’s exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba’s exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

In addition to Correa, Haitian President Michel Martelly and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were also absent, having sent last-minute cancellations. Ortega led a rally in Managua in solidarity with Cuba Saturday Apr. 14.

On Saturday morning it was announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would not be attending the summit, due to the treatment for his cancer.

At the end of the first day’s meetings, the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) released a declaration in Cartagena stating that they would not attend any further summits without the participation of Cuba.

ALBA is made up of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela.

The host’s speech

At the opening ceremony of the Sixth Summit, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos did not mince words. He exhorted delegates “not to be indifferent” to the changes occurring in Cuba, which he said were ever more widely recognized and should be encouraged.

“It is time to overcome the paralysis that results from ideological obstinacy and seek a basic consensus so that this process of change has a positive outcome, for the good of the Cuban people,” he said.

“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective,” Santos said.

As for Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, Santos recommended supporting the agenda of the Haitian government, instead of pushing “our own agendas.”

He also said that “Central America is not alone.” Organized crime must be combated, but anti-drug policy should be focused on “the victims,” including “the millions” locked up in prisons, Santos said.

This summit will not find an answer to Latin America’s calls for facing up to the failure of the war on drugs, “of this I am completely certain,” he said.

Militarization marches on

U.S. President Barack Obama let it be understood that his country would tolerate flexibilization of Latin American anti-drug policies, saying “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.””I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens – all our citizens – the United States will not be going in this direction,” Obama said on Saturday.

But he flatly rejected legalization.

“I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens – all our citizens – the United States will not be going in this direction,” Obama said on Saturday.

He also announced that the U.S. government would increase its aid to the war on drugs led by “our Central American friends” and pledged “more than 130 million dollars this year.”

Colombian expert Ricardo Vargas of Acción Andina, a local think tank, summed up the U.S. position: “‘You may decriminalize drugs, but that will not eliminate the mafias. And we will be there’,” with a military presence as soon as drug shipments cross the borders, he told IPS.

The People’s Summit

From another part of the city of Cartagena, Enrique Daza, the coordinator of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a movement of social organizations that organized the Fifth People’s Summit, held in parallel to the Summit of the Americas, announced their “satisfaction” at the same time as President Santos received a standing ovation in the auditorium where the heads of state were gathered.

“They were not able to keep our demands hidden,” Daza said at the close of the counter-summit.

On the positive side, the People’s Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of “good living” and a culture of peace.

The alternative summit rejected the United States’ “imposition of its agenda” at the Summits of the Americas, and demanded an end to militarization based on the pretext of the war on drugs, which in fact ends up criminalizing social protest, he said.

In its final declaration, the People’s Summit castigated the United States and Canada for insisting on the promotion of free trade treaties with other countries of the continent.

Canada came in for heavy criticism for fomenting a “predatory model” for the operations of its mining companies in Latin America. “The rights of investors cannot take precedence over the rights of people and of nature,” the final declaration says.

The gathering of social movements, left-wing groups and human rights, indigenous, environmental and women’s organizations also launched a veiled attack on socialist governments in Latin America.

While recognizing the efforts of bodies such as ALBA and the fledgling Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the declaration expressed that “progressive and left-wing” governments in the Americas should take steps against the extraction of natural resources and the concentration of land ownership.

On the positive side, the People’s Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of “good living” and a culture of peace.

© 2012 IPS North America

 

Exclusive Interview with Manuel Zelaya on the U.S. Role in Honduran Coup, WikiLeaks and Why He Was Ousted May 31, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I have posted below only the DemocracyNow! interview with Maneul Zelaya.  For related stories on DemocracyNow! you can go to the following links:

Also, on the DemocracyNow! web site (www.democracynow.org) you will find a blog with Amy Goodman accompanying the Zelaya return flight, with fascinating photos and interviews.

DemocracyNow! May 31, 2011

Shortly after Manuel Zelaya returned to his home this weekend for the first time since the 2009 military coup d’état, he sat down with Democracy Now! for an exclusive interview. He talks about why he believes the United States was behind the coup, and what exactly happened on June 28, 2009, when hooded Honduran soldiers kidnapped him at gunpoint and put him on a plane to Costa Rica, stopping to refuel at Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras. “This coup d’état was made by the right wing of the United States,” Zelaya says. “The U.S. State Department has always denied, and they continue to deny, any ties with the coup d’état. Nevertheless, all of the proof incriminates the U.S. government. And all of the actions that were taken by the de facto regime, or the golpista regime, which are those who carried out the coup, favor the industrial policies and the military policies and the financial policies of the United States in Honduras.”

 

AMY GOODMAN: Manuel Zelaya, the former president of Honduras, returned home on Saturday after 23 months in exile. At a news conference Sunday in his living room, Zelaya said the coup was the work of an international conspiracy that should be investigated. It was the first coup in Central America in a quarter of a century. The military kidnapped Zelaya from his home at gunpoint, put him on a plane to Costa Rica, stopping to refuel at Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras—this after he tried to organize a non-binding referendum asking voters if they wanted to rewrite the constitution. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos brokered the agreement between ousted President Zelaya and the current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. It was called the Cartagena Accord, paving the way for Zelaya’s return.

Democracy Now! flew with President Zelaya from Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, to Honduras. On Sunday, we sat down with him at his home in Tegucigalpa. I asked President Zelaya to talk about what happened the day of the coup, June 28th, 2009.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] A president who was elected by the people was taken out of his home at gunpoint in the early, early morning wee hours in his pajamas and taken and abandoned in Costa Rica, in the airport of Costa Rica.

AMY GOODMAN: But first, can you tell me what exactly happened here? What time was it? What did you hear? How did you wake up?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I arrived to my home at 3:30 in the morning. The next day, we were going to have a referendum, public referendum, throughout the whole nation. It was only an opinion poll, basically, and it was not legally binding—14,000 polls placed all over the country. And there was an international conspiracy in order to say that communism was entering into this country and that the Caracas plan was going to enter in to destroy the United States and that we are destroying the U.S. empire, if they would let that opinion poll take place. Many who were business leaders and others, high society folks, they fell into that trap. This coup d’état was made by the right wing of the United States.

Those early morning hours, in the wee hours of that morning, they started to pressure the honor guard. They came here at 5:15 in the morning. There were isolated shots that were fired in the neighborhood, some in this street over here and others in the back part of the house. You can see that this is a small house, middle class. It’s easy to assault this house. I was woken by the gunshots. I went downstairs in my pajamas to the first floor, on the patio on the outside. At that very moment, the gunshots were impacting on the door in the back. My first reaction was to hit the floor and to cover myself from the gunshots. That is the moment in which the military entered into the patio in the back.

