Gabriel Garcia Màrquez could easily have written “A Hundred Years of Solitude” in any country of Central America. It’s a region replete with characters and magical landscapes and myths with power to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you merely hear them. There’s the one about the gringo who visited the mining region of Cabañas and soon thereafter the water turned bad and the fish in the river died and the people all began to die simply because a mysterious gringo passed through.
That’s the story as Miguel Rivera tells it. His brother, Marcelo Rivera was the latest victim of the newly organized death squads, formed from what appears to be a triad of power: Pacific Rim (a Canadian multinational), the ARENA party (the political party organized by the death squad killer of Monsignor Romero, Roberto D’Aubuisson) and the “maras” or gang members.
Of course Miguel, who has a deep and even scientific knowledge of his locale, is aware that the myth is just that: a small story that reveals a larger, hidden truth, in this case that a “Gringo” multinational indeed entered the area, but the reason for the deaths was the heavy metal waste from the mining that was poured into the community’s water.
In cultures and states where telling the exact truth can lead to one’s death, it’s always more convenient to wrap the story in myth. Those who unpackage the myths, like Marcelo Rivera, often disappear into thin air — that is, until they’re found, as he was, naked, castrated and murdered after being horribly tortured: his fingernails had all been pulled out; his face had been disfigured so much that his brother could only identify him by his nose; the beatings had broken his skull. Finally, after he had been strangled to death, his body was thrown in a sixty-foot well, covered with chicken manure, dirt, and pieces of meat.
The right wing press did, of course, repeat the official story that Marcelo had fallen in with “mara” gangsters and drank with them, but editors had the integrity to also print a counterpoint that everyone who knew Marcelo had quite clear: that the victim of the unholy triad of moneyed power in El Salvador never drank nor hung out with the maras. His hero was Monsignor Romero and Miguel says the last time he saw his brother he was wearing a t-shirt with the image of that martyr on it.
There’s a significant difference between El Salvador under the FMLN where power in the media is actively being contested, and Honduras where there is a blackout of the opposition perspective. Another difference is that the ARENA party has lost control of the military and has to rely on “maras” to do its dirty work while in Honduras the government hasn’t yet had to consider recruiting “civilian contractors” from the 100,000 or so “maras” operating in Central America. Thus far the military has been quite happy to do the job of eliminating or terrorizing opponents under the “golpista” Honduran government (coup government) of Micheletti. On July 5, for example, the military fired with machine guns on a crowd numbering in the thousands. This is the unofficial story, of course. The papers, including El Heraldo, claimed that the military had fired on the crowd with rubber bullets. Officially, also, only one person died. Protestors say that there were eight or nine victims who died on the way to the hospital, and whose bodies were disappeared. Given the machine gun fire, it’s only surprising that more didn’t die.
The Honduran government of the 1980s found it had no need to replicate the widespread massacres being carried out in El Salvador and Guatemala. It was able to selectively eliminate a couple hundred leaders of the opposition and take care of its problem with the “subversives.” But in order to maintain control over the rest of the population and assure its docility and compliance, like anywhere else, it required a press willing and able to cloak a damning reality in a less threatening myth.
Once again Honduran reporters are being called in to do overtime in psyops. Granted, the press in Honduras under the “golpista” government isn’t any worse than Fox News. That being said, everything having to do with the news around the recent “golpe” (coup) has a quality that ranges from surreal interpretation to black propaganda. It would seem that the journalists of the major papers of Honduras really were frustrated writers of dystopian science fiction.
One Honduran tells me she saw a murder in her neighborhood that was multiplied in the journalistic alchemy of the Honduran press by six the following day. I keep that in mind as I sit here in my hotel room in Tegucigalpa, leafing through what my wife back home would call “the daily pack of lies.”
As I try to discern the Honduran narrative of the “golpe” I recall the copy of the article I left behind in El Salvador, printed in a right wing paper — and, unfortunately, the newspapers are all right wing in El Salvador, with the exception of the Diario Co-Latino, the latter a blessing not bestowed upon Honduras. The Salvadoran article was based on a piece that appeared in Honduras’ El Heraldo. The author claimed to have in possession secret documents that indicated that President Hugo Chavez was working with a large number of “maras” who he was arming and paying, and also infiltrating his own military to do a lightning attack and kill high-ranking officials of the Micheletti government. Supposedly residents have seen armed men in inaccessible regions of the country. Does that sound like the narrative of “Al Qaeda sleeper cells” doped up on the Koran ready to attack Bush’s America? Only the names, places and drugs of choice have changed.
I’m looking here at a full page ad in La Tribuna from Tuesday, the 21st, paid for by “Hondurans for Democracy.” There is a photo, in the top half, of Chavez aiming a gun. Beside the photo is the caption “Chavez calls for violence and wants bloodshed in Honduras” Beneath that picture is a crowd shot of Hondurans dressed in white (the color of the Conservative Nationalist Party) and holding the blue flags of Honduras. The caption reads, “But Hondurans want peace, unity, democracy and freedom.” Ah, behold the foreign devil who has brought death to our peaceful little country. It’s a variation on the diabolic gringo myth, but in reverse, since Chavez has been a counterforce to the “deadly gringo.”
