I’m not sure why anyone would see a conference of mostly NGOs involved in humanitarian and development work in Honduras as threatening or suspicious. Same goes for a briefing by the US Deputy Consul in Tegucigalpa of the consular services available to US citizens working in Honduras. This borders on the silly.
–Marco Cáceres, quotha.net (my blog)
I met a friendly State Department foreign service agent on the train from DC to Baltimore recently. He didn’t know much about Latin America; he’d been stationed in the Middle East. When I told him I was doing work on the Honduras coup, he laughed heartily and said “We probably had our fingerprints on there somewhere!”
Indeed, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that certain individuals within State had direct knowledge of and involvement in the planning of the June 28, 2009 military coup that ousted president Manuel Zelaya, but that is largely beside the point. More importantly, the State Department’s role has been fundamental in ensuring the continuance of the coup regime through the de facto governments of Micheletti and Pepe Lobo, governments that have been responsible for thousands of human rights violations against members of the vast resistance movement against the coup-a movement that has now collected one million three hundred thousand signatures for a sovereign declaration demanding a popular constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and the unconditional return of former president Manuel Zelaya and the 100+ other political exiles. The State Department’s support for the de facto governments has not wavered despite ongoing targeted extrajudicial assassinations of journalists, union leaders, intellectuals, LGBT activists, and others identified with the resistance movement, or the violent unprovoked police and military attack on an all-ages peaceful concert last month that resulted in the death of an elderly man, dozens of seriously injured concert attendees and band members.
The U.S. State has supported all this, but too often we confuse the State with the government. The State Department is but one very powerful part of what makes up the State, but it has not been working alone. Our U.S. neoliberal “democracy” is structured to protect the interests of corporations above all else: in criminal law, electoral spending, regulation, and privatization focused on turning desperate need into profit, the role of corporate power in determining state policy is paramount.
This is important to note because in the end, the 2009 Honduran military coup was not about ideology. It was about money. Corporate money. It was about opposition by corporations to Zelaya’s minimum wage hike, to his removing tax breaks that defined McDonald’s as a tourist industry, to his refusal to grant new mining concessions to Canadian mining companies and insistence on fining them for flagrant environmental damage, to the idea of a new constitution that threatened to challenge the complete control of Honduras’s resources by Honduran and foreign corporations. This was a neoliberal coup-a clear example of Bourdieu’s characterization of neoliberalism “a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives,” when Hondurans were at a peak of collective resistance to corporate control. And although the coup failed spectacularly in its goal of destroying the collectivity, it succeeded in consolidating control over the resources and profits under contestation.
So while this neoliberal coup was carried out as the deliberate destruction of the collectivity’s attempt to create a process allowing for controlling its destiny-let’s call that “democracy”-the neoliberal processes consolidating corporate control had been underway for decades. These were mandated by the IMF and World Bank, enforced by the “Hard Power” of the U.S. and Honduran militaries and the exploding private security industry, and ideologically spearheaded by the “Soft Power” of corporate media and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, which I wrote about earlier this year in my CounterPunch article WOLA vs. Honduran Democracy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has celebrated the strategic combination of force and coercion combining so-called “Soft” and “Hard” forms of power-the ultimate “public-private partnership”-as “Smart Power.” Here I dust for State Department fingerprints at one particular nexus of “Smart Power”: Virginia-based aerospace and defense industry analyst Marco Cáceres and his organization, “Project Honduras.”
Marco Cáceres has recently been making the rounds on U.S. media promoting his vanity-press book published last month, The Good Coup, and himself as an expert on Honduras, who speaks for Hondurans. Indeed, he has a number of arguments that on their face, back up that claim. He often brings up the fact that he was born in Honduras and has a deep bond with his “native” country. As he put it on a comment on my blog, “While I think like a North America, I ‘feel’ Honduran.” He has organized a large conference of NGOs every year in Copán Ruinas for the past seven years (he had previously held the conferences in Washington, DC) aimed at “empower[ing] the people of Honduras” through building and harnessing “human capital.” And he is the editor of Honduras Weekly, a website that describes itself as a “privately owned, independent Honduran newspaper without government connections (national or foreign) and solely responsible to its readers.” In what follows, I examine Cáceres’ claims to legitimacy and how they fit within a U.S. State Department and military implementation of neoliberal “Smart Power.”