They threatened me with their rifles, M-16 machine guns. They said that it was a military order. And they were shouting at me, and they were ordering me to give my cell phone, because I was talking on my phone. There were more than 10 military, who were hooded, who entered into the house, actually. But outside there were 200 to 300. The only thing you could see were their eyes. Everything else was covered. And they surrounded me. They threatened me, that they were going to shoot. And I said to them, “If you have orders to shoot, then shoot me. But know that you are shooting the president of the republic, and you are a subalternate, you are an underling.” And so, they did not shoot at me.

And so, they forced me to go to their vehicles outside with my pajamas on. We landed in the U.S. military base of Palmerola. There, they refueled. There were some movements that happened outside. I don’t know what conversations took place. About 15, 20 minutes, we waited there in the airport of Palmerola. And then to Costa Rica, and everything else is public after that.

AMY GOODMAN: Why were you brought to the U.S. military base? It is not that far to fly from Tegucigalpa airport to Costa Rica. Why would you be brought to the U.S. military base? And they must have had the U.S. military’s permission.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The U.S. State Department has always denied, and they continue to deny, any ties with the coup d’état. Nevertheless, all of the proof incriminates the U.S. government. And all of the actions that were taken by the de facto regime, or the golpista regime, which are those who carried out the coup, and it is to make favor of the industrial policies and the military policies and the financial policies of the United States in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: Was your daughter Pichu in the house?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In my house, there were three people. The woman who cleans the house and who works here, and she has 10 years working with us, she is a woman of great trust. And she continues to work here. Her name is Suyapa. She was taken out, and they dragged her by pulling out her hair, because the military, after they captured me, they entered into each one of the rooms, and they broke into the rooms through using their rifle butts, looking for my wife and for my daughter. My daughter is very thin, and so she went underneath the bed. Suyapa, the cleaning lady, she’s a little overweight, and so she could not hide. So they grabbed her by her hair, and they took her away. Pichu, whose real name is Xiomara Hortensia, she hid under the bed, and they didn’t find her.

AMY GOODMAN: The M-16s, where were they made, that the hooded Honduran soldiers used?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] All of the arms that the Honduran military uses are U.S. weapons. And the high command of the military of Honduras is trained at the School of the Americas.

AMY GOODMAN: After the coup, did the U.S. stop the weapons flow to Honduras?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] This week, there were 85 members of Congress of the United States, they sent a letter to the State Department, Hillary Clinton, and this letter speaks to the necessity of controlling the support, and they speak of paralyzing, which is given to the armed forces of Honduras. And so, they point to the high rates of violations of human rights that take place in Honduras. In other words, after the coup d’état in this country, the U.S. has increased its military support to Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you support the call of the Congress members?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] All who defend human rights and who are against the armaments and war making, they have my support.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that the coup was a conspiracy. And you talked about the right wing in the United States. Explain exactly what you understand. Who fomented this coup against you?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The conspiracy began when I started to join what is ALBA, the Latin American nations with Bolivarian Alternative. So, a dirty war at the psychological level was carried out against me. Otto Reich started this. The ex-Under Secretary of State Roger Noriega, Robert Carmona, and the Arcadia Foundation, created by the CIA, they associated themselves with the right wing, with military groups, and they formed a conspiracy. They argued that I was a communist and that I was attacking the security of the hemisphere, because I’m a friend of Fidel, I’m a friend of Chávez, and I had declared my government as a government which is progressive.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, WikiLeaks released that trove of U.S. government cables, and in it was a cable from then-U.S. ambassador—the then-U.S. ambassador to Honduras to the State Department, saying that—I think it was titled “Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,” and it was saying it was illegal, it was unconstitutional. It was written by U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Hugo Llorens cooperated in order to avoid the coup d’état. He knew everything that was happening in Honduras. And I am a witness to the effort that he made to stop the coup. But when he perceived that he could no longer stop it, then he withdrew. I don’t know if he had orders to withdraw, but he allowed everything to happen. He did help my family a great deal after the coup. And I am grateful to him now. He showed me that he is someone who believes in democracy and not in the coups d’état. But a great part of the Pentagon does not believe this, nor does the Southern Command.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the Southern Command have to do with this?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The link that Ambassador Ford, who was the ambassador from the United States before Llorens, he said that I could not have a friendship with Hugo Chávez. He wanted me to give political [asylum] to Posada Carriles. He wanted to name who my ministers of my cabinet of my government should be. He wanted his recommendations to become ministers of my government.

AMY GOODMAN: Posada Carriles, he wanted him to be able to take refuge in Honduras, the man who was alleged to be the mastermind behind the Cubana bombing that killed scores of people?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] After eight days of my becoming president of the country, the ambassador, Charles Ford, asked me if I could give political asylum to Posada Carriles in Honduras. And of course, I sent him to outside. He spoke to my foreign minister, my secretary of state, about that—the same ambassador who prohibited me from becoming a member of the ALBA. And this ambassador, who just left Honduras, who left the country with a political profile of myself, the ambassador, Ford, left this letter as a profile of the president, and when you read it, you can tell that it is the precursor of the coup itself. WikiLeaks published this document. They published the profile that Ambassador Ford made of me to give to Hugo Llorens, saying that the United States needs to make decisions about what it will do the following year in order to detain me, because I am tied to narcotrafficking and to terrorism and to many, many other things. So, he prepared the ambiance, situation. And he was transferred from the embassy to the Southern Command. And that is the tie. And if you ask today, where is this Ambassador Ford? He is in the Southern Command. And so, he left here in order to prepare the coup d’état.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the coup d’état took place under President Obama, not before.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] We’re talking about the United States, so it’s an empire. The United States is an empire, and so Obama is the president of the United States, but he is not the chief of the empire. Even though Obama would be against the coup, the process toward the coup was already moving forward. The most that they tell a president like President Obama, that there’s a political crisis going on. But they do not talk about the details that they were involved in in terms of the conspiracy.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama early on called it a coup. But then the administration seemed to back off, both he and Hillary Clinton.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They gave themselves up before the coup itself. That is the proof, in fact, that the coup came from the north, from the U.S. So they are even able to bend the arm of the President of the United States, President Obama, and the State Department, and they impeded my restitution as president of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ousted President Manuel Zelaya, sitting in his home in his living room in Tegucigalpa for the first time in 23 months, kidnapped at gunpoint by Honduran soldiers as his daughter Pichu hid under her bed upstairs. He was then flown to Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras, supposedly to refuel, and then on to Costa Rica. It was the first military coup in Latin America in more than a quarter of a century.

