As we awake to the nightmare of the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Congressional liberals face an immediate test on the Latin American front. Two fanatically right-wing Congress members from South Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Connie Mack, now control the Foreign Affairs Committee and the subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, respectively, and Honduras is at the top of their agenda. They are already aggressively challenging the Obama administration on what they regard as its softness toward Honduras’s deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected leader who was ousted in a June 28, 2009, military coup. They are also attacking the administration’s initial reluctance to give the coup regime its unqualified support.
Ros-Lehtinen and Mack are well aware that Honduras matters immensely as a vulnerable testing ground for expanded US domination of the hemisphere. That’s why the presidents of almost every country in Latin America closed ranks immediately to condemn the coup, aware that they could easily be the next domino to fall; and why Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela and many other countries continue to oppose Honduras’s readmission to the Organization of American States (OAS).
As we brace ourselves for the Florida Congress members’ attacks on Obama, it’s important to be clear how dangerous Obama’s policies on Honduras have been. Thanks to a WikiLeaked cable, we know that Hugo Llorens, US ambassador to Honduras, informed the State Department in July 2009 that "there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup." Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton avoided using the phrase "military coup," chastised Zelaya when he tried to return to his own country and eschewed a full condemnation of post-coup de facto President Roberto Micheletti, treating him as Zelaya’s equal during negotiations.
Llorens’s leaked cable further calls into question the Obama administration’s eager embrace of current President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo in a bogus November 2009 election, which was managed by the coup perpetrators and boycotted by most of the opposition and international observers. Since the coup, the United States has constructed two new military bases in Honduras (in Gracias a Dios and on the island of Guanaja), ramped up police training and, most recently, on December 27, announced that drones will be operating out of the joint US/Honduras air force base at Palmerola.
Meanwhile, the coup government continues its vicious repression of the opposition. On September 15, Honduran Independence Day, police and the military invaded an opposition radio station, tear-gassed it, and then tear-gassed and clubbed a peaceful demonstration. 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. On January 8, Juan Ramón Chinchilla, a journalist and prominent representative from the Aguán Valley to the national resistance front, was kidnapped and tortured by paramilitary forces. He escaped after two days, but not José Luis Sanabria, a teacher active in the resistance, who was kidnapped on December 30 in Florida, Copán, and found dead two days later. All this continues with near impunity. As Eduardo David Ardón wrote recently in the Honduran daily El Tiempo, "State terrorism has a green light to exercise every kind of violence and commit crimes of every sort across the spectrum, without being judged or investigated."