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Berta Cáceres court papers show murder suspects’ links to US-trained elite troops March 3, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: “Violence against social activists has surged since a military backed coup d’état ousted populist president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Since then at least 124 land and environmental campaigners have been killed.”  This violence along with government repression of civil dissent is a direct result of that coup, which was welcomed by the United States government in the person of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  President Zelaya had proposed moderate reforms, which were viewed as a threat by Honduran ruling classes; who with U.S. tacit support carried out the coup for the purpose of promoting and protecting U.S. investments in the country.  The major military leaders who carried out the coup and instituted a new puppet government were ultra right evangelical christian conservatives.  I character the dis-stabilisation of Honduras under the category “your tax dollars at work.”

Today an email from Amnesty International contained the following:

“A year ago, beloved water defender and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres was gunned down in Honduras, causing shock waves around the world. The message from Berta’s killers and those who gave the orders was clear: no one was safe if their defense of human rights and the environment challenged powerful economic interests.

Over the past year, more courageous women and men, raising their voices for human rights, for the rights of Indigenous peoples, for defense of land and the environment, have been shot to death in Honduras.

Since bravely assuming leadership of Berta’s organization, COPINH,Tomás Gómez Membreño has suffered multiple attempts on his life.
He and other activists are in grave danger for work that should be commended for its integrity and service to the human rights of the most vulnerable. 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/28/berta-caceres-honduras-military-intelligence-us-trained-special-forces

The Honduran environmental activist’s killing a year ago bears the hallmarks of a ‘well-planned operation designed by military intelligence’ says legal source

Indigenous Hondurans and peasants march to demand justice for the murder of Berta Cáceres on 17 August 2016 in Tegucigalpa.
Hondurans demand justice for Berta Cáceres on 17 August 2016 in Tegucigalpa. Officials have denied a state role in the killing despite the arrest of one serving and two ex-soldiers. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Leaked court documents raise concerns that the murder of the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres was an extrajudicial killing planned by military intelligence specialists linked to the country’s US–trained special forces, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Cáceres was shot dead a year ago while supposedly under state protection after receiving death threats over her opposition to a hydroelectric dam.

The murder of Cáceres, winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize in 2015, prompted international outcry and calls for the US to revoke military aid to Honduras, a key ally in its war on drugs.

Eight men have been arrested in connection with the murder, including one serving and two retired military officers.

Officials have denied state involvement in the activist’s murder, and downplayed the arrest of the serving officer Maj Mariano Díaz, who was hurriedly discharged from the army.

But the detainees’ military records and court documents seen by the Guardian reveal that:

  • Díaz, a decorated special forces veteran, was appointed chief of army intelligence in 2015, and at the time of the murder was on track for promotion to lieutenant colonel.
  • Another suspect, Lt Douglas Giovanny Bustillo joined the military on the same day as Díaz; they served together and prosecutors say they remained in contact after Bustillo retired in 2008.
  • Díaz and Bustillo both received military training in the US.
  • A third suspect, Sgt Henry Javier Hernández, was a former special forces sniper, who had worked under the direct command of Díaz. Prosecutors believe he may also have worked as an informant for military intelligence after leaving the army in 2013.

Court documents also include the records of mobile phone messages which prosecutors believe contain coded references to the murder.

Bustillo and Hernández visited the town of La Esperanza, where Cáceres lived, several times in the weeks before her death, according to phone records and Hernández’s testimony.

A legal source close to the investigation told the Guardian: “The murder of Berta Cáceres has all the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence, where it is absolutely normal to contract civilians as assassins.

“It’s inconceivable that someone with her high profile, whose campaign had made her a problem for the state, could be murdered without at least implicit authorisation of military high command.”

The Honduran defence ministry ignored repeated requests from the Guardian for comment, but the head of the armed forces recently denied that military deaths squads were operating in the country.

Five civilians with no known military record have also been arrested. They include Sergio Rodríguez, a manager for the internationally funded Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam which Cáceres had opposed.

