Media Hate Fest for Venezuela Keeps on Keepin’ On February 1, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
Tags: corporate media, el pais, Hugo Chavez, john lee anderson, Latin America, mark weisbrot, Media, new yorker, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela economy, venezuela education, venezuela health, venezuela poverty, yellow journalism
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Last week there was a real media hate-fest for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, with some of the more influential publications on both sides of the Atlantic really hating on the guy. Even by the hate-filled standards to which we have become accustomed, it was impressive.
Spanish flagship newspaper El Pais – known to be hostile to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – retracted its online and print editions after publishing on its front page a fake photo of Chavez using a breathing tube. (Reuters)
It’s interesting, since this is one of the only countries in the world where the reporting of the more liberal media – NPR or even the New Yorker - is hardly different from that of Fox News or other right-wing media (more on that below).
The funniest episode came from El País, which on Thursday ran a front page picture of a man that they claimed was Chavez, lying on his back in a hospital bed, looking pretty messed-up with tubes in his mouth. The picture was soon revealed as completely fake. Oops! The paper, which is Spain’s most influential publication (and with a lot of clout in Latin America, too), had to pull its newspapers off the stands and issue a public apology. Although, as the Venezuelans complained, there was no apology to Chavez or his family. Not surprisingly, since El Pais really hates Chavez. For a really funny pictorial response to El Pais, click here.
The New York Times, for its part, ran yet another hate piece on its op-ed page. Dog bites man. Nothing new here, they have doing this for almost 14 years - most recently just three months ago. This one was remarkably unoriginal, comparing the Chavez government to a Latin American magical realist novel. It contained very little information – but being fact-free allowed the authors to claim that the country had “dwindling productivity” and “an enormous foreign debt load”. Productivity has not “dwindled” under Chavez; in fact real GDP per capita, which is mostly driven by productivity growth, expanded by 24 percent since 2004 (for an explanation of why 2004 is a reasonable starting point, see here). In the 20 years prior to Chavez, real GDP per person actually fell. As for the “enormous foreign debt load”, Venezuela’s foreign public debt is about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is about 2 percent of GDP. If this is enormous – well let’s just say these people don’t have a good sense of quantity.
The authors were probably just following a general rule, which is that you can say almost anything you want about Venezuela, so long as it is bad – and it usually goes unquestioned. Statistics and data count for very little when the media is presenting its ugly picture.
This is especially true for Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the January 28 issue of the New Yorker (“Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela?“). He mentions in passing that “the poorest Venezuelans are marginally better off these days”. Marginally? From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half. And this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chavez took office.
I shouldn’t have to emphasise that Venezuela’s poverty reduction, real (inflation-adjusted) income growth, and other basic data in the Chavez era are not in dispute among experts, including international statistical agencies such as the World Bank or UN. Even opposition economists use the same data in making their case against the government. It is only journalists like Anderson who avoid letting commonly agreed upon facts and numbers get in the way of their story.
Anderson devotes many thousands of words, in one of America’s leading literary magazines, to portraying the dark underside of life in Venezuela – ex-cons and squatters, horrible prisons: “A thick black line of human excrement ran down an exterior wall, and in the yard below was a sea of sludge and garbage several feet deep.” He draws on more than a decade of visits to Venezuela to shower the reader with his most foul memories of the society and the government. The article is accompanied by a series of grim, depressing black-and-white photos of unhappy-looking people in ugly surroundings (I couldn’t help thinking of all those international surveys that keep finding Venezuelans to be among the happiest people in Latin America and the world – did Anderson never meet even one of these Venezuelans?).
I am all in favour of journalism that exposes the worst aspects of any society. But what makes this piece just another cheap political hack job is the conclusions that the author draws from his narrow, intentionally chosen slice of Venezuelan reality. For example:
They [Venezuelans] are the victims of their affection for a charismatic man… After nearly a generation, Chavez leaves his countrymen with many unanswered questions, but only one certainty: the revolution that he tried to bring about never really took place. It began with Chavez, and with him, most likely it will end.
Really? It sure doesn’t look that way. Even Chavez’s opponent in the October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, had to promise voters [SP] that he would preserve and actually expand the Chavez-era social programmes that had increased Venezuelans’ access to health care and education. And after Chavez beat him by a wide margin of eleven percentage points, Chavez’s party increased its share of governorships from 15 to 20 of 23 states, in the December elections that followed. In those elections, Chavez was not even in the country.
But it’s the one-sidedness of the New Yorker‘s reporting that is most overwhelming. Imagine, for example, writing an article about the United States at the end of President Clinton’s eight years – interviewing the homeless and the destitute, the people tortured in our prisons, the unemployed and the poor single mothers struggling to feed their children. Could you get away with pretending that this is all of “What Clinton has wrought in America?” Without mentioning that unemployment hit record lows not seen since the 1960s, that poverty was sharply reduced, that it was the longest-running business cycle expansion in US history?
This is an imperfect analogy, since many people outside the US know something about the country, and wouldn’t buy such a one-sided story line. And also because the improvements of the Clinton years didn’t last that long: the stock market bubble burst and caused a recession in 2001; the gains from the recovery that followed went mostly to the richest one percent of the population; and then the housing bubble burst, causing the worst recession since the Great Depression – from which we are still recovering. Unemployment today is considerably above the level of Clinton’s first year in office, and poverty has rebounded dramatically; and we could take another decade to get back to full employment. Whereas in Venezuela, progress has not been reversed; there really is no going back now that the majority of the country has gotten used to sharing in the country’s oil wealth – not just through government programmes but primarily through a higher level of employment and income in the private sector. Maybe that’s not “revolutionary” enough for Anderson, but it’s enough for Venezuelans to keep re-electing their president and his party.
As for the media, it is a remarkable phenomenon, this outpouring of animosity towards Chavez and his government, from across the western media spectrum. How is it that this democratically elected president who hasn’t killed anyone or invaded any countries gets more bad press than Saddam Hussein did (aside from the months immediately preceding invasions of Iraq)? Even when he is fighting for his own life?
The western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it. Fortunately for Venezuelans, they have access to more information about their country than the foreigners who are relying on one-sided and often inaccurate media. So they keep re-electing the president and the party that has improved their lives – much to the annoyance of the major media and its friends.
Why Washington Is Worried About Peru June 2, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alberto fujimori, alejandro toledo, foreign policy, keiko fujimori, Latin America, mark weisbrot, monroe doctrine, ollanta humala, Peru, peru election, roger hollander, vargas llosa
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If its preferred candidate Keiko Fujimori loses to Ollanta Humala, the US will be isolated against South America’s left governments
In just a few days, on Sunday 5 June, an election will take place that will have a significant influence on the western hemisphere. At the moment, it is too close to call. Most of official Washington has been relatively quiet, but there is no doubt that the Obama administration has a big stake in the outcome of this poll.
The election is in Peru, where left populist and former military officer Ollanta Humala is facing off against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former authoritarian ruler Alberto Fujimori, who was president from 1990-2000. Alberto Fujimori is in jail, serving a 25-year sentence for multiple political murders, kidnapping and corruption. Keiko has made it clear that she represents him and his administration, and has been surrounded by his associates and former officials of his government.
Fujimori was found to have had “individual criminal responsibility” for the murders and kidnappings. But his government was responsible for many more widespread murders and human rights abuses, including the forced sterilisation of tens of thousands of women, mostly indigenous.
Between the two candidates, whom do you think Washington would prefer?
If you guessed Keiko Fujimori, you guessed right. I spoke Monday night with Gustavo Gorriti in Lima, an award-winning Peruvian investigative journalist who was one of the people that Alberto Fujimori was convicted of kidnapping. “The US embassy strongly opposes Humala’s candidacy,” he said. Harvard professor of government Steven Levitsky, who has written extensively on Peru and is currently visiting professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), came to the same conclusion: “It’s clear that the US embassy here sees Keiko as the least bad option,” he told me from Lima on Tuesday.
Humala’s opponents argue that Peru’s democracy would be imperilled if he were elected, pointing to a military revolt that he led against Fujimori’s authoritarian government. (He was later pardoned by the Peruvian Congress.) But his record is hardly comparable to the actual, proven crimes of Alberto Fujimori.
Humala is also accused of being an ally of Venezuela‘s President Hugo Chávez. He has distanced himself from Chávez, unlike in his 2006 campaign for the presidency. But all of this is just a rightwing media stunt. Chávez has been demonised throughout the hemispheric media, and so rightwing media monopolies have used him as a bogeyman in numerous elections for years, with varying degrees of success. Of course, Venezuela is also irrelevant to the Peruvian election because almost all governments in South America are “allies of Chávez”. This is especially true of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay, for example, all of whom have very close and collaborative relations with Venezuela.
As in many other elections in Latin America, rightwing domination of the media is key to successful scare tactics. “The majority of TV stations and newspapers have been actively working for Fujimori in this election,” said Levitsky.
The thought of another Fujimori government is so frightening that a number of prominent conservative Peruvian politicians have decided to endorse Humala. Among these is the Nobel prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who hates the Latin American left as much as anyone. Humala has also been endorsed by Alejandro Toledo, the former Peruvian president and contender in the first round of this election.
So why would Washington want Fujimori? The answer is quite simple: it’s about Washington’s waning influence and power in its former “backyard” of Latin America. In South America, there are now left-of-centre governments in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay. These governments have a common position on most hemispheric issues (and sometimes, other international issues, such as the Middle East), and it often differs from that of Washington.
For example, when the Honduran military overthrew the country’s elected left-of-centre president, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, and the Obama administration sought to legitimise the coup government through elections that other governments would not recognise, it was Washington’s few rightwing allies that first broke ranks with the rest of South America.
Prior to last August, the only governments in South America that Washington could count as allies were Chile, Peru and Colombia. But Colombia under President Manuel Santos is no longer a reliable ally, and currently has very good co-operative relations with Venezuela. If Humala wins, there is little doubt that he will join the rest of South America on most issues of concern to Washington. The same cannot be said of Keiko Fujimori.
