Saturday, November 28, 2009

Obama Failing on Honduras

The US has a long ugly history of supporting corrupt dictatorships in Latin America, a practice that has resulted in strong anti-American feelings in many of those nations.  Early in his Presidency, I was proud of Obama’s behavior toward that region, but lately he has taken a more Republican stance.

honduras_coup is a relatively obscure backwater, Honduras, that has provided the Obama administration with its first test in Latin America.

The ouster of Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran populist president, five months ago propelled the deeply impoverished country onto President Obama’s packed agenda. The question now is whether his administration’s support for the presidential election being held there on Sunday will be seen as a stamp of approval for a coup or, as senior administration members maintain, the beginning of the end of the crisis.

Most countries in the region see it as the former. Haunted by ghosts of authoritarian governments not long in the grave, countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile have argued that an election held by an illegal government is, by definition, illegal.

They worry that if Mr. Obama appears to set aside that principle in Honduras, where the United States has long been a power broker, what would Washington do if democracy were threatened in a more powerful country where it wields less influence?

Last week, Marco Aurélio García, a senior adviser to the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said his country “continues to have great hopes” for good relations with the United States. But, he added, “the truth is so far we have a strong sense of disappointment.”

While there have been other issues — new United States bases planned for Colombia and a slow movement toward engagement with Cuba — much of the disappointment stems from the administration’s handling of the crisis that began June 28 when Honduran troops detained Mr. Zelaya and forced him into exile.

Mr. Obama was one of the first to condemn the coup and call for Mr. Zelaya to be restored. Rather than impose a strategy for handling the crisis, the White House collaborated with the rest of the region in support of negotiations between Mr. Zelaya and the conservative leaders of Honduras’s de facto government.

Since then, the United States policy toward Honduras has been marked by mixed signals and vague objectives. The State Department was pulled in one direction by Democrats, who supported Mr. Zelaya, and another by Republicans, who sought to weaken the administration’s resolve to reinstate him.

The administration suspended some $30 million in assistance to Honduras, but continued the bulk of its aid — worth hundreds of millions of dollars — saying it did not want to punish the majority of Hondurans living in poverty.

The United States was slow to criticize human rights abuses by the de facto government, but swift to scold Mr. Zelaya for political stunts that culminated with his sneaking back into Honduras, where he remains camped inside the Brazilian Embassy.

The move that seems to have most undermined Mr. Obama’s clout came last month when the administration reversed course by signaling that it would accept the outcome of Sunday’s elections whether or not Mr. Zelaya was restored to power.

Latin American governments accused the administration of putting pragmatism over principle and of siding with Honduran military officers and business interests whose goal was to use the elections to legitimize the coup… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

The opponents of the coup are right.  An election by an illegal government is by definition illegal.  The sad fact is that the only thing that will matter in tomorrow’s election is who counts the votes, so the outcome is a foregone conclusion, just as it was in the election of Hamid Karzai.  I would not support a military intervention on Zelaya’s behalf.  We have no troops that are not deployed or slated for deployment.  I would, however, support the immediate suspension of all aid to Honduras until the rightful government is restored.  I would also support a boycott of all trade with Honduras to prevent US corporations from profiting from the coup.  When all the facts are in, and we can follow the money, I believe we will learn that without US corporate financing, the coup could not have taken place.

If you have a few minutes, please look at the other three articles for today.  Any one of them could have been the lead article.


the walking man said...

Obama is an orator and a thinker but apparently it does not translate very well to a leader.

Holte Ender said...

Like presidents before him, he is getting some bad advice, not just on central and south America but on the Middle East and Afghanistan too, and just like other presidents he is taking it.

ivan said...

Tough call.

Oso said...

Hi TomCat,
Good post.Zelaya's from a wealthy family, hardly one to rock the boat.His major sins were 1)raising the minimum wage to a livable level and 2)scheduling a constitutional referendum for AFTER his term.The constitution is a remnant of a colonial past.

