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A Masquerade Crowns the Honduran Putsch

 InDepth News 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) On Nov 29, the Honduran people are called upon to go to the polls to elect a new president and a new parliament. So far, so good. Until the mid 1980s, the small Central American country used to be ruled by the military, and elections appeared then a fata morgana, only realisable in faraway nations, such as Denmark or Sweden. Julio Godoy reports.  - By Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Germany - On Nov 29, the Honduran people are called upon to go to the polls to elect a new president and a new parliament. So far, so good. Until the mid 1980s, the small Central American country used to be ruled by the military, and elections appeared then a fata morgana, only realisable in faraway nations, such as Denmark or Sweden.

Only that the elections on Nov 29 won't be democratic. They are called by a spurious government, which came to power on June 28 in the aftermath of a coup d'etat disguised as the last resort to save the local democracy.

This spurious government has not only violated the laws it allegedly wants to protect -- it has also returned to the evil practices of its military ancestors and supporters: It has arrested, wounded, tortured, or killed thousands of Honduran people demonstrating against the coup; it has shut down or otherwise intimidated independent news outlets. It has also banned some parties from taking part in the elections.

However, the U.S. administration headed by Barack Obama has announced that it recognizes the elections and the government that shall emerge from them as "legitimate". This U.S. position stands in sharp contrast to the overwhelming position of Latin American governments, which have rejected the elections as what they are: A masquerade that crowns the coup d'etat of last June.

At the same time, the U.S. position culminates the ambiguous policy the government of Barack Obama has practised towards the Honduran putsch, practically since its very inception.

In the days that followed the coup, while Obama condemned the ousting of elected president Manuel Zelaya, secretary of state Hillary Clinton repeatedly said the contrary. At the beginning, Clinton concealed her purpose using euphemisms such as "we don't want to influence the internal affairs" of other countries, rather uncommon for a state with a long list of illegal interventions abroad, especially in Central America.

Very soon, however, it became clear that Clinton was supporting the Honduran putsch -- one of her closest associates, Lanny Davis, a lawyer who supported her failed bid for the Democratic party ticket for the presidency in 2007, was hired in the aftermath of the coup by the Honduran chamber of commerce to lobby on behalf of the new illegal government in Washington.

Not only that: By now, it is a confirmed fact that Clinton and her ministry of foreign affairs had prior knowledge of the coup in Honduras. Clinton's ministry has also admitted that two high level state department officials, Thomas Shannon and James Steinberg, were in Honduras just days before the putsch. According to the official version, both diplomats were in Honduras to "impede the coup". However, Washington's alleged opposition to the putsch appears rather bizarre: In fact, U.S. military officers were direct witness of the forced exile of president Zelaya.

Zelaya, a conservative landowner turned into a -- for Honduran standards -- social democratic head of government, had not only raised the minimum wage. He also called upon the people to approve -- or disapprove -- a reform of the constitution that would allow the president to be re-elected. But the non-binding referendum that Zelaya had proposed would not have benefited his personal political ambitions.

If it had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would not have been applicable for Zelaya's eventual new candidacy. In other words, Zelaya would not have stayed in office for a second mandate. But with his social and labour policies, Zelaya had enraged the conservative opposition, which, in collusion with the army, ousted him.

These and other considerations support the thesis that the U.S. government, whatever its own domestic political doctrine, sees itself as mentor and ally of the most intransigent, anachronistic right-wing sectors in Latin America (and other parts of the world, too), both in the military as well as in the economic elites.

This U.S. behaviour has inflamed fears in Latin America that the government of Barack Obama might not be that different from former U.S. regimes. The recent U.S. military build-up in Colombia is seen as a threat to Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay, all ruled by left-wing democratic elected, nationalist governments. With the exception of Paraguay, all these countries have rich oil, gas, and other mineral resources, key for strategic industries in the industrialized world.

The fears are not a consequence of "anti Americanism", as some knee-jerk conservatives might think. Neither are they pipedreams of Latin American leftist paranoids: In late Oct, president Fernando Lugo, of Paraguay, fired most of the military leadership on the basis of what appears to be sound evidence that high ranking officers were conspiring with the political opposition to oust him.

In Guatemala, right-wing extremists in the local oligarchy have put President Alejandro Colom under siege since early 2009, and paralysed his already weak government. Other left-wing heads of government in Central America, such as President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, who represents the former guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, and Sandinista president Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, also face stubborn right-wing opposition.

Obama's failure to properly deal with a marginal geopolitical conflict, such as the Honduran putsch, which should have been very easy to manage, confirms the trends registered in the past months, be it in the financial crisis and the regulation of the banker's bonuses, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or in climate change:

Hopes that his election raised in the whole world were largely exaggerated, and ignored the basic reality of U.S.-style democracy and its inherent imbalance in the distribution of power: Obama might be the president of the United States. But he is indeed only the president of the United States. The political power to reverse the evil policies of his predecessors is not at his disposal. Nor can he control the iniquities of some of his own closest aides, such as Hillary Clinton.

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