And that is why Washington is worried about this election.
Venezuelan Elections Show Democracy at Work September 28, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Venezuela.
Tags: democracy, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, Latin American politics, mark weisbrot, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela economy, venezuela election, venezuela government, venezuela opposition
The Venezuela election was not a major blow to Hugo Chávez. It shows politics is working properly again
by Mark Weisbrot
Last weekend’s election for 165 representatives in Venezuela’s national assembly is significant but unlikely to bring about major change, despite the opposition having done better than expected. On the latest count the pro-government United Socialist party has 94 seats, with 60 for the opposition Democratic Unity, five for other parties and the rest undecided. The opposition claims it won a majority of the popular vote, but apparently it was very close between the two main parties.
As expected, most of the international press and its sources hailed the results as a “major blow” to Hugo Chávez, paving the way for his possible removal in the presidential election in 2012. But this is exaggerated.
The vote was widely seen as a referendum on Chávez, and it would be an anomaly in electoral politics if the government did not lose support after a recession last year that continued into the first quarter of this year. Chávez’s popularity has always reflected the economy, reaching a low during the recession of 2002-03 – regardless of the fact that it was caused by an opposition oil strike. His approval rating has fallen from 60% in early 2009 to 46% last month.
For comparison President Obama’s approval rating has fallen from 68% last April to 45% this month, and his party is expected to take big losses in the congressional elections. This is despite him having clearly inherited economic problems from his predecessor.
It is not clear why anyone would expect Venezuela to be exempt from the workings of electoral politics. The opposition has most of the wealth of the country – and most of its media. They have no problem getting their message out. Obama also faces a strong rightwing media, with Fox News now one of the most popular sources for coverage of the autumn elections, but there is much less of an opposition media in the US.
Much has been made of the opposition getting more than a third of the national assembly, thus being able to block legislation that would “deepen the revolution”. Again, the importance of this is greatly exaggerated.
In reality it is unlikely to make much difference. The pace at which it adopts reforms has been limited more by administrative capacity than by politics. The Financial Times recently added up the value of industries nationalised by the Chávez government. Outside oil, it came to less than 8% of GDP over the last five years. Venezuela still has a long way to go before the state has as much a role in the economy as it does in, for instance, France.
On the positive side, the most interesting result of this election is that the opposition participated, has accepted the results, and now has a bloc of representatives that can participate in a parliamentary democracy.
This could be an advance for Venezuelan democracy, which has been undermined by an anti-democratic opposition for more than a decade. As opposition leader Teodoro Petkoff has noted, the opposition pursued a strategy of “military takeover” for the first four years, which included a military coup and a devastating oil strike that crippled the economy. In 2004 the opposition tried to remove Chávez through a referendum; they failed, and then promptly refused to recognise the result – despite its certification by international observers such as the Carter Center and the Organisation of American States.
They then boycotted the last election in 2005, hoping to portray the government as a “dictatorship” and leaving them without representation. This newly elected bloc could potentially draw the opposition into real political participation. If that happens, it would be a significant advance for a country that has been too polarised for too long.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
The Anti-Venezuela Election Campaign March 19, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: foreign policy, hillary clinton, Hugo Chavez, mark weisbrot, Media, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela election, venezuela government, venezuela politics, venezuelan government
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Venezuela’s election is not until September, but the international campaign to delegitimise the government has already begun
by Mark Weisbrot
Venezuela has an election for its national assembly in September, and the campaign has begun in earnest. I am referring to the international campaign. This is carried out largely through the international media, although some will spill over into the Venezuelan media. It involves many public officials, especially in the US. The goal will be to generate as much bad press as possible about Venezuela, to discredit the government, and to delegitimise the September elections – in case the opposition should choose to boycott, as they did in the last legislative elections, or refuse to recognise the results if they lose.
There’s no need for conspiracy, since the principal actors all know what to do. Occasionally some will be off-message due to lack of co-ordination. A fascinating example of this occurred last week when Senator John McCain tried to get General Doug Fraser of the US Southern Command to back his accusations that Venezuela supports terrorist activities. Testifying before the Senate armed services committee on March 11, General Fraser contradicted McCain:
“We have continued to watch very closely … We have not seen any connections specifically that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection.”
Oops! Apparently Fraser didn’t get the memo that the Obama team, not just McCain, is in full campaign mode against Venezuela. The next day, he issued a statement recanting his testimony:
“Assistant Secretary Valenzuela [the state department's top Latin America official] and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the Farc. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement.
“There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the government of Venezuela and the Farc … we are in direct alignment with our partners at the state department and the intelligence community.”
Well it’s good to know that the United States still has civilian control over the military, at least in the western hemisphere. On the other hand, it would be even better if the truth counted for anything in these Congressional hearings or in Washington foreign policy circles generally. The general’s awkward and seemingly forced reversal went unnoticed by the media.