We leave you today with Zelaya’s address to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Hondurans upon his arrival home on Saturday.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Your presence here this afternoon shows the support of the international community, that the blood was not shed in vain, because we’re still standing, keeping our position valid. Peaceful resistance. Fellows, resistance is today the cry of victory, of the return to Honduras of all the rights and guarantees of the Honduran democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow, in part two of our interview, President Zelaya will talk about his plans for the future. We’ll also speak with his wife, former First Lady of Honduras Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. We ask her if she plans to run for president next. Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Hany Massoud for his remarkable camera work and Andrés Tomas Conteris for translating, and to both for making this broadcast possible. Also thanks to Channel 11 in Tegucigalpa.

Bogus Honduran Elections Today: Hypocrites Washington, Costa Rica, Panama, Perú, Colombia & Israel the only nations to recognize the illegal elections November 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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By Eva Golinger
The Chavez Code
Sunday, Nov 29, 2009

 

“What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?” a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters in Washington.

The true divides in Latin America – between justice and injustice, democracy and dictatorship, human rights and corporate rights, people’s power and imperial domination – have never been more visible than today. People’s movements throughout the region to revolutionize corrupt, unequal systems that have isolated and excluded the vast majority in Latin American nations, are successfully taking power democratically and building new models of economic and social justice.

Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador are the vanguard of these movements, with other nations such as Uruguay and Argentina moving at a slower pace towards change. The region has historically been plagued by brutal US intervention, seeking at all costs to dominate the natural and strategic resources contained in this vast, abundant territory. With the exception of the defiant Cuban Revolution, Washington achieved control over puppet regimes placed throughout Latin America by the end of the twentieth century. When Hugo Chávez won the presidency in 1998 and the Bolivarian Revolution began to root, the balance of power and imperial control over the region started to weaken. Eight years of Bush/Cheney brought coup d’etats back to the region, in Venezuela in 2002 against President Chávez and Haiti in 2004 against President Aristide. The former was defeated by a mass popular uprising, the latter succeeded in ousting a president no longer convenient to Washington’s interests.

Despite the Bush administration’s efforts to neutralize the spread of revolution in Latin America through coups, economic sabotages, media warfare, psychological operations, electoral interventions and an increasing military presence, nations right across the border such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala elected leftist-leaning presidents. Latin American integration solidified with UNASUR (the union of South American nations) and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas), and Washington’s grip on power began to slip away. Henry Kissinger said in the seventies, “if we can’t control Latin America, how can we dominate the world?” This imperial vision is more evident today than ever before.

Obama’s presence in the White House was erroneously viewed by many in the region as a sign of an end to US aggression in the world, and especially here, in Latin America. At least, many believed, Obama would downscale the growing tensions with its neighbors to the south. In fact, he himself, the new president of the United States, made allusion to such changes. But now, the Obama administration’s “Smart Power” strategy has been unmasked. The handshakes, smiles, gifts and promises of “no intervention” and “a new era” made by President Obama himself to leaders of Latin American nations last Spring at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad have unraveled and turned into cynical gestures of hypocrisy. When Obama came to power, Washington’s reputation in the region was at an all-time low. The meager attempts to “change” the North-South relationship in the Americas have made things worse and reaffirmed that Kissinger’s vision of control over this region is a state policy, irrespective of party affiliation or public discourse.

Washington’s role in the coup in Honduras against President Zelaya has been evident from day one. The continual funding of coup leaders, the US military presence at the Soto Cano base in Honduras, the ongoing meetings between State Department officials and the US Ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens, with coup leaders, and the cynical attempts to force “mediation” and “negotiation” between the coup leaders and the legitimate government of Honduras, have provided clear evidence of Washington’s intentions to consolidate this new form of “smart coup”. The Obama administration’s initial public insistence on Zelaya’s legitimacy as president of Honduras quickly faded after the first weeks of the coup. Calls for “restitution of democratic and constitutional order” became weak whispers repeated by the monotone voices of State Department spokesmen.

The imposition of Costan Rican president Oscar Arias – a staunch ally of neoliberalism and imperialism -to “mediate” the negotiation ordered by Washington between coup leaders and President Zelaya was a circus. At the time, it was apparent that Washington was engaging in a “buying time” strategy, pandering to the coup leaders while publicly “working” to resolve the conflict in Honduras. Arias’ insincerity and complicity in the coup was evident from the very morning of Zelaya’s violent kidnapping and forced exile.

The Pentagon, State Department and CIA officials present on the Soto Cano base, which is controlled by Washington, arranged for Zelaya’s transport to Costa Rica. Arias had subserviently agreed to refuge the illegally ousted president and to not detain those who kidnapped him and piloted the plane that – in violation of international law – landed in Costa Rican territority. Today, Oscar Arias has called on all nations to “recognize” the illegal and illegitimate elections occurring in Honduras. Why not? he says, if there is no fraud or irregularity, “why not recognize the newly elected president?” The State Department and even President Obama himself have said the same thing, and are calling on all nations – pressuring – to recognize a regime that will be elected under a dictatorship. Seems that fraud and irregularity are already present, considering that today, no democracy exists in Honduras that would permit proper conditions for an electoral process. Not to mention that the State Department admitted to funding the elections and campaigns in Honduras weeks ago. And the “international observers” sent to witness and provide “credibility” to the illegal process are all agencies and agents of empire.

The International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, both agencies created to filter funding from USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to political parties abroad in order to promote US agenda, not only funded those groups involved in the Honduran coup, but now are “observing” the elections. Terrorist groups such as UnoAmerica, led by Venezuelan coup leader Alejando Peña Esclusa, have also sent “observers” to Honduras. Miami-Cuban terrorist and criminal Adolfo Franco, former USAID director, is another “heavyweight” on the list of electoral observers in Honduras today.

But the Organization of American States (OAS) and Carter Center, hardly “leftist” entities, have condemned the electoral process as illegitimate and refused to send observers. So have the United Nations and the European Union, as well as UNASUR and ALBA. Washington stands alone, with its right-wing puppet states in Colombia, Panamá, Perú, Costa Rica and Israel, as the only nations to have publicly indicated recognition of the electoral process in Honduras and the future regime. A high-level State Department official cynically declared to the Washington Post, “What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?” Well, Washington has sat for 50 years and refused to recognize the Cuban government. But that’s because the Cuban government is not convenient for Washington. The Honduran dictatorship is.

The Honduran resistance movement is boycotting the elections, calling on people to abstain from participating in an illegal process. The streets of Honduras have been taken over by thousands of military forces, under control of the coup regime and the Pentagon. With advanced weapons technology from Israel, the coup regime is prepared to massively repress and brutalize any who attempt to resist the electoral process. We must remain vigilant and stand with the people of Honduras in the face of the immense danger surrounding them. Today’s elections are a second coup d’etat against the Honduran people, this time openly designed, promoted, funded and supported by Washington. Whatever the result, no justice will be brought to Honduras until Washington’s intervention ceases.