Obama showed his true corporate colors here.I think it's Chiquita Banana who's a major employer here,pissed off by the minimum wage raise.

He sorta did the rest of South America a favor.They know they can't trust the bastard any more than they could trust Bush.

RealityZone said...

Meet Lanny Davis

RealityZone said...

TC; Iknow you do not like this site, but they only picked up the Perkins article and posted this. He is also the man who wrote [confessions of an economic hit man] which i am sure you are well aware of.

Military coup engineered by two U.S. companies. by John Perkins.

TomCat said...

Mark, I have to admit that this one is cut and dried.

Holte, I agree. His advisers appear to be corporate shills.

Ivan, I don't think so. This is an easy call.

Oso, I never considered Zelaya a saint, but from what I understand, he was fairly elected by his people. I figured either Chiquita (aka United Fruit) or Dole as the likely culprit.

Thanks, RZ. From your first article, here is a telling quote:
What happened in Honduras is a classic Latin American coup in another sense: Gen. Romeo Vasquez, who led it, is an alumnus of the United States' School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). The school is best known for producing Latin American officers who have committed major human rights abuses, including military coups.
In the Perkins article, he shares my suspitions and offers circumstantial evidence as factual. I think he's probably correct, but could not use him as anything more that support for a more factually based piece.

patrick said...

We have been over all the issues. Now with Oscar Arias and Costa Rica backing the elections, along with the U.S., Panama, Colombia, and Peru, you have to truly wonder why there are others that want to condemn Honduras forever for the way they carried out the removal of their president; when said president did his fair share of lawbreaking. The Brazilian government has received criticism from within, just as occurred in the U.S., and there is a similar tone throughout the rest of Latin America. Inside Honduras right now people are going about their normal activities. My family counts 18 planning to vote for Lobo, 12 for Santos and 2 that support Zelaya. Honduras only gave Obama a failing grade for his initial failure to look into the entire issue.

RealityZone said...

The countries you mentioned are all client states of the U.S.A. I see from your comment that The School Of The Americas must still be recruiting. This is a classic build up of the West versus The South. Central and South America are another fuse that the West can ignite at any moment. Where is John Negroponte? He is never far behind the death squads. The wannabe socialist countries in that part of the world will never go back to being banana republics for the West. And the Oligarchs of the West do not like it. The West is now sponsoring invisible color revolutions in the region.

Jolly Roger said...

The President pretty much adopted Jim DeKlansman's position as his own.

I do not understand this at all. Not a bit.

Karen said...

Wonder if Prez O ever thinks he took on more than he could chew. With so many challenges out there I shudder to think what would be happening now under a President McCain/ Palin/McCain!

TRUTH 101 said...

A drawback to being brilliant is many of them feel compelled to involve themselves in everything. This may well be a situation that the neighboring countries should be asked to advise and do what they think is right. And our Nation should just be "watchfully waiting."

I'm not advocating isolationism as much as telling the world to help look after itself.

Lisa G. said...

I'm with Truth on this one. I think we've meddled/muddled enough country's affairs. Let them sort it out for a change.

Lisa G. said...

I don't like this new 'corporate' Obama though. I think he's getting some bad advice. I expected him to be more centrist than I'd like, but he's a little too center/right right now for my taste. Open you mouth man and speak for your party!

Distributorcap said...

we have such a good track record in Central America! Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Nicaragua

for once cant this country just keep their traps out of other peoples business

TomCat said...

Welcome Patrick. I do condemn Honduras for the way they removed their President, just as I condemn the way many Republican teabaggers call for a coup to remove our President. The way to remove a President is through impeachment or election.

Thanks for the excellent analysis RZ.

Karen, I think I'm beginning to see gray already.

Truth, there's a big difference between encouraging progressive change and backing repression, so I'll join you and Lisa. But that includes enforcing our corporations to keep their hands off too.

DC, are you suggesting we abandon the Bush Doctrine? I am!