The project is being led by Desarrollos Energéticos SA, (Desa), which has extensive military and government links. The company’s president, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, is a former military intelligence officer, and its secretary, Roberto Pacheco Reyes, is a former justice minister. Desa employed former lieutenant Bustillo as head of security between 2013 and 2015.

Cáceres had reported 33 death threats linked to her campaign against the dam, including several from Desa employees. Desa denies any involvement in the murder.

Cáceres was killed at about 11.30pm on 2 March, when at least four assassins entered the gated community to which she had recently moved on the outskirts of La Esperanza.

Berta Cáceres speaks to people near the Gualcarque river in 2015 where residents were fighting a dam project.
Berta Cáceres speaks to people near the Gualcarque river in 2015 where residents were fighting a dam project. Photograph: Tim Russo/AP

A checkpoint at the entrance to the town – normally manned by police officers or soldiers – was left unattended on the night she was killed, witnesses have told the Guardian.

Initially, investigators suggested the murderer was a former lover or disgruntled co-worker. But amid mounting international condemnation, Díaz, Bustillo and two others were arrested in May 2016.

Hernández, who was eventually arrested in Mexico, is the only suspect to have given detailed testimony in court. He has admitted his involvement, but says he acted under duress.

All eight have been charged with murder and attempted murder. The other seven suspects have either denied involvement or not given testimony in court.

Prosecutors say that phone records submitted to court show extensive communication between the three military men, including a text message which was a coded discussion of payment for a contract killing.

American experts have been involved in the investigation from the start, according to the US embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said US support should not be unconditional: “It is essential that we not only strengthen our commitment to improving the rule of law in Honduras, but we must also demand greater accountability for human rights violations and attacks against civil society.”

Last year, the Guardian reported that a former Honduran soldier said he had seen Cáceres’s name on a hitlist that was passed to US-trained units.

1Sgt Rodrigo Cruz said that two elite units were given lists featuring the names and photographs of activists – and ordered to eliminate each target.

Cruz’s unit commander deserted rather than comply with the order. The rest of the unit were then sent on leave.

In a follow-up interview with the Guardian, Cruz said the hit list was given by the Honduran military joint chiefs of staff to the commander of the Xatruch multi-agency taskforce, to which his unit belonged.

Cruz – who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym for fear of retribution – deserted after Cáceres’s murder and remains in hiding. The whereabouts of his former colleagues is unknown.

Following the Guardian’s report, James Nealon, the US ambassador to Honduras, pledged to investigate the allegations, and in an interview last week, said that no stone had been left unturned.

“I’ve spoken to everyone I can think of to speak to, as have members of my team, and no one can produce such a hitlist,” said Nealon.

But the embassy did not speak to the Xatruch commander, Nealon said. Activists, including those with information about the alleged hit list, have told the Guardian they have not been interviewed by US or Honduran officials.

Lauren Carasik, clinical professor of law at Western New England University, said America’s unwavering support for Honduras suggests it tolerates impunity for intellectual authors of high-profile targeted killings.

“Washington cannot, in good conscience, continue to ignore mounting evidence that the Honduran military was complicit in the extrajudicial assassination of Cáceres.”

Extrajudicial killings by the security forces and widespread impunity are among the most serious human rights violations in Honduras, according to the US state department.

Nevertheless, the US is the main provider of military and police support to Honduras, and last year approved $18m of aid.

The Gualcarque river, sacred to local indigenous communities and the site of the controversial Agua Zarca dam.
The Gualcarque river, sacred to local indigenous communities and the site of the controversial Agua Zarca dam. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Global Witness

In recent years, US support has focused on Honduras’s special forces units, originally created as a counterinsurgency force during the 1980s “dirty war”.

The elite units ostensibly target terrorism, organised crime and gangs, but campaigners say the Honduran intelligence apparatus is used to target troublesome community leaders.

Violence against social activists has surged since a military backed coup d’état ousted populist president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Since then at least 124 land and environmental campaigners have been killed.

A recent investigation by corruption watchdog Global Witness described extensive involvement of political, business and military elites in environmentally destructive mega projects which have flourished since the coup.

One of the most troubled parts of the country has been northern Bajo Aguán region, where a land conflict between palm oil companies and peasant farmers has claimed more than 130 lives over the past six years.

The Bajo Aguán is also home to the 15th battalion – one of two special forces units in the Honduran army – and the special forces training centre.

Two of the suspects, Díaz and Hernández, served in the 15th battalion together; Cruz’s elite unit was also stationed in the Bajo Aguán.

Ambassador Nealon said that there was no record of Díaz, Hernández or Bustillo attending any US training courses in Honduras.

“Our training programmes for police or for military are not designed to instruct people in how to commit human rights violations or to create an atmosphere in which they believe that they are empowered to commit human rights violations, in fact, just the opposite,” said Nealon.

Honduran military records show that Díaz attended several counterinsurgency courses at special forces bases in Tegucigalpa and in the Bajo Aguán.

He also attended cadet leadership courses at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1997, and a counter-terrorism course at the Inter American air force academy in 2005.

The court documents also reveal that at the time of his arrest, Díaz, 44, was under investigation for drug trafficking and kidnapping, while also studying for promotion.

Military records show that in 1997, Bustillo attended logistics and artillery courses at the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia, which trained hundreds of Latin American officers who later committed human rights abuses.

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Honduras Repression Continues September 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Honduras

The teachers resistance and collective strength was shown over the past month. Due to their grassroots organizing against the oppressive regime of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, on August 31, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported that Honduran teachers have ended their month-long strike on the promise that the government will pay 3.6 billion lempiras, about $189 million, which is only part of what is owed to the educators’ pension fund. It is still unclear though what will occur with the general strike, which is still in its preparatory stages.

Images shows repression and aggression used by police and military against peaceful teacher protests in TEGUCIGALPA, the capital of Honduras.

The illegitimate regime of has proven this August that it has little respect for human rights and democracy. The militarization of the country under this regime has a direct connection to U.S. military training. Gen. Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, who overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in a military coup on June 28, 2009, was educated at the School of the Americas which promoted a mind set advocating for military solutions and lack of respect of democracy and civilian leadership. “We’re not surprised. Vásquez is one of the key players, an SOA grad who’s keeping alive the school’s nickname, the School of Coup,” says Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of Americas Watch.

The teachers of Honduras have been on strike in opposition to the Lobo military regime – a last resort to get the respect they deserve. According to human rights advocates, violence against the strikers has increased dramatically during the past couple of weeks. In protests on August 26 and 27 outside the presidential residency and the National Pedagogical University Francisco Morazan in Tegucigalpa, police countered the peaceful strikes with tear gas and rubber bullets, detaining some and denying medical access to the wounded.

The Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) has expressed that “the recent brutal attacks by government forces against non-violent protests show that there has been no reconciliation after last year’s coup d’etat, and the U.S. government’s policy of support for the current government must be changed.” But while the relationship between the people and the government is becoming more conflicting, the masses are joining together in opposition. Members of campesino organizations, trade unions and student groups joined the teachers in solidarity. Although they have different struggles, all are joining together under the umbrella of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) to oppose Lobo’s military regime and his attempts to privatize public sectors, including education.

“Our protests are in opposition to the actions and intention of the dictator to apply laws that favor the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, that abolish social conquests and hand over public goods and natural resources to corrupt business people and transnational corporations.” -FNRP Comminique No. 17

Among the protestors were women and children who were shown no mercy at the hands of the military and police brutality. Some of their demands include:

  • Return of stolen money. National Institute for Teacher Welfare (Inprema) was plundered by the coup masters “of more than four million two hundred thousand lempiras (approximately US $221,965) worth of contributions and pay deductions to teacher loan repayments.” The missing money is suspected to be used to fund the military regime.
  • Prevent passage of General Law of Education. This law has already passed through two revisions in the National Congress and awaits final approval. It will restrict education access for children up to 15 years of age, while providing only privately run high schools. This will further increase the gap between rich and poor while the profits will go directly into the hands of the oligarchy.
  • Demand increases to minimum wage. Currently minimum wage does not come close to a daily living wage.

    The National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) “calls on all people to continue permanent actions of peaceful resistance in order to weaken the regime and require the convocation of a constituent assembly in accordance with the contents and structure defined by the Frente.”

  • How Obama Betrayed Honduras July 29, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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    Published on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

    The United States must honour its promises to Central America by refusing to support the coup leaders in Honduras

    by Hugh O’Shaughnessy

    Let’s hope that the United States finally decides that it’s going to do what its president said it would do for Central America. It should be a simple task, that of cutting off its support of the bad guys in Honduras and starting to honour the commitment to democracy that Barack Obama clearly announced when he met the leaders of Latin America at the Summit of the Americas.

    So far the administration’s actions towards the gang of semi-educated ruffians who took over in Tegucigalpa and who feel, for racial reasons, that the US leader is beneath their contempt, has been – to put it kindly – ragged. The almost universal cry of “foul” went up when the legally elected Manuel Zelaya was sent out of the country in his pyjamas by Roberto Micheletti, an obscure politician and businessman, who had seized power.

    US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was first off the starting block when she condemned the impostor’s action. Then Barack came along to say what she had chosen not to say: that the real president should be returned to the office he rightfully exercised.

    Now however the word from every involved agency in Washington is that Zelaya should be allowed back on the strict condition that he does not upset friends of the US, the Republican party and the telecommunication companies in DC with his state-owned corporation Hondutel. This is ridiculous for two reasons. The first is to do with simple justice – Zelaya won a victory in clean elections. The second has to do with the US president’s image in the western hemisphere. The last eight years in the Middle East and the unfolding debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught the US and the British governments that if they attempt the impossible – such as trying to invade and occupy countries on spurious grounds and with recourse to kidnapping and torture – they will get egg all over themselves. And egg stains never look good on presidential or prime ministerial lounge suits – much less on military uniforms, gold braid and medal ribbons.

    Yet Obama is presiding over a group of politicians and civil servants who appear to think that they have it in their power to convince Latin Americans and the world that a Honduran coup d’etat is not a coup d’etat and that a dictatorship which imposes curfews and gags the media as part of a drive to help the interests of foreign businessmen is a democratic government.

    The leaders of all the members of the Organisation of American States have condemned Micheletti, as have the UN and the EU. If Clinton and the survivors of the wilder rightwing fringes of the Bush administration to whom she is bizarrely allied have their way US reaction to the impostor will be ineffectual. 

    Instead of treating the impostor government with all the weapons that the US has used against successive Cuban governments and against the elected government of Venezuela, Micheletti has been asked to play along with president Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. Arias has treated him as an equal, which he isn’t, rather than an aspiring Pinochet, which the deaths and injuries his police and troops on the border have inflicted on Zelaya’s supporters demonstrate that he is.

    And that – as Clinton knows better than anyone – will be very damaging for Obama. The claims made by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba that nothing much has changed between the Bush era and the Obama era will have been vindicated. As Zelaya is denied his rights, the stronger Chávez and Castro become, along with President Lula of Brazil, the giant of South America. The Brazilian has said that anything short of Zelaya’s restoration to office would be unthinkable.

    Chávez meanwhile has sent his foreign minister Nicolas Maduro to accompany Zelaya to the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, thus clearly identifying himself with the good guy. The shots of Zelaya and Maduro at the sharp end of the conflict will have done much to counteract the careful campaign of slander and denigration of Chávez that the State Department has mounted – not without success in the US and even European media – since the failure of its own coup d’etat against the Venezuelan leader in 2002.

    The longer the State Department continues to favour Micheletti over Honduras’ rightful president, the more people will wonder why Obama needs enemies when he has friends like his secretary of state.

    © 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

    Hugh O’Shaughnessy is a prize-winning journalist who has written on Latin America for over 40 years

    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.

    US Leaves Honduras to Its fate July 9, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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    Published on Thursday, July 9, 2009 by The Guardian/UK by Mark Weisbrot

    The military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras took a new turn when he attempted to return home on Sunday. The military closed the airport and blocked runways to prevent his plane from landing. They also shot several protesters, killing at least one and injuring others. The violence and the enormous crowd — estimated in the tens of thousands and reported as the largest since the coup on 28 June — put additional pressure on the Obama administration to seek a resolution to the crisis. On Tuesday, secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Zelaya for the first time.

    In many ways this is similar to the 2002 coup in Venezuela, which was supported by the US. After it became clear that no government other than the US would recognise the coup government there, and hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets to demand the return of their elected president, the military switched sides and brought Hugo Chávez back to the presidential palace.

    In Honduras, we have the entire world refusing to recognise the coup government, and equally large demonstrations (in a country of only seven million people, with the military preventing movement for many of them) demanding Zelaya’s return. The problem in Honduras is that the military — unlike Venezuela’s — is experienced in organised repression, including selective assassinations carried out during the 1980s, when the country was known as a military base for US operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Honduran military is also much closer to the US military and state department, more closely allied with the country’s oligarchy and more ideologically committed to the cause of keeping the elected president out of power. Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, a Honduran army lawyer who admitted that the military broke the law when it kidnapped Zelaya, told the Miami Herald: “It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.” Inestroza, like the coup leader and army chief General Romeo Vasquez, was trained at Washington’s infamous School of the Americas (now renamed Whinsec).

    This puts a heavy burden on the people of Honduras, who have been risking their lives, confronting the army’s bullets, beatings and arbitrary arrests and detentions. The US media has reported on this repressiononly minimally, with the major print media sometimes failing even to mention the censorship there. But the Honduran pro-democracy movement has in the last few days managed to change the course of events. It is likely that Clinton’s decision to finally meet with Zelaya was the result of the large and growing protests, and Washington’s fear that such resistance could reach the point at which it would topple the coup government.

    The Obama administration’s behaviour over the last eight days suggests that if not for this threat from below, the administration would have been content to let the coup government remain for the rest of Zelaya’s term. This was made clear again on Monday, at a press briefing held by the state department spokesman Ian Kelly. Under prodding from a reporter, Kelly became the first on-the-record state department official to say that the US government supported the return of Zelaya. This was eight days after the coup, and after the United Nations general assembly, the Organisation of American States, the Rio Group and many individual governments had all called for the “immediate and unconditional” return of Zelaya — something that Washington still does not talk about.

    Meanwhile, on the far right, there has been a pushback against worldwide support for Zelaya and an attempt to paint him as the aggressor in Honduras, or at least equally as bad as the people who carried out the coup. Unfortunately much of the major media’s reporting has aided this effort by reporting such statements as “Critics feared he intended to extend his rule past January, when he would have been required to step down.”

    In fact, there was no way for Zelaya to “extend his rule” even if the referendum had been held and passed, and even if he had then gone on to win a binding referendum on the November ballot. The 28 June referendum was nothing more than a non-binding poll of the electorate, asking whether the voters wanted to place a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country’s constitution. If it had passed, and if the November referendum had been held (which was not very likely) and also passed, the same ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January. So, the belief that Zelaya was fighting to extend his term in office has no factual basis. The most that could be said is that if a new constitution were eventually approved, Zelaya might have been able to run for a second term at some future date.

    Another major rightwing theme in the media and public perception of the Honduran situation is that this is a battle against Chávez (and some collection of “anti-US” leftist allies: Nicaragua, Cuba, take your pick). This is a common subterfuge that has surfaced in most of the Latin American elections of the last few years. In Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and El Salvador, for example, the conservative candidates all acted as if they were running against Chávez — the first two with success, and the second pair losing. It is true that under Zelaya Honduras joined Alba, a grouping of countries that was started by Venezuela as an alternative to “free trade” agreements with the US. But Zelaya is nowhere near as close to Chávez as any number of other Latin American presidents, including those of Brazil and Argentina. So it is not clear why this is relevant, unless the argument is that only bigger countries or those located further south have the right to have a co-operative relationship with Venezuela.

    Clinton has just announced that she has arranged for the Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to serve as a mediator between the coup government and Zelaya. According to Clinton, both parties have accepted this arrangement. This is a good move for the state department, as it will make it easier for it to maintain a more “neutral” position — as opposed to the rest of the hemisphere, which has taken the side of the deposed president and the Honduran pro-democracy movement. “I don’t want to prejudge what the parties themselves will agree to,” said Clinton in response to a question as to whether Zelaya should be restored to his position.

    It is difficult to see how this mediation will succeed, so long as the coup government knows that it can sit out the rest of Zelaya’s term. The only thing that can remove it from office, in conjunction with massive protests, is real economic sanctions of the kind that Honduras’s neighbours (Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala) imposed for 48 hours after the coup. These countries account for about a third of Honduras’s trade, but they would need economic aid from other countries to carry the burden of a trade cut-off for a longer time. It would be a great thing if other countries would step forward to support such sanctions and to cut off their own trade and capital flows with Honduras as well.

    So it is up to the rest of the world to help Honduras; it is clear that Hondurans won’t be getting any help from the US. The rest of the world will have to scream bloody murder about the violence and repression there, too, because Washington will not make much of an issue about it.

    © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

    Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis, and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

    The Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent? July 8, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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    Published on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

    The Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent?

    by Michael Parenti

    Is President Obama innocent of the events occurring in Honduras, specifically the coup launched by the Honduran military resulting in the abduction and forced deportation of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya? Obama has denounced the coup and demanded that the rules of democracy be honored. Still, several troubling questions remain.

    First, almost all the senior Honduran military officers active in the coup are graduates of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas (known to many of us as “School of the Assassins”). The Honduran military is trained, advised, equipped, indoctrinated, and financed by the United States national security state. The generals would never have dared to move without tacit consent from the White House or the Pentagon and CIA.

    Second, if Obama was not directly involved, then he should be faulted for having no firm command over those US operatives who were. The US military must have known about the plot and US military intelligence must have known and must have reported it back to Washington. Why did Obama’s people who had communicated with the coup leaders fail to blow the whistle on them? Why did they not expose and denounce the plot, thereby possibly foiling the entire venture? Instead the US kept quiet about it, a silence that in effect, even if not in intent, served as an act of complicity.

    Third, immediately after the coup, Obama stated that he was against using violence to effect change and that it was up to the various parties in Honduras to resolve their differences. His remarks were a rather tepid and muted response to a gangster putsch.

    Fourth, Obama never expected there would be an enormous uproar over the Honduras coup. He hastily joined the outcry against the perpetrators only when it became evident that opposition to the putschists was nearly universal throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world.

    Fifth, Obama still has had nothing to say about the many other acts of repression attendant with the coup perpetrated by Honduran military and police: kidnappings, beatings, disappearances, attacks on demonstrators, shutting down the internet and suppressing the few small critical media outlets that exist in Honduras.

    Sixth, as James Petras reminded me, Obama has refused to meet with President Zelaya. He dislikes Zelaya mostly for his close and unexpected affiliation with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. And because of his egalitarian reformist efforts Zelaya is hated by the Honduran oligarchs, the same oligarchs who for many years have been close to and splendidly served by the US empire builders.

    Seventh, under a law passed by the US Congress, any democratic government that is the victim of a military takeover is to be denied US military and economic aid. Obama still has not cut off the economic and military aid to Honduras as he is required to do under this law. This is perhaps the most telling datum regarding whose side he is on. (His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is even worse. She refuses to call it a coup and states that there are two sides to this story.)

    As president, Obama has considerable influence and immense resources that might well have thwarted the perpetrators and perhaps could still be applied against them with real effect. As of now he seems more inclined to take the insider track rather than an actively democratic stance. On Honduras he is doing too little too late–as is the case with many other things he does.

     
    Michael Parenti’s recent books include: Contrary Notions (City Lights); and God and His Demons (Prometheus, forthcoming). For further information, visit his website: www.michaelparenti.org.

    The Other 9/11 Returns to Haunt Latin America July 3, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Honduras, Latin America.
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    Published on Friday, July 3, 2009 by The Independent/UK

    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. 

    Does US Lukewarm Response Bolster Honduran Coup? July 2, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
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    Published on Thursday, July 2, 2009 by The Guardian/UK by Mark Weisbrot

    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

    Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

    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

    A Few Thoughts on the Coup in Honduras June 29, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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    Published on Monday, June 29, 2009 by Rebel Reports by Jeremy Scahill

    There is a lot of great analysis circulating on the military coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. I do not see a need to re-invent the wheel. (See here here here and here). However, a few key things jump out at me. First, we know that the coup was led by Gen. Romeo Vasquez, a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas. As we know very well from history, these “graduates” maintain ties to the US military as they climb the military career ladders in their respective countries. That is a major reason why the US trains these individuals.

    Secondly, the US has a fairly significant military presence in Honduras. Joint Task Force-Bravo is located at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. The base is home to some 550 US military personnel and more than 650 US and Honduran civilians:

    They work in six different areas including the Joint Staff, Air Force Forces (612th Air Base Squadron), Army Forces, Joint Security Forces and the Medical Element. 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, a US Army South asset, is a tenant unit also based at Soto Cano. The J-Staff provides command and control for JTF-B.

    The New York Times reports that “The unit focuses on training Honduran military forces, counternarcotics operations, search and rescue, and disaster relief missions throughout Central America.”

    Significantly, according to GlobalSecurity, “Soto Cano is a Honduran military installation and home of the Honduran Air Force.”

    This connection to the Air Force is particularly significant given this report in NarcoNews:

    The head of the Air Force, Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996.  The Air Force has been a central protagonist in the Honduran crisis.  When the military refused to distribute the ballot boxes for the opinion poll, the ballot boxes were stored on an Air Force base until citizens accompanied by Zelaya rescued them.  Zelaya reports that after soldiers kidnapped him, they took him to an Air Force base, where he was put on a plane and sent to Costa Rica.

    It is impossible to imagine that the US was not aware that the coup was in the works. In fact, this was basically confirmed by The New York Times in Monday’s paper:

    As the crisis escalated, American officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the military broke off those discussions on Sunday.

    While the US has issued heavily-qualified statements critical of the coup—in the aftermath of the events in Honduras—the US could have flexed its tremendous economic muscle before the coup and told the military coup plotters to stand down. The US ties to the Honduran military and political establishment run far too deep for all of this to have gone down without at least tacit support or the turning of a blind eye by some US political or military official(s).

    Here are some facts to consider: the US is the top trading partner for Honduras. The coup plotters/supporters in the Honduran Congress are supporters of the “free trade agreements” Washington has imposed on the region. The coup leaders view their actions, in part, as a rejection of Hugo Chavez’s influence in Honduras and with Zelaya and an embrace of the United States and Washington’s “vision” for the region. Obama and the US military could likely have halted this coup with a simple series of phone calls. For an interesting take on all of this, make sure to check out Nikolas Kozloff’s piece on Counterpunch, where he writes:

    In November, Zelaya hailed Obama’s election in the U.S. as “a hope for the world,” but just two months later tensions began to emerge.  In an audacious letter sent personally to Obama, Zelaya accused the U.S. of “interventionism” and called on the new administration in Washington to respect the principle of non-interference in the political affairs of other nations.

    Here are some independent news sources on this story:

    School of the Americas Watch

    NarcoNews

    Eva Golinger’s Postcards from the Revolution

    © 2009 Jeremy Scahill

    Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.