Showdown in ‘Tegucigolpe’ July 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Saturday, July 11, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus by Stephen Zunes
One of the hemisphere’s most critical struggles for democracy in 20 years is now unfolding in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa (nicknamed “Tegucigolpe” for its long history of military coup d’états, which are called golpes de estado, in Spanish). Despite censorship and repression, popular anger over the June 28 military overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya is growing. International condemnation has been near-unanimous, and the Organization of American States has suspended Honduras, the first time the hemisphere-wide body has taken so drastic an action since 1962. In a reversal of many decades of U.S. support for right-wing golpistas in Latin America, the Obama administration has denounced the coup. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rather than backing the largely nonviolent popular uprising for Zelaya’s unconditional return to power, has instead been pushing for the country’s legitimate ruler to compromise with the very forces which illegally exiled him from the country and have been violently suppressing his supporters.

The United States is now offering support for mediation efforts to be led by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The Obama administration tried to discourage the exiled Honduran president from his attempt this past Sunday to return to his country and has apparently succeeded, for the time being, in preventing him from trying again. Clinton pressed this point on Tuesday in pushing for mediation, arguing that it would be a “better route for him to follow than attempt to return in the fact of the intractable opposition of the de facto government.”

Clinton also said, “Instead of another confrontation…let’s try the dialogue process.” What this ignores is that while the coup plotters have no legitimate standing, the Honduran people have a constitutionally guaranteed right to rebel under such circumstances. According to Article 3 of the Honduran constitution:

No one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order.

What the Obama administration apparently fears is that if it allows the burgeoning pro-democracy movement to take its course, it may end up with a similar outcome to what transpired in Venezuela in 2002 — following a similar coup against that country’s left-leaning president, Hugo Chávez. Within days, a popular movement had forced right-wing elements of the military and their wealthy civilian allies to step down. Chávez returned to govern and emboldened by such a popular outpouring of support, he moved the country further to the left.The United States could help such a movement succeed if it wanted to. If the Obama administration chose, the United States could impose strict economic sanctions on Honduras that would, combined with ongoing strikes and other disruptions, grind the economy to a halt and force the illegitimate junta in Tegucigalpa to step down.

Unfortunately, while there’s no evidence suggesting that the United States was responsible for the coup, there appear to be reasons the Obama administration may not want the coup plotters to suffer a total defeat.

Zelaya’s Significance

Despite being a wealthy logger and rancher from the centrist Liberal Party, Zelaya has moved his government well to the left since taking office in 2005. During his tenure, he raised the minimum wage and provided free school lunches, milk for young children, pensions for the elderly, and additional scholarships for students. He built new schools, subsidized public transportation, and even distributed energy-saving light bulbs. He also had Honduras join with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and three small Caribbean island states in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an economic alliance challenging the neoliberal orthodoxy that has dominated hemispheric trade in recent decades.

None of these are particularly radical moves, but it was nevertheless disturbing to the country’s wealthy economic and military elites. More frightening was that Zelaya had sought to organize an assembly to replace the 1982 constitution written during the waning days of the U.S.-backed military dictator Policarpo Paz. A non-binding referendum on whether such a constitutional assembly should take place was scheduled the day of the coup, but was cancelled when the military seized power and named Congressional Speaker Roberto Micheletti as president.

Calling for such a referendum is perfectly legal under Article 5 of the 2006 Honduran Civil Participation Act, which allows public functionaries to perform such non-binding public consultations regarding policy measures.Despite claims by the rightist junta and its supporters, Zelaya was not trying to extend his term. That question wasn’t even on the ballot. The Constitutional Assembly would not have likely completed its work before his term had expired anyway. 

Yet the Obama administration is implying that the country’s legitimate democratic president somehow shared responsibility for his illegal overthrow. The initial White House response was rather tepid, initially failing to denounce the coup, simply calling upon “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” Similarly, Clinton insisted the day after the coup that “all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday’s events.” When asked if her call for “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself, she didn’t say it necessarily would. Similarly, in a press conference on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly evaded reporters’ questions as to whether the United States supported Zelaya’s return. This places the United States at odds with the Organization of American States, the Rio Group, and the UN General Assembly, all of which called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.

There are serious questions as to whether Clinton can be trusted to make a clear stance for democracy, given her traditionally pro-interventionist position on Latin America. As a senator, she argued that the Bush administration should have taken a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected such developments “at our peril.” In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles that have left much of their populations in poverty, she expressed alarm, saying, “We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America.” Though no doubt aware that U.S. policy toward leftist regimes in Latin American in previous decades had included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections, she argued that “We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement.”

The United States and Honduras

The United States certainly has a history of “vigorous engagement” in Honduras, actively supporting a series of military dictatorships from 1963 through the early 1980s. Though military rule formally ended by the end of 1982, the weak civilian presidents who followed in the subsequent decade served only at the pleasure of Honduran generals and the U.S. embassy. John Negroponte, who later served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations, as well as his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras during this period.

During the 1980s, thousands of U.S. forces were sent to Honduras to train Honduran security forces as well as train and support the rightist Nicaraguan contras, which were engaged in a series of cross-border terrorist attacks. The CIA organized, trained, and equipped a special military unit known as backed Battalion 316, bringing in Argentine counterinsurgency experts as advisors on surveillance and interrogation. These advisors had been part of the “dirty war” in their country during the 1970s, in which more than 10,000 people were murdered. Honduran armed forces chief Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez personally directed the unit with strong U.S. support, even after acknowledging to Negroponte that he intended “to use the Argentine method of eliminating subversives.”  Though Alvarez’ personal involvement in large-scale human rights abuses were well-known to State Department and other U.S. officials, the Reagan administration awarded him the Legion of Merit for “encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras.”

Former Honduran congressman Efraín Díaz told the Baltimore Sun, in reference to U.S. policy towards human rights abuses in his country, “Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.” Under Negroponte, CIA officers based in the U.S. Embassy frequently visited a secret prison where captured dissidents were routinely tortured. It was one of a number of facilities to which U.S. officials had regular access that were off-limits to civilian Honduran officials, including judges looking for victims of kidnapping by right-wing paramilitary units.

Despite this history, including revelations of his role in covering up for such human rights abuses, Negroponte had little trouble on Capitol Hill during the Bush administration. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), then the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Negroponte for having “served bravely and with distinction,” and for bringing “a record of proven leadership and strong management.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised him as “a seasoned and skilled diplomat, who has served with distinction,” saying he was a “smart choice” to become the first DNI. This enthusiastic support for Negroponte among leading congressional Democrats, despite his well-documented role in human rights abuses while U.S. ambassador to Honduras, is indicative of how little regard the majority party in Congress cares about democracy in Central America. 

The Legacy Today

The legacy of U.S. support for repression in Honduras is very much part of recent events.

