Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How you know you hit a nerve: Honduras edition

Answer: when the Honduran Ambassador to the US, Jorge Hernandez Alcerro, writes to the New York Times to object.

I am talking, of course, about Dana Frank's powerful New York Times op ed, laying out bluntly the argument that, since the coup in 2009, Honduras has been in a state of disarray.

The response from the Ambassador was published February 5. It makes two main arguments:

(1) questioning the 2009 election is
"offensive to the 56.6 percent of Hondurans who voted for President Porfirio Lobo in the last election. More than 4,600 international and domestic observers closely supervised the electoral process. The other four Honduran political parties recognized President Lobo’s election, have been integrated into the sitting national reconciliation and unity government, and are represented in Congress."

While this is a comforting claim for the US backed government that took power in early 2010, the facts say otherwise. The "observers" mentioned were not the independent, neutral, guarantors of free elections that are normally required. The UN withdrew its technical support. The OAS refused to send observers, and no other respected international body did either. Reporting at the time noted bias on the part of these supposed observers, who, among other things, denied the violence that took place on election day itself.

The cited vote total of 56.6%, obscures the fact that voter turnout was under 50%, a steep decline from the previous presidential election, despite early inflated participation claims promoted egregiously by the US in early congratulatory messages. Even CNN managed to publish a correction with some analysis of what this meant for the legitimacy of the new government (although they rounded voter turnout up to 50%).

Then there is that thing about all the political parties recognizing the election-- and getting their share of the spoils. So career politicians are happy. What happens when a large proportion of the people do not feel represented by any political party, when they witness this kind of spoils system? You get loss of faith in any political party, and in governance generally.

(2) Calling for an end of US aid being used to militarize policing in Honduras would undercut the supposed successes Honduras is achieving in addressing crime, here reduced to drug trafficking.

What is perhaps most astonishing about the response-- apart from the strength of the attack, which reveals the way a real critique bites-- is this sentence:
The independent Office of the National Prosecutor for Human Rights has been investigating and prosecuting the alleged human rights violations.

That "alleged" is worth a million dollars on its own. Anyone paying attention knows that human rights complaints made in Honduras are routinely not investigated, and that the occupants of government offices created to theoretically promote Human Rights are over-ruled in security decisions and ignored when they caution against the erosion of civil rights. They complain about lack of resources. The ambassador follows this sentence with a nonsequitur about passing laws against child labor and human trafficking, and establishing a "committee against torture". But the human rights problem is much simpler and less exotic than that: it is a priest being beaten up on the side of the road; a peasant leader being assassinated; a LGBT activist being killed.

Then there's the letter by former US ambassador to Honduras (1996-1999), James Creagan. Again, he counter factually blesses the 2009 election process as "free and fair". I think most observers would say suspension of the rights of free speech and assembly, assault on a presidential candidate, and the lack of unbiased observers mean even if you want to accept the results of this election, the process was hardly "free", and arguably not "fair".

But this is not about truth. Creagan also writes that:
Honduras faced political and institutional stalemate after the removal of President José Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Far from making a “mess,” the skilled diplomats under Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton deftly worked for the only way out of a descent into armed clashes — democratic elections.

How wonderfully revisionist. The "removal" of President Zelaya was of course not a neutral surgical procedure: it was a coup. The "stalemate" could have been broken if the US diplomats had not kept propping up the confidence of the deluded Micheletti regime. "Skilled" and "deft" are the opposite of the words that would honestly characterize the State Department role: clumsy and clueless are rather more to the point.

And finally, finally, we have an admission: the US wasn't trying to reinstate the legally elected president of the country, and restore the rule of law. It was trying to avoid "a descent into armed clashes".

Too bad no one in the State Department noticed that the armed clashes had already happened. Only the victims were not politicians and the wealthy: they were school teachers and students.

Whitewashing things in 2009 is one thing. Continuing to assert, in the face of all evidence, that the breach opened in June 2009 was healed by the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa is insane.

And while watching a clear-eyed scholar be put to the rack is not enjoyable, it shows that the critique hurt. And, as a wise Honduran colleague notes, the more they react to the original op ed piece, the more exposure it gets, including within Honduras, where El Heraldo's story on the "diplomatic offensive" helpfully links to the original piece, in case any reader had not seen it already.

No comments: