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From Coup-lite to Truth-lite: US Policy and Death Squad Democracy in Honduras

Andrés Thomas Conteris

In the Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government is On With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras, Mark Weisbrot correctly illustrates U.S. backing for the coup regime and its lack of support for democracy.  For more than 100 days, I have been holed up inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, accompanying President Manuel Zelaya and covering the story for Democracy Now! and other independent media. In case Mark's points were not convincing, here are 10 more ways to help you decide.

10. The resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on June 30th strongly condemned the coup in Honduras. The United States, however, prevented the UN Security Council from taking strong measures consistent with the resolution.

9. When President Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on September 21st, Lewis Amselem, the U.S. representative at the Organization of American States (OAS), called it "foolish" and "irresponsible."  Amselem, whose background is with the U.S. Southern Command, is known in the halls of the OAS as "the diplomator."  He led the charge for validating the Honduran elections, while most countries opposed recognition of elections held under the coup regime.

8. The U.S. Southern Command sponsored the PANAMAX 09 joint maneuvers from September 11-21 off the coast of Panama with military forces from 20 countries.  Even though the U.S. publicly stated that ties had been severed with the Honduran military, the invitation for Honduras to participate in these maneuvers stood firm.  The Honduran armed forces finally said they would withdraw from the exercises, only after several Latin American countries threatened to boycott them.

7. Key members of the Honduran military involved in the coup received training at the School of the Americas (which changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation -- WHISC), including Generals Romeo Vasquez and Luis Javier Prince.  Even after the June 28th coup, the Pentagon continued training members of the Honduran military at WHISC in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

6. The negotiating teams for both sides of the conflict reached an Accord on October 30th. Days later, when the U.S. made it clear it would honor the November 29th election whether or not he were reinstated as president, Zelaya declared the Accord to be a "dead letter".  In spite of the U.S. claim that they only recognize Zelaya as the president of the country, they refuse to accept that he withdrew from the Accord.  The practice of ignoring the will of the Honduran president is also evidenced by the failure Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama to respond to letters he sent them.

5. Although U.S. officials continue to sing the praises of the Accord, they have been cherry picking around which parts of the agreement to underscore and which to ignore.  The Verification Commission mandated by the Accord only came together on one occasion for a photo-op.  The Accord stipulates the need for international aid for the Commission to function, but the U.S. provided no economic or political support.  Had the Verification Commission been activated, it would have denounced the November 5th deadline passing without the formation of a government of national unity.  It would have to consider rebuking coup leader Roberto Micheletti for assuming he would preside over this new government. Given these violations, the Commission would have to rule whether or not the November 29th elections should have proceeded, or be recognized.


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4. The U.S. supports a comprehensive amnesty, a component intentionally left out of the Accord. The coup regime filed 24 criminal charges against President Zelaya, yet he is willing to face all of them in an impartial court of law.  He has called for an independent international tribunal and rejected the option of amnesty for himself and the coup perpetrators.  If amnesty is declared, impunity will be enshrined for the "golpistas," as well as for the U.S. Pentagon and civilian officials complicit in the crimes of the coup.

3. The Accord calls for the establishment of a Truth Commission during the first half of 2010.  U.S. officials say they favor this; however, "truth-lite" seems to be what they prefer.  In recent decades, most Truth Commissions have limited truth-telling to circumstances within their country's borders.  One exception occurred in Chad where the role of foreign governments in funding and training the perpetrators of human rights crimes was investigated.  If Honduras followed Chad's example, its Truth Commission could examine the U.S. role before, during and after the coup.  Some possible questions: What role did those formerly employed by the U.S. government, like John Negroponte, Otto Reich, and Lanny Davis, play before and after the coup? Why did the plane carrying the kidnapped president on June 28th land just 60 miles away from the capital at the airbase where the U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo is headquartered? (U.S. officials claim it was to "refuel"). Why did the U.S. allow aid to continue to flow to the coup regime while not declaring that a "military coup" took place against the advice of the State Department's legal advisors?  Top U.S. officials labeled what happened in Honduras as a coup; but given their actions, it's more like "coup-lite."

2. In August 2009, at the Summit of North American Leaders in Mexico, President Obama had harsh words for opponents of his policy by declaring, "The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we're always intervening. . . I think what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations. . ."

The ongoing U.S. intervention and hypocrisy in Honduras goes well beyond what Mark Weisbrot and I have described.  Aid continues to flow to the de facto regime, despite U.S. law that mandates cutting aid to military coups; that is intervention. Lifting the symbolic sanctions temporarily imposed on the dictatorship after the Accord was signed but not implemented; that is intervention.  Bestowing harsher criticism on President Zelaya and his nonviolent supporters rather than on the perpetrators of gross human rights crimes; that is hypocrisy.

1. Here in the Brazilian embassy, death threats are part of the psychological warfare directed against those who continue to accompany President Zelaya.  Elsewhere in Honduras: resistance leader Carlos Turcios was kidnapped and beheaded on December 16th; two members of the United Peasant Movement of Aguan were abducted by four hooded men on December 17th; resistance member Edwin Renán Fajardo, age 22, was tortured and murdered on December 22nd.  In an open letter to fellow Central American Presidents on December 28th, President Zelaya cited over 4,000 human rights violations by the coup regime, including 130 killings, over 450 persons wounded, over 3000 illegal detentions, and 114 political prisoners.

The silence of the U.S. government over the last six months regarding the ongoing human rights atrocities by the "golpistas" in Honduras confirms that the Obama regime has sought to support a death-squad democracy, rather than reinstating its elected leader.

That is intervention. That is hypocrisy.

Andrés Thomas Conteris is Program on the Americas Director for Nonviolence International, and works with Democracy Now! en Español.

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