The leader of the June 28 coup, Honduran General Romeo Vásquez, is a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas, a U.S. Army training program nicknamed “School of Assassins” for the sizable number of graduates who have engaged in coups, as well as the torture and murder of political opponents. The training of coup plotters at the program, since renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” isn’t a bygone feature of the Cold War: General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, who played an important role in the coup as head of the Honduran Air Force, graduated as recently as 1996.

Former members of Battalion 316 were involved in the coup as well.

Unfortunately, while far more knowledgeable of recent history than most recent presidents, Obama doesn’t seem willing to apologize, much less make amends, for U.S. complicity in supporting repression in Latin America. I am writing this article en route to Chile, where the United States played a major role in the downfall of another democratically elected leftist leader, Salvador Allende, back in September of 1973. Just five days before the coup in Honduras, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet visited President Obama in Washington. When asked by Chilean reporters whether he was willing to apologize for the U.S. role in bloody 1973 coup and its aftermath, Obama brushed off the suggestion by saying, “I’m interested in going forward, not looking backward.”

Meanwhile, U.S.-armed and trained security forces have violently dispersed largely nonviolent demonstrators protesting across the country, including shooting into a  crowd of demonstrators near the airport on Sunday, killing two. Rather than acknowledge the widespread popular opposition to their illegitimate rule, the Honduran junta, like its authoritarian counterparts in Iran, have instead tried to blame outsiders for the unrest, in this case Cuba and Venezuela. Yet the Honduran people, like the Iranians, don’t need outside agitators or foreign funding in order to resist. This isn’t about geopolitics but about democracy. Unfortunately, backers of the rightist junta in Honduras, like backers of the rightist regime in Iran, are repeating fabricated stories of outside interference to discredit a genuine home-grown pro-democracy movement.

What may be at work in these U.S. and Costa Rican-led mediation efforts is some kind of deal where Zelaya can return, but under conditions that would preclude a constitutional assembly, any challenges to oligarchic interests, or any further efforts to promote economic justice. Similar kinds of pre-conditions were forced upon the deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, prior to U.S. assistance in his initial return from exile in 1994.

How much the junta leaders are willing to compromise will depend on what is going on outside the meeting rooms.

One factor would be the ability of the pro-democracy movement to organize, think strategically, expand their ranks and maintain a nonviolent discipline. Fortunately, the rebellion thus far has been largely nonviolent, which would be far more effective in such circumstances. 

For various historical reasons, Hondurans don’t have the same kind of history of armed revolution as their neighbors. Even during the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s— while the country’s immediate neighbors Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua experienced major armed insurrections — the armed Honduran revolutionary movement was quite small and never had much of an impact.

By contrast, civil society organizations engaged in strategic nonviolent conflict have grown dramatically in recent years, including peasant organizations, indigenous and Afro-Honduran movements, human rights monitoring groups, environmental groups, women’s groups, an anti-militarization movement, and student groups, as well as three major labor federations. A series of strikes, blockages of major highways, and land seizures occurred over the past year as civil society became increasingly mobilized.

The second factor which could tip the balance is how firmly the United States comes down in support for democracy. Obama has at times been clear in his support for the legal process, declaring, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” Recognizing larger implications of this stance, he added, “It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backward into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.”

Still, it was a full week before the United States announced it would slash aid to Honduras, and there have been no imminent signs of tougher sanctions. Unlike most Latin American countries, the United States has not withdrawn its ambassador from Tegucigalpa.

The United States, which hosts a U.S. Southern Command task force at the Soto Cano Airbase, 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa, exerts enormous influence on Honduras. Therefore, the pressure pro-democracy forces in the United States can bring to bear upon our government may prove as crucial as the efforts of brave pro-democracy forces within Honduras.

Copyright © 2009, Institute for Policy Studies.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and a Foreign Policy In Focus senior analyst.

Showdown in Honduras: The Rise, Repression and Uncertain Future of the Coup June 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by Toward Freedom by Benjamin Dangl

Worldwide condemnation has followed the coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras on Sunday, June 28. Nation-wide mobilizations and a general strike demanding that Zelaya be returned to power are growing in spite of increased military repression. One protester outside the government palace in Honduras told reporters that if Roberto Micheletti, the leader installed by the coup, wants to enter the palace, “he had better do so by air” because if he goes by land “we will stop him.”

On early Sunday morning, approximately 100 soldiers entered the home of the left-leaning Zelaya, forcefully removed him and, while he was still in his pajamas, ushered him on to a plane to Costa Rica. The tension that led to the coup involved a struggle for power between left and right political factions in the country. Besides the brutal challenges facing the Honduran people, this political crisis is a test for regional solidarity and Washington-Latin American relations.

Manuel Zelaya Takes a Left Turn

When Manuel Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005 in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Though siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

However, Zelaya has been criticizing and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and increased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, which angered the country’s elite but expanded his support among unions, would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.” 

At a meeting of regional anti-drug officials, Zelaya spoke of an unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence that has been plaguing his country: “Instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand.”

After his election, Zelaya’s left-leaning policies began generating “resistance and anger among Liberal [party] leaders and lawmakers on the one hand, and attracting support from the opposition, civil society organizations and popular movements on the other,” IPS reported.

The social organization Via Campesina stated, “The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by its defense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), and during his administration it has promoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos.”

As his popularity rose over the years among these sectors of society, the right wing and elite of Honduras worked to undermine the leader, eventually resulting in the recent coup.

Leading up to the Coup

The key question leading up to the coup was whether or not to hold a referendum on Sunday, June 28 – as Zelaya wanted – on organizing an assembly to re-write the country’s constitution.

As one media analyst pointed out, while many major news outlets in the US, including the Miami Herald, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, said an impetus for the coup was specifically Zelaya’s plans for a vote to allow him to extend his term in office, the actual ballot question was to be: “Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?”

Nations across Latin America, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, have recently re-written their constitutions. In many aspects the changes to these documents enshrined new rights for marginalized people and protected the nations’ economies from the destabilizing effects of free trade and corporate looting.

Leading up to the coup, on June 10, members of teacher, student, indigenous and union groups marched to demand that Congress back the referendum on the constitution, chanting, “The people, aware, defend the Constituent [Assembly].” The Honduran Front of Teachers Organizations [FOM], with some 48,000 members, also supported the referendum. FOM leader Eulogio Chávez asked teachers to organize the expected referendum this past Sunday in schools, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

The Supreme Court ruled that the referendum violated the constitution as it was taking place during an election year. When Honduran military General Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute ballots to citizens and participate in the preparations for the Sunday referendum, Zelaya fired him on June 24. The Court called for the reinstatement of Vasquez, but Zelaya refused to recognize the reinstatement, and proceeded with the referendum, distributing the ballots and planning for the Sunday vote.