The “documented and historical and ongoing evidence” mentioned by General Fraser refers to material alleged to come from laptops and hard drives allegedly found by the Colombian military in a cross-border raid into Ecuador in 2008. Never mind that this is the same military that has been found to have killed hundreds of innocent teenagers and dressed them up in guerrilla clothing. These laptops and hard drives will continue to be tapped for previously undisclosed “evidence”, which will then be deployed in the campaign against the Venezuelan government. We will be asked to assume that the “captured documents” are authentic, and most of the media will do so.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton‘s attacks on Venezuela during her trip to South America were one of the opening salvos of this campaign. Most of what will follow is predictable. There will be hate-filled editorials in the major newspapers, led by the neocon editorial board of the Washington Post (aka Fox on 15th Street). Chávez will be accused of repressing the media, even though most of the Venezuelan media – as measured by audience – is still controlled by the opposition. In fact, the media in Venezuela is still far more in opposition to the government than is our own media in the United States, or for that matter in most of the world. But the international press will be trying to convey the image that Venezuela is Burma or North Korea.
In Washington DC, if I try to broadcast on an FM radio frequency without a legal broadcast licence, I will be shut down. When this happens in Venezuela, it is reported as censorship. No one here will bother to look at the legalities or the details, least of all the pundits and editorial writers, or even many of the reporters.
The Venezuelan economy was in recession in 2009, but will likely begin to grow again this year. The business press will ignore the economic growth and hype the inflation, as they have done for the past six years, when the country’s record economic growth cut the poverty rate by half and extreme poverty by 70% (which was also ignored). Resolutions will be introduced into the US Congress condemning Venezuela for whatever.
The US government will continue to pour millions of dollars into Venezuela through USAid, and will refuse to disclose the recipients. This is the non-covert part of their funding for the campaign inside Venezuela.
The only part of this story that is not predictable is what the ultimate result of the international campaign will be. In Venezuela’s last legislative elections of 2005, the opposition boycotted the national elections, with at least tacit support from the Bush administration. In an attempt to delegitimise the government, they gave up winning probably at least 30% of the legislature.
At the time, most of the media – and also the Organisation of American States – rejected the idea that the election was illegitimate simply because the opposition boycotted. But that was under the Bush administration, which had lost some credibility on Venezuela due to its support for the 2002 coup, and for other reasons. It could be different under an Obama administration.
That is why it is so ominous to see this administration mounting an unprovoked, transparently obvious campaign to delegitimise the Venezuelan government prior to a national election. This looks like a signal to the opposition: “We will support you if you decide to return to an insurrectionary strategy,” either before or after the election.
The US state department is playing an ugly and dangerous game.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Clinton’s Latin American Blunders March 5, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: Brazil, democracy, diplomacy, falklands, foreign policy, hillary clinton, honduras coup, honduras repression, Latin America, malvinas, mark weisbrot, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, zelaya
Offensive remarks on Honduras, gratuitous insults in Brazil – Hillary Clinton’s Latin American tour has not been a success
by Mark Weisbrot
Hillary Clinton‘s Latin America tour is turning out to be about as successful as George W Bush’s visit in 2005, when he ended up leaving Argentina a day ahead of schedule just to get the hell out of town. The main difference is that she is not being greeted with protests and riots. For that she can thank the positive media image that her boss, President Obama, has managed to maintain in the region, despite his continuation of his predecessor’s policies.
But she has been even more diplomatically clumsy that Bush, who at least recognised that there were serious problems and knew what not to say. “The Honduras crisis has been managed to a successful conclusion,” Clinton said in Buenos Aires, adding that “it was done without violence.”
This is rubbing salt into her hosts’ wounds, as they see the military overthrow of President Mel Zelaya last June, and subsequent efforts by the US to legitimise the dictatorship there as not only a failure but a threat to democracy throughout the region.
It is also an outrageous thing to say, given the political killings, beatings, mass arrests, and torture that the coup government used in order to maintain power and repress the pro-democracy movement. The worst part is that they are still committing these crimes.
Today nine members of the US Congress – including some Democrats in Congressional leadership positions – wrote to Clinton and to the White House about this violence. They wrote:
“Since President Lobo’s inauguration, several prominent opponents of the coup have been attacked. On 3 February, Vanessa Zepeda, a nurse and union organiser who had previously received death threats linked to her activism in the resistance movement, was strangled and her body dumped from a vehicle in Tegucigalpa. On 15 February, Julio Funes Benitez, a member of the [water and sewage workers] trade union and an active member of the national resistance movement, was shot and killed by unknown gunmen on a motorcycle outside his home. Most recently, Claudia Brizuela, an opposition activist, was murdered in her home on 24 February. Unfortunately these are only three of the numerous attacks against activists and their families … “
Clinton will meet on Friday with “Pepe” Lobo of Honduras, who was elected president after a campaign marked by media shutdowns and police repression of dissent. The Organisation of American States and European Union refused to send official observers to the election.
The members of Congress also asked that Clinton, in her meeting with Lobo, “send a strong unambiguous message that the human rights situation in Honduras will be a critical component of upcoming decisions regarding the further normalisations of relations, as well as the resumption of financial assistance.”
