a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The U.S. should oppose the coup regime in Honduras

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 2nd, 2009

I just forwarded this appeal, posted here at “Just Foreign Policy” (JFP), to my Congressman. Please join me:

I urge you to sign the letter being circulated by Rep. Grijalva calling for more U.S. pressure on the coup regime in Honduras to stand down. Signers of the letter include Reps. McGovern, Conyers, and Serrano.

After three weeks of illegitimate rule, repression of opponents and stifling of the free press, the de facto regime in Honduras rejected the proposals of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias over the weekend of July 18 and 19. The elected Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, accepted all seven conditions proposed by Arias to resolve the crisis and restore legitimacy, democracy and constitutional order in Honduras, and the coup regime has consistently stated they will not accept any solution that involves the return of the elected president to his office.

On July 22, the regime’s “Foreign Minister”  rejected Arias’ “final” proposal, re-affirming their position that any solution respecting international opinion as expressed by the OAS, the UN and the United States is “inconceivable, unacceptable.”

But the Honduran regime has not been content to run out the clock on President Zelaya’s mandate and obstruct his return. As documented in a report by the respected Honduran human rights NGO, COFADEH, and elsewhere, the regime has been intimidating and closing down media outlets opposing the coup, shooting journalists, opening fire on unarmed protesters, killing at least one, 19-year-old (WARNING: disturbing image) Isis Murillo, beating and jailing marchers and political leaders, and generally violating civil liberties.

This assault on human rights and on people and movements opposed to the coup cannot be allowed to continue without grave harm to the fabric of Honduran democracy, even if and when President Zelaya is restored.

In response to the worsening situation, I feel that President Obama should follow up on his comments rejecting the coup and denounce the repression carried out by this illegitimate regime. He can also take immediate action that will surely get the attention of the regime by freezing the US assets and visas of those connected to the coup. This suggestion, which was notably raised by the Los Angeles Times editorial board last week, seems to be sensible and appropriate as past actions have failed to have the intended effect, mediation efforts appear to have failed, and the human rights situation continues to worsen.

Please sign the letter being circulated by Rep. Grijalva calling for more U.S. pressure on the coup regime in Honduras.

(Links added; there has now been at least one more death at the hands of coup soldiers and/or “golpistas.”)  If you want to personalize the message, you might add a plug for co-sponsoring H.Res. 630, a resolution by Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA-10) condemning the coup.

I learned of the JFP appeal via Nell Lancaster (“A Lovely Promise”), which is where I’ve mainly been following the Honduras news — since the coup in late June, she’s been writing about little else (the link leads to the list of her posts on the topic), and it’s been a one-stop roundup, analysis, and education stop for me.  She links to plenty of other knowledgeable blogs and resources on the topic; for instance, it turns out Obama enthusiast Al Giordano is also a long time Central America hand, and is currently on the scene reporting via his blog. The Real News Network has also proven to be an excellent broadband Internet resource, with strong ongoing coverage of the coup and the tardy, confused U.S. response.

On the plus side of that ledger, the US revoked the visas of four coup leaders last week, and the US ambassador to the Honduras finally met with exiled leader Manuel Zelaya.  On the negative side has been the foot-dragging slowness of the response, and especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s charge that Zelaya was being “reckless” by pressing an attempt to cross the Nicaraguan border back into his country.

The video to the right illustrates one reason why the Obama administration in general and Clinton in particular may have been vacillated about the coup in its early days: a full court lobbying press by Honduran coup and business leaders, who acquired skilled prostitute, Clinton White House counsel, and Clinton ’08 aide Lanny Davis to make their case with Congress.  But I’m out of my depth in guessing what else might be going on — other than reflexive discomfort in some circles with anything that might smack of a democracy movement in Central America.

The ostensible reason for the coup was Zelaya’s support for a nonbinding poll that might recommend a constitutional convention — crucially, one that would take place after he left office this fall.  That was crucial because one of the key provisions of the Honduran constitution forbids not just a second term for presidents, but even the discussion of revising the constitution to permit it.  While the Honduran Congress might well not have acted on a victory of pro-convention sentiment, a landslide would have been hard to ignore.  And from what little I’ve been able to learn about Honduras, a landslide protest vote against current conditions would not have been out of the question.

As so often the case, Obama got it right the first time when he said on June 29, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras, the democratically elected President there.  In that we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States. I think it’s — it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.” But also as too often the case, his follow-through on initial noble sentiments has been slow at best. Here’s hoping the hopeful developments of the past few days are a harbinger of an end to this coup.

10 Responses to “The U.S. should oppose the coup regime in Honduras”

  1. Nell Says:

    I’m so pleased that someone found the blogging useful. And even more so that it’s you, with your willingness to take action, especially given that you’re represented by a member of Congress who might actually be receptive to the invitation to sign onto the Grijalva letter. His signature would be influential with other members.