Crackdown in Honduras

Vasquez, a former student at the infamous School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), went on to be a key leader in the June 28 coup.

After Zelaya had been taken to Costa Rica, a falsified resignation letter from Zelaya was presented to Congress, and former Parliament leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in by Congress as the new president of the country. Micheletti immediately declared a curfew as protests and mobilizations continued nation-wide.

Since the coup took place, military planes and helicopters have been circling the city, the electricity and internet has been cut off, and only music is being played on the few radio stations that are still operating, according to IPS News.

Telesur journalists, who have been reporting consistently throughout the conflict, were detained by the de facto government in Honduras. They were then released thanks to international pressure.

The ambassadors to Honduras from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were arrested. Patricia Rodas, the Foreign Minister of Honduras under Zelaya has also been arrested. Rodas recently presided over an OAS meeting in which Cuba was finally admitted into the organization.

The military-installed government has issued arrest warrants for Honduran social leaders for the Popular Bloc Coordinating Committee, Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

Human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares, reporting from from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, told Democracy Now! that due to government crackdowns and the electrical blackout, there is “not really access to information, no freedom of the press.” He said, “We have also a curfew, because after 9:00 you can be shot if you are on the streets. So we have a curfew from 9:00 to 6:00 a.m.”

In a statement on the coup, Via Campesina said, “We believe that these deeds are the desperate acts of the national oligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and in particular, of the large transnational corporations.”

Mobilizations and Strikes in Support of Zelaya

Members of social, indigenous and labor organizations from around the country have concentrated in the city’s capital, organizing barricades around the presidential palace, demanding Zelaya’s return to power. “Thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the presidential palace singing the national hymn,” Telesur reported. “While the battalions mobilized against protesters at the Presidential House, the TV channels did not report on the tense events.” Bertha Cáceres, the leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares y Indígenas, said that the ethnic communities of the country are ready for resistance and do not recognize the Micheletti government.

Dr. Almendares reported that in spite of massive repression on the part of the military leaders, “We have almost a national strike for workers, people, students and intellectuals, and they are organized in a popular resistance-run pacific movement against this violation of the democracy. … There are many sectors involved in this movement trying to restitute the constitutional rights, the human rights.”

Rafael Alegría, a leader of Via Campesina in Honduras, told Telesur, “The resistance of the people continues and is growing, already in the western part of the country campesinos are taking over highways, and the military troops are impeding bus travel, which is why many people have decided to travel to Tegucigalpa on foot. The resistance continues in spite of the hostility of the military patrols.”

A general strike was also organized by various social and labor sectors in the country. Regarding the strike, Alegría said it is happening across state institutions and “progressively in the private sector.”

The 4th Army Battalion from the Atlántida Department in Honduras has declared that it will not respect orders from the Micheletti government, and the major highways of the country are blocked by protesters, according to a radio interview with Alegría.

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), condemned the coup, media crackdowns and repression, saying in a statement: “[T]he Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force.”

Washington Responds

On Sunday, Obama spoke of the events in Honduras: “I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

But the US hasn’t actually called what’s happened in Honduras a coup. Hillary Clinton said, “We are withholding any formal legal determination.” And regarding whether or not the US is calling for Zelaya’s return, Clinton said, “We haven’t laid out any demands that we’re insisting on, because we’re working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives.”

If the White House declares that what’s happening in Honduras is a coup, they would have to block aid to the rogue Honduran government. A provision of US law regarding funds directed by the US Congress says that, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available … shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

“The State Department has requested $68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010 [for Honduras], which begins on October 1, up from $43.2 million in the current fiscal year and $40.5 million a year earlier,” according to Reuters.

The US military has a base in Soto Cano, Honduras, which, according to investigative journalist Eva Golinger, is home to approximately 500 troops and a number of air force planes and helicopters.

Regarding US relations with the Honduran military, Latin American History professor and journalist Greg Grandin said on Democracy Now!: “The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras. Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances. So if the US is opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward. Zelaya will return…”

The Regional Response

The Organization of American States, and the United Nations has condemned the coup. Condemnation of the coup has come in from major leaders across the globe, and all over Latin America, as reported by Reuters: the Presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba have been outspoken in their protests against the coup. The French Foreign Ministry said, “France firmly condemns the coup that has just taken place in Honduras.” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said, “I’m deeply worried about the situation in Honduras… it reminds us of the worst years in Latin America’s history.”

Even Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, a former foreign minister of Colombia told the NY Times, “It is a legal obligation to defend democracy in Honduras.”

Only time will tell what the international and national support for Zelaya means for Honduras. Regional support for Bolivian President Evo Morales during an attempted coup in 2008 empowered his fight against right wing destabilizing forces. Popular support in the streets proved vital during the attempted coup against Venezuelan President Chavez in 2002.

Meanwhile, Zelaya supporters continue to convene at the government palace, yelling at the armed soldiers while tanks roam the streets.

“We’re defending our president,” protester Umberto Guebara told a NY Times reporter. “I’m not afraid. I’d give my life for my country.”

***

Taking Action:

If you are interested in rallying in support for the Honduran people and against the coup, here is a list of Honduran Embassies and Consulates in the US.

People in the US could call political representatives to denounce the coup, and demand US cut off all aid to the rogue government until Zelaya is back in power. Click here to send a message to Barack Obama about the coup.

Visit SOA Watch for more photos and suggested actions.

© 2009 Toward Freedom

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website covering activism and politics in Latin America. Contact: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Dirty Business, Dirty Wars: U.S.-Latin American Relations in the 21st Century February 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Cyril Mychalejko   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Source: New Politics Winter 2009, Vol. XXII

Much is being made across the political spectrum in the United States about Washington’s waning influence in Latin America. The region has seen an emergence of left and center-left presidents voted into office, many as a result of budding social movements growing democracy from the grassroots. Some pundits and analysts are suggesting that this phenomenon is occurring because of the Bush Administration’s perceived neglect of the region. Rather, what is happening is blowback from Washington’s continued meddling in the economic and political affairs of an area arrogantly referred to as the United States’ “backyard.” Latin America’s growing unity in rejecting the Washington Consensus remains fragile in the face of U.S. opposition. Washington has been quietly using the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and a neo-cold war ideology to institutionalize a militarism in the region that risks returning us to the not so far off days of “dirty wars.”

Breaking the Chains

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 sparked the beginning of the leftward electoral paradigm shift in the hemisphere. After he orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 1992, he was elected six years later based on a campaign that promised to lift up the impoverished nation’s poor majority through economic policies that ran counter to the free market fundamentalism and crony capitalism pursued by the country’s oligarchs, with the aid of Washington and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chavez also began to challenge the idea of U.S. hegemony in the region by advocating a united Latin America based on the ideas of one of his intellectual mentors, Simón Bolívar, the 19th century revolutionary instrumental in defeating Spain’s control of the region. Chavez, who also claims to be influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and Jesus Christ, has championed what he calls a “Socialism of the 21st Century.” A fierce and outspoken critic of neoliberalism, Chavez has said “I am convinced that a path to a new, better and possible world is socialism, not capitalism,” words that have been scarce in the region’s capitals with the exception of Cuba.

