Honduras: Washington continues war on democracy

A supporter of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya being beaten by police, June 2009. Photo: venstresida/Flickr

At dawn one year ago, on June 28, soldiers invaded the home of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica.

It was a frightening throwback to the days when military men, backed by a local oligarchy and often the United States, could overturn the results of democratic elections.

It would also turn out to be a pivotal moment for relations between the US and Latin America. A new generation of left-of-centre governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela were all hoping for a new relationship with Washington.

But it was not to be.

The first signal came when, on the day of the coup, the White House did not condemn it, but merely called on “all social and political actors” to respect democracy.

The White House later joined other countries in condemning the coup, but there was a noticeable difference: the Organisation of American States, the United Nations, and other international organisations called for the “immediate and unconditional” reinstatement of Zelaya, but no US official would utter those words over the next five months.

Nor would US officials join human rights organisations throughout the world in condemning the violence and repression of the Honduran dictatorship.

Its security forces raided and shut down independent radio and TV stations, and beat and arrested thousands of peaceful demonstrators. There were reports of torture and some opposition activists were killed in circumstances that implicated the government.

Since this took place during the official campaign period for the November elections, it made free elections impossible.

The Obama administration's silence was deafening.

Zelaya traveled to Washington six times during his exile, but Obama refused to meet with him. Meanwhile, Washington blocked the OAS from taking stronger actions against the Honduran dictatorship.

The US then supported the dictatorship-organised elections. The OAS and European Union had refused to send observers.

The vast majority of the hemisphere, including Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, were vehemently opposed to the elections. The Rio Group, which includes all of Latin America, signed a statement saying Zelaya’s immediate return to the presidency was “indispensable” to the recognition of elections.

Even the right-wing governments of Panama,Colombia and Peru — Washington’s closest allies in the region — felt obliged to sign the statement.

This created a rift that remains today: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently been campaigning for recognition of the Honduran government, but has found few takers.

In South America, it is only Peru and Colombia that recognise the government of President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo — the official position of Union of South American Nations (Unasur) is still non-recognition.

When Spain invited Lobo to Madrid for the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit in May, Latin American nations including Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela protested.

Lobo was forced to cancel his visit.

A few days after Lobo’s inauguration, Clinton announced that the Honduran “crisis" had been "managed to a successful conclusion” and this “was done without violence”.

Two days later, Clinton said the US was restoring all assistance to Honduras. This was despite a letter sent to her the day before by Democratic members of Congress asking her to “send a strong unambiguous message that the human rights situation in Honduras will be a critical component of upcoming decisions regarding the further normalizations of relations, as well as the resumption of financial assistance”.

The repression in Honduras has continued and perhaps worsened since the November election. Dozens of opposition activists and nine journalists have been murdered.

On June 24, 27 members of the US Congress, including some of the Democratic leadership, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton that said: “Members of social movements who oppose or criticize the government have been victims of violence and subject to ongoing intimidation ...

“Violations of human rights and democratic order persist in Honduras on [President Lobo's] watch.”

There is impunity for those who carried out the coup and the repression. The government has established a “Truth Commission” that appears set to sweep all these crimes under the rug. The general who headed the armed forces during the coup was put in charge of the state telecommunications company.

He said he would use his new position for intelligence gathering.

It’s about time the US supported Latin American nations and supported the rights of Hondurans who are fighting for democracy, instead of fighting to legitimise a repressive regime.

[Reprinted from MRZine. Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C.]