    My own Congressman thinks the coup is just fine and Obama was wrong to “interfere”. So opportunities for activism are limited.

    I don’t fool myself about how little most Americans (including Barack Obama) care about a small, poor, nothing country like Honduras. The reason this has gotten attention from the administration at all is that the coup really does threaten democracy and stability (much more important than democracy to the powerful) in the whole hemisphere if it’s allowed to stand.

    Thanks very much.

    Between July 8, when U.S. military aid was suspended, and July 28, when a small but significant group of coup officials had their diplomatic visas revoked, the Obama administration did exactly nothing concrete to pressure the coup regime. Now we’ve apparently entered anoher three-week waiting period, and the bodies are piling up. The silence from Washington is very, very loud.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks for keeping after it, Nell. My facebook page ‘status’ line right now is: “time to stand up for democracy in *this* hemisphere. Oppose the Honduras coup regime.” For what little that’s worth, obviously, but if I can help plink away at this I will.

    I keep thinking ‘surely this will all be over soon,’ but it looks like the coup people (is that what ‘golpistas‘ means?) are hanging in there. Obama is looking like he doesn’t run the State Department, too; I understand they’re still studying whether it was a coup? I mean, I understand there are legal details to all this, and that threw me off a bit too, as you know. But with an ex death squad leaders as an advisor (if you could supply the name I’d be grateful — headed “Battalion 316,” something like that?), censorship of news media, blood in the streets, and a clearly ad hoc expatriation instead of some regular legal proceeding, this can’t be that hard to figure out. It looks like a coup, walks like a coup, and quacks like a coup. It’s a coup.

  3. Nell Says:

    Golpista can mean either ‘coup participant’ or ‘coup supporter’. That flexibility plus its compactness makes it tempting to use in place of either of those phrases.

    It’s from the Spanish expression for ‘coup’, golpe de estado, which is a literal conversion of the French coup d’etat (see the photo in my first Honduras post).

    Just as with the French word coup, the everyday meaning of golpe is a blow, in the sense of an act of violence; golpear is to beat someone or something. And in the same way that English speakers use ‘coup’ by itself to refer to the political/military act, Spanish speakers use ‘golpe’ alone.

    English lacks a concise word or phrase for the phenomenon, which could be the happy result of its rarity in England and the U.S., or just an artifact of how handy the French term is. If I weren’t on the verge of going to bed I’d haul out the OED and see how long ago we appropriated it.

  4. Nell Says:

    Went off on a language digression and failed to answer your question: Billy Joya Almendola. The closest domestic analogue to Joya would be Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander in whose precinct hundreds of black men under arrest were routinely tortured to obtain false confessions. If the cops under his command had also killed a similar number of arrested men and dumped the bodies secretly. And if he’d returned from retirement in Florida to become a regular on Chicago TV, appearing as a “crime analyst”.

    There have been two murders since the coup that really evoke the darkest days of the death squads, clearly meant to send a message. The better known is the case of Pedro Munoz, one of many people detained near the border on July 24 trying to get to Las Manos to support Pres. Zelaya in his return. Sometime during the night his body was dumped by the highway near a major military checkpoint, handcuffed and with dozens of stab wounds. Less publicized, at least partly because the victim is still unidentified: during the first week after the coup, the body of a person wearing a T-shirt with the graphic for the ‘Cuarta Urna’ campaign (in favor of having a vote on a constitutional convention as part of the November elections) was found in an area of Tegucigalpa used as a dumping/burial ground for death squad victims in the 1980s.

    Adrienne Pine posted an English version of the very worthwhile and comprehensive recent report from CODEH, the human rights organizaton, that covers these among a sadly long list of disappearances and murders.

    The State Department’s pretense that it’s conducting a “legal review” on whether to make the formal determination that this was a military coup is an insulting charade. Even the relentlessly moderate Greg Weeks is put off.

  5. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks for the links — I’ve posted a link and pull quote from the CODEH report on facebook. I’d found Joya’s name in the meantime (people seem to often drop the “Almendola” and just call him “Billy Joya”). Needless to say, I haven’t liked what I’ve read so far. A couple of questions, though:

    1) not super important, but I’ve read conflicting reports about whether Joya was a “School of the Americas” graduate. School of the Americas Watch doesn’t list him on their database, but claims that in a press release I saw (but can’t dig up right now). He was definitely trained in the US — he said so himself in this weekend’s NYTimes: “Mr. Joya said that he and 12 other Honduran soldiers received six weeks of training in the United States” in 1981. From the CIA?

    2) According to this June 2006 report (MESOAMERICA: Human Rights Workers Denounce Battalion 3-16 Participation in Zelaya Government), Joya had been working in the *Zelaya* administration at that time (via Wikipedia). Then as now, “human rights workers have expressed surprise at the silence of Ramón Custodio, the highly respected current Ombudsman for Human Rights, regarding the reappearance of tarnished former members of Battalion 3-16 (now officially disbanded) and their current participation in the Zelaya government.”

