Honduran Crisis Outfoxes US Attempts at Negotiation
Representatives of the Honduran resistance against the military coup
in Honduras arrived in Los Angeles this week as the Obama administration
appeared to be abandoning its support for deposed President Manuel
Zelaya and acceptance of the June 28 coup.
The four Hondurans, traveling overnight after four months of street resistance and state repression, displayed the diversity of the new social movement born in the wake of the June 28 coup. Their first meeting was hosted by Carecen, an agency long supportive of Central American immigrants.
Marvin Andrade, executive director of Caracen, was sharply critical of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of the Honduran crisis. Clinton claimed earlier this week that an historic breakthrough had been achieved, only to realize, no sooner than the ink was dry, that the agreement failed to restore President Manuel Zelaya to power, even temporarily.
No other Latino political or labor leaders were present to welcome the Honduran delegation. The reason suggested by one source close to the delegation was "not wanting to be critical of the Obama administration."
The four delegates gave brief and pointed testimony against the coup and any US plan to extend legitimacy to the upcoming presidential election scheduled for November 28.
Iris Munguia, born on a Chiquita banana plantation and now an organizer the Honduran banana workers union, denounced the presidential election, predicting electoral fraud because the coup regime controls the ballot boxes. Arrested in July, Munguia described new emergency laws passed to "legalize the repression" and impose long jail terms as further impediments to a fair and open electoral process.
Sara Aguilar, formerly of the Honduran public defenders' office, estimated 113 deaths from the police repression thus far, many of them victims followed and killed in their own homes, while no police officers have been brought to account. In some cases, lawyers have been beaten when seeing their clients in jail. Aguilar has taken leave from her public defender job to coordinate the new Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).
Indyra Mendoza, a lesbian feminist working on documentary films, testified how the nature of the coup is imprinted on the bodies of women, especially street workers, who are beaten on their breasts and sexual organs. Large numbers of the dead and tortured are from homosexual communities, she said.
Esequias Doblado, a legal adviser to the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CODEH) explained in detail how President Zelaya's call for a consulta, or referendum, on public sentiment towards a constituent assembly was fully legitimate ["una consulta, nada mas"] and not a rational reason for his military expulsion from the country. While ruled unconstitutional by the coup regime, the aspiration towards a constituent assembly, as a means of expanding participatory democracy, has grown in popularity in the weeks since the coup.
It appears that whatever the fate of Zelaya, the coup leaders ["golpistas"] have provoked a unified national opposition movement which die not exist before the coup, and has not existed in Honduras for decades. The scale and intensity of the movement was not anticipated either by the golpistas or the United States, and is not likely to decline significantly during or after an election this month. Honduras may be in the process of irreversible, unpredictable change.
Meanwhile Secretary Clinton has announced an empty agreement that leaves the coup regime intact and Zelaya trapped inside the Brazilian embassy. Though important details may emerge, it appears that US officials at the highest levels misled themselves into an October 30 agreement that Clinton claimed was unprecedented. Top officials were spreading the word that the agreement was a done deal only hours before it unraveled, leaving the White House isolated and embarrassed. Sen. John Kerry called the development "an abrupt change" that "caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate."
One after another, a series of longtime Latin American diplomats as well as Clinton allies like Lanny Davis have pressured for a weaker policy than was originally declared by President Obama. These diplomats and lobbyists view the crisis through a neo-Cold War lens in which Venezuela is the continental enemy. In this view, the negation of the coup and restoration of Zelaya, however temporary, would be a point for Venezuela. This binary focus neglects the fact that virtually the entire Organization of American States, the European Union, and even Clinton-appointed mediator Oscar Arias, have insisted on the return of Zelaya as a precondition for recognizing the elections.
The newest State Department voice to muddy the waters was W. Lewis Amselem, a career diplomat whose previous postings included Guatemala and Bolivia, and who was foreign policy adviser to the US Southern Command. Amselem made an astonishing argument Tuesday that the OAS should give up its opposition to the coup and accept the coming election:
"I've heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras. I'm not trying to be a wiseguy, but what does that mean? What does that mean in the real world, not the world of magical realism?"
Speaking to the OAS the week before, Amselem warned that the only practical course is for the organization to move forward with the election without Zelaya. This would mean an election not only without Zelaya, who is barred from another term in office, but without any progressive or independent candidate, since those potential candidates, such as union leader Carlos Reyes, are boycotting the election as a farce.
Thus the current US position is to accept the June 28 coup with its goal of eliminating Zelaya, electing a new conservative government, and regaining legitimacy in the OAS, the United Nations and other international organizations. As Amselem said, "For us to adopt a position that we cannot 'recognize' a Honduran government that emerges from conversations between the two parties, or from the electoral process, could leave the people of Honduras in the hands of those who created the current disaster in the first place...will some in this assembly try to have us condemn an entire nation to the fate of the ghostly Flying Dutchman, the ship of 17th century legend doomed to sail the seas forever without ever reaching safe haven?"
This drama is not over as election day approaches. Behind the scenes pressure now will be placed on Zelaya, and his Brazilian and regional allies, to accept the coup and its consequences by honoring the November election. Attempts to salvage a face-saving scenario that briefly returns Zelaya to office will be attempted as well.
But it is apparent that the hawks in the State Department, with their allies in business and military sectors across Latin America, have won their skirmish against the perceived threat of change in tiny Honduras. The coup is becoming a fait accompli.
The Honduran coup was not only aimed at Zelaya, Venezuela and the new left of Latin America, but against the perceived potential of the new Obama administration as well. Time will tell whether the new American president understands and accepts this fate, or eventually fights back.
In any event, the small Honduran delegation continues seeking to find an audience in America, in the faded tradition of the solidarity movements that arose in the 1980s.
© 2009 The Nation