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United States' Intervention in Honduras: Then & Now

By Simón Ríos, Committee in Solidarity with the Honduran Resistance


Given that we are aware of the history of this topic, it would be irrational to think that US involvement in the Honduran coup comes in the interest of Honduran democracy, insofar as that phrase implies governance by, of, & for the people. The architect of the US constitution, James Madison, was inspired by the need to create a Magna Carta that would prevent the redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots. Democracy was something of a necessary evil that needed to be limited, thus was born "representative democracy," or governance by, of, & for the oligarchy. Since 1898, in the name of this democracy, the United States has overturned over forty governments in the countries that form Latin America. Some were dictators, others were elected democrats, but they were all guilty of challenging North American corporate interests to a lesser or greater degree.

Though US intervention has affected nearly every country, the little republics of Central America and the Caribbean have suffered more than their larger, less vulnerable neighbors to the south. In the 20th century, Honduran sovereignty was bolstered by seven US invasions between 1903 & 1925. Repentant General Smedley Butler said "I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903." When in 1911, banana man Samuel Zemurray invaded Honduras with a mercenary army in the interest of the United Fruit Company, Uncle Sam turned his head. Zemurray's later assertion that in Honduras, a congressman is cheaper than a mule, would be echoed nearly a hundred years later, this past Tuesday in fact, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Lanny Davis, a paid lackey of the Honduran oligarchy. "On Jan. 27, a new president will be sworn into office in Honduras. That will restore to normalcy the proud little constitutional republic that has always been a loyal and reliable friend of the United States." Though Davis' choice of words may be more politically correct than his predecessor's, they are hardly more reverent of the self-determination of Honduras.

Now we advance to the 1980s. Following the twenty-year period of military rule that ended in 1982, the United States was responsible for deepening the militarization of Honduran society. Though compelling the return of representative democracy, the US encouraged a militarization more complete than the combined efforts of three dictator generals. By ensuring that 30% of government spending went to the military "establishing official death squads such as the 316th Battalion, granting the armed forces autonomy from the civilian branches by way of the National Defense & Security Council, & by militarizing civilian institutions such as the communications apparatus, the merchant marines, & customs & immigration" the United States transformed Honduras into a national security state that would dutifully serve its interests in the region, whether this meant allowing banana companies unhampered ownership, or supporting paramilitary forces that would kill thousands.

It was paradoxical that the period that marked the end of military rule simultaneously marked the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo, the US military's Central American platform, at the Palmerola air base in 1981. During the eighties the superpower used Honduras as a base for regional counter-insurgency operations. At the height of the Contra War, Palmerola was home to 5,000 US soldiers, though today that number has dwindled to 600. Reagan flooded the country with massive military aid & NGOs that served to undermine & fragment grassroots movements. Not only was Honduras home to the sole US base in Central America, it also hosted the largest Peace Corps mission in the world.

Further compounding matters is the continual presence of Honduran officers at the School of the Americas. Above all these officers are trained to lead militaries that will guard the jewels of US influence. Six SOA graduates are currently at the helm of "golpista" armed forces. It is something we would do good not to scoff at.


This brings us to the current involvement of the heir of the Monroe Doctrine, Barack Obama, who stated early in his presidency that: "I just want to make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere," saying that "The test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds."

Since the early days of the coup, many of us couldn't help but ask the question: How can we expect the government that is deepening military ties with Colombia, the country that boasts the highest number of assassinated unionists in the world, to do right by little Honduras? The fact that Eric Holder helped negotiate a plea deal on behalf of United Fruit for their involvement in paramilitary violence in Colombia does little to assuage this uncertainty.