    I don’t mean to excuse the coup by saying its victim (at least, his administration) once hired the same thug the “golpistas” did, but this does seem weird to me and I wonder what you think about it. On the one hand, Zelaya’s maybe no saint, so what — except that having Joya on the payroll goes beyond “no saint”, and it looks like Joya wasn’t the half of it. His boss under Zelaya, Alvaro Romero, was both a “Liberal Party” member like Zelaya and another “Battalion 316” veteran like Joya. Either that Liberal Party is a pretty big tent or Zelaya isn’t as different from Micheletti as we’d like to believe.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thinking about it some more, two things: first, the gradual rehabilitation/reacceptance of torture squad thugs like Billy Joya and Romero may be part of the price “good guys” like Zelaya (I’m still presuming) have to pay in countries like Honduras — unlike what I think we ought to have to accept in the US. I just don’t know. But at minimum the “lie down with dogs, get up with fleas” warning to good guys there and everywhere does seem warranted. Second, there may also be some kind of important qualitative difference between Joya’s prominence in the Micheletti coup regime now and Romero’s prominence in Zelaya’s administration then. I haven’t figured out which of the two were higher up in Battalion 316.

  7. Nell Says:

    Either that Liberal Party is a pretty big tent or Zelaya isn’t as different from Micheletti as we’d like to believe.

    Both. And more. The more I write and think about Honduras, the less it seems like something separate and “can’t happen here”, and the more it seems like something that is happening here — only with more wool over people’s eyes.

    Opposition and resistance to the coup isn’t about Zelaya; it’s about respecting elected governments, and about the possibility of removing a corrupt elite’s monopoly on power through participatory democracy.

    Big tent: Micheletti is a Liberal Party politician. (He’s been in the Congress for thirty years, and has repeatedly tried and failed to become their presidential nominee. Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman spring to mind.)

    Because the two big parties have had a stranglehold on power, and are just different wings of the oligarchy, and because members of Congress are elected at large rather from districts, the Congress isn’t remotely a representative body. The biggest money men are the party bosses; they get to decide (on the basis of favors and family ties etc.) who is positioned where on the electoral list.

    Zelaya’s family is rich, but his big big money man is/was Jaime Rosenthal, whose son was Zelaya’s minister of government despite very little experience. Zelaya and the Rosenthals had a falling out; still, their paper Tiempo is the most sympathetic to Zelaya of the big commercial press. Which is a low bar to step over.

    Impunity/lie down with dogs dept.: Take a good, hard look at the people on Obama’s “security” side. Stanley McChrystal gets promoted to command troops in Afghanistan. Bob Gates stays on as Defense Secretary, and there are no meaningful changes at Guantanamo or in the personnel running detention. Ray Odierno, commander of some of the most out-of-control troops in Iraq in 2003-4, now in charge of all troops there, getting Obama to reverse the planned (and court-ordered) release of the Bagram and Iraq-wide torture photos and to justify it with transparent pandering, intelligence-insulting excuses.

    Wouldn’t change anything about how hard you’d work to restore Obama to office if he were to be flown out of the country and replaced with… oh, let’s say Ben Nelson. All the more so if it came after he (hypothetically) reversed course on health care and used Obama for America to mobilize for a plan that did really stick it to the insurers and Big Pharma.

    We have impunity here for the people who ordered and justified torture. Now Americans can’t view the “culture of impunity” as just something for those unstable, hot-blooded Chileans, Salvadorans, or Hondurans. It’s here, and although it’s too soon to despair (it’s taken decades in most cases), there is very little basis for optimism that we can begin to bring justice or accountability any sooner.

    None of which is to excuse anyone for hiring Billy Joya rather than pushing to prosecute and put his evil, sorry ass in jail.

    (Language digresson 2: Amendola is Joya’s maternal name; I just included it in case it helped dig up anything in googling. Zelaya is Manuel Zelaya Rosales, Ortega is Daniel Ortego Saavedra, etc.; in Spain and Latin American, men are usually referred to only by the paternal last name, with the maternal name being included just in fairly formal situations — or sometimes to avoid confusion between two people whose names would be the same without the maternal name.

  8. » Blog Archive » Vigil for peace in Honduras Says:

    […] Nell on The U.S. should oppose the coup regime in Honduras […]

  9. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks for this great comment, Nell — I hope you turn it into a post on your blog. It occurs to me that while it’s in the unimaginably distant past, we’ve arguably experienced a Supreme Court sanctioned coup ourselves.

  10. Nell Says:

    What’s the smiley for an appreciative chuckle?

    It occurred to me to include that in the disturbing similarities, but I was afraid I was on the edge of coming off a little unhinged already…

    Speaking of which, awarding Sandra Day O’Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom really rankles. Message: No hard feelings about the torture, multiple wars, assassination teams, spying, secrecy, and massive looting of the treasury. You’re speaking only for yourself there, Mr. President.

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