Cáceres states that “Honduras Weekly is kind of [sic] spin off of the Honduras This Week,” a claim that the owners and employees of the now-defunct Honduras This Week (HTW) take issue with. They say that following the coup, Cáceres, working with the pro-coup Marrder family that controlled the HTW website, deceitfully wrested control from the Gutierrez family which had founded the paper and until then had maintained editorial control. A former HTW journalist explained what happened in an email:
There was much to-ing and fro-ing between the Gutierrezes and the Marrders trying to establish who had a right to do what editorially, though often [the Gutierrez’s] messages went unanswered. When we eventually got a password to upload articles, we would watch as headlines were changed and introductions re-written, sometimes significantly shifting the tone or meaning. I did take offence to this because I have been a professionally-qualified journalist for ten years and knew what I had written was sound, correct and perfectly acceptable. It did not need to be tinkered with, especially, I felt, by people who had no journalistic training.
The Marrders eventually decided to found Honduras weekly as a competing newspaper, with Cáceres as editor. Stanley Marrder, listed on its website as “Owner and publisher of Honduras Weekly,” is a Texan businessman and large Republican donor who grew up in Honduras. As they watched their own paper go under, the staff and owners of HTW darkly joked that they too had been victims of a coup. The above-quoted journalist continues:
We found out secondhand that the Marrders had held a launch party, where some of them flew in to Tegucigalpa from the States, via one of the guests who attended. They were under the impression that it was a rebranding of Honduras This Week and not the start of a totally new product. It was clear that the Marrders were aware of how valuable HTW’s reputation was, built up over several years, and wanted to feed off that. For example, there were threats of a legal battle when the Marrders initially refused to give back the domain address of www.hondurasthisweek.com So there was a situation where people would log on to the HTW address and find the Honduras Weekly website.
HTW had been a printed and online English-language newspaper aimed at tourists and investors, employing journalists. Honduras Weekly, by contrast, is a blog that does not employ any trained journalists or paid staff, although you would not know that from its “about” page. In a tally last week, of forty-one “guest contributors,” fourteen were evangelical missionaries who had each written one travelogue in classic “Heart of Darkness” style. Here is an example:
After months of prayerful, “Jonah and the whale” thoughts, I booked my ticket to La Ceiba, Honduras this past weekend and no longer retain a wussy status. This gives my ‘I don’t leave home well’ feelings a whole new slant. I’m flying out with the Vision Honduras team from Dassel, Minnesota on March 3 for a volunteer eye care mission that will last 19 days, carrying only what I can fit into a backpack.
Five others had written posts that were secular counterparts to these, using rhetoric similar to that used in the missionary narratives to underscore the need for greater charity efforts. Eight more had written pieces passionately defending aspects of the coup, and several others had written on seemingly disconnected topics having to do with the economy. Four of the “guest contributors” were 10th graders who “wrote their pieces for Mr. Cameron’s English class,” and another was a sixth grader who wrote a letter commending President Lobo on his electoral “win.” Of the two remaining contributors listed, one, Karen Spring of Rights Action, requested Cáceres remove her name shortly after I contacted her for comment. Spring discovered that not only had her republished article critical of the Lobo government been credited to make it appear that she had written it for Honduras Weekly, but Cáceres had significantly altered the article. She had never given him permission to list her as a contributor.
The actual breakdown of the “contributors” underscores a larger deception of “balance” in which Cáceres engages in order to present his blog as a journalistic endeavor. Cáceres lacks journalistic training, and has run Honduras Weekly entirely out of his Virginia home, and his writings reflect both his distance and naïveté. His own articles, which are republished in a collection as The Good Coup, are primarily a series of poorly edited angry screeds against former president Zelaya and the vast number of Hondurans opposing the coup and fighting for the refounding of a nation based on principles of participatory democracy, whom he writes off as violent Zelaya followers. The blog promotes Cáceres’ other main projects-his book, and his “Conference on Honduras.” Commenting on a post on my blog, quotha.net, in which I criticized his arguments and military ties, he wrote “I clearly have an editorial lean that does not favor Mr. Zelaya, but we’ve published pieces that try to balance this lean a little. Roberto Quesada, Dana Frank, and W.E. Gutman, for example, have written pieces in HW that tend to be much less pleasing to those who do not favor Mr. Zelaya” and requested I read the website’s editorial policy.
In fact, most of the few articles on Honduras Weekly that are openly and enthusiastically pro-resistance come from legitimate sources, like Frank’s article which was not in fact written for Honduras Weekly, but for NACLA. In an email to me, Dana Frank writes: “Marco Cáceres called me and asked if he could reprint my NACLA article on his website, because he wanted to counter the rabid pro-coup attitude among the U.S. expatriate community in Honduras, which, he said, wasn’t very well informed about what the resistance actually is. After much consideration, I said yes, although I knew I was exposing myself to further attacks from golpistas; my reasoning was that I might, perhaps, reach someone that I would not otherwise reach (I know progressive expats in Honduras who are hungry for information in English). I was very clear that he could only use it with permission of NACLA, and if he credited them. I was not previously aware of Cáceres or his activities, and certainly did not know of his forthcoming book.”