This was the third letter that Clinton received from Congress on human rights in Honduras. On 7 August and 25 September members of Congress from Hillary Clinton’s own Democratic party wrote to her to complain of the ongoing human rights abuses in Honduras and impossibility of holding free elections under these conditions. They did not even get a perfunctory reply until 28 January, more than four months after the second letter was sent. This is an unusual level of disrespect for the elected representatives of one’s own political party.
For these New Cold Warriors, it seems that all that has mattered is that they got rid of one social democratic president of one small, poor country.
In Brazil, Clinton continued her cold war strategy by throwing in some gratuitous insults toward Venezuela. This is a bit like going to a party and telling the host how much you don’t like his friends. After ritual denunciations of Venezuela, Clinton said “We wish Venezuela were looking more to its south and looking at Brazil and looking at Chile and other models of a successful country.”
Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim responded with diplomacy, but there was no mistaking his strong rebuff to her insults: he said that he agreed with “one point” that Clinton made, “that Venezuela should look southwards more … that is why we have invited Venezuela to join MERCOSUR as a full member country.” Clinton’s rightwing allies in Paraguay’s legislature – the remnants of that country’s dictatorship and 60 years of one-party rule – are currently holding up Venezuela’s membership in the South American trade block. This is not what she wanted to hear from Brazil.
The Brazilians also rejected Clinton’s rather undiplomatic efforts to pressure them to join Washington in calling for new sanctions against Iran. “It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall,” said Brazilian president Lula da Silva.” The prudent thing is to establish negotiations.”
“We will not simply bow down to an evolving consensus if we do not agree,” Amorim said at a press conference with Clinton.
Secretary Clinton made one concession to Argentina, calling for the UK to sit down with the Argentine government and discuss their dispute over the Malvinas (Falklands) Islands. But it seems unlikely that Washington will do anything to make this happen.
For now, the next crucial test will be Honduras: will Clinton continue Washington’s efforts to whitewash the Honduran government’s repression? Or will she listen to the rest of the hemisphere as well as her own Democratic members of Congress and insist on some concessions regarding human rights, including the return of Mel Zelaya to his country (as the Brazilians also emphasised)? This story may not get much US media attention, but Latin America will be watching.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government Is on With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras December 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: Amnesty International, democracy, foreign policy, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras aid, honduras coup, honduras election, honduras military, honduras repression, human rights, Latin America, mark weisbrot, monroe doctrine, oas, obama administration, roger hollander, zelaya
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by Mark Weisbrot
At dawn on June 28, the Honduran military abducted President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint and flew him out of the country. Conflicting and ambiguous statements from the Obama administration left many confused about whether it opposed this coup or was really trying to help it succeed. Here are the top ten indicators (with apologies to David Letterman):
- The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy. Since U.S. officials have acknowledged that they were talking to the Honduran military right up to the day of the coup – allegedly to try and prevent it – they had time to think about what their immediate response would be if it happened.
- The Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations General Assembly, and other international bodies responded by calling for the “immediate and unconditional” return of President Zelaya. In the ensuing five months, no U.S. official would use either of those two words.
- At a press conference the day after the coup, Secretary of State Clinton was asked if “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.
- On July 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced President Zelaya’s attempt to return to his own country that week as “reckless,” adding that “We have consistently urged all parties to avoid any provocative action that could lead to violence.”
- Most U.S. aid to Honduras comes from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency. The vast majority of this aid was never suspended. By contrast, on August 6, 2008, there was a military coup in Mauritania; MCC aid was suspended the next day. In Madagascar, the MCC announced the suspension of aid just three days after the military coup of March 17, 2009.
- On September 28, State Department officials representing the United States blocked the OAS from adopting a resolution on Honduras that would have refused to recognize Honduran elections carried out under the dictatorship.
- The United States government refused to officially determine that there was a “military coup,” in Honduras – in contrast to the view of rest of the hemisphere and the world.
- The Obama administration defied the rest of the hemisphere and the world by supporting undemocratic elections in Honduras.
- On October 30th, U.S. government representatives including Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. State Department official for Latin America, brokered an accord between President Zelaya and the coup regime. The agreement was seen throughout the region as providing for Zelaya’s restitution, and – according to diplomats close to the negotiations – both Shannon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave assurances that this was true.
- Yet just four days later, Mr. Shannon stated in a TV interview that the United States would recognize the November 29 elections, regardless of whether or not Zelaya were restored to the presidency. This put the United States against all of Latin America, which issued a 23-nation statement two days later saying that Zelaya’s restitution was an “indispensable prerequisite” for recognizing the elections. The Obama administration has since been able to recruit the right-wing governments of Canada, Panama, and Colombia, and also Peru, to recognize the elections. But its support for these undemocratic elections – to which the OAS, European Union, and the Carter Center all refused to send observers – has left the Obama administration as isolated as its predecessor in the hemisphere.
- President Zelaya visited Washington six times after he was overthrown. Yet President Obama has never once met with him. Is it possible that President Obama did not have even five minutes in all of those days just to shake his hand and say, “I’m trying to help?”
- The Obama administration has never condemned the massive human rights violations committed by the coup regime. These have been denounced and documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as Honduran, European, and other human rights organizations. There have been thousands of illegal arrests, beatings and torture by police and military, the closing down of independent radio and TV stations, and even some killings of peaceful demonstrators and opposition activists.
- These human rights violations have continued right through election day, according to Amnesty International and media reports, and beyond, including the killings of two activists opposed to the coup – Walter Trochez and Santos Corrales García – in recent days.
- The United States government’s silence through more than five months of these human rights crimes has been the most damning and persistent evidence that it has always been more concerned about protecting the dictatorship, rather than restoring democracy in Honduras.
The majority of American voters elected President Obama on a promise that our foreign policy would change. For this hemisphere, at least, that promise has been broken.
The headline from the latest Time Magazine report on Honduras summed it up: “Obama’s Latin America Policy Looks Like Bush’s.“
Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere November 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: democracy, foreign policy, hillary clinton, honduran dictatorship, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras dictatorship, honduras election, honduras military, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, mark weisbrot, monroe doctrine, rio group, roger hollander
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A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”
Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”- if we can get away with it.
“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.
On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.
Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.
Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.
Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.
Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.
What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!” It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.
Spoiling Manuel Zelaya’s Homecoming September 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Foreign Policy, Honduras.
Tags: roger hollander, Latin America, human rights, Obama, human rights violations, foreign policy, oas, hillary clinton, obama administration, mark weisbrot, latin america politics, zelaya, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras repression, honduras army, honduras dictatorship, mejias
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Now that Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras, the coup government – after first denying that he was there – has unleashed a wave of repression to prevent people from gathering support for their elected president.
This is how US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described the first phase of this new repression Monday night in a press conference: “I think that the government imposed a curfew, we just learned, to try to get people off the streets so that there couldn’t be unforeseen developments.”
But the developments that this dictatorship is trying to repress are very much foreseen. A completely peaceful crowd of thousands surrounded the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya has taken refuge, to greet their president. The military then used the curfew as an excuse to tear-gas, beat and arrest the crowd until there was nothing left. There are reports of scores wounded and three dead. The dictatorship has cut off electricity and water to the embassy and cut electricity to what little is left of the independent media, as well as some neighbourhoods.
This is how the dictatorship has been operating. It has a very brutal but simple strategy.
The strategy goes like this: they control the national media, which has been deployed to convince about 30-40% of the population that their elected president is an agent of a foreign government who seeks to turn the country into a socialist prison. However, that still leaves the majority, who have managed to find access to other information.
The strategy for dealing with them has been to try to render them powerless – through thousands of arrests, beatings and even some selective killings. This has been documented, reported and denounced by major human rights organisations throughout the world: Amnesty International, the Centre for Justice and International Law, Human Rights Watch, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and others.
One important actor, the only major country to maintain an ambassador in Honduras throughout the dictatorship, has maintained a deafening silence about this repression: the US government. The Obama administration has not uttered one word about the massive human rights violations in Honduras.
This silence by itself tells you all you need to know about what this administration has really been trying to accomplish in the nearly three months since the Honduran military squelched democracy. The Obama team understands exactly how the coup government is maintaining its grip on power through violence and repression. And Barack Obama, along with his secretary of state, has shown no intention of undermining this strategy.
In fact, Zelaya has been to Washington six times since he was overthrown, but not once did he get a meeting with Obama. Why is that? Most likely because Obama does not want to send the “wrong” signal to the dictatorship, ie that the lip service that he has paid to Zelaya’s restoration should be taken seriously.
These signals are important, because the Honduran dictatorship is digging in its heels on the bet that they don’t have to take any pressure from Washington seriously. They have billions of dollars of assets in the US, which could be frozen or seized. But the dictatorship, for now, trusts that the Obama team is not going to do anything to hurt their allies.
Luz Mejias, the head of the Organisation of American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission, had a different view of the dictatorship’s curfew from that of Hillary Clinton. She called it “a clear violation of human rights and legal norms” and said that those who ordered these measures should be charged under international criminal law.
What possible excuse can the military have for breaking up this peaceful gathering, or can Clinton have for supporting the army’s violence? There was no way that this crowd was a threat to the Brazilian embassy – quite the contrary. If anything it was protecting the embassy. That is one reason why the military attacked the crowd.
On 11 August, 16 members of the US Congress sent a letter to Obama urging him to “publicly denounce the use of violence and repression of peaceful protesters, the murder of peaceful political organisers and all forms of censorship and intimidation directed at media outlets.” They are still waiting for an answer.
Some might recall what happened to Bill Clinton when his administration sent mixed signals to the dictatorship in Haiti in 1994. Clinton had called for the dictator Raul Cedras to step down so that the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide could be restored. But Cedras was convinced – partly because of contradictory statements from administration officials like Brian Latell of the CIA – that Clinton was not serious.
