The 2009 military coup in Honduras was one of the earliest stains on the foreign policy record of Barack Obama. Coming just six months into his term — and a little more than four months before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — the coup, and the American reaction to it, gave the clearest indication possible that there would be no change in the Standard Operating Procedure of the Potomac Empire under his watch.
The coup has had a long, dismal and murderous aftermath, which we have often noted on these pages, such as here, here, here, here, and here. (Give them a gander, if you have the stomach for a quick acid bath of reality after all the sugared propaganda of the presidential campaign.)
Those posts were based largely on some of the excellent pieces of reportage and analysis on Honduras that have appeared over the years. All of them are easily available to anyone interested in the conduct of American foreign policy — a set which would include, one presumes, the many self-identified “progressives” who write about American politics on a daily basis. Yet as we noted here just a few months ago, “the repression, death and corruption engendered in Honduras with Obama’s aid and complicity have been remarkable – [but] have gone completely unremarked by the legion of progressives who rightly strained at the slightest gnat of evil during George W. Bush’s lawless regime but now happily swallow whole camels of crime when Obama wears the purple. Blind guides indeed.”
Yet even as our good progressives are plunging daggers into anyone who dares even suggest an alternative to the Doctrine of Lesser Evilism which has become the core of their partisan faith — a doctrine that guarantees the perpetuation of the corrupt and brutal system they loudly abhor — the American-approved carnage and terrorism in Honduras goes on. Nick Alexandrov has written yet another of those excellent pieces referenced above about this forgotten — but continuing — tragedy. From Counterpunch:
After the Honduran military staged a coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton backed the ensuing fraudulent elections the Organization of American States and European Union refused to observe. Porfirio Lobo won the phony contest, and now holds power. …
The coup’s plotters, it should be emphasized, knew exactly what they were doing. Colonel Bayardo Inestroza, a military lawyer who advised them on legal issues, was very open about it, informing the Salvadoran newspaper El Faro, “We committed a crime, but we had to do it.” U.S. officials seem to have taken slightly longer to recognize the obvious, but Wikileaks documents indicate that, by late July, they understood that what had transpired was “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Obama’s legal training, cosmopolitan background and cabinet stuffed with intellectuals were all irrelevant in this situation, like so many others. A different set of factors drives U.S. foreign policy…
And what kind of people — what kind of system — have Obama and his Secretary of State (and possible future successor) embraced and supported so eagerly? Alexandrov tells us:
Returning to Honduras, we see that conditions there are beginning to call to mind those of, say, El Salvador in the ’80s—good news, perhaps, for aspiring financial executives eager to launch the next Bain Capital. But as the business climate improves, everyday life for Hondurans working to secure basic rights has become nightmarish. Dina Meza’s case is just one example.
A journalist and founder of the Committee of Families of Detainees and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Meza received two text messages from the Comando Álvarez Martinez (CAM) last February: “We are going to burn your ‘pipa’ (vagina) with caustic lime until you scream and then the whole squad will have fun.” The follow-up warning told her she would “end up dead like the Aguán people,” referring to the poor campesinos that are being slaughtered on land owned mainly by Miguel Facussé, one of the richest Hondurans.
The most recent government-led assault on Honduran farmworker rights can be traced back to the 1992 Law of Agricultural Modernization. International finance lobbied aggressively for that decision, which reversed the limited land reform implemented in the preceding decades, and drove the desperately poor into city slums or out of the country, inspiring those who remained to form self-defense organizations. The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) is one of these groups. With the help of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a human rights lawyer, the campesinos recently won back legal rights to several plantations.
Well, that sounds good, right? A grass-roots organization working peacefully within the system to secure its legal rights under the national constitution. Isn’t that the kind of thing that American foreign policy professes to encourage throughout the world? Unfortunately, the denouement of this good news story shows what our bipartisan elites really support:
On September 23, Trejo took some time off to celebrate a friend’s wedding at a church in Tegucigalpa. During the event he received a call, and stepped outside to take it. The gunmen were waiting for him. They shot him several times, and he died soon after arriving at the hospital. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts,” Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguán’s peasants, explained, “they killed him.” They killed Eduardo Diaz Madariaga, a human rights lawyer, the following day, presumably for similar reasons.
It is in these conditions that Honduras has been opened for business.
And of course, this is only the beginning. American elites have big plans for Honduras: they are looking to build whole cities under corporate control.
The American economist Paul Romer proposed recently that several neoliberal “charter cities”—complete with their own police, laws, and government—be built there, and an NPR reporter recently reviewed this idea enthusiastically in a piece for the New York Times.
This plan is being pushed relentlessly by the elites in Washington and Tegucigalpa. And as always, everywhere, these gilded, coddled, respectable figures play the most adamantine hardball. The Associate Press has more on the wider context of Trejo’s murder:
Trejo had also helped prepare motions declaring unconstitutional a proposal to build three privately run cities with their own police, laws and tax systems. Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private city projects to raise campaign funds …
Trejo “had denounced those responsible for his future death on many occasions,” said Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguan’s peasants. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts, they killed him.”
AP then adds the hardly necessary coda:
No arrests have been made in Trejo’s killing.
At least part the Honduran Supreme Court seems to to have realized — belatedly — the true nature of the plan that so enthused the good centrist serious liberals at NPR, as Alexandrov reports:
Voting 4-to-1 that the charter cities are unconstitutional, [a committee of the Supreme Court] concluded that Romer’s plan “implies transferring national territory, which is expressly prohibited in the constitution;” worth recalling is that Zelaya was thrown out for allegedly violating the same document.
But again, this epiphany may come too late. As Greg Grandin, Yale history professor and author of an earlier attempt by American corporatist extremists to build a bosses’ paradise in Latin America, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, notes (via Corey Robin), this committee ruling could well be overturned by the full court — especially with all the aforesaid corporate baksheesh floating around.
In any case, this same Supreme Court has accepted the installation of the self-confessed illegal government of elitist coup-plotters; their protestations now at threats to “national sovereignty” ring hollow. In any case, what can they do about it? If the elites decide they want their ‘charter cities,’ what’s to stop them from ignoring the constituational legalities as they did in overthrowing the inconvenient Zelaya? No doubt they will find eager backers in Washington if they find law and democracy an impediment to their agenda. As Gradin also notes:
Peter Thiel, founder of Paypall … and another supporter of the Honduran scheme, wrote: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
“Freedom” here means the freedom of rapacious elites to enrich themselves — and impoverish, repress and kill others — without the slightest restraint. A commenter on the Corey Robin thread in which Grandin’s quote appears puts it succinctly:
I first heard about the Honduras project from a Reason.com article that starts with the line: “A roadblock on a very interesting plan to create experimental, freedom-friendly governing structures down in Honduras…” I absolutely love the fact that Reason.com describes a plan to use eminent domain to seize land from poor indigenous communities and hand it over to multi-national corporations “freedom-friendly.” Not to mention the absolute denial of freedoms the workers of this for-profit city can come to expect if it’s ever built.
It really encapsulates the concept of property right’s “original sin” quite beautifully- – in order to create landed private property, you have to steal it, at the point of a gun, from the people who were using it, and then use the power of government to enforce your ownership.
And as Alexandrov notes in the conclusion to his Counterpunch piece, this brutal, murderous system will continue, unabated, unrestrained, no matter which of the “original sinners” in the current imperial court squabble come out on top in November.