Honduras has for a long time been a “banana republic” controlled by U.S. interests. With the lowest per capita income in Central America, but with a strong military, Honduras in the 80s was viewed as a “U.S. surrogate” in the region, providing a base for counter-insurgency operations especially in Nicaragua. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) signed in 2005 further cemented U.S. economic influence with Honduras.
A Very Violent Place
Honduras has been experiencing vicious drug wars that have made it among the most violent places on earth, deadlier even than most conventional war zones. As Mexico has cracked down on drug trafficking, the Mafia and other elements of organized crime have moved into the Northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.) These poverty stricken countries do not have the resources to deal with the narco-trafficking taking place within their borders. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere. In 2010 Honduras was the most dangerous country in the world for a journalist. Thirteen journalists have been killed in the past 18 months and only two of these murders have been solved.
Two years ago on June 28, 2009 an elite army unit deposed the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zayala, who had called for a plebiscite to hold a convention to draw up a new constitution with significant reforms that would have increased accessibility to health care and education, raised the minimum wage, and protected human rights. The political elites in Honduras were incensed that one of their own would initiate such reforms. They feared that a new constitution would lead their country down a path travelled by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, whose leftist presidents had strengthened their control of power by revising their constitutions. This was the first military coup d’état in Central America in the previous 25 years. The rest of the Americas, and most of the world, reacted with outrage against the coup d’état. The Organization of the Americas convened an emergency session and voted to call upon the coup makers to restore Zelaya to power.
Coup Denounced, but Clinton Supports It
Regional organizations like the Group of Rio denounced the coup, while the European Economic Union and the World Bank announced that they were suspending economic assistance to Honduras. This coup reminds many in Latin America of the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s when three-quarters of the continent’s population fell under military rule recognized and supported by our government. Countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua still bear the scars and traumas of this period.
The United States, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was one of the first countries to recognize the new regime. On July 8, 2009 a top assistant to Secretary Clinton, a Republican appointee, stated before the House Foreign Affairs committee, “Democracy and civil liberties are flourishing in Honduras.”
After the coup Roberto Micheletti, the president of parliament, ran the country until the military junta held an election in December of 2009 that selected Porofiro Lobo president. Zelaya’s supporters boycotted this election because his party had been banned from participating. On May 22, 2011 ex-president (Zelaya) and the current president (Lobo) signed an agreement brokered by the presidents of Venezuela and Columbia that would allow Manuel Zayala to return to his native land and permit Honduras to return to the Organization of American States. Thousands of people came out in the streets to welcome Manuel Zalaya when he returned to Honduras on May 28, 2011.
Government Represses Nonviolent Demonstrations
This agreement may not bring peace to this country of 7.7 million people. The coup inspired a national resistance movement that has been courageously protesting against the injustices perpetrated by conservatives and the military. The new government has vigorously repressed nonviolent demonstrations called by human rights activists in Honduras. It has suspended over 300 teachers, a backbone of the middle class in this poor country, and raided their pension funds. The justice department in Honduras has been protecting those involved in the coup. The new regime seems to be turning a blind eye to organized crime and narco-trafficking that has increased in recent years.
Nearly two years after the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected president, Hondurans fear that their country is being sold to the highest bidder.The new regime held a widely publicized business convention on May 4-6, 2011 ironically called (with no Spanish translation) “Honduras is open for business.” This call for rich investors mimics the policies of “shock doctrine” where many South American countries have had vigorous free market reforms imposed upon them making basic services, like the telephone service, available for private sector control and selling them to the highest bidder in a so-called free market.
This isn’t the kind of change I can believe in. At the same time that the Obama administration has touted its support for popular democratic reforms in the Middle East, it has quashed democratic reforms in Honduras. The United States has a long and ugly history of propping up wealthy plutocrats and overthrowing democracies throughout Central and South America. Aggressive actions by our government during the last part of the previous century have led to a blowback throughout our neighbors to the south where the United States is distrusted and vilified. Can’t our leaders learn from past mistakes? Φ
Ian Harris is a professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.Dr. Harris has been a peace researcher and professor for decades, holding rank in the International Peace Research Association and other professional conflict analysis and resolution organizations and is the author of several books in the field.