Even after Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell and then-senator Sam Nunn were sent to Haiti to try to persuade Cedras to leave before a promised US invasion, the dictator still did not believe it. In September 1994, Clinton sent 20,000 troops to topple the dictatorship and restore the elected president (who ironically was overthrown again in 2004, in a US-instigated coup).
By now, the coup government in Honduras has even less reason than the 1994 Haitian dictatorship to believe that the Obama team will do anything serious to remove it from power.
What a horrible, ugly message the Obama administration is sending to the democracies of Latin America, and to people who aspire to democracy everywhere.
US Drops Call to Restore Ousted Honduran Leader August 7, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: foreign policy, hillary clinton, honduran military, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras sanctions, Latin America, manuel zelaya, mark weisbrot, micheletti, monroe doctrine, obama administration, oscar arias, richard lugar, roger hollander, tylerbridges, U.S. imperialism
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by Tyler Bridges
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Obama administration has backed away from its call to restore ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power and instead put the onus on him for taking “provocative actions” that polarized his country and led to his overthrow on June 28.
The new position was contained in a letter this week to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that also rejected calls by some of Zelaya’s backers to impose harsh economic sanctions against Honduras.
While condemning the coup, the letter pointedly failed to call for Zelaya’s return. “Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual,” said the letter to Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The new U.S. position is likely to undercut diplomatic efforts to bring about Zelaya’s return, analysts said.
It may in time help the administration win confirmation for three top State Department officials President Barack Obama has appointed to deal with the region. Senate Republicans have put their nominations on hold to protest U.S. policy in Honduras.
Some 1,000 pro-Zelaya demonstrators protested outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, Thursday after the State Department letter was made public in the Honduran media.
While condemning the overthrow of Zelaya and his pre-dawn expulsion, the Aug. 4 letter said that Zelaya, who’s allied with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, was largely to blame for his plight.
“We also recognize that President Zelaya’s insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal,” said the letter, signed by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma.
“I think this could open the door for an alternative option as president,” said Jorge Yllesca, a political consultant based in Honduras, meaning that interim President Roberto Micheletti might try to end the political crisis by stepping aside, not for Zelaya but for the president of the Congress or the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The crisis began when Zelaya insisted on staging a June 28 referendum on a constitutional change to allow him to seek re-election. Zelaya had only six more months in office before a non-Chavez ally was likely to take over as Honduras’ next president.
Chavez and two of his South American allies, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have won public approval for new constitutions that are allowing them to extend their terms in office.
The Honduran Congress, the attorney general’s office and the state prosecutor all advised Zelaya that Honduras’ constitution didn’t permit the referendum.
He went ahead anyway and was ousted.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a conservative Republican congresswoman from Miami, applauded the State Department letter.
“It seems that the U.S. is stepping a bit away from its unabashed support for Zelaya,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a telephone interview.
She’d prefer that the Obama administration break ranks with the rest of Latin America and Europe and drop its support for Zelaya.
“To reinstate Zelaya to power would be the wrong message to send,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It would say you can violate the law, go against the Congress and get away with it, and the U.S. will stand with you.”
Republican senators angered by the administration’s Honduras policy put a hold on Obama’s nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, along with two key ambassadorial nominees.
Lugar, in a July 30 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said he hoped that her explanation could “improve the prospects” of confirming Valenzuela this week.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said Wednesday that he was “glad to see the State Department is finally beginning to walk back its support for Manuel Zelaya,” but an aide said that DeMint hadn’t lifted his hold on Valenzuela’s nomination because despite the policy shift, Obama still supports Zelaya’s return to power.
The Obama administration has taken a series of low-level steps to show its dissatisfaction with the Micheletti government.
The U.S. has revoked diplomatic visas for five Hondurans associated with the Micheletti government. It’s suspended anti-drug operations from the U.S. military base in Honduras, withheld $16 million in defense aid and warned that it might not disburse the final 10 percent of money for Honduras under a $250 million aid program.
The U.S. also has strongly supported the mediation efforts of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who’s proposed a compromise plan to reinstate Zelaya with limited powers. Micheletti has rejected the plan, while Zelaya has accepted it.
The letter to Lugar said that U.S. officials wouldn’t go much further.
“We have rejected calls for crippling economic sanctions,” it said.
The letter comes at a time when Zelaya is expressing his unhappiness with the Obama administration.
“The United States only needs to tighten its fist, and the coup will last five seconds,” Zelaya said Tuesday in Mexico, adding that 70 percent of Honduras’ economy depends on trade and remittances from the United States.
Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, said the Obama administration could seize the U.S. bank accounts of Hondurans associated with the coup and withdraw their tourist and diplomatic visas to the U.S.
“These are steps that are very easy to take and would have an impact,” Weisbrodt said.
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador who now teaches at Pennsylvania State University, said the Obama administration has followed a middle course because it has competing goals.
“On one hand, our interests are saved if this guy is not in power or allowed to violated the constitution and perpetuate himself in power,” Jett said. “But we do have the obligation to be supportive of democracy.”
(James Rosen in Washington contributed to this article.)
