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The Preventive Coup

“If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build and keep at a pitch of the highest training a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine  will go far.”

–President Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

“I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good  men.”

–Woodrow Wilson, July 4, 1914

What provoked a dozen families last June to conspire to overthrow Honduran  President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya? He did not apparently harbor a secret  revolutionary agenda, nor try to impose non-legal changes to bridge the  immense gap between the handful of super rich and millions of poor. The  oligarchy bogusly accused Zelaya of seeking constitutional changes so he  could run again.

Zelaya had authorized oil explorations and planned to convert the  U.S.-controlled Palmerola military base for civilian planes – contrary to  the oligarchy’s wishes. Zelaya also brought Honduras into ALBA – Venezuela’s  and Cuba’s project to integrate Latin American economies without the U.S. He  helped mobilize the region against Washington’s “isolate Cuba” policy. His  biggest sin, however, was proposing, through a non-binding referendum, a  Constitutional convention to consider structural change.

In June, Honduran military officials, allegedly following Supreme Court  orders, arrested (kidnapped) Zelaya, and flew him to Costa Rica. Since then  analysts have forgotten this “incident” and “moved forward.” Few have asked  questions.

Why would the oligarchy “need” to oust a President who did not intend to  remain in power? Zelaya had no substantial military support, or plan to  obtain it. Economic power belonged to the oligarchy or foreign capital,  along with all government institutions.

Two of three factions in Zelaya’s own Liberal Party conspired to remove him.  The constitution limited what any President could accomplish on social and  economic change. Zelaya had six months remaining in office.

But “the guilty flee when no one pursues.” Zelaya’s referendum asking the  public to vote on whether they wanted basic change could signal serious  problems for the filthy rich who no longer counted on White House support.  U.S. voters had replaced right wing Republicans with a seemingly  law-respecting Obama. Yet, the coup moved forward — even after U.S.  officials, apparently, had advised against it.

U.S. right wing radio crusaders and Members of the House and Senate  encouraged the connivers. The NY Times and Wall Street Journal also leaped  on the anti-Zelaya campaign.

Those who expected Obama to respect sovereignty (majority interests in Latin  America) should have recalled similar hopes by Latin Americans in Woodrow  Wilson. As Wilson announced non-interventionist doctrines, he ordered U.S.  forces to invade and occupy Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba.

In 1933, Wilson’s Assistant Navy Secretary, Franklin D. Roosevelt, became  President. His “Good Neighbor” policy included friendly gestures to Leonidas  Trujillo, brutalizer of the Dominican Republic; Anastasio Somoza, who  specialized in murder and theft in Nicaragua; and dictator Fulgencio Batista  in Havana. All three treated U.S. corporations with great respect.

John F. Kennedy followed his Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba with a “New  Frontier,” a Peace Corps and an Alliance for Progress. Simultaneously,  however, he launched counterinsurgency, which aided democracy’s prime  enemies – the military forces of Latin America.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society at home contrasted to his ordering U.S.  troops to the Dominican Republic. Reagan attacked Grenada. George Bush had  U.S. troops arrest disobedient General Manuel Noriega, killing hundreds of  Panamanians in the process.

These post Gun Boat Diplomacy incursions occurred when U.S. trained Latin  military forces — less costly than Marines — failed. The CIA and 82nd  Airborne became insurance policies – for overseas banks and corporations.  Post Bolshevik Revolution policy fought communism to justify neighborly  interference; after 1991, it became “democracy promotion.”

Honduras’ “preventive coup” showed the coupsters had calculated correctly:  Washington was stuck with the result of their action, no matter how State  Department wordsmiths squirmed.

Obama said it was a coup, but maybe not exactly a coup. So, we won’t freeze  the evildoers’ assets. Reality dictates acknowledging the ‘de facto’  government. Mediation will solve the conflict followed by new elections,  Washington’s antibiotic combating disobedience and sovereignty infections:  elections cure Couping Cough.

The Honduran right wing crowed. Chiquita Banana executives smiled at not  having to pay banana pickers higher wages. The naïve who believed law would  prevail received a cold reality bath.”Radical populism” — efforts to  redefine power relations — remained an anathema in Washington. If the poor  control their own national resources, U.S. banks and corporations have less  power at home and abroad.

Last June’s events also provoked grassroots activism. The resistance leaders  who backed Zelaya’s return, sought to unite the poor under a constitutional  banner. Ironically, the un-elected “de facto” President also unfurled the  sovereignty flag claiming an OAS team looking into the coup would violate  the very Honduran rights he had just subverted.

We have watched “Good Neighbor” and “Gun Boat” morph into “Smart Power”:  combining force and diplomacy, and mobilizing U.S. “civil society” assets  abroad. In Honduras, Obama borrowed from Teddy Roosevelt but added a word:  “speak softly, ‘prevaricate,’ and carry a big stick.”

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow and author of A Bush  and Botox World (AK/CounterPunch). Nelson Valdes is Professor Emeritus at  the University of New Mexico.

 

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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