The Other 9/11 Returns to Haunt Latin America July 3, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: Allende, chavez coup, Chile, chile 9/11, chile coup, chile history, cia, cia latin america, democracy, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras election, honduras government, honduras history, honduras military, honduras politics, honduras repression, Hugo Chavez, johann hari, kissinger, Latin America, latin america democracy, latin america history, manuel zelaya, obama honduras, pinochet, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, venezuala coup
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It was inevitable that the people at the top would fight to preserve their privileges
by Johann Hari
The ghost of the other, deadlier 9/11 has returned to stalk Latin America. On Sunday morning, a battalion of soldiers rammed their way into the Presidential Palace in Honduras. They surrounded the bed where the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, was sleeping, and jabbed their machine guns to his chest. They ordered him to get up and marched him on to a military plane. They dumped him in his pyjamas on a landing strip in Costa Rica and told him never to return to the country that freely chose him as their head of state.
Back home, the generals locked down the phone networks, the internet and international TV channels, and announced their people were in charge now. Only sweet, empty music plays on the radio. Government ministers have been arrested and beaten. If you leave your home after 9pm, the population have been told, you risk being shot. Tanks and tear gas are ranged against the protesters who have thronged on to the streets.
For the people of Latin America, this is a replay of their September 11. On that day in Chile in 1973, Salvador Allende – a peaceful democratic socialist who was steadily redistributing wealth to the poor majority – was bombed from office and forced to commit suicide. He was replaced by a self-described “fascist”, General Augusto Pinochet, who went on to “disappear” tens of thousands of innocent people. The coup was plotted in Washington DC, by Henry Kissinger.
The official excuse for killing Chilean democracy was that Allende was a “communist”. He was not. In fact, he was killed because he was threatening the interests of US and Chilean mega-corporations by shifting the country’s wealth and land from them to its own people. When Salvador Allende’s widow died last week, she seemed like a symbol from another age – and then, a few days later, the coup came back.
Honduras is a small country in Central America with only seven million inhabitants, but it has embarked on a programme of growing democracy of its own. In 2005, Zelaya ran promising to help the country’s poor majority – and he kept his word. He increased the minimum wage by 60 per cent, saying sweatshops were no longer acceptable and “the rich must pay their share”.
The tiny elite at the top – who own 45 per cent of the country’s wealth – are horrified. They are used to having Honduras run by them, for them.
But this wave of redistributing wealth to the population is washing over Latin America. In the barrios and favelas, I have seen how shanty towns made out of mud and rusted tin now have doctors and teachers and subsidised supermarkets for the first time, because they elected leaders who have turned the spigot of oil money in their direction. In Venezuela, for example, the poorest half of the country has seen its incomes soar by 130 per cent after inflation since they chose Hugo Chavez as their President, according to studies cited by the Nobel Prize-winning US economist Joseph Stiglitz. Infant mortality has plummeted.
No wonder so many Latin American countries are inspired by this example: the notion that Chavez has to “bribe” or “brainwash” people like Zelaya is bizarre.
It was always inevitable that the people at the top would fight back to preserve their unearned privilege. In 2002, the Venezuelan oligarchy conspired with the Bush administration in the kidnapping of Hugo Chavez. It was only a massive democratic uprising of the people that forced his return. Now they have tried the same in Honduras.
Yet the military-business nexus have invented a propaganda-excuse that is being eagerly repeated by dupes across the Western world. The generals claim they have toppled the democratically elected leader and arrested his ministers to save democracy.
Here’s how it happened. Honduras has a constitution that was drawn up in 1982, by the oligarchy, under supervision from the outgoing military dictatorship. It states that the President can only serve only one term, while the military remains permanent and “independent” – in order to ensure they remain the real power in the land.
Zelaya believed this was a block on democracy, and proposed a referendum to see if the people wanted to elect a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution. It could curtail the power of the military, and perhaps allow the President to run for re-election. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that it is unconstitutional to hold a binding referendum within a year of a presidential election. So Zelaya proposed holding a non-binding referendum instead, just to gauge public opinion. This was perfectly legal. The military – terrified of the verdict of the people – then marched in with their guns.
But there has been progress since the days of 1973, or even 2002. The coups against Allende and Chavez were eagerly backed by the CIA and White House. But this time, Barack Obama has said: “We believe the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras.” He called the coup “a terrible precedent”.
His reaction hasn’t been perfect: unlike France and Spain, he hasn’t withdrawn the US Ambassador yet. He supports the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which are vast brakes on Latin American democracy, and he bad-mouths Chavez while arming the genuinely abusive Colombian government. But it is a vast improvement on Bush and McCain, who would have been mistily chorusing “We are all Honduran Generals now”.
