Hillary and Obama Nix Change in Honduras

by ROGER BURBACH

The situation in Honduras and Central America is growing increasingly tumultuous with each passing day as deposed President Manuel Zelaya confronts the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti with thousands of partisans mobilizing in the border areas. While Honduran army officers in Washington and the capital of Tegucigalpa issue statements indicating they may accept Zelaya’s return—if the civilian coup leaders concur–military and police units continue to fire on and even murder demonstrators. It is impossible to predict the outcome of this confrontation. But one thing is increasing clear–the growing conflict represents a failure of the Obama administration to reshape US policy towards Latin America in spite of its early rhetoric directed at the leaders of the region.

On June 29, the day after the coup, Barack Obama declared it “not legal” and said “we don’t want to go back to a dark past.” This was in keeping with his remarks at the Summit of the Americas in April when, in alluding to the US history of backing military regimes, he stated, “The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made.”

But US policy towards Honduras since the coup indicates that the Obama administration does not represent “change you can believe in.” Rather it is bent on imposing its will and propping up the status quo in Latin America, just as previous US administrations did.

Over the past decade a popular upsurge has swept Latin America comprised of indigenous movements, impoverished urban dwellers, peasants, environmentalists, feminists, and human rights advocates. They are demanding a more equitable distribution of the wealth of their countries and an end to political systems dominated by oligarchs, corrupt politicians and business interests allied with the United States. A string of New Left governments has emerged beginning with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 followed by Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Brazil in 2003. They have been joined by the election of left of center presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Paraguay and El Salvador.

This block of progressive forces spearheaded the international opposition to the coup in Honduras. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, reflecting the common sentiment around the continent, noted that the coup was a throwback to “the worst years in Latin America’s history.” The Organization of American States, which has historically been dominated by the United States, voted 34 to 0 to call for the restoration of Manuel Zelaya as president.

This unified opposition in Latin America left the Obama administration with no alternative but to call for the resignation of the de facto government. However, what it has done in the aftermath of the coup is to search for a way to undermine the reformist agenda advocated by Zelaya and to prop up the traditional interests aligned with the United States both within Honduras and in Latin America at large. This commitment to the old order is symbolized by the fact that Alvaro Uribe, the conservative president of Colombia, was in the White House meeting with Obama on June 29 as he issued his statement opposing the coup in Honduras. One of the points Uribe and Obama discussed was US access to three airfields and two naval bases in Colombia. Allegedly for use in the drug war in the Andean region, they are also aimed at counteracting the growing influence of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who called the expanded US military presence “a threat against us” that could even lead “to a war.”

The US obsession with Venezuela is at the heart of its policy towards Zelaya. Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at the US State Department, stated that the coup should serve as a “lesson” for the deposed president who had signed trade and petroleum accords with Venezuela: “We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.”

Even before the coup, the Obama administration made known its opposition to the reformist policies of the Zelaya government. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in early June in Tegucigalpa Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Zelaya in a private meeting that he should back off from trying to put a referendum on the ballot that would provide for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for the country. The election of constituent assemblies was the vehicle used by Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador to overturn entrenched interests and to “refound” their political institutions.

The main diplomatic gambit used by the Obama administration in an effort to reign in Manuel Zelaya was to get President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica to broker an agreement with the coup leaders in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Arias had served US interests well in the 1980s during his first presidential term, using regional negotiations to undermine the revolutionary government of Nicaragua and the guerrilla movements in El Salvador and Guatemala while nurturing pseudo-democratic governments that adopted the neo-liberal economic policies then coming into vogue with the “Washington Consensus.” This time however, Arias failed, primarily because the OAS and most of the governments of Latin America made it clear that they would not recognize any government in Tegucigalpa other than one led by Zelaya. As President Luis Inacio da Silva of Brazil declared, “we cannot compromise” on the restoration of Zelaya.

In the end Arias issued a mediation proposal that called for the restitution of Zelaya as head of a national government of reconciliation with weakened executive powers. Micheletti’s de facto regime rejected the proposal. It is worth noting that one of the clauses in the proposed accord calls for Zelaya to refrain from promoting a constituent assembly, a clause that has been angrily denounced by leaders of the social movements in Honduras.

U.S. efforts to restore Zelaya have been quite tepid compared to other countries. While many ambassadors have been withdrawn, the US head diplomat Hugo Llorens, appointed by George W. Bush, remains in place. There are reports that he may have even given the green light to the coup plotters, or at least did nothing to stop them. And while the World Bank has suspended assistance, the State Department merely warns that $180 million in US economic aid may be in jeopardy. Most importantly the United States refuses to freeze the bank accounts and cancel the visas of the coup leaders, measures that Zelaya and other Latin American governments have urged Washington to do.

The Obama presidency probably hoped that like the years of the Bush administration Latin America would require only marginal attention in the grand scheme of world affairs. This may turn out not to be the case however if Honduras, the last of the banana republics, erupts in a civil conflict that draws in neighboring countries. “Change” may be the catch word for the new administration, but here an old French phrase may be more indicative of what is really occurring: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” the more things change the more they remain the same.

ROGER BURBACH is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Pinochet Affair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROGER BURBACH is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Pinochet Affair.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future