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Honduras, Three Years On

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It’s three years since the coup in Honduras that sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in his pyjamas. Porfirio Lobo, who took over as president in January 2010 following highly questionable elections, is more than halfway through his term. The only grounds for optimism are offered by the resistance movement that sprang up after the coup. 

Much that’s wrong with Honduras is illustrated by a recent incident. In the small hours of 11 May, in the remote Moskitia region, there was a drugs bust led by helicopters from the United States Drugs Enforcement Administration. The facts are clouded, but an on-the-ground investigation appears to confirm that sacks of cocaine had been transferred from a small plane to a boat which – spotted by the DEA helicopter – was then abandoned, with the drug-runners escaping into the night. A nearby passenger boat, about to put into the small port of Paptalaya, was mistakenly fired on, and four people were killed and several injured. The DEA personnel prevented people from helping the victims, violently intimidated the local community and did nothing to secure medical assistance for the injured. No drug traffickers were arrested, though 400 kg of cocaine was recovered from the drifting boat. (According to the Honduran police, the four victims were in a boat that fired on the authorities; the DEA says that none of its agents shot at anyone.)

The incident is indicative of four characteristics of Honduras since the coup. The first is drugs. In a suspiciously precise assessment, the DEA says that 79 per cent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America land in Honduras. Drug-running makes money for some of the country’s most powerful people. Miguel Facussé, described by the New York Times as ‘the octogenarian patriarch of one of the handful of families controlling much of Honduras’s economy’, was a strong supporter of the coup.  He has been known to the US authorities as a drug-runner since 2004.

Second, violence is widespread. The murder rate in Honduras is four times Mexico’s, and it is now the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, with 23 assassinated since the coup. Four deaths in a remote region, especially in one of the country’s indigenous communities, are unremarkable. Last weekend, DEA agents killed another man in the same area.

Third, the peremptory official investigation into what happened in Moskitia in May is typical. Four months after the Comayagua prison fire in which 360 people died, no one has been charged. Police were implicated in the murder last October of the son of the rector of Honduras’s main university and, last month, of the journalist Alfredo Villatoro (an associate of President Lobo). No one has been charged in those cases either.

Fourth, ordinary people, especially landless peasants or indigenous communities in areas like Moskitia, receive little from the state and have little influence over it. Powerlessness and poverty have fed support for left-wing governments across large parts of Latin America, much to the chagrin of their once-dominant oligarchies. The resistance movement in Honduras has chosen its candidate for the November 2013 election: Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife. She has emerged as a powerful and unifying political personality both in attacking the coup and in challenging the elite of which she used to be a member. But in a country with little respect for the democratic process, and where the United States turns a blind eye to defects that it would quickly point out in Nicaragua or Venezuela, she has a formidable task in turning popular support into electoral success.

Comments on “Honduras, Three Years On”

  1. gotnotruck says:

    I agree with much of this article, but let’s face it, if it had been a right wing president trying to eliminate term limits, (indefinitely?), then was sent packing in his PJs, we would have screamed bloody murder for a different reason, wouldn’t we? Then there’s the (often truly) bad US to blame for everything. I liked to me not so “Bad President” Obama, whom I think Bromowich misreads, when he complained, after we didn’t invade to reinstate Zelaya, “Guys, you can’t have it both ways.” It would be refreshing to read in the LRB about Chavez’s own problems: power shortages with huge oil reserves, high crime, oppression of dissidents, (those pesky students just as with his ally Ahmadinejad), failing business practices that lead to jailing or exiling his old compadres as scapegoats for his own mistakes. And no embargo to blame them on. In a PBS Frontline Program “The Hugo Chavez Show” we see him grilling employees and a Guardian reporter in an irrational way that make hIs policies all their fault. Did you cover Carter’s attempt to give aid to the Sandanistas after their election? They declined. Student video from Venezuela shows various Latin American leaders stranded on a cartoon cliche’ island, waiting to be missed. “Surely the Empire will come”, they cry. Carter was turned down. They needed us as the Evil Empire on which to blame everything. When a leftist was elected in El Salvador I was glad but emailed a friend to predict what our common Salvadoran friend said. I.e. that all would be well if the U.S. didn’t screw it up. Exactly what he’d said. The Guardian was reduced recently to mentioning women raped 34 years ago. Deplorable but what have we done to you lately? and St Fidel has said his system didn’t work. Of course we should stop the stupid blockade!!! The New York Review of Books, which I’m finding I prefer, had an excellent article called “Cuba: A Way Forward”m, which you can perhaps read on Human Rights’ Watch website. Unlike China, Cuban dissidents have almost no access to the internet, and musicians are not allowed to play music with political themes. A Canadian friend, who of course, blames U.S. for everything, describes Cuba as “a penal colony of starving people trying to escape”. Five hour speeches alone would be reason enough for me. But you doubtless haven’t heard about Chavez’s Private Militia, where many Cubans serve to escape to el Norte. (nytimes.com/chavez’s private militia.) Nothing’s and nobody’s perfect. I read in a tiny article in a paper Guardian, while recently in England, that the British Army is maintaining its regimental structure, (which spread such joy around the world), while downsizing. By relying on drones and small armed units dropped in. Abbotabad, anyone? Not in the online version. But i’m holding onto the paper. The LRB even looks down its nose at Hollywood communists. My mother from Concord, N.C., was rejected by the CP in North Carolina for being “socially frivolous and politically immature”. Based my life on it, and turns out that’s what they called all their rejects. Plenty of commies in NC in the thirties and forties. Just like England. My father burned his copy of Das Kapital in the driveway during the McCarthy era. A friend in the USSR during Perestroika told me His father burned Trotsky. Plus ca change… A woman in Britain said the Cold War was American paranoia, plain and simple. Has she never read Le Carre? Talked to Poles or other Eastern Europeans?

    • weaver says:

      Please. Zelaya’s crime was to suggest a nonbinding plebiscite that might judge popular support for changes to the Honduran constitution such that amendments could be made by popular vote, which plebiscite would have to be non-binding because the current constitution, cooked up during a previous military regime, denies public participation in the constitutional amendment process. And no-one asked Obama to invade – it would be sufficient for the US to cut off aid as they are legally required to do in the case of putsches and would have had to do if Obama and SoS Clinton had not cheerfully ignored the advice of their own ambassador that the removal of Zelaya was indeed illegitimate (which advice we know about because of those “trivial” and “uninformative” Wikileaks cables).

      And I’m always amused by the right-wing fetish for term limits and the bizarre belief that they constitute “democracy”. By definition, denying voters the choice of re-electing an incumbent is ANTI-democratic; and deliberately so, given term limits usually mean candidate has no option of appealing directly to the people on the basis of a record that may speak of actual public service but is turfed out to be replaced with the chosen nominee of corporate-friendly party-bosses. The continued re-election of which American president so enraged the US political class that the constitution was amended to prevent more than two terms? Well, that would be that terrible dictator FDR.
      Presumabably gotnotruck also regards New York mayor Michael Bloomberg as an affront to democracy, now in his third term.

    • John Perry says:

      Surely Cuba as “a penal colony of starving people trying to escape” is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek remark? No one, least of all the author of this blog, would claim that Zelaya, Chavez or Ortega (in Nicaragua) are perfect. But Ortega was recently re-elected – see this post http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2011/11/08/john-perry/why-ortega-won/ – and Chavez is leading the opinion polls for the forthcoming elections in Venezuela. Whatever their imperfections, the common factor in many re-elections of left-wing leaders in Latin America has been their mobilisation of the votes of the poor, for whom – unlike those of other governments – their programmes have often been very successful.

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