Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Honduras: siege goes on behind coupmakers' theater of dissent

This morning at dawn, hundreds of riot police surrounded and invaded the National Agrarian Institute, arresting at least 50 farmworkers who had been occupying the building since the coup. The campesinos acted to prevent the coup regime from destroying or altering land titles that were in the process of being registered as part of land reform under the Zelaya administration.

Today's arrests are just the latest brutal crackdown under Micheletti's decree suspending the constitution for 45 days -- the one he issued in secret on September 22 but didn't publish in the government register until September 26, over the names of 16 functionaries of his usurper cabinet. When reaction to the decree began to sink in, further shredding the already tattered legitimacy of the widely unrecognized elections, even some of the coup backers distanced themselves. Micheletti, wanting to appear to respond and to spread the responsibility around to his co-conspirators, promised to repeal the coup "as soon as possible", pretending that doing so would require action by the Supreme Court and Congress. That's transparent b.s.: he could repeal the decree by the simple act of issuing another to cancel it.

It's a perfect theatrical setup for the coupmongers: Headlines give the dictatorship credit for "relenting", rightist presidential candidate Porfirio Lobo gets international credit for opposing the antidemocratic decree, but the actual state of siege remains in effect as a cover for not only Monday's military shutdowns of Radio Globo and Channel 36 television, but threatened shutdowns of radio stations in Choluteca and Valle, the removal and arrest of the farmworkers, and assaults on whatever other targets remain on the golpistas' hit list.

And we enter the fourth month of the coup. Barack Obama was one of only two presidents in the hemisphere to make no mention of Honduras in his address to the UN. Thanks so much for all the change, Mr. President.

Update: 1:15 pm, 1 Oct - Even Ramon Custodio gets a role in the theater of dissent, though apparently the script he picked up was not that of the nation's human rights ombudsman. He wants the decree suspending the constitution repealed not because it deprives people of their rights of free assembly and free expression, but because issuing the decree "is to accept that we are no longer able to maintain public order, peace, and is a tacit acceptance which does not reflect the situation in which we are living." Okaaay then...

The illegal decree continues in force, now in its second week. For the first time since the coup, the riot police actually completely prevented the resistance from conducting a march in the capital. Looks like a military dictatorship from here. The people responded last night by holding a pot-banging, horn-blowing show of support for Zelaya in the area around the Brazilian embassy. Take your hands off your ears, Sec. Clinton.

Update 2: 4:15 pm, 1 Oct - Stories running next to each other in Tiempo: The election tribunal wants the decree repealed immediately because it puts the credibility of the elections at risk. The state prosecutor promises the election tribunal he'll send to jail anyone who boycotts or advocates against participation in the elections. Carlos Reyes confirms that he'll withdraw his candidacy for president unless Zelaya and the constitutional order are restored. Hmmmm.....

Image: riot police at National Agrarian Institute.

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At 11:28 AM, October 01, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...


Thank you again for your fine posts. The picture of that Honduran young woman who was murdered is haunting.

You note with dismay and disgust that Obama was one of two Presidents in the hemisphere who did not mention Honduras. You imply sarcastically, however, that this shows there has been no meaningful change in the White House. But George Bush would have favorably mentioned Zelaya's failed coup attempt and praised the success of the rule of law and democracy in Honduras with a plug for Micheletti and the Honduran Supreme Court and legislature. Say Obama hasn't done that. That is a change, and one that could still prove important.

Could Obama be doing more right now? Maybe, but Hugo Chavez apparently doesn't think so, or if he does at least he doesn't think it's important enough to be upset with Obama.

Chavez certainly doesn't approve of the coup in Honduras, and he praised Obama at the UN and contrasted him with Bush at the very UN speech you criticize. As you must know, Chavez did that knowing full well everything that you know about Obama's lack of help for Zelaya, and of course he wants Zelaya returned to office.

Ask yourself, why are you so much harder on Obama than Chavez? Obviously you both agree that Zelaya should be restored to office in Honduras, so what explains your different views about Obama?

I think the answer to that question is that Chavez is less naive about how power works in the US and who holds it.

I recently noticed--and perhaps you or one of your fine links mentioned it and I just missed it--that Chavez also has publicly complained that the U.S. military actually assisted Honduras with the coup, and that U.S. generals made the decision to send Zelaya to Costa Rica back in June. This was reported by Bloomberg and only recently caught my eye.

