Democracy There, Democracy Here: Honduras

Democracy There, Democracy Here: Honduras

Democracy There, Democracy Here: Honduras

Washington-approved violence in Honduras continues.


The Nation has done great coverage of the June 2009 Honduran coup, most recently a update this past January by Dana Frank on the Washington-approved tragedy that continues to unfold there. Watching the maneuvers of Hillary Clinton’s State Department and Middle East hands like Frank Wisner to shore up the old order in Tunisia and Egypt puts US actions in Honduras into perspective.  

Washington’s betrayal of democracy in Honduras was stunning even in the light of its own astounding record in the region. Without rehearsing all the sordid details, the Obama administration negotiated a deal that people of good will believed would have allowed the country’s ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, to return as head of a provisional government. In fact, the wording of the agreement contained a carefully crafted loophole that allowed the coup to consolidate itself, after which the US pressured its allies to recognize Honduras’s new government. Washington, for instance, threatened El Salvador with not extending Temporary Protected Status (which grants a reprieve from deportation to some 200,000 Salvadorans) unless it moved to normalize relations with Honduras. This Faustian bargain nicely encapsulates the essence of “democracy” as Washington would define it, as a menu choice between two distasteful items. Pick one: sacrifice your most vulnerable citizens or betray those of your neighbor.     

Over in Egypt, Mohamed ElBaradei criticizes the mixed messages coming out of Washington, which has “created a lot of confusion, a lot of disappointment.” Obama says the will of the people can’t be detained. Wisner says not so much. In Honduras, the mixed messages circulated around what the word “coup” meant, with the United States refusing to use it describe what happened in Honduras. This, even though a Wikileaks released memo from the US embassy in Tegucigalpa unambiguously called the overthrow of Zelaya a coup and took a scalpel to each and every argument that tried to say otherwise. But publicly, Clinton and her diplomats dissembled and stalled, even as the bodies of those who resisted the coup piled up.

The killing continues, though you wouldn’t know it watching the news or reading the papers here. The media ignored a December 2010 Human Rights Watch sixty-five-page report, “After the Coup: Ongoing Violence, Intimidation, and Impunity in Honduras,” as it did HRW’s call last month for the coup government to investigate the killing of six transgendered woman that have taken place just since November 29, 2010. The very first person murdered in the coup was a transgendered women, Vicky Hernández Castillo. These murders are not usually classified as traditional “political” killings—that is, understood in relation to the coup. But they are profoundly political; the democracy movement that so scared the coup backers was multifaceted, comprised of trade unionists, environmentalists, progressive religious folks, indigenous communities, feminists and gay rights activists. As such, the coup reaction was equally multifaceted, and the ferocity of its ongoing repression is meant to restore authority in all its forms, including sexual authority.

Another thing that the coup has restored is the old cold war alliance between the landed aristocracy and death squads, yet updated to serve the new bio-fuel economy. As Dana Frank wrote in her last Nation piece, “On November 15, paramilitaries allegedly working for Miguel Facussé, a wealthy oligarch and key backer of the coup, assassinated five more campesino activists in the Aguán Valley, which remains under military occupation.” Facussé’s Aguán plantations, according to Jeff Conant in a recent report at Alternet, are largely given over to African Palm, part of a larger UN- and Washington-funded effort to turn much of Central America into a cheap, close and quiescent supplier of biofuels to the US market.  

There are ironies: coup supporters justified overthrowing Zelaya by claiming he wanted to amend the constitution (in fact, he was only holding a non-binding opinion poll to see if Hondurans favored changing the constitution). But two weeks ago, the coup congress did amend the constitution to allow Paul Romer, a US economist and currently visiting professor at NYU’s business school, to build a 10,000 square kilometer “charter city” on “uninhabited” land from scratch, supposedly modeled on what the British did in Hong Kong.  

We thought the coup plotters wanted to turn back the clock to the cold war, but they are packing for a much longer time travel, back to halcyon days of colonialism. The coup congress passed the bill to alter the constitution with only one “no” vote.

For those wanting to keep current on events in Honduras, and elsewhere in Latin America and the world, there is no better place than Adrienne Pine’s blog, Quotha. Pine is an anthropologist at American University in DC, and her analysis is always excellent. She has been particularly tireless in exposing Florida International University’s shameful deal with the Pentagon to contract academics to produce strategic analyses of countries, including Guatemala, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and, of course, Honduras. 

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