Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Turns out it's Hard to Ignore a Coup

First, it was Dana Frank's Op-Ed in the New York Times, a piece still drawing strong reactions in Honduras.

A concerted effort followed to publish non sequiturs by diplomats not precisely refuting her analysis-- since that is not actually possible-- but blowing smoke about, for example, alleged advances in human rights law. Frank's strong statement (in agreement with human rights organizations in Honduras) opposing increased US security aid to Honduras, because it is used against the people, also drew support from a former US ambassador to El Salvador with experience in Honduras, Robert White, whose letter to the New York Times was not printed along with the two opposed to Frank. But you can read Ambassador White's letter in full at quotha, where he concludes that

Instead of using the leverage provided by a unanimous vote of the Organization of American States to restore constitutional government to Honduras, the Department of State fumbled its responsibilities and propped up the coup regime long enough for it to survive and taint the 2009 presidential election.

Then late last week, NPR broadcast an extraordinary two part story by Annie Murphy, a fellow in the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.

Part one, called "In Honduras, Police Accused of Corruption, Killings", does an excellent job of sketching out the disaster caused by police impunity and corruption, without falling into the easy narrative of assigning the cause to drug trafficking alone. In a major departure from too much of the English language reporting, she allows Berta Oliva of COFADEH to make the case of human rights activists in Honduras against US security aid:
"We've asked the U.S. to stop giving aid to security forces here, and we're going to keep asking them to stop."

But it is part two that has the most extraordinary news, although it would be easy to miss the fact that it is news.

Called "'Who rules in Honduras?' Coup's Legacy of Violence", the second segment of Murphy's report economically describes the events of the coup, and the aftermath in which lobbyists managed to get US government opinion turned against returning the democratically elected president to office to complete his term, and towards the spurious solution of conducting elections (under a de facto regime, without international observation, and after months of violent repression and suspensions of civil rights).

Murphy gets unlikely people on the record supporting the critique of US reaction to the coup, and identifying it as having on-going impacts that neither the Lobo Sosa government nor the US want to recognize. As she writes,
Many [in Honduras] say the outcome of the coup is what pushed Honduras to where it is today: the world's most violent nation, according to the U.N.

Murphy also quotes include former ambassador to Honduras Cresencio Arcos, and Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA analyst. Armstrong describes the US reaction to the coup from the perspective of a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is quoted saying
when you look at what was actually happening in Honduras, [Zelaya] really was a continuation of a halting but definitely forward-moving consolidation of democracy.

The thing that made us sit up and take notice, though, was what Murphy records from Rafael Callejas, president of Honduras from 1990 to 1994. Governing from the Partido Nacional, Callejas might be expected to support the arguments of the current administration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Instead, he argues that Zelaya was "too brash"

but says illegally ousting him has had huge repercussions.

"We're in a crisis. We went back 20 years. We lost again the issue of democracy," Callejas says. "Who rules in Honduras now? Really? Who rules? The people? The system? Or strength? I mean, that's the question that has to be solved."

That's news. When former Honduran presidents of the same party that gained power in the 2009 election says "We lost again the issue of democracy", that's news.

Unfortunately, no one now seems to be concerned to help Honduras regain the two decades of progress toward "consolidation of democracy".

To do that, you first have to admit what happened: and the US, the one country with the influence and resources to make a difference, has tied itself to the claim that Lobo Sosa presides over a government of "unity and reconciliation" that is improving human rights and cleaning up the security forces.

Reports like those by Murphy, and the refusal of scholars like Frank to be silenced, are critical to challenging that storyline.

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