If Chavez believed that Obama authorized the removal of Zelaya from the country, or had any real choice about it, he would not go around praising Obama. Yet Chavez certainly was able to forget about the involvement of the U.S. military in toppling Zelaya and praise Obama at the UN. This only makes any sense at all if Chavez believes Obama wasn't consulted about the U.S. military's involvement in toppling Zelaya. That is probably why Chavez has said that Obama is just "confused" about what is going on in Honduras even though he has also said U.S. generals were directly involved. He knows Obama hasn't really been calling the shots with regard to these events.

That's why I would bet that Chavez, unlike you, doesn't attack Obama. In his view, attacking Obama would probably be attacking the wrong people/institution. In fact, attacking Obama is attacking a President whom the military and intel agencies don't especially like, a President whom some of them actually hate probably as much as Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity hate him. Basically, attacking Obama would be treating him like the enemy when he isn't. In fact, even worse, the enemy hates him too. There's some potential in that.

In my opinion, the real villains in the U.S. with regard to this are in the military and the National Security bureaucracy, and I'm sick of them parading around patriotically above reproach (especially in uniform) pretending to have no political views while they run the world without any accountability for things like this and passing the blame off to Presidents who are routinely presented either with fait accomplis or political choices that range from bad to nonexistent. Tell me, is there something good about that state of affairs?

At 12:21 PM, October 01, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

Could Obama be doing more right now? Maybe, but Hugo Chavez apparently doesn't think so, or if he does at least he doesn't think it's important enough to be upset with Obama.

I don't take my political cues from what Hugo Chavez is saying or not saying; he has his own interests, considerations, and agendas. He's a head of state of another country; I'm a citizen of this one. I take my political cues from my own analysis of the situation, and from the assessment of those in Honduras who are struggling to reverse this coup.

And the answer to your question is not 'maybe'. Of course Obama could be doing more, and in this case he could have done more with his favorite medium, words.

No one in this administration -- no one -- has uttered a single word of criticism of the coup regime's assaults on peaceful protestors or its forcible shutdown and censorship of media. It would have cost the president nothing to do so. It would have sent the right message to the hemisphere.

As it was, with all Obama's claims to be working "in an international context" to reverse the Honduras coup, his silence on the subject relative to all the other presidents (except U.S. client and stooge Uribe) stood out loudly.

At the hour Obama was speaking, almost two hundred Hondurans who'd been beaten, gassed, and hauled from in front of the Brazilian embassy were being held in a stadium by the coup regime. (They're still there, as far as I know.)

It doesn't make one damned bit of difference to Hondurans enduring a state of siege with a suspended constitution right now that George Bush would have been worse.

Yes, the military have way too much power. But when presidents and Secretaries of State fail to exercise the many powers they have out of fear of crossing them, then they're just reinforcing that power. And I can and will call them on it.

At 8:31 PM, October 01, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...


You certainly shouldn't trust Chavez, or even Obama, just as I don't. That wasn't my point. Chavez simply understands that the US military is powerful and not entirely within Presidential control.

You are upset by Obama's silence in the face of what is happening to Hondurans, but unless Obama is also prepared to act, he has to be silent. If he speaks, many people in Honduras will rely on what he says. Like you, they would believe that his voice would be the official voice of the United States and everyone else would accept it as such and demand Zelaya's reinstatement. How could the President of the United States not get what he demands? But the Honduran government, elite, and military surely has a different understanding of Presidential power and would see the winks and nods of the U.S. generals. They, after all, had their own troublesome President in Zelaya and took care of him.

Basically, Obama could lead people to their deaths by encouraging them to think they had real Power behind them if they don't.

So the question is, should Obama basically come out in favor of Zelaya's reinstatement? How far is he really willing to go? And if not all the way, is there a way he can say something without misleading people?

Right now Obama is at odds with his theater commanders in Iraq and VERY at odds with Generals Petraeus and McChrystal about Afghanistan. He is also dealing with a potentially explosive confrontation with Iran (no pun intended), where our jingoes continue to clammer for a war. And to top it off he has to try to get something decent out of Congress on health care, because millions of Americans go without health care.

It strikes me that Obama has little or no political capital to spare for another issue, especially one where he is going to end up looking like he is on the side of Chavez and Castro, and he already has antagonized the military greatly. Per a friend of mine, Brian Williams said on TV recently that no President since JFK has been so openly at odds with the Pentagon, Tom Englehardt made much the same point in The Nation, Lou Dobbs has basically called Obama a traitor on air (check out the video at Digby's site yesterday), Hannity and Limbaugh et al all often do the same, and some columnist at Newsmax actually published an article saying the military would be justified in having a coup (though of course we have never done THAT before).