Where does the United States congress stand? To the left of the Obama administration are the likes of representatives Serrano, Grijalva, & McGovern, and most recently Representative Jan Schakowsky, who just returned from Tegucigalpa. These folks have urged Obama to demand the immediate restitution of Zelaya, and have condemned the human rights abuses by the coup regime. To the right of Obama we find such personalities as Mel Martinez & Jim DeMint, who have struggled to legitimize the overthrow of Zelaya, and for the US to recognize elections without conditions. Unfortunately, the right appears to be winning the tug of war. Following the coup the Obama administration gradually undertook some measures to condemn the coup, like the cancellation of visas & the partial suspension of aid. But they refused to implement a hardnosed policy that would bring the "golpistas" to their knees. The administration has refused to freeze the US bank accounts of “golpistas”, refused to undertake targeted sanctions against “golpista” companies, & refused to even once condemn the widespread violations of human rights that the Honduran people have suffered for four months now. Perhaps this is the doctrine of benevolent acquiescence: implement futile punitive policies in order to appear democratic, meanwhile committing oneself firmly to looking the other way, and tacitly supporting the coup by means of business as usual.

Thomas Shannon, the State Department diplomat chosen to hammer out the so-called Guaymuras accord, referred to both the military-imposed Micheletti and the democratically-elected Zelaya as "heroes of Honduran democracy." Shannon's overseeing of the accord seems to have been a cynical political maneuver. His candidacy to the ambassadorship of Brazil was blocked for several months by Republican Senator Jim DeMint due to Obama's stance on the coup. But when Shannon assured DeMint that the Obama administration will now recognize the results of the November 29th elections, regardless of whether or not Zelaya is returned to power, DeMint happily switched his stance. But then, in a twist at which I can’t help but snicker, Shannon's nomination is now being held up by George LeMieux, Florida's junior senator, who doesn't approve of Obama's Cuba policy. Furthermore, Honduras solidarity activists in the United States have put out a call for Obama to oppose Shannon's appointment. "Either Shannon defied President Obama's instructions and plotted with the coup regime to keep it in power," reads the call for action, "or he was fooled by thuggish coup leader Roberto Micheletti into supporting a hoax that the coup regime had no intention of honoring". How can Shannon effectively serve as US ambassador when Brazil has been among the strongest voices demanding that the Age of Coups in the Americas is over and that the Honduran coup cannot be allowed to stand?"

Regardless, the agreement on the restitution of Zelaya, imposed by the superpower, signified a watershed in the negotiations between democratic & “golpista” forces. Until then, the “golpistas” had refused to discuss the point of Zelaya's return, which had always been the first demand of the resistance. However, it quickly became clear that the Micheletti regime had no intention of fulfilling its end of the bargain. When the “golpistas” informed Zelaya that Micheletti would preside over the "Government of Unity and National Reconciliation," we realized the negotiations were merely the latest of four months of stall tactics. Zelaya had already capitulated on some major points, like surrendering the cause of the constituent assembly, and agreeing to a power-sharing government with supporters of the coup, as well as recognizing the elections and their outcome. But in spite of it all, the “golpistas” are refusing to move forth on his restitution.

After four months of military rule, the regime hopes to legitimize itself by realizing elections under circumstances that couldn't possibly be considered free and fair. The withdrawal by candidates who oppose the coup, at the presidential, congressional, and local levels, and the denouncement of elections by President Zelaya & the Front Against the Coup, all indicate that democratic elections can not be carried out under dictatorial conditions. In the words of the writers & artists union, "the elections aren't a solution to the problem, to the contrary, they are one more problem, the real solution is the constituent assembly that will benefit all of Honduras."

Our committee in Boston, and the National Committee in Solidarity with the Honduran People, will continue to support the resistance that is clamoring for a break from the old order, the order of bases, banks, & bananas that has mired Honduras in violence & poverty. These forces have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the human rights of the citizenry, to violate the rule of law, and to isolate Honduras from the community of nations in maintaining their clutch on power. We stand with the resistance, the woman, the Indian, garifuna, campesino, & worker, the ones who have begun to write the next chapter in the history of Honduras.

Boston, November 13, 2009