Cáceres uses deceptive tactics like these specifically to prop up an illusion of balance in a blog masquerading as a newspaper, but which is really Cáceres’ personal soapbox. In a similar vein, Cáceres recently quoted me out of context in a way that made the quote appear to support his work in a press release promoting his book, written for the 700 club.
One of the articles recently republished to appear to look like it was written for HW was titled “US, Honduran Soldiers Partner on Medical Mission to Colón,” describing a “humanitarian” mission to the community Guadalupe Carney, written by Alex Licea .Two important facts are left out in the article: first, that SOUTHCOM specifically targets communities like Guadalupe Carney, named for the revolutionary priest and martyr, that are united in their resistance to the coup and U.S. imperialist policy for its “aid” efforts, and secondly, the full attribution of the article, reprinted from SOUTHCOM’s website and written by Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea, SOCSOUTH PAO [Public Affairs Officer].
This deliberate obfuscation is part of Cáceres’ overall pattern of whitewashing the scope and violence of the U.S. military presence in a country that was known during one peak of U.S. military buildup in the 1980s as the U.S.S. Honduras. Again in comments on my blog, Cáceres states, “For the record, there are many wonderful people who happen to work in the defense and aerospace industry. We are not all hawks or spies involved in conspiracies.” Despite the obvious fact that at some level, people who work in the defense industry must accept certain basic ideological tenets (i.e., the defense industry should exist and weapons that kill human beings and tear apart lives are necessary to protect certain ways of life that justify creating and maintaining those weapons), we will here take his word that his work for Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and NASA-what Cáceres refers to as his “day job”-does not in and of itself constitute a conspiracy. Let us look, instead, at his actions.
Cáceres has been an enthusiastic supporter of SOUTHCOM’s operations in Honduras, and Joint Task Force Bravo, and Bravo has returned that enthusiasm, even sponsoring his annual conference in 2008, themed “Building Global Partnerships: Implementing MDG 8 in Honduras.” According to a participant at the conference, Cáceres proudly described to his audience the process that led up to the partnership, explaining that a director at DARPA who had been on a mission trip to Honduras with his church and “fell in love” with the country arranged for SOUTHCOM to allocate a substantial sum of money for the conference. Another of the attendees at that conference, lay Catholic worker John Donaghy, described the presentation by Major Nilda Toro of Task Force Bravo’s presence in a somewhat different light in a post on his blog, “Hermano Juancito“:
Friday morning a woman from Task Force Bravo spoke. She proceeded to describe what they did as well as how they help humanitarian efforts. But she also gave a short history of the base. She stated that the base was there in the 1980s to combat aggression. That deeply affected me because I know the role of the US government at that time and have seen the effects of US support of Central American regimes like Honduras and El Salvador in that time. It was, I believe, far from combating aggression. Using the excuse of “Communism,” the US supported militarily and financially regimes that killed and disappeared civilians. This was well-documented by Americas Watch and Amnesty International…Someone, noting that the power-point was labeled “unclassified,” asked if she could share something more specific about their efforts against drug trafficking. The woman said that she couldn’t share that information since it was classified. And, she added, ” If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.” And the people laughed. That was it. I turned and said to her something like this. “That is not funny. It is not right to make a joke of killing. I know people who have been killed by governments in this region.” She insisted it was just a joke. I repeated my objection again. And then walked to the back.
As described on an earlier version of its website, the goal of Cáceres’s conference is “to inform, inspire and to generate creative thinking about ways to help Honduras through grassroots projects aimed at providing the Honduran people with some basic abilities to live, learn, and grow… so that eventually they are in a better position to solve the problems of their society.” The Social Darwinist assumption implicit in this description (as in the missionary travelogues posted on Honduras Weekly) is that Hondurans have not been able to solve the positions of their society for cultural and developmental reasons-rather than military and economic imperialism. Cáceres insists in his writings and in official conference propaganda that the work is apolitical, but this is of course an impossibility in today’s Honduras.
In a largely positive review of last year’s conference published on Honduras Weekly, Sharon McLennan, who is carrying out research on Project Honduras for her doctoral dissertation, gives a hint at the ambiguous way the conference’s “apolitical” approach manifested itself:
The apolitical approach of projecthonduras.com is another theme that has given me much to think about. This conference was held in the middle of some of the most divisive and ugly political events in recent Honduran history. After days of watching the news and talking about the crisis walking into the conference venue felt a little like walking into a bubble. Apart from some personal conversations and a few sideways references from speakers (mostly about the travel disruptions), politics was left at the door. This allowed for the conference to remain focused on the main themes of the conference – education, healthcare and community building – and to avoid disruptive conflict. Yet it didn’t always feel natural and political worries seemed to simmer blow the surface. I wonder if it would have been helpful to address these more directly.