The ugliest face of the Latin American oligarchy is now standing alone against the world, showing its contempt for democracy and for its own people. They are fighting to preserve the old continent where all the wealth goes to them at the end of a machine gun. I have seen the price for this: I have lived in the rubbish dumps of the continent, filled with dark-skinned scavenging children, while a few miles away there are suburbs that look like Beverly Hills.
This weekend, Zelaya will return to the country that elected him, flanked by the presidents of Argentina and the Organisation of American States, to take his rightful place. Whether he succeeds or fails will tell us if the children of the rubbish dumps have reason to hope – and whether the smoke from the deadliest 9/11 has finally cleared.
© 2009 The Independent
Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent. He has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world.
Tags: roger hollander, henry kissinger, U.S. imperialism, bay of pigs, benjamin dangl, president obama, latin america politics, latin america history, daniel ortega, summit of the americas, argentina dictatorship, mothers of the plaza de mayo, general videla, argentina torture, argentina missing, plaza de mayo, hebe bonafini, disappeared argentina, argentina military dictatorship, argentina history, argentina politics
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Tuesday 21 April 2009
by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Report
The weekend that the hemisphere’s presidents met in Trinidad at the Summit of the Americas marked the same weekend that Cuba defeated the US in the Bay of Pigs invasion 48 years ago. At the Summit, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega recalled the invasion in a speech that rightly criticized US imperialism throughout the 20th century. President Barack Obama replied, “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”
However, as the US president, Obama inherits a bloody legacy that is still very much alive in today’s Latin America. Just weeks before the presidents met in Trinidad, thousands of Argentines marched once again to demand justice for 30,000 people disappeared in a US-backed military dictatorship.
On March 24, 1976 a military junta took power in Argentina, and, until 1981, General Jorge Rafael Videla presided over the country in a reign of terror, torture, surveillance and murder.
On March 24, 2009, in Mendoza, Argentina, colorful marches filled the central streets of the city in remembrance of the coup, and to demand justice. The various banners and placards waving above the crowd were a testament to Argentina’s healthy political diversity in activism and politics – from Maoists selling their newspapers to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo giving teary hugs to supporters and friends.
Though the march was organized around one central theme – justice, truth and memory regarding the dictatorship – other themes arose in the crowd as well, including the negative impact of soy production, rising bus fares and political corruption.
The march was a time to remember when Henry Kissinger gave his blessing to the Argentine military junta in 1976, saying, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly” and reassuring the torturing, bloody leaders when he said, “I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”
Marches and protests in Buenos Aires on the same day were attended by the famous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a powerful human rights movement that for decades has been demanding the truth regarding the whereabouts of their disappeared children. One document read by some of the Mothers explained that still, after all these years, “the slowness of justice generates impunity and impunity only creates more impunity.”
A column by one leading Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, Hebe Bonafini, explained that her movement is also doing more than just marching and lobbying for justice. Their reach has expanded into all kinds of media and walks of life. They have opened a literary café and publishing house, and hold seminars which 2,800 different students attend. Their “Shared Dreams” project provides housing in poor neighborhoods as well as soup kitchens and daycare centers. Their radio station reaches into neighboring Uruguay and as far away as Brazil.
During the Buenos Aires mobilizations, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo spoke of the fact that “today there have still only been 44 sentences” for the authors of “a plan of systematic extermination” during the dictatorship. Therefore, the Mothers said, “we have to keep on fighting for truth and justice,” as there are still 526 criminals of the dictatorship that still need to be tried. They demanded an “opening of the all of the archives of the Armed Forces and security to know to the truth.” They also called for the appearance of Julio López, the main testifier in a case against Miguel Etchecolatz, a repressor under the dictatorship.
Julio López, a political prisoner during the dictatorship, was disappeared in 2006 a few hours before he was scheduled to testify against Etchecolatz. López was last seen on September 18, 2006. Journalist Marie Trigona reported that Nilda Eloy, another survivor of the dictatorship who testified with López to convict Etchecolatz, said, “Most of the evidence suggests that Julio López was kidnapped by the gangsters from the Greater Buenos Aires police force and rightwing fascists …”
Outside Buenos Aires, other cities remembered these harsh times that still cast shadows over generations upon generations. But this March 24 was also a time of hope and reconstruction. In Cordoba, Argentina, La Perla (The Pearl), a detention and torture center run by the military dictatorship was transformed into a “Space for Memory” and opened to the public. Emiliano Fessia, a member of the HIJOS human rights organization, said of the space, “This will now be a place of life, after being a place of death.”
Benjamin Dangl, based in Paraguay, is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press), and the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: Bendangl@gmail.com.
El Salvador Votes Away Its Bad Past March 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Latin America.
