Friday, June 29, 2012

Three Years and Counting

Yesterday was the end of three years since Honduras' duly elected president was removed from office, mere months before he was slated to step down and cede power to the winner of an already scheduled election.

In the end, that election went forward, although not with the kind of aura of legitimacy that is normally expected: no impartial international observers were present; a state of emergency that reigned in the country throughout most of September and October (the legal months of campaigning) prevented the normal efforts of candidates, while suppression of public protest against the de facto regime involved such violence that even a presidential candidate was injured.

The successor government that emerged, headed by Porfirio Lobo Sosa, while eventually recognized by the governments that had refused to sanction the de facto regime, was in many ways powerless to confront what the coup and de facto regime had done to the country. Many of those appointed to high office continued under Lobo Sosa, and many still occupy positions of power today. The rhetoric of coup was used openly to threaten Lobo Sosa whenever he seemed to be acting in a way that powerful interests in the country did not like. The presidency as an institution clearly lost ground to Congress in the coup, and it has not gained it back.

The role of the US in the coup, the de facto regime, and the Lobo Sosa administration has come under intense scrutiny, and very little of what can be said about those roles is flattering. Within 48 hours the US President had denounced the events of June 28. From that point on, however, the US government either was ineffective in moving a pro-US regime to cede power, confusing about its understanding of events, or actively encouraged the regime to hold out.

With that last statement, I do not endorse the broader suspicions that many of my Honduran and US colleagues have shared, publicly and privately, that suggest the US actively encouraged the coup, and was never interested in solving the confrontation with the de facto regime. Read the Wikileaks cables yourself, and I think you will see why those suspicions exist: the US State Department had foreknowledge that the other branches of government were planning to remove President Zelaya, and by virtue of meeting with the principal civilian authors of the coup, gave them the understanding on which they acted, an understanding which explains why, in the first weeks after the coup, Micheletti and his group were so aggrieved not to have US support. They expected endorsement. In my reading, the US message in the weeks leading up to the coup was murky, and probably mixed.

But it isn't the run-up to the coup that I want to call out here: it is the incompetence the US showed after the coup. Earlier, and stronger, economic sanctions, including reduction or removal of military aid, was the one thing that might have clearly communicated to the de facto regime that the US disapproved of what had been done. By dithering for months and then failing to find the June 28 events legally a military coup, the US wasted the only clear message it had to send. The conclusion seems unavoidable that in US foreign policy, Honduras only matters as a piece in the campaign against drug trafficking from South America. We see the outcome of that in the current increased involvement of DEA agents, including as direct parties to violent deaths.

The lack of definition of a strong, sharp diplomatic response opened the door to extremists in the US Congress, who traveled to Honduras during the de facto regime, including during the elections, and somehow never noticed the violence being carried out against the people of Honduras. This allowed Hondurans supportive of the coup to claim that "the US government" was on their side. For us, this culminated in the deeply flawed report commissioned from the Law Library of Congress (not, we repeat, the Congressional Research Office) in which an under-qualified bureaucrat relying mainly on phone conversations with an apologist of the de facto regime found that the events of June 28 were constitutional-- while not citing the by-then published opinions of US, Spanish, and Latin American constitutional scholars, which showed quite the opposite.

The role of the US in the prolonged negotiations launched under the aegis of Oscar Arias, between the legally elected president of Honduras and a usurper, did not help. Even when, as a result of the added pressure brought to bear by President Zelaya's return to Honduras and dramatic asylum in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Micheletti regime agreed to a resolution, the US managed to undercut the terms of that resolution, in what clearly was an exchange for congressional approval of political appointments being held up.

So now where are we? Dozens of deaths later, the targeting of LBGT activists, journalists, and labor leaders has now been joined by the killing of LIBRE party activists, even though no one thinks the new party has a chance of winning the 2013 presidential election. The interests of business and the wealthy elite reign supreme: Honduras is not only "open for business", it is literally for sale-- sovereignty included. Environmental destruction in the name of profit is unchecked. Notably, none of this appears to have reduced either common crime or drug-related crime; the militarization of civilian policing has simply unleashed more violence against even the children of elites unfortunate enough to run into the police at the wrong time in the wrong place. And while cultural policy may seem like a less important arena, the distortion of the management of the historical sites held in trust for the people of Honduras reached new lows with the promotion of "2012" and spurious pan-Maya "heritage" tourism, the signing of a constitutionally unacceptable "agreement" with the town government of Copan that effectively privatizes public good, and culminated in the top official installed by the de facto regime to run the Institute of Anthropology and History announcing what he thinks is the greatest archaeological discovery of the 21st century-- with no expert opinion involved, and without his apparently even knowing who the experts to talk to would be.

This year brings primaries for next year's elections, in a political system in which the people of Honduras have little trust. Porfirio Lobo Sosa is at the point in his administration where Honduran presidents lose any chance to make policy, as even their own parties turn to the next candidate. The economic damage from the coup has not been healed. Gun violence continues unabated.

So on this third commemoration-- a word more appropriate, we think, than "anniversary", with its celebratory overtones-- we can only hope that the continued passion of those in resistance to the status quo, mobilized during the de facto regime, whether transformed into new political parties or invested in civil organizations, can find paths to advance the cause of the Honduran people. Thirty years after passing out of military dictatorship, they deserve more than their leaders, and the global community, have given them or are offering.

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