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© 2009 McClatchy Newspapers
Does US Lukewarm Response Bolster Honduran Coup? July 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: chavez government, clinton honduras, coup d'etat, foreign policy, general assembly, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras military, honduras politics, honduras repression, Hugo Chavez, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, mark weisbrot, oas, obama administration, obama honduras, rio group, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, venezuela coup
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The military coup that overthrew Honduras’s elected president, Manuel Zelaya, brought unanimous international condemnation. But some country’s responses have been more reluctant than others, and Washington’s ambivalence has begun to raise suspicions about what the US government is really trying to accomplish in this situation.
The first statement from the White House in response to the coup was weak and non-committal. It did not denounce the coup but rather called 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”.
This contrasted with statements from other presidents in the hemisphere, such as Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, who denounced the coup and called for the re-instatement of Zelaya. The EU issued a similar, less ambiguous and more immediate response.
Later in the day, as the response of other nations became clear, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued a stronger statement that condemned the coup – without calling it a coup. But it still didn’t say anything about Zelaya returning to the presidency.
The Organisation of American States, the Rio Group (most of Latin America) and the UN general assembly have all called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.
The strong stances from the south brought statements from anonymous state department officials that were more supportive of Zelaya’s return. And by Monday afternoon President Barack Obama finally said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras.“
But at a press conference later that day, Clinton was asked whether “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.
Why such reluctance to call openly for the immediate and unconditional return of an elected president, as the rest of the hemisphere and the UN has done? One obvious possibility is that Washington does not share these goals.
The coup leaders have no international support, but they could still succeed by running out the clock – Zelaya has less than six months left in his term. Will the Obama administration support sanctions against the coup government in order to prevent this? The neighbouring governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador have already fired a warning shot by announcing a 48-hour cut-off of trade.
By contrast, one reason for Clinton’s reluctance to call the coup a coup is because the US Foreign Assistance Act prohibits funds going to governments where the head of state has been deposed by a military coup.
Unconditional is also a key word here: the Obama administration may want to extract concessions from Zelaya as part of a deal for his return to office. But this is not how democracy works. If Zelaya wants to negotiate a settlement with his political opponents after he returns, that is another story. But nobody has the right to extract political concession from him in exile, over the barrel of a gun.
There is no excuse for this coup. A constitutional crisis came to a head when Zelaya ordered the military to distribute materials for a non-binding referendum to be held last Sunday. The referendum asked citizens to vote on whether they were in favour of including a proposal for a constituent assembly, to redraft the constitution, on the November ballot. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez, refused to carry out the president’s orders. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the defence minister resigned. The supreme court subsequently ruled that the president’s firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress has gone against Zelaya.
Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the supreme court ruled against it. This is a legal question. It may be true, or it may be that the supreme court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened. The military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government.
This is especially true in this case, in that the proposed referendum was a non-binding and merely consultative plebiscite. It would not have changed any law nor affected the structure of power. It was merely a poll of the electorate.
Therefore, the military cannot claim that it acted to prevent any irreparable harm. This is a military coup carried out for political purposes.
There are other issues where our government has been oddly silent. Reports of political repression, the closing of TV and radio stations, the detention of journalists, detention and physical abuse of diplomats and what the Committee to Protect Journalists has called a “media blackout” have yet to draw a serious rebuke from Washington. By controlling information and repressing dissent, the de facto Honduran government is also setting the stage for unfair elections in November.
Many press reports have contrasted the Obama administration’s rejection of the Honduran coup with the Bush administration’s initial support for the 2002 military coup that briefly overthrew President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. But actually there are more similarities than differences between the US response to these two events.
Within a day, the Bush administration reversed its official position on the Venezuelan coup, because the rest of the hemisphere had announced that it would not recognise the coup government. Similarly, in this case, the Obama administration is following the rest of the hemisphere, trying not to be the odd man out but at the same time not really sharing their commitment to democracy.
It was not until some months after the Venezuelan coup that the state department admitted that it had given financial and other support “to individuals and organisations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government.”
In the Honduran coup, the Obama administration claims that it tried to discourage the Honduran military from taking this action. It would be interesting to know what these discussions were like. Did administration officials say, “You know that we will have to say that we are against such a move if you do it, because everyone else will?” Or was it more like, “Don’t do it, because we will do everything in our power to reverse any such coup”? The administration’s actions since the coup indicate something more like the former, if not worse.
The battle between Zelaya and his opponents pits a reform president who is supported by labour unions and social organisations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the supreme court and the Congress, but also the president. It is a recurrent story in Latin America, and the US has almost always sided with the elites.
In this case, Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades. During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.
The hemisphere has changed substantially since the Venezuelan coup in April of 2002, with 11 more left governments having been elected. A whole set of norms, institutions and power relations between south and north in the hemisphere have been altered. The Obama administration today faces neighbours that are much more united and much less willing to compromise on fundamental questions of democracy.
So Clinton will probably not have that much room to manoeuvre. Still, the administration’s ambivalence will be noticed in Honduras and can very likely encourage the de facto government there to try and hang on to power. That could be very damaging.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited