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CounterPunch Diary

Gob-smacked

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

There’s no continent where the pwogwessive  “left” (I have to set this exhausted noun on the crutches of gloomy quotemarks) in the United States has entertained higher hopes of Obamian change from traditional U.S. thuggery than Latin America. This was a big constituency for Obama to allure last year. Radicals here in their senior decades have been rooting for Cuba ever since they cheered Fidel’s triumphant entry into Havana in 1959. Twenty-five years later in the late 70s and mid-80s the hottest issue for young people on the left in the US was the brutal and ultimately successful efforts of the US government in the Carter and Reagan years to crush revolutions in El Salvador and Nicaragua. To this day the “Hands off Central America”  movement of those years remains by far the most determined mobilization of the US left in the post Vietnam era.

Now, after six months, the desire among many of these  pwogs to believe that in the White House resides  Gob (Good Obama) rather than  Jaaap (Just Another Awful American President) is pitiful to behold. What, in Latin America, do they have to hang their hat on, regarding Gob’s actual performance? He’s maintaining the embargo on Cuba, pushing for the “free trade pacts” that have laid waste Latin American for a generation. He fondly embraces the vicious Uribe regime in Colombia.

The zig-zagging response of the Obama administration to last Sunday’s coup in Honduras has now put these hopes to to the test of reality yet again, and already the progressives are successfully persuading themselves that either it’s “unclear” what Obama’s complicity amounted to, or even that he opposed it from the getgo.  To believe this nonsense requires powerful doses of self-deception about the nature of this presidency.

The coup itself was an entirely traditional enterprise. Honduras is a wretchedly poor place – the third poorest in the hemisphere, where about 70 per cent of the population live in grinding poverty. President Zelaya, ousted last weekend, took office as a credentialed member of the commercial and political elite and then, against all expectation, moved to the left, as well described on this site last week by Nicholas Kozloff and other writers.

He ordered a 60 per cent increase in the minimum wage This, he declared, would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.” He joined a regional organization, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas – known by its Spanish acronym ALBA – a socially progressive trade pact backed by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela opposing the  U.S “free trade” model. He  started using Chavezian rhetoric, declaring his to be “a government of great social transformations, committed to the poor.” He welcomed Cuban doctors and harshly denounced  US meddling in the region.

The Honduran elite viewed Zelaya, elected to his 4-year term in 2006, with growing alarm and diligently communicated their disquiet to Washington, where the military and civilian intelligence agencies were already being primed by their substantial assets and agents inside Honduras, historically an important CIA and military staging post in Central America, from which  many sinister and lethal operations in the region, such as the Contra war,  were supervised.

A large number of Honduran military commanders have their own long-term relationships with the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, many of them forged during their training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Here is the notorious School of the Americas where promising officers from Argentina, Colombia, Honduras and other US allies are given training such useful skills as seizing power, hunting down leftists and torture. 

In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the School providing expertise in torture, extortion and execution. Among the SOA’s nearly 60,000 graduates are Manuel Noriega  of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. SOA graduates were responsible for the assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians. Check out the excellent School of the Americas Watch website for the detailed history.   In 2001 the Pentagon tried to clean up the School’s image by changing its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. It didn’t catch on.

School of the Americas alumni are thick on the ground in Honduras, including General Juan Melgar Castro who seized power in 1975, followed five years later by another grad, Policarpo Paz Garcia, patron of the infamous Battalion 3-16, a death squad founded by Honduran SOA graduates with the help of Argentine SOA graduates. There is profuse evidence available in declassified files that these SOA men were in constant touch with CIA case officers and the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Last Sunday’s power grab was led by yet another SOA grad, Romeo Vasquez, whose men bundled Zelaya, still  in his pajamas, onto a plane to Costa Rica and installed as interim president, Roberto Micheletti, a conservative businessman and creature of the elites.The rationale was an alleged effort by Zelaya to cling to office beyond a Honduran president’s single four year term. Actually Zelaya had merely asked the military to help in distributing materials for a non-binding referendum to assay whether Hondurans were interested in proceeding towards another referendum on constitutional changes.

The US government has admitted that its officials had been in touch with the conspirators in the run-up to the coup, It  makes the claim that it was seeking to head off any coup. This is as absurd as Henry II claiming he tried to talk his knights out of killing Thomas Becket and that what he really said was “Do not rid of me of this meddlesome priest” and it somehow got garbled and came out as “Who will rid me of this meddlesome  priest?” We can take it as an absolute certainly that CIA and Pentagon advisors were at the elbows of the Honduran plotters, giving the green light and barely bothering to maintain deniability, and that Obama and Mrs Clinton had been fully briefed.  The coup was modeled on the initial stages of the attempted ouster of Chavez in 2002, before popular resistance put Chavez back in power. Earlier versions of the script are profuse in the archives of the School of the Americas.

The first statements from Obama and Secretary of State Clinton bear all the marks of careful preparation. In the coup’s immediate aftermath last Sunday they merely urged negotiations with the coup plotters to "restore constitutional order”, feebly enjoining "all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter”, which has all the moral and persuasive power of  telling a child not to go swimming immediately after lunch. Carefully avoided was any tough demand by Obama or Clinton – still hoarse from shouts for “democracy” in Iran —  for the legitimate Honduran President Zelaya to be returned to office. The plan was obviously to try and run out the clock with indecisive parleys until Zelaya’s term ends in six months.

It was only after  furious denunciation of the coup  and  call for Zelaya’s reinstatement from the Organization of American States, the presidents of Brazil and Argentina , the Rio Group,  the European Union, and the UN General Assembly – that Obama was forced  to climb off the fence and declare on Monday that "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras…" Secretary of State Clinton did not call for Zelaya’s reinstatement. There have  been no tough words from Obama or Clinton,  about the shutting down of all opposition press, the curfew, the violent suppression of free  speech.

The silver lining may conceivably be, as in 2002 in Venezuela, that Honduras has been another miscalculation in Washington of the strength of the spirit of real as opposed to merely rhetorical change across Latin America.

The Shrinks’ Bible

In her brilliant expose in our latest CounterPunch newsletter Eugenia Tsao highlights the corrupt ties between the big  pharmaceutical companies and the American Psychiatric Association, now preparing to release later this year  a draft of its fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, designed to persuade people that if they’re depressed or out of sorts or borderline nuts it’s not because they have three jobs and are shackled by debt, but because they have an individual, biomedical condition that can be salved by buying Prozac or some kindred product.

The drug labs come up with a new anti-depressant. The shrinks, many of them on grants from the drug industry,  list a “disorder” in the DSM to match to the drug and the insurance companies accept the “condition” as legit.

It’s a great piece of work by Tsao.

So is Yonatan Preminger’s report from Tel Aviv on Israel’s cynical game with migrant laborers from Thailand and the Philippines. “Half of Israel’s Arab citizens live below the poverty line,” Preminger writes. “Many would jump at the opportunity to work, though a job in Israel today is not always a way of escaping the poverty cycle.

And, if these workers prove insufficient, there are thousands more just the other side of the “security fence.” Clearly, Israel has easy access to willing labor, so why does Israel maintain such a large migrant labor force? The principal reason has little to do with the lack of a local workforce. The migrant workers are simply cheaper and easier to exploit.”

Along with Tsao and Premingr’s important stories we are running an update of Andrew Cockburn’s exclusive report on how the US has helped Pakistan develop and maontain its nuclear arsenal.

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All  of us here at CounterPunch thank those who have rallied so generously to our special legal appeal.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com.

A  shorter version of the first item appears in The First Post.