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The Coup Justifiers

Honduran Dictatorship is a Threat to Democracy in the Hemisphere

by MARK WEISBROT

A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”

Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”– if we can get away with it.

“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.

On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.

Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.

Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.

Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.

Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.

What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!” It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.

MARK WEISBROT is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.