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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Tension flares in Latin America following the military coup in Tegucigalpa

CSMS Magazine Staff Writers  

New Analysis

Fearing a resurgence of the caudillos in the whelm of power, civilian leaders in Latin America are united in one voice to demand the immediate return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency in Honduras. Even US closest ally, Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, is asking for Zeyala’s return. A self-imposed deadline to return onThursday had to be put on hold at the last minute when it became clear that coup plotters were ready for a deadly showdown, emboldened by Washington’s mix-messages, especially after the Obama Administration on Monday indicated that it will not cut off aid to Honduras. The US government is carefully choosing its words when it comes to describing what took place in Honduras early Sunday when the president of that country was arrested at gunpoint in his pajamas and taken to Costa Rica. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, told reporters at a State Department briefing that the US government was refraining from formally declaring the removal of Zelaya a “coup.”

Honduras, the poorest country in Latin America, has close military ties with the United States, where the US military maintains a base with 600 US troops located 50 miles from the capital, Tegucigalpa. The United States is refusing to recall its ambassador to Honduras like many of its counterparts did. Meanwhile US assistance to Honduras this year rose to 43 million dollars. Under the Foreign Assistance Act, no US aid can be given to a country whose elected head of government is removed by a military coup.

Condemning the coup without calling it a coup sheds some serious doubts on whether the Obama Administration is sincere in its demands. Hillary Clinton was asked on Monday if the declared US goal of “restoring democratic order in Honduras” included returning Zelaya to the presidency. Clinton was evasive. “We haven’t laid out any demands that we’re insisting on.” Attempt to assuage suspicions failed after Washington officials conceded it tried unsuccessfully to convince the Honduran military not to proceed with the coup.

Not to proceed with the coup? This assertion clearly justifies US knowledge of the plan to topple Zelaya ahead of time, which also means that it could have intervened to stop it, had it wanted to. 

The Machiavellian effect in proxy politics

The coup in Honduras sends a chilling reminder to opportunists politicians at home and elsewhere that no matter who is in charge in Washington, US foreign policy aimed at guaranteeing the United States political, economic and strategic interests abroad, will never change. It would be a mirage swayed by Obama’s charms to think otherwise. Although it is quite embarrassing for those intoxicated by raw naivety in their belief that with the new administration in Washington, the world will finally rest at ease, away from the politic of arrogance and intimidation professed by more than a one hundred years of imperial policies.

Obama now stands before a fait accompli: using US influence to reverse the coup or cease to preach the gospel of Change or the “new way of doing of doing business in Washington.” Given the intimate and long-standing ties between the United States and the Honduran military—an institution filled with graduates from the School of the Americas located in Fort Benning, Georgia (covert name for CIA trained officers in Latin America and the Caribbean)—it is quite gullible to believe that Barack Obama is like Pontus Pilatus, somewhat innocent vis-à-vis the unconstitutional blow in Tegucigalpa.

The biggest fear now lies within many affluent members in the Organization of American States (OAS), who are very much afraid, hoping that this coup does not signal the beginning of a new trend, the return of the ire fist at a time when everyone has been talking about the triumph of liberal politic in Latin America spearheaded by Hugo Chavez and his social democrats allies openly hostile to US foreign policies in the region. Zelaya, a strong ally to the Chavez plan, has long been seeing by Washington as a menace to US interests—something many US officials feel no sense of embarrassment conveying their gross disdain to the media.

Hunted by many predators

Notwithstanding US displeasure with Manual Zelaya, the Honduran president had been hunted by many of his former allies, who considered him a traitor.  Elected in 2005, Zelaya, a wealthy rancher, was the candidate of the bourgeois establishment Liberal Party with strong support from the military hierarchy. He ran on a right-wing political platform that wholeheartedly pleased the recalcitrant upper-class.  But when it became clear that he could not withstand growing popular discontent over the country’s dire economic situation, Zelaya quickly shifted his positions by adopting a populist and nationalist persona, putting him in line with l’ ordre du jour, allying himself with Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, all of which are headed by governments considered by Washington to be hostile to US interests in Latin America. So, the early Sunday morning coup was the culmination of an escalating political crisis set in motion by various factions within the Honduran ruling elite backed by the United States to bring down the Zelaya government.

