How the U.S. media sees Honduras

July 7, 2009

AS EVENTS unfold following the coup in Honduras, some in the U.S. mainstream press are providing ideological cover for the Honduran military's illegal and undemocratic actions, which must be condemned.

Álvaro Vargas Llosa's June 30 New York Times op-ed, "The Winner in Honduras: Chavez," is one prominent example. Llosa claims that President Zelaya set a trap for the Honduran military by "pushing the limits of democracy by trying to force a constitutional change that would permit his re-election" and "the military fell for it."

This is absurd. Zelaya called for a non-binding referendum, a poll, to measure popular support for a change in the constitution, which is hardly a valid reason to kidnap and exile a head of state.

Llosa states that the referendum violates the Honduran constitution and "the legal procedure for constitutional amendments," and that Zelaya's desire to permit a vote to change the single-term limit to be able to run for re-election is the only evidence he provides of Zelaya "pushing the limits of democracy."

His argument rests on equating the violation of the constitution with the violation of democracy. To suggest that the Honduran military overthrew Zelaya, a democratically-elected president, out of respect for democracy and the constitution is ignorant at best and intentionally misleading at worst. Article 2 of the Honduran constitution identifies such violations of popular sovereignty as crimes of treason and Article 3 stipulates that nobody must recognize a government that assumes power by force of arms and gives the Honduran people the right to overthrow such a regime.

I thought, since Llosa is a fellow at the Independent Institute, which according to their Web site "adheres to the highest standards of independent scholarly inquiry" and upholds "rigorous standards without regard to any political or social biases," he must have called for the U.S. military to overthrow the Bush regime for its many violations of the U.S. Constitution, but so far my Google search has turned up 0 results on that.

The real purpose of Llosa's piece is to target Venzuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom he calls "the unlikely champion of Jeffersonian democracy in Latin America" for his "incessant exploitation of the situation," painting him as the main threat to democracy in the region.

MARY ANASTASIA O'Grady's June 30 Wall Street Journal opinion is even worse. Titled "Honduras Defends Its Democracy: Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton Object," O'Grady's piece applauds the coup because she sees it as a noble defense of formal "democracy" and "checks and balances," as well as standing up to "dictators" such as Chavez, who was elected with 56 percent (and re-elected with 63 percent) of the vote in Venezuela.

Reading her piece, one would think that the military soberly, and in the name of the rule of law, stepped in to arrest Zelaya, rather than kidnapping him and beating and kidnapping Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas and the ambassadors from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Also ignored are the protests in favor of Zelaya's return; the curfew and reports of gunshots--on June 29 on Democracy Now!, Honduran human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares stated that those on the street after 9 p.m. were being considered free game for the military to shoot; the media blackout in Honduras imposed by the military; or the fact that the leaders of the coup were trained in the United States at the School of the Americas, which trained leaders of right-wing death squads and supporters of the contras who killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguans during the 1980s, using Honduras as a staging ground.

It is clear that O'Grady left these points out to back up her incorrect assertion that "the struggle against Chavismo has never been about left-right politics. It is about defending the independence of institutions that keep presidents from becoming dictators." Apparently, military coups are an important component in the "struggle against Chavismo," given the recent events in Honduras and the failed coup against Chavez in 2002. The latter was overturned by a mass outpouring of support from ordinary Venezuelans in the streets and resistance within the military, including the inspiring example of an 18-year-old bugler in a military band who refused to play for the new "president" and handed his bugle to an enraged general telling him to play it. I'll leave it to O'Grady to explain how a military coup is an effective way of preventing the rise of a dictator, after she finishes burning her house down to protect it from future fires.

Llosa and O'Grady's attempt to sugarcoat the Honduran coup and portray leaders like Chavez and Zelaya as enemies of democracy ignores both Latin American history--which clearly shows the U.S., with its support for right-wing dictators and military coups, to be the greatest threat to democracy--and the contemporary political situation. Despite what they say, such twisting of the facts is motivated by "political and social biases" and "left-right politics."

Chavez has nationalized industries and passed social reforms and price controls to benefit the poor, and spearheaded the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) trade group that includes Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Dominica, Bolivia and Honduras. ALBA functions as a counterweight to neoliberal U.S. policy such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Zelaya, at the helm of a country with a 70 percent poverty rate, has shifted to the left, passed a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage, and joined ALBA.

As Nikolas Kozloff points out in his CounterPunch article "The Coup in Honduras," Zelaya wrote a letter to Obama after the latter's election warning against U.S. intervention in Honduras and criticizing Washington policy, likely referring to Plan Columbia, where the drug war is used as a pretext to heavily arm the right wing Uribe regime. As Kozloff noted, "Zelaya then moved on to drug trafficking: 'The legitimate struggle against drug trafficking...should not be used as an excuse to carry out interventionist policies in other countries.'"

The coup should be seen for what it is: an attempt by a right-wing section of the Honduran ruling class to turn back what it sees as a threat to total corporate and U.S. dominance in Latin America, a region the latter is used to treating as its "backyard."

Just as millions of supporters of democracy and human rights have stood behind the people of Iran in their recent struggle, so should we condemn the coup in Honduras and call for the return of Zelaya to office.
Gary Lapon, Northampton, Mass.

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