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Isolated & discredited 2 - the US in Latin America

Isolated and discredited 2 - the US in Latin America

by toni solo, July 14th 2009

With the latest murders there, Honduras seems to be lunging backwards into a death-squad-dark remake of John Negroponte's early 1980s dirty war in Honduras. From Nicaragua's capital, Managua, Negroponte's fellow National Security State promoter, Robert Callahan, looks on. With the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista Popular Revolution on July 19th, this is a good moment for taking stock.

The current situation in Honduras

Over the weekend in Honduras two local leaders of the left-wing Unificación Democrática political party were murdered in circumstances reminiscent of that 1980s Honduran dirty war. The coup regime expelled two teams of Venezuelan journalists on Sunday, meaning no international media remain there committed to ensuring fair coverage of resistance to the coup. Only a few independent radio stations transmit reliable information on resistance to the coup in Honduras – Radio Globo, Radio Progreso and Radio Es-lo-de-menos seem to be the main ones. All the main media stations belong to backers of the de facto usurper regime.

Both Radio Globo and Radio Progreso were briefly taken off the air by the army shortly after the coup. Despite continuing intimidation, they continue to broadcast. Likewise, the Libertador alternative newspaper has been under constant intimidating surveillance. Its editor Jhonny José Lagos is under constant threat of detention. The coup regime lifted the nightly curfew last weekend, after two weeks, but the state of emergency suspension of basic rights remains in place. So the army and police can do what they like, abusing due process, free of effective legal restraint.

The committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Honduras reports at least 400 people still detained. The two murders on Saturday night bring the total number of people killed by the armed forces to 5, including the cold-blooded murder of 19 year old Isis Obed Murillo. Murillo's father is an environmental activist from the conflictive Honduran department of Olancho. After publicly denouncing his son's murder, he was arrested on trumped up charges and spirited off to prison in Olancho.

While the curfew has been officially lifted, people continue to be arbitrarily detained by the army. Virtually no information is available of the large numbers of youths and boys forcibly recruited by the army in poor urban barrios and rural areas following the coup. Various municipal leaders in places like Concepción del Norte and Trinidad in the Santa Barbara area, or Tocoa in the Atlantida department seem to be incommunicado, either detained or in hiding, as is, reportedly, the mayor of San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second city.

The popular movement has organized nationwide actions and protests under the leadership of trades unions, grass community organizations, rural workers and public workers organizations. The public school system remains shut down with teachers on strike. One tactic of the national protests is to block vital arterial roads for hours at a time so as to disrupt commercial activity, keeping up the economic pressure on the business and landowning oligarchy who staged the coup.

The coup leaders ambushed and expelled President Manuel Zelaya at the point of a gun in order, they said, to save the Constitution. For a third week now, they are suppressing the very Constitution they avowed to protect. Radio Globo has reported that coup-monger Roberto Carmona, brother of 2002 Venezuelan coup leader Pedro the Brief, was detected sneaking in and out of meetings in Tegucigalpa under the name of Armando Valladares. Notorious former death squad leader Billy Joya has been named presidential adviser to usurper-in-chief Roberto Micheletti.

US regional diplomacy

That is the panorama now in John Negroponte's former 1980s death squad stomping ground. Condoleezza Rica, Negroponte and their Bush regime cronies did not send a leading accomplice of theirs like Robert J. Callahan as ambassador to Managua on a careless whim. Nor does he remain there as Obama's ambassador out of sheer inertia. Callahan is wartime consiglieri sent to replace teddy-bear Paul Trivelli in Managua to destabilize the country's Sandinista-led government. If one looks at the curriculum vitae of the US ambassadors in the region, they have all at some time finished a course of study in one or other of the US military academies.

The State Department biography of Callahan tells us that he taught for 2 years at the National War College in Washington D.C. If one looks at the biography of Hugo Llorens, US ambassador to Honduras, one finds he received his Master of Science in National Security Studies from the National War College in 1997. As a footnote one might note with interest that Llorens joined the US foreign service from Chase Manhattan bank. Stephen McFarland, US ambassador to Guatemala is a graduate of the US Air War College.

Temporarily, heading the US embassy in El Salvador at the moment is Robert Blau as Charge d'Affaires. His State Department biography tells us “he was previously the Deputy Director for Cuban Affairs in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, following a two-year assignment at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana as Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs. In that position he won the Department’s James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence, based on his support for the Cuban democratic opposition.”

In every country in the region, the US government has placed very senior, very experienced, deeply ideologically motivated diplomatic clones. Every one of them has a thorough grounding in destabilization. None of this is new and is common knowledge in Latin America.

The people Obama relies on for advice on foreign policy in Latin America are in the same mould. Council for Foreign Relations member Arturo Valenzuela was Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council during Bill Clinton's second presidential term.Dan Restrepo, a key adviser to Obama on policy in Latin America has been Director of Project of the Americas, a programme of the imperial propaganda and policy mass-production dream factory, the Center for American Progress.

A visit to their web site reveals yet another robot virtual reality production line, spewing out the varieties of disingenuous, vapid