This is all crazy, but it is what Obama has to contend with, and he really can't ONLY think about the Honduran people who are getting killed.

Let's just assume for a second that Obama is trying to do what is right, that he is basically worthwhile. If so, if he overreaches politically by overestimating his power and underestimating that of his enemies, he will fail.

I think the Generals know Obama can't really afford a battle with the military and the National Security bureaucracy and the GOP over Honduras right now, and that is probably why the US Generals told the Honduran military to send Zelaya to Costa Rica without even asking for permission from the White House, or if they did asking in a way that made sure it couldn't be refused. (Such as by saying otherwise Zelaya would otherwise be killed by the Honduran military).

At 12:43 AM, October 02, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

You certainly shouldn't trust Chavez, or even Obama, just as I don't.

What I said has nothing to do with the issue of "trusting" Chavez. I said I don't take my political cues from him.

There are some pieces of evidence in favor of your view that the military backed this coup and is the reason Obama and Clinton won't do anything meaningful to reverse it.

One is the hints that State officials dropped (in one of the backgrounder briefings last month, I think) that another agency was opposing the formal coup designation. Had Sec. Clinton signed it, in addition to regular foreign aid being cut off, U.S. troops would have been obliged to leave Soto Cano.

Another is the report (which may not be accurate) that the Dept. of Defense has agreed to a request by Senate minority leader McConnell to pay for Sen. Jim DeMint's "fact-finding" (coup supporting) trip to Honduras after DeMint was denied funding by the Foreign Relations committee and the State Dept.

At 10:24 AM, October 02, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

Thanks Nell, that information does suggest that Defense was and is strongly supportive of the coup, whether or not Chavez was right about the US Generals actually being involved. My hunch is that Chavez was right, because I don't think the Hondurans would be that independent, and the fact that the US military is putting those seven bases in Colombia means they (predictably) dislike the growing populism in the region. Over the longer term it means much worse things.

If you read Andrew Bacevich's several excellent books, you'll get a feel for how dangerously autonomous the US military has become. They think it's their responsibility to not let the politicians, especially the Democrats, screw everything up like they did in Vietnam. (Of course, that history is all wrong, but the military guys don't know that; all their history is wrong.)

Obama is not the problem, but he isn't the solution either.
What you are doing short term for is very positive. (I only argue when you assign the blame for all this to Obama, for the reasons I've stated.) As for fixing the problem long term, we need to try to stop the military and its corporate and political allies, which most definitely includes Democrats, from messing around in the politics of other countries.

At 9:00 PM, October 02, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nell, just to let you know, thanks to your inspiration, I wrote a letter to my Congressman, cc Hillary Clinton, that should metaphorically scorch the eyeballs of whatever poor staffer opens the mail. The people at the top of the pyramid feel so free to play word games while people less fortunate pay the price. It's time to start connecting the inaction of the powerful to the suffering of the powerless.

At 8:16 AM, October 03, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

Nell: is there any word on whether Micheletti has in fact done anything to bow to pressure from abroad, as indicated in the NYT article below, or that there has been any kind of "breakthrough" as the other headline suggests?

I just can't believe anything good followed DeMint's visit, but neither Real News nor a couple of other of your sources have yet posted anything that I could find.

At 2:58 PM, October 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ovid, there is not only no indication that Micheletti has bent, he restored the floating state of siege and otherwise expressed contempt for the world. The only things he has done that can remotely be considered conciliatory are a brief meeting with Insulza at Palmerola (but the location is a tipoff that this is not a friendly gesture: Insulza is apparently still banned from Honduras) and he agreed to talk to Zelaya but not face-to-face.

What's happening is that the US is getting desperate for Micheletti to do something that can be painted as conciliatory and so, rather than do something to actually accomplish that, they're creating fiction in the newspapers.


At 9:59 PM, October 03, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

thanks charles. i would expect them to be underhanded while trying to create a good impression, but I didn't have any luck finding today's news from any reliable source.

At 1:45 AM, October 04, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nell (and Ovid), the latest tactic of coup supporters appears to be to tar Zelaya as an anti-Semite. I have a bit of the story on MercRising.

Lord, I wish the regime would just FALL already.



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