Early last month, Zelaya hosted an OAS meeting in Honduras designed to remove the long-standing US-backed ban on Cuba. Zelaya’s strong advocacy in favor of allowing Cuba to join the OAS has foiled US efforts to maintain the political quarantine on Cuba, balked the Honduras oligarchs, infuriated the military and the Church—the forces most closely allied to the United States. They wanted his head at all costs. On June 12, a motorcade carrying Zelaya in the capital came under heavy fire. Eyewitnesses reported at least one bullet hit Zelaya’s limousine, shattering the windshield.

And when Zelaya attempted to hold a referendum on changing the constitution, something that would allow the president to run for a second term, this became the fundamental pretext for the coup. According to the Associated Press, US officials as well as Zelaya’s opponents at home claimed the proposed referendum was an attempt to override a constitutional limit on presidential tenure to one four-year term. The referendum would have been held on November 29. It would have corresponded with the same day as national elections in order to establish a constitutional convention.

Many saw it coming

Politic in Banana Republics has never been an honest enterprise guided by the rule of law. And when it comes to Honduras, a country where the reigns of power are firmly controlled by the leprechauns, money and influence dictate the political future, not the will of the impoverished masses. It is not surprising that—just like in Haiti—millions of Hondurans live in extreme poverty while the tiny upper-class lives shamelessly off the country’s resources. For more than one hundred years, a wholly equilibrium between the State bureaucracy, the military hierarchy, the judiciary, the dinosaurs latifundistas and the Church has been keeping the party afloat. So, in the face of uncertainty, a united front was necessary to foil this latest “threat” by Manuel Zelaya. First, the Honduran Supreme Court declared the referendum unconstitutional, and then army chief General Romeo Vasquez refused to allow it to take place, seizing the referendum ballots . A showdown became imminent. Zelaya quickly fired Vasquez only to be reinstated by the Supreme Court, overturning the president’s action. Last Thursday, Zelaya led a demonstration to reclaim referendum ballots.

In a clear example that shows how opportunisms rule the game in poor countries, after the military arrested Zelaya, it brought in Roberto Michelety, speaker of parliament and a member of Zelaya’s own political party, to be the figurehead with the clear endorsement of the Honduran congress which ratifies the coup with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court.  The military imposed a de facto state of siege in Tegucigalpa, cutting off electricity, closing down pro-Zelaya media and reportedly arresting the foreign minister and other government officials. Cuba has charged that its ambassador to Honduras and the ambassadors from Nicaragua and Venezuela were beaten by troops carrying out the coup.

Since Sunday, a tense standoff has continued between the army and pro-Zelaya demonstrators outside the presidential palace. On Friday, thousands of pro Zelaya demonstrators descended to the streets of the capital, coinciding with the visit of the OAS General Secretary, Jose Miguel Insulza, who flew to Honduras in an attempt to persuade the forces that ousted Zelaya to take him back in the face of overwhelming international condemnation and economic sanctions. According to the Associated Press, Insulza met for two hours with Jorge Rivera, president of the Supreme Court that authorized the military to seize Zelaya on Sunday and fly him into exile. “Insulza asked Honduras to reinstate Zelaya, but the president of the court categorically answered that there is an arrest warrant for him,” said court spokesman Danilo Izaguirre.

 Zelaya has vowed to return to power, and according to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Zelaya planned to return to Honduras on Sunday, accompanied by Insulza and the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador.

Arguably Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saw that coup as an overt threat to his regime. He has accused US officials with complicity, citing the involvement of Otto Reich, a long-time anti-Castro operative and favorite of anti-Castro exiles in Miami and the man, according to many observers, who played a key role as a Reagan administration State Department official in the Iran-Contra conspiracy, in which Reagan authorized secret funding for the anti-Sandinista Contras, in violation of the Boland amendment which had been passed by Congress banning US aid to the Contra death squads.

The coming days will be crucial. The OAS is likely to fail in its effort to return Zelaya to power, and despite the total isolation facing the coup plotters, they will not budge unless they are surgically forced to relinquish power. A negotiated return à la Aristide( in Haiti in 1994) may be possible for Zelaya, but only after he has been tamed—pledging never to deviate from US interests and that of his nemesis within—and reduced to a rubber stamp.

Also see The military coup in Honduras threatens regional conflict

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