On June 28th, the democratically-elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was abducted by the military and deposed to Costa Rica. The perpetrators claimed they removed Zelaya to protect democracy — a near-universal justification for criminal acts on the world stage — but since the action deposed a legitimate government, it easily slides into the category of “coup d’etat.”
President Obama immediately denounced the takeover, calling it illegal. However, Secretary of State Clinton refused to classify the action as a coup and said the administration did not have any demands to press on the new leader, Roberto Micheletti. If Clinton were to classify it as a coup, she “would trigger a cutoff of millions of dollars in aid to the impoverished Central American country” because of a law regulating U.S. foreign aid.
So currently the U.S. is in the position of funding an undemocratic government — an odd position for a country that claims its primary foreign policy objective is to spread democracy. It’s especially odd considering that Micheletti’s interim government has cracked down on protests, which have been attended by tens of thousands of Hondurans since the ouster on the 28th. Two people have died, though in Honduras you might not know that because the government has also taken control of several news outlets since the coup.
Other important questions must be raised about U.S. involvement in the coup. Honduras has traditionally been an ally in the region, supporting U.S. efforts in the brutal “War on Drugs.” The U.S. provides aid, but it also provides training and assistance. For instance, the man in charge of the military aspect of the coup, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, was trained at the U.S.-based School of the Americas (now WHINSEC). The head of the Air Force, Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, also graduated from SOA.
Given the close relations with Honduras, it’s reasonable to assume that the Obama Administration had advanced knowledge of the coup. That assumption is strengthened by this reporting in New York Times:
As the crisis escalated, American officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the military broke off those discussions on Sunday.
So the U.S. probably knew of the coup beforehand but could not – or would not – intervene to stop it. Since the 28th, Obama has denounced the new government, but has not cut aid, which could help undermine the perpetrators’ — or at least reduce our complicity in their actions. The obvious question is: Why not?
Zelaya is an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose socialist reforms and anti-imperialist rhetoric have bothered the U.S. since his election in 2000. Chavez has led efforts to integrate Latin American states under the Bolivarian Alliance for the America (ALBA). At its core, ALBA supports a socialist vision for the region — in direct opposition to historical U.S. economic dominance. Honduras joined ALBA in 2008, under the Zelaya government.
Zelaya had also become a vocal critic of the U.S.-led “War on Drugs.” In 2008, he called for drug legalization, which he said would reduce trafficking violence and free up his country’s economic resources. “His proposal included establishing a region-wide narcotics plan that would supplant bilateral U.S.-led efforts in countries like Mexico and Colombia.” Not surprisingly, Zelaya’s agenda put him at odds with the elite sectors in Honduras.
Though the drug war has failed to reduce drug consumption or raise the price of narcotics, the U.S. maintains its policies. Indeed, the true intent is not to combat drugs. In Latin America, the issues of narcotics, terrorism and “narco-terrorism,” (and, previously, anti-Communism) are used as convenient justifications for massive U.S. military aid and training. The intent of that aid is to secure better climates for U.S. investment. This means opposing regional integration, protectionism and, of course, socialism. In this case, it happens to mean funding the suppression of Honduran democracy.