ImageSince Chavez’s ascent to power, we have seen presidents elected in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay which translates into a majority of countries in the region advocating center-left and left-wing political programs (while Mexico and Peru missed joining this new Latin American consensus by narrow, if not fraudulent, election outcomes).

While it is true that, despite these developments, socialism is a long way off from taking hold in the region, the rejection of Washington’s Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) back in 2003, long before the left had firmly taken hold in the hemisphere, marked the beginning of an outright challenge to free market orthodoxy, U.S. hegemony, and corporate power. Since then we have seen multinational corporations booted out of countries and defiantly confronted by social movements, U.S. ambassadors expelled from three nation’s capitals, free trade agreements protested, illegitimate foreign debts challenged, and U.S. drug policies rejected. In addition, alternative political and economic institutions and policies have been advocated and created.

Venezuela’s Chavez developed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an antithesis to the FTAA that advocates a trade regime based on economic, social, and political integration guided by the principals of solidarity and cooperation. Even Honduras, long seen as a U.S. satellite state dating back to the days it assisted Washington in overthrowing Guatemala’s government in 1954, has joined ALBA, showing that the creeping tide of Bolivarianism is extending to the still fragile Central America. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Lula de Silva, viewed by Washington and the U.S. corporate media as part of the “acceptable” or “responsible” left, declared in 2007 that “Developing nations must create their own mechanisms of finance instead of suffering under those of the IMF and the World Bank, which are institutions of rich nations . . . it is time to wake up.” And the region has woken up as the “Bank of the South” was formed to make development loans without the draconian economic prescriptions of Washington-controlled financial institutions, which in the past have forced countries to cut social spending, deregulate industries, and open markets to foreign capital — policies that have exacerbated poverty and inequality in the past and as a result compounded dependence on foreign capital and Washington.

In terms of security cooperation, both Brazil and Venezuela have led efforts to create a South American Defense Council, a NATO-style regional body that would coordinate defense policies, deal with internal conflicts and presumably diminish Washington’s influence in its “backyard.” While U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said back in March that Washington “had no problem with it” and looked “forward to coordination with it,” Bloomberg News reported that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that the United States should “watch from the outside and keep its distance,” and that “this is a South American council and we have no obligation to ask for a license from the United States to do it.” In a similar challenge to U.S. military presence and influence, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa decided to force the United States. to close its military base in the port city of Manta. And then there is China’s and Russia’s growing economic and political ties to the region — something that would not only be unheard of in the past, but not tolerated.

Developments such as these led the Council on Foreign Relations to declare in May that the “era of the United States as the dominant influence in Latin America is over.” Frank Bajak, writing for the Associated Press on Oct. 11, echoed this observation when he wrote, “U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades” and that “it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post took a more indignant and belligerent position in an Oct. 6 editorial when it questioned whether Washington should “continue to subsidize governments that treat it as an enemy” while “a significant part of Latin America continues to march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism that has governed the region for a generation.”

 

 

While conventional thinking has led many to believe that Latin America’s independence from the United States may be an irreversible paradigm shift, behind the scenes Washington has put into place policies that could unleash a reign of terror not seen since the 1980’s. Colombia has served as laboratory for this new counterinsurgency program that can be interpreted as a continuance of U.S. supported state terrorism and a re-emergence of the national security state in Latin America.

The U.S. government has sent more than $5 billion in mostly military and counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia since 2000 to fund “Plan Colombia,” a counter drug program said to be designed to fight cocaine production and narco-trafficking, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in turn further intensifying the country’s long-standing civil war. But as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in 2001 in a study sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, “The protection of U.S. oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug-trafficking right-wing guerrillas by U.S. allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking.”

The ICIJ investigation also found that “Major U.S. oil companies have lobbied Congress intensely to promote additional military aid to Colombia, in order to secure their investments in that country and create a better climate for future exploration of Colombia’s vast potential reserves.” In addition, corporations with interests in the region were reported to have spent almost $100 million lobbying Congress to affect U.S. Latin America policy.

Eight years later, Colombia has evolved into a full-fledged paramilitary state. President Álvaro Uribe, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, his extended family, and many of his political supporters in the government and military are under investigation for ties to paramilitaries and right-wing death squads. As far as U.S. corporate collusion goes, Chiquita Brands International Inc. was forced to pay the U.S. Justice Department a $25 million settlement in 2007 for giving over $1 million to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Even more damaging is the fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at the time assistant attorney general, knew about the company’s relationship with AUC and did nothing to stop it. Alabama-based coal company Drummond Co., Inc. and Coca-Cola have also been accused of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate, murder or disappear trade unionists. This is what the ICIJ meant when they wrote about securing investments and creating a “better climate” for business.

According to the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project, Colombia accounts for more than 60 percent of trade unionists killed worldwide. There have also been at least 17 murders of trade unionists just this year, which, according to a report released in April 2008, accounts for an 89 percent increase in murders over the same time period from 2007. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported in August that the collateral damage from Colombia’s civil war has resulted in more disappearances than occurred in El Salvador and Chile, while Colombia’s attorney general believes there could be as many as 10,000 more bodies scattered across the country — meaning totals would surpass those from Argentina and Peru.

Despite what should be considered as a total failure from a policy and, more importantly, human rights standpoint, this same Colombian model has been promoted by Washington to other nations in the region, and — remarkably — has been embraced by these countries. In 2005, Guatemalan officials called for their own “Plan Guatemala,” while Oscar Berger, president at the time, asked for a permanent DEA station in the country and for U.S. military personnel to conduct anti-narcotics operations. In addition, he was a proponent of a regional rapid deployment force, initially conceived to fight gangs, but later adjusted to include counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in order to attract U.S. support. It should be noted that the AFL-CIO, along with six Guatemalan unions, filed a complaint, allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), on April 23, 2008, charging the Guatemalan government with not upholding its labor laws and for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members — which include rape and murder. This speaks to the idea of securing a “business-friendly” climate like in Colombia, which many in Washington want to reward with a free trade agreement. Guatemala’s government is currently led by President Alvaro Colom, a politician who represents the country’s ruling oligarchs. Pre-election violence during his campaign claimed the lives of over 50 candidates (or their family members) and political activists, in a country Amnesty International reports is infested with “clandestine groups” comprised of members of “the business sector, private security companies, common criminals, gang members and possibly ex and current members of the armed forces” responsible for targeting human rights activists.

