Obama Has the Power-and Responsibility- to Help Restore Democracy in Honduras

June 29, 2009

Supporters of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya demonstrate in front of the presidential residence

Viewed from a distance, the streets of Honduras look, smell and sound like those of Iran: Expressions of popular anger- burning vehicles, large marches and calls for justice in a non-English language- aimed at a constitutional violation of the people’s will (the coup took place on the eve of a poll of voters asking if the President’s term should be extended); protests repressed by a small, but powerful elite backed by military force; those holding power trying to cut off communications in and out of the country.

These and other similarities between the political situation in Iran and the situation in Honduras, where military and economic and political elites ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in a military coup condemned around the world, are obvious.

But when viewed from the closer physical (Miami is just 800 miles from Honduras) and historical proximity of the United States, the differences between Iran and Honduras are marked and clear in important ways: the M-16’s pointing at this very moment at the thousands of peaceful protesters are paid for with U.S. tax dollars and still carry a “Made in America” label; the military airplane in which they kidnapped and exiled President Zelaya was purchased with the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid the Honduran government has been the benefactor of since the Cold War military build-up that began in 1980’s; the leader of the coup, General Romeo Vasquez, and many other military leaders repressing the populace received “counterinsurgency” training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the infamous “School of the Americas,” responsible for training those who perpetrated the greatest atrocities in the Americas.

The big difference between Iran and Honduras? President Obama and the U.S. can actually do something about a military crackdown that our tax dollars are helping pay for. That Vasquez and other coup leaders were trained at the WHINSEC, which also trained Agusto Pinochet and other military dictators responsible for the deaths, disappearances, tortures of hundreds of thousands in Latin America, sends profound chills throughout a region still trying to overcome decades U.S.-backed militarism.

Hemispheric concerns about the coup were expressed in the rapid, historic and almost universal condemnation of the plot by almost all Latin American governments. Such concerns in the region represent an opportunity for the United States. But, while the Honduran coup represents a major opportunity for Obama to make real his recent and repeated calls for a “new” relationship to the Americas, failure to take actions that send a rapid and unequivocal denunciation of the coup will be devastating to the Honduran people — and to the still-fragile U.S. image in the region.

Recent declarations by the Administration — expressions of “concern” by the President and statements by Secretary of State Clinton recognizing Zelaya as the only legitimate, elected leader of Honduras — appear to indicate preliminary disapproval of the putsch. Yet, the even more unequivocal statements of condemnation from U.N. President Miguel D’Escoto, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Presidents of Argentina, Costa Rica and many other governments raise greatly the bar of expectation before the Obama Administration.

As a leader of the global chorus condemning the Iranian government and as one of the primary backers of the Honduran military, the Obama Administration will feel increasing pressure to do much more.

Beyond immediate calls to continue demanding that Zelaya and democratic order be reinstated, protesters in Honduras, Latin America and across the United States will also pressure the Obama Administration to take a number of tougher measures including: cutting off of U.S. military aid, demanding that Hondurans and others kidnapped, jailed and detained be released and accounted for immediately, bringing Vasquez and coup leaders to justice, investigating what U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, did or didn’t know about the coup.

With the bad taste left by the widely alleged U.S. involvement in recent coup attempts in Venezuela (2002) and Bolivia (2008), countries led by Zelaya allies Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, the Obama Administration faces a skeptical Latin American audience.

Latin American skepticism of U.S. intentions is not unfounded. Throughout his administration, Zelaya has increasingly moved left, critiquing certain U.S. actions and building stronger ties to countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. COHA, a non-profit research organization, wrote in 2005:

While Honduras signed onto the U.S.-led Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2004, and the U.S. currently is Honduras’ primary trading partner and the source of approximately two-thirds of the country’s foreign direct investment (FDI), Zelaya has, within the past year, joined Petrocaribe, Chavez’s oil-subsidy initiative, as well as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the Venezuelan-led trade bloc. Honduras’ Congress ratified its membership in Petrocaribe on March 13, by 69 votes, and Zelaya signed ALBA membership documents on August 22.

The Honduran president has said that apathy on the part of the U.S. as well as by the international lending institutions toward rising food prices and deepening poverty in his country — one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with per capita income around $1,600 — compelled him to turn to Caracas.”

Obama’s meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Monday, whose government has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other international organizations as one of the worst human rights violators in the hemisphere, both complicates and will be complicated by Sunday’s’ resurgence of militarism in Honduras.

Zelaya, who continues denouncing the coup from Costa Rica, outlined the long term threat to Honduran and U.S. interests in the region, “I think this is a vicious plot planned by elites. Elite who only want to keep the country isolated and in extreme poverty,” he said adding that, “A usurper government cannot be recognized by absolutely anybody.”

(This article appeared originally on Alternet: http://www.alternet.org)

20 Responses to “Obama Has the Power-and Responsibility- to Help Restore Democracy in Honduras”

  1. jdalley Says:

    I think that right now we only need to focus on America. We can’t play god to the rest of the world. Maybe we can once are system is fixed but not until we have a better economy and a smaller government.

