'Underlying conditions' for Honduras coup?

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The generals, oligarchs and corrupt politicians who perpetrated Sunday’s coup d’état against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya are beginning to sweat as militant demonstrations and strikes continue in the capital of Tegucigalpa and elsewhere, as stories of possible dissent on the part of military units begin to surface, and as the entire world expresses its repudiation of what Venezuelan president Chavez correctly called a reversion to “troglodyte” (cave man) methods of changing governments.

So far, the Obama administration has been doing all right, especially when you consider what people like George W. Bush or John McCain would likely have done. Both President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have firmly denounced the coup and reiterated that for them, Mr. Zelaya is the only legitimate president of Honduras.

Clinton added that we must also deal with the “underlying conditions” that led to the coup. This makes some people on the left nervous, because they fear that this might mean a return to a “balancing act” on the part of the United States, “evenhandedly” assigning blame to both Zelaya and his opponents, thus weakening world unity against the illegitimate government set up by the coup. But I think that for now it is better to take Hillary at her word and start looking at the real “underlying conditions”.

But where to start? I don’t have space to go back to brutal Spanish conquest in the 1500’s, or to the tragedy of the early 19th century when the selfish ambitions of a few military adventurers produced a balkanized Central America of weak, small states instead of a united and more powerful republic extending from Mexico to Panama.

Rather, let’s start with 20th and 21st century Central American history. Honduras, one of the smallest and poorest Latin American countries, early became a virtual property of US based corporations, principally the old United Fruit Company, whose banana plantations became a state within a state. The United States Marines were sent into Honduras seven times between 1903 and 1925 to put down labor and political unrest that could have threatened United Fruit’s profits. Governments were chosen and removed not by the will of the Honduran people, but by decisions of United Fruit headquarters in New Orleans and the US embassy in Tegucigalpa.

As a repentant US marine general, Smedley Butler, wrote: “I helped in the raping of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street...I helped make Honduras ‘right” for American fruit companies in 1903.. looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints”

During the 1980s, Honduras became a major center for CIA sponsored subversion and murder throughout the whole region. After the left wing Sandinistas drove out the dictatorship of the Somoza family in neighboring Nicaragua, and after revolutionary activity of the FMLN began to threaten the right wing’s hold on El Salvador to the south, the US Central Intelligence Agency and military set up operations in Honduras (some US troops are still there).

“Contras”, ultra right-wing and ultra violent Nicaraguans, other Central Americas and assorted international riff-raff used Honduras as a base for entering Nicaragua especially and carrying out murders of schoolteachers, health workers, farmers, workers and leftists. The “Contra War”, intimately tied into the “Iran Contra scandal” in which US bought weapons from the Islamic Republic of Iran (very likely with money gained by drug sales on the streets of US cities) and provided the contras.

Some of the biggest names in the Bush administration played an important role in this butchery. John Negroponte, then the US ambassador in Tegucigalpa, was the main coordinator of US support for the contras, and turned a blind eye to their murderous brutality and that of the Honduran military dominated regimes with whom he worked closely. Otto Reich, later Bush jr.s Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs has long been involved in US sponsored subversion in Central America, and now President Zelaya has accused Reich and other Bush era characters of working with the Honduran putschists in his overthrow.

The CIA, the US military and other US government agencies poured billions of dollars into Honduras, precious little of which reached the pockets of half-starved farmers and workers. Instead, the American largesse created swarms of right-wing army officers, politicians and others who are beholden to Uncle Sam and do not give a hoot about their own poorer compatriots.

In particular, much of the Honduran military command, including General Romeo Vazquez, one of the chief instigators of the Sunday coup, received training at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia (on whose board Otto Reich now serves).

When civilian control was restored (sort of) at the end of the 1970s, the oligarchy, the foreign corporations and the US government, as well as the Honduran military and oligarchy, made sure that a new constitution was approved (in 1982) which would protect their vested interests. This is why the constitution contains items that “can not be amended”.

This is the constitution President Zelaya wants to change.

In the 2000s, the Bush administration sought to maintain US economic control over Honduras by incorporating it in CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. This was strongly opposed by US unions, but also by labor and the left in Honduras and its neighboring countries, who warned that the livelihoods of millions of Central Americans would be negatively affected. Since joining CAFTA in 2006, Honduras has become a major center for “maquiladora” operations, which provide cheap labor for foreign corporations but little benefit for the Honduran people.

Honduran bananas are still grown for major foreign corporations such as Chiquita (a descendant of United Fruit), by workers who are paid a pittance. And now Honduras is being hit hard by the world financial crisis, as US markets for Honduran exports (71 percent of Honduras’s exports go to the USA) become constricted.

President Zelaya’s objective was to break with this horrible history, in which our own country has played such a destructive role. He brought Honduras into the Bolivarian Alliance (formerly Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a Venezuelan trade and aid initiative in which participants are not forced to privatize their economies and destroy the social gains of their peoples in exchange for development help. He had welcomed Cuban and Venezuelan help to develop the country. That is why the creatures who batten on US and monopoly capital largesse felt that Zelaya had to go.

Here in the United States, we can be sure that the Negropontes and the Reichs and their thousands of colleagues from the Contra war days are already pushing to change the Obama administration’s position in support of Zelaya’s restoration to power. This is beginning to surface on the ultra-right cable news shows.

You will not see any of the above information about underlying conditions in the corporate controlled media in the USA. In fact, most of them are now acting as spokespersons for the coup plotters. They have been leaving out the information about the attacks on the foreign ambassadors. They are minimizing the large-scale protests against the coup within Honduras.

And they are putting out false information about the motives and circumstances of the coup. For example, they are repeating the story that the “referendum” was to make it possible for Zelaya to run for another term as president. In fact, the referendum was to be non-binding, and Zelaya had clearly stated that he had no intention of running and expected to turn over power to an elected successor after the November presidential election.

Our responsibility as progressives living, voting and paying taxes in the US is to make sure that the Obama administration stays firm in its position that Zelaya is the only legitimate president of Honduras, and to insist that measures be taken to make sure that our tax dollars are not being used to keep the illegal coup d’etat government alive.