This regional militaristic strategy finally materialized into policy on June 30 when President Bush signed into law the Meridia Initiative, or “Plan Mexico,” which according to Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program “could allocate up to $1.6 billion to Mexico, Central American, and Caribbean countries for security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.”

ImageJust one day later, investigative journalist Kristen Bricker reported that a video had surfaced showing a U.S.-based private security company teaching torture techniques to Mexican police. This led Amnesty International to call for an investigation on July 3 to determine why techniques such as “holding a detainee down in a pit full of excrement and rats and forcing water up the nostrils of the detainee in order to secure information” were being taught. Later in July the Inter Press Service published a story about a 53-page report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America 2007-2008 that suggested “Central America is backsliding badly on human rights issues, and social unrest could flare up into civil wars like those experienced in the last decades of the 20th century.”

Nevertheless, Washington continues to push for the re-militarization of the region, as evidenced by a $2.6 million aid package given to El Salvador in October to “fight gangs.” Coincidentally, this was announced just months after the Inter Press Service reported in a June 16 article that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte “expressed concern over supposed ties between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN),” while also announcing that “the Bush administration is on the alert to Iran’s presence in Central America.”

Playing the Terror Card

In order to up the ante as a means of promoting this militaristic vision for the Americas and to vilify strategic “enemies” such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Washington has added the “War on Terror” into the equation by spreading unfounded allegations about Islamic terrorist infiltration into the region.

Journalists Ben Dangl and April Howard of Upside Down World, reporting for EXTRA! in Oct. 2007, wrote “In the Cold War, Washington and the media used the word ‘communism’ to rally public opinion against political opponents. Now, in the post– September 11 world, there is a new verbal weapon — ‘terrorism.'” This puts into context Washington’s evidence-lacking assertions that the Tri-Border Area, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, is a hub for Islamic Terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, claims the mainstream media have obsequiously parroted, yet Dangl and Howard helped disprove. Dangl and Howard, reporting from Ciudad del Este, a city located in the center of this alleged “hotbed” of terrorsim, talked with Paraguayan officials, as well as local residents, all of whom denied there was any presence of foreign terrorist groups. They pointed out that the governments of Brazil and Argentina have also denied the claims. But the terrorist assertions haven’t stopped there.

Norman A. Bailey, a former U.S. spy chief for Cuba and Venezuela, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 17 that “financial support has been provided [by drug traffickers] to insurgent groups in certain countries, most notoriously to the FARC in Colombia, as well as to ETA, the Basque separatist organization, and most importantly to Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, through their extensive network in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.”

The State Department’s David M. Luna, Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, gave a statement on Oct. 8 claiming that international terrorist organizations will collaborate with regional criminal networks to smuggle WMD’s across the U.S.’s border with Mexico.

“Fighting transnational crime must go hand in hand with fighting terrorists, if we want to ensure that we ‘surface them,’” stated Luna. He also went on to regurgitate the empty claims of the Tri-Border Islamic threat.

That same day the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials were concerned with alliances being formed by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Latin American drug cartels.

“The presence of these people in the region leaves open the possibility that they will attempt to attack the United States,” said Charles Allen, a veteran CIA analyst. “The threats in this hemisphere are real. We cannot ignore them.”

And on Oct. 21 The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. and Colombian officials allegedly dismantled a drug and money laundering ring used to finance Hezbollah.

This post-Sept. 11 fear-mongering, being carried out for years now, has served as a pretext for Washington to deploy Special Operations troops in embassies across the globe, including Latin America, “to gather intelligence on terrorists…for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them.”

The New York Times, which broke the story on March 8, 2006, reported that this initiative, led by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was an attempt to broaden the U.S. military’s role in intelligence gathering. The soldiers, referred to as “Military Liaison Elements,” were initially deployed without the knowledge of local ambassadors. This changed after an armed robber in Paraguay was killed after attempting to rob a group of soldiers covertly deployed to the country. Senior embassy officials were “embarrassed” by the episode as the soldiers were operating out of a hotel, rather than the embassy.

But in a follow-up by The Washington Post on April 22, “the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform — rather than gain the approval of — the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country” when deploying these “elite Special Operations Troops.” This development has remained largely under the radar, with the exception of analysis by Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

A New Cold War?

ImageIn Oct. 2006 President Bush signed a waiver that authorized the U.S. military to resume certain types of training to a number of militaries in the region which had been suspended as a result of a bill intended to punish countries not signing bilateral agreements that would grant immunity to U.S. citizens from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

Bush was forced to act as a result of Venezuela’s growing influence in the region, as well as the “red” threat that China’s growing business in the region presented.

“The Chinese are standing by and I can’t think of anything that is worse than having those people go over there and get indoctrinated by them. And I think maybe we should address that because that’s a very serious thing,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), at a March 14, 2008, hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), at the same hearing, said this was “a serious threat” and called for ending the restrictions on U.S. military training programs imposed on Latin American nations for refusing to sign the bilateral immunity agreements. Of course, Latin American nations should not be subject to sanctions for quite properly rejecting the immunity agreements; but neither should there be training programs for their repressive militaries, to teach these militaries repressive practices.

The Associated Press reported in Oct. that “China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. [And] In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.”

These developments should further perpetuate the “Red Scare” making its way through the Senate. Then there is Russia’s military sales and cooperation with Venezuela. U.S. News and World Report’s Alastair Gee wrote a fear-mongering article on Oct. 14, 2008, in which he stated, “This is not the first time Russians have sought close links with Latin America. In 1962, the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba nearly precipitated nuclear war with the United States. The Soviets also funded regional communist parties and invited students from the region to study in Soviet universities.”

But more importantly, it is the region’s “march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism” that has drummed up a cold war mentality in Washington. With democratically elected presidents in the region openly embracing socialism and socialist-style policies, economic programs in various countries that include nationalizing industries and “redistributing the wealth”, and social movements ideologically and physically confronting free market capitalism, it should come as no surprise that anti-globalization movements have found themselves classified as a national security threat to the United States. A declassified April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” states, “Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.”

ImageMoving Forward

Developments in Latin America are reason for hope and optimism that “a new, better and possible world” could be on the horizon. But these very same reasons are cause for concern.

With Washington’s imperial stretch on the decline, both militarily and economically, both history and current conditions suggest it will try to reassert itself in Latin America — just as it did after Vietnam.

But because of the deeply embedded and institutionalized nature of Washington’s imperial machine, it doesn’t matter much which party controls the White House and Congress. To fight these developments, we need to continue to grow grassroots media projects and support independent journalists, build long-term solidarity with Latin American social movements and build social movements in the United States, fight free trade and do our part to shed light upon the structural violence threatening Latin America’s promising future — which is directly tied to ours.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at http://www.UpsideDownWorld.org.

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