Tags: arena, aristide, central america, d'aubuison, daniel ortega, death squads, El Salvador, el salvador government, el salvador history, el salvador politics, el salvador poverty, Evo Morales, fmln, haiti, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, latin america history, latin america politics, mark weisbrot, mauricio funes, obama administration, oscar romero, roger hollander, ronald reagan, salvadoran military, zelaya
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Published on Friday, March 20, 2009 by The Guardian/UK
Last Sunday’s election in El Salvador, in which the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation) won the presidency, didn’t get a lot of attention in the international press. It’s a relatively small country (7 million people on land the size of Massachusetts) and fairly poor (per capita income about half the regional average). And left governments have become the norm in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela have all elected left governments over the last decade. South America is now more independent of the United States than Europe is.
But the FMLN’s victory in El Salvador has a special significance for this hemisphere.
Central America and the Caribbean have long been the United States’ “back yard” more than anywhere else. The people of the region have paid a terrible price – in blood, poverty and underdevelopment – for their geographical and political proximity to the United States. The list of US interventions in the area would take up the rest of this column, stretching from the 19th century (Cuba, in 1898) to the 21st, with the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (for the second time) in 2004.
Those of us who can remember the 1980s can see President Ronald Reagan on television warning that “El Salvador is nearer to Texas than Texas is to Massachusetts” as he sent guns and money to the Salvadoran military and its affiliated death squads. Their tens of thousands of targets – for torture, terror and murder – were overwhelmingly civilians, including Catholic priests, nuns and the heroic archbishop Oscar Romero. It seems ridiculous now that Reagan could have convinced the US Congress that the people who won Sunday’s election were not only a threat to our national security, but one that justified horrific atrocities. But he did. At the same time millions of Americans – including many church-based activists – joined a movement to stop US support for the terror, as well as what the United Nations later called genocide in Guatemala, along with the US-backed insurgency in Nicaragua (which was also a war against civilians).
Now we have come full circle. In 2007, Guatemalans elected a social democratic president for the first time since 1954, when the CIA intervened to overthrow the government. Last September, President Zelaya of Honduras – which served as a base for US military and paramilitary operations in the 1980s – joined with Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez when they expelled their US ambassadors. Zelaya defended their actions and postponed the accreditation of the US ambassador to Honduras, saying that “the world powers must treat us fairly and with respect”. In 2006 Nicaraguans elected Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas, the same president that Washington had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to topple in the 1980s.
El Salvador’s election was not only another step toward regional independence but a triumph of hope against fear, much as in the US presidential election of 2008. The ruling ARENA party, which was founded by right-wing death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, made fear their brand: fear of another civil war, fear of bad relations with the United States, fear of a “communist dictatorship”. Almost comically, they tried to make the election into a referendum on Hugo Chávez. (Venezuela kept its distance from the election, with no endorsements or statements other than its desire to have good relations with whomever won.)
ARENA was joined by Republican members of Congress from the United States, who tried to promote the idea that Salvadorans – about a quarter of whom live in the US – would face extraordinary problems with immigration and remittances if the FMLN won. Although these threats were completely without merit, the right’s control over the media made them real for many Salvadorans. In the 2004 election the Bush administration joined this effort to intimidate Salvadoran voters, and it helped the right win.
The right’s control over the media, its abuse of government in the elections and its vast funding advantage (there are no restrictions on foreign funding) led José Antonio de Gabriel, the deputy chief of the European Union’s observer mission, to comment on “the absence of a level playing field”. It’s amazing that the FMLN was still able to win, and testimony to the high level of discipline, organisation and self-sacrifice that comes from having a leadership that has survived war and hell on earth.
This time around, the Obama administration, after receiving thousands of phone calls – thanks to the solidarity movement that stems from the 1980s – issued a statement of neutrality on the Friday before the election. The administration appears divided on El Salvador as with the rest of Latin America’s left: at least one of Obama’s highest-level advisors on Latin America favoured the right-wing ruling party. But the statement of neutrality was a clear break from the Bush administration.
El Salvador’s new president, Mauricio Funes – a popular former TV journalist – will face many challenges, especially on the economic front. The country exports 10% of its GDP to the United States, and receives another 18% in remittances from Salvadorans living there. Along with sizeable private investment flows, this makes El Salvador very vulnerable to the deep US recession. El Salvador has also adopted the US dollar as its national currency. This means that it cannot use exchange rate policy and is severely limited in monetary policy to counteract the recession. On top of this, it has recently signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that commits the government to not pursuing a fiscal stimulus for this year. And the FMLN will not have a majority in the Congress.
But the majority of Salvadorans, who are poor or near-poor, decided that the left would be more likely than the right to look out for them in hard times. That’s a reasonable conclusion, and one that is shared by most of the hemisphere.