The following day, (Wednesday, July 22) El Heraldo has an interview with Alejando Peña Esclusa, a right wing Colombian who is president of UnoAmerica, described as “a democracy organization (sic: organización democracia) of Colombia.” The headline reads, “The FARC [Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), Narcotrafficking and ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas) are all the same thing.” The surrealism doesn’t end with the title, which makes laughable connections between a program of solidarity created by Venezuela to share its wealth with loans and grants to Latin America to facilitate growth and development, and narcotics trafficking and a guerrilla that, while it taxes the cocaine trade, seems to have fewer connections to the actual trade than does the Uribe government.
Esclusa develops his surreal story in this large-spread article on page 6: He says that the coup “has kept Honduras from falling into the project of Hugo Chavez and saved democracy from the Constitutional coup which Zelaya hoped to undertake.” What was the “Constitutional coup” Zelaya was plotting? To bring people more deeply into the political process of the country by asking them if they’d like to write a new constitution. So according to Esclusa, the military coup was a way of saving “democracy” by taking it away. And the project of Chavez, well, ask 60-70% of Venezuelans who support Chavez and they’ll tell you that his project is to move the country from “representative to participatory democracy.” But the interview with Esclusa gets even wilder: “the principle element of the disturbances in Honduras is not “Mel” Zelaya nor the discussion of whether or not he returns” (this would come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of people marching daily in Honduras for the single purpose of having their president return) “but it is Hugo Chavez who finances the dirty campaign, buying minds (“conciencias”) so as to disinform about Honduran reality.”
Again, the utterly implausible charge that Chavez, and not the golpistas, is behind all the country’s problems. For Esclusa, the solution is simple: Isolate Chavez from Honduras and all the problems will be solved.
What’s fascinating about this analysis is that there’s not even a hint of truth in it. First of all, the marches aren’t financed by anyone but the marchers. And secondly, the only Venezuelan I’ve seen has been an old friend who is a documentary filmmaker–and probably the last Venezuelan journalist in the country since Telesur was chased out. Noticeably absent from the marches is even the slightest mention of Chavez or Venezuela, neither of which appear in any of the chants, placards, discussions, programs, or anything else. There’s only one message: “Golpistas Leave! Bring Mel Home.”
In this surreal world where Chavez is working with narco gangsters and infiltrating along the coast, paying people to demonstrate, the poor golpistas are also unfairly being persecuted by “the OAS, UN and the international community.”
This line was repeated to me the other day in the hotel by the woman behind the desk, who identified herself as a National Party supporter. She almost whined as she told me that “everyone is against us.” Does that sound a little paranoid? When a sane person is told that everyone is opposed to what he or she is doing, that person begins to reflect again on his or her actions. Not so Micheletti; not so Mr. Esclusa; not so the National Party and Liberal Party members who went out on the 23rd on the march for “peace, unity, democracy and freedom.”
Then the bombshell: According to Mr. Esclusa, the FARC, a guerrilla force of 30,000 with shrinking power, is the force behind all the presidents who are part of ALBA which is, in turn, a project of the FARC and financed by cocaine money.
If this were the ravings of a madman in the street, we could afford to ignore him. But this interview is published in one of Honduras’ two major newspapers, with big headlines, a photo of Esclusa, on page 6. And obviously the government is taking this same paranoid siege narrative seriously because on page eight is the story and headline, “Honduras Breaks Diplomatic Relations with Venezuela” and the subhead reads, “Venezuelan officials, in a confrontational attitude, warn they won’t leave the country. The [Honduras] Chancellor cancels the consular visa of Iranians for fear of terrorism.”
Now that’s interesting. Honduras breaks relations with Venezuela and it’s Venezuela that is being confrontational. Takes you back to the bad old days of Bush and the Saddam Hussein “menace” doesn’t it? Then there are the Iranians, whose government has never so much as threatened anyone in Latin America, yet who now “feared as terrorist.” Wild rumor, speculation on a fantastic level: Vice Chancellor Marta Lorena Alvarado says that “we’ve confirmed the existence of terrorist Iranian cells in Latin America and considering that there are direct trips from Teheran… to Venezuela and from Venezuela to Nicaragua… there’s concern that there’s been a terrorist incursion into [Honduras].”
Here we’ve definitively returned to the bad old days of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush with the Amber, Yellow and Orange alerts when supposed “sleeper” cells that were never uncovered or identified were sleepwalking the US.
These are but a few of the jewels from the Honduran press. You could do with it as I did when I first confronted it in the hotel with the woman behind the desk: you could try reasoning with it. You could, as I did, say, isn’t the very definition of a coup when an elected representative is removed from office and, rather than being held and tried and convicted or returned to office, is sent out of the country into exile at gunpoint. But the response is just as wild: “They were trying to prevent bloodshed. If they kept him here, his followers would cause bloodshed.” But we’re to believe that the people who sent the military to the airport on July 5th to machine gun protesters are really concerned about bloodshed? By the look on the woman’s face, a gringo has come to town and poisoned the water.
CLIFTON ROSS is the writer and director of Venezuela: Revolution from the Inside Out and Translations from Silence, a book of poetry introduced by Jack Hirschman available at: www.freedomvoices.org. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org