An attendee of another Project Honduras conference who asked to not be named described their experience to me in an email:
A couple of things were very interesting (and strange) – there were few Hondurans. Most of the people were US evangelicals, with a large contingent of Episcopalians. There were a few Hondurans, mostly from evangelical groups. Also, very interesting is that many of the people there, including some university groups, were not people who live in Honduras, but those who come in for “social tourism.” You know, the people with colored t-shirts in the airports. What also was interesting was the very “middle class” nature of the crowd. There was also a reception at a very swanky hotel outside Copán Ruinas. In some ways it was a “love fest” – look at all the good we are doing here in Honduras with our US projects.
In 2008, featured guest Ambassador Hugo Llorens was feeling the love. In the blog post cited above, Donaghy described Llorens’ presentation as consisting primarily in congratulating those present on their “efforts to help Honduras.” This year Llorens is on the schedule to give a “personal ‘thank you’ to all of the volunteers and humanitarians who give their time and resources to help empower the people of Honduras,” Major Jorge Cintron of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Force Base (where the plane carrying Zelaya out of the country on June 28, 2009 stopped to refuel) will be discussing “the US military’s humanitarian response capabilities and partnership efforts in Honduras.” William Brands of USAID-an official sponsor of this year’s conference-will be giving “a broad overview of USAID programs in Honduras, including priorities and strategic focus. A specific emphasis on public/private partnerships.” While these and other individuals representing the U.S. State will be presenting, the vast majority of individuals attending come from reactionary evangelical groups, promoting charity work based on a premise of “apolitical” salvation that stand in direct opposition to the vibrant Honduran resistant movement’s goals of justice and self-determination.
And it goes beyond that. In an article published in Honduras Weekly on September 28th titled “The Holy City of Copán,” Cáceres argues that his conference is a “pilgrimage” leading to the goal of people “eventually truly becom[ing] One.” Throughout the article, he returns to the concept of “One,” capitalized.
The theme this year is “Responding to Domestic Abuse in Honduras.” One wonders if the increase in femicides since the coup documented by feminists in resistance, the dozens of documented targeted police and military rapes of female resistance members, the sexualized torture methods used, or the vast drop in reports of domestic abuse linked to fear of the police for these very reasons will be discussed. Probably not. Also unlikely to be discussed by the speakers, who include ardent coup-supporter Lizeth Godoy of the National Institute of Women (INAM), is the fact that the current INAM administration is in power thanks to the violent ouster by police and military of the women who had previously worked there last July, when they resisted the takeover of the institute by anti-feminist members of the reactionary Opus Dei coup leadership under Micheletti.
So why-despite Cáceres’ journalistic deceit, his increasingly public messianic delusions, his pro-coup proselytization and polarizing unfounded attacks on the resistance movement-does the U.S. embassy continue to so openly support his conference? Why is USAID (“From the American People”) officially sponsoring the Conference on Honduras this year? It’s not because the NGOs involved are doing any good; they aren’t. In their acceptance of a Social Darwinist model that identifies poverty as the result of a lack of “empowerment” and human capital, they can’t. If they would listen to the voices of the majority Hondurans resisting the ongoing U.S.-backed violent usurpation of their right to self-determination, conference attendees would hear the truth: that the impoverishment of the people they pretend to save results from the privatization of which they are a part, from regressive taxation, from the violent on seizure of lands from small farmers by members of the Honduran oligarchy and international corporations and enforced by the Honduran and U.S. military, and from other anti-democratic neoliberal processes that last year’s coup was carried out to defend. In ignoring those voices, they refuse to address the roots of the problem. Instead, they provide ideological cover for a neoliberal agenda, promoting a Protestant ethic of individual responsibility that eschews notions of social justice, participatory democracy and the public good.
So why, then, does the U.S. State support Cáceres? It is because he, like the NGOs he promotes, has been a truly effective tool in whitewashing the neoliberal undermining of democracy in Honduras, and the role of U.S. policy and military in it. Cáceres’ advocacy is Clinton’s Smart Power, combining institutions of military force and media and Non-Profit Industrial Complex coercion to undermine democratic processes in the interest of supporting the corporations that funded and have benefited from the coup. And indeed, as long as we don’t focus on the pro-corporate, anti-democratic golpista praxis in our own government, as the State Department employee I met on the train said, our fingerprints are all over that.
Adrienne Pine is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University and a Senior Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She blogs at: http://quotha.net/. Her latest book is Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras (UC Press 2008). She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Vivar is a Honduran sociologist who has been researching the influence of corporate media and right-wing populist organizations in the 2009 Honduran Coup.