  2. lucretia Says:

    Please gather more information about Zelaya and what he has been doing. He was doing many things that were against democracy. Also take a look at this article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124623220955866301.html

    • robvato Says:

      Please pay attention to two little facts you seem to have overlooked in your support of the universally-repudiated military dictatorship, Lucretia: 1.Zelaya is the constitutionally sanctioned and democratically-elected President of a sovereign country & 2. Our tax dollars are paying for repression against the sovereign people of Honduras. Sorry, but I join the U.N., the OAS, the European Union and almost all Latin governments in condemning this. Who, besides the coup leaders supports your point of view?

      • lucretia Says:

        I am currently living in Honduras. Everyone I have met, including my immediate family, supports what is happening. None of them want Zelaya back after all that he has done…even for the few months left of his term.

  3. don quixote Says:

    If Obama and the US Govt are so concerned about democracy and freedom then they have a chance to demonstrate their commitment right in their own backyard.
    The world is watching.

  4. M Clarke Says:

    RL- you could add to he list of recent coups that the U.S. collaborated in: President Aristide’s removal from Haiti in 2004 was a travesty. We can’t let Zelaya be treated the same – call the State Dept. 1-800-877-8339

  5. Evelyn Says:

    Lucretia, I understand that there are many people in Honduras that may disagree with Zelayas politics and particularly his calling for a referendum to amend the constitution….but at least he was going about his politics democratically (putting it to a vote). To even suggest that it is okay to kidnap a democratically elected leader who promoted policies not all Hondurans agreed with…is preposterous, to say the least. I suggest you, your family, and all those who disagree with Zelaya express your oposition through democratic means: educate your community, advocate your legislators, propose alternatives – but don’t justify kidnapping your president!

    • lucretia Says:

      Evelyn, this situation has been a long time brewing. You are over simplifying it. Zelaya has been going against the Congress and Supreme Court for months. A Democracy is made up of several parts so as to keep each part in check. The Congress and the Supreme Court were in the awkward position of having to take action against a president that kept flouting the law.

    • denelian Says:

      i have to ask – since when has lawfully arresting a man for both breaking the law *and* going against what the Court ordered “kidnapping”?
      how is deliberately breaking the law, going against the ruling of the Court, and going against the *Constitution* “democratic”?

  6. denelian Says:

    i am confused. it appears, according to other news sources, that Zelaya was arrested by the military under order from their Supreme COurt because Zelaya was going against the law anddirectly violating court orders against him running a referandum on the Constitution – because according to the Honduras Constitution, the Presidant CAN NOT start a referandum, it HAS to come from their legislative body, and Zelaya was trying to illegally re-write their Constitution.

    which means the is *not* a Military Coup, because the military were acting on the orders of the Supreme Court against the attempted dictorial efforts of Zelaya

    that’s how it reads to me.

    is there something i am missing?

  7. Lucy Says:

    I think it is time to return Zelaya with the world watching as he is tried in Honduras for the crimes against his people. You are right the U.S. provides millions in aid to Honduras yet the people are getting poorer they need to follow the money and see what Zelaya has done with it. And by the way the people in Venezuela are questioning where the money is also going. Doctors were reporting on satellite yesterday that they don’t even have gloves and syringes in their hospital and this was in the Caracus . But yet Chavez was building homes and giving money to the people of honduras. I wonder if he was maybe buying votes. Of course not he was doing it out of the kindness of his heart. The U.S. sent millions in aid for the repair of streets and roads. I was their 2 years ago and if that is a repair job someone was taken. I have talked to different organizations in Honduras that have been trying to help the people there for years and they are saying things are calm there. There is no chaos, in the central market there is some protesting going on, but guess what they are not being killed for protesting. You think the latin world is watching or do you think Chavez and Castro is watching to see what will happen to their communist playground. Honduras is considered by far the poorest central american country and Chavez and castro mistakened poverty for stupidity. I pray for a human being to run for president who truly loves his or her country and its people and not the money they can steel.

  8. Andrew Says:

    I also live in Honduras and have many good friends among the dirt poor, many good friends among the elite, and everywhere in between. I have researched this carefully and as impartially as I have been able, and I am CONVINCED that the Honduran government acted correctly (with some minor errors) in removing Mr. Zelaya from power. He was following in the footsteps of Chavez, Ortega and others in using a mask of democracy to establish his dictatorship. He broke many laws (even prior to this referendum). The military WAS acting under orders from the Supreme Court and Congress and are STILL acting under their leadership, which has upheld democracy and Honduran law. This was NOT a coup d’etat! Please everyone, do your research on not only the situation in Honduras, but also on the OAS before drawing your conclusions!

  9. John Quiñones Says:

    The removal of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales by the Armed Forces in the early hours of Sunday June 28, breaks the paradigms of contemporary political history of Latin America. For the first time in the era of post Cold War (1989 to date), an army deposes a democratically elected constitutional president, to restore the rule of law, not to break the rule of law in a country, as was characteristic of the military in the past.
    From that standpoint of politics, Honduras has laid a precedent, which no doubt will become a case study of universities, politicians and diplomats around the world .. For the first time in Latin America, the people have revolted without bloodshed and without violence, against a constitutional and democratically elected President, for violating laws and institutions in the country.
    That’s why the international press, international agencies and governments around the world, still have not understood the context and substance of this case and are condemning what happened in Honduras, as they are analyzed based on concepts of old paradigm of coups d’etat during the Cold War. The international community, public and private, has not yet had the time or the elements, to realize that Honduras broke a pattern and that there is completely sui generis.
    The lesson Honduras gave the world a week ago was clear: even if a President has been elected democratically and legitimately he has no right to disobey the Constitution and laws of the Republic. The people are no longer willing to tolerate such abuse of power by the constitutional President, often considered untouchable by the very fact of having been elected by the people. Honduras message is simple: the popular vote does not include a license to commit crime, and any effort to govern for the common good should be within the framework of the law.

  10. robvato Says:

    Thankfully, there are tens of thousands in the streets of Honduras who don’t don’t support a military that shoots its own unarmed people. I’ve spoken to Hondurans in Honduras who think that shooting and killing 10 year-old boys is politically wrong and morally reprehensible. Again, who in the hemisphere or, for that matter, who in the world celebrates military dictatorship as you do? Quite frankly, your gushing enthusiasm for the spilling of blood is scary and worthy of condemnation: your support for militarism is politically ridiculous, your applause for killers and thugs morally bankrupt. R

    • John Quiñones Says:

      Yeah, these tens of thousands of people that you say there are(it’s more like hundreds) are thugs, gang members, fmln members, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, in short a bunch of “chusma” paid by the Chavez government to protest. Actually Honduras is not a military dictatorship, Cuba and Venezuela are! But then again you probably support Chavez and the Castro brothers! The military you see in the TV footage are there to keep the protest peaceful , otherwise these “chusma” would be breaking into businesses at the same time they protest. Hondurans is now a complete mess thanks to the leftist power of the OAS. Hopefully the US will have the sense to stop all of this by supporting the new government.

      • robvato Says:

        Calling men, women and children who risk their lives for democracy, people backed by so many around the world -the United Nations, the Organization of American States, most Latin governments-“thugs, gang members” is not just dehumanizing, but also qualifies you for a prize: losing the privilege of posting anything here for going beyond legitimate and mature political discussion we value here and into the dangerously infantile level of discourse one finds on what I’m sure a re your preferred media, Fox television and Univision. good luck in your search for acceptance of dehumanization and death. Your Of América license has been revoked

  11. veronica giggey Says:

    Hi Robert, just wanted to say how dissapointed I am to see that you removed my comments from your blog. I realize it’s your blog and you want it to represent your views. You should just be more careful in your censorship and not just do it because people make strong arguments against you. It’s possible that you may be wrong some times and you might meet smart, passionate people like yourself. It’s also possible that there is an in between in this situation and that Hondurans against Zelaya are not supporting the murder of civilians. Realize that you can be against the way congress has handled this situation but it doesn’t mean you have to support Manuel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. Unless, of course, you are well informed on his actions of the past 3.5 years and are willing to stand behind them.

    • robvato Says:

      Not sure what’s spam and what’s opinion and what’s organized opinion by right wing lunatics. There are some organized right wing Honduran groups trying to swarm my blog. Am happy to make public your comments in support of a government that’s killing it’s own people. Hope you can also give face to your support for thugs and killers. R

      • veronica giggey Says:

        That’s great thank you, the comment that is missing addressed your questions to Lucretia.
        Maybe as you make that public again you can help answer the questions I asked. Why should one president decide for the rest of us? Why should the other branches of governement have no say on the lgeality of his actions? Why should a president only follow laws when he thinks they are fair?

        Yes, the interim government should have never removed Manuel Zelaya from his home and out of the country. Even in a country wihtout an impeachment process, there had to be a better way to remove him from power. The Supreme Court, Attorney General, National Electoral Tribunal and Congress should have taken him to trial. Their argument is that this would have caused riots…well, as we can see from yesterday, these were impossible to avoid.

        Please realize that being against Zelaya doesn’t mean you are in support of the way Congress is acting or in support of Micheletti’s government. I don’t support people being removed from their homes, I don’t support protestors attacking military, I don’t support military taking the life of a woman, I don’t support threat by Chavez to attack Honduras, I don’t support censorship by the interim government, I don’t support Zelay continuing to be president of Honduras, I don’t support a Honduran citizen not being allowed entry into his own country. I support elections being moved forward to September. I support Zelaya’s return to Honduras, so he can stand trial and be given a chance to defend himself and his actions.

        Don’t confuse that with supporting the murder that took place yesterday. The same way in which I won’t confuse your words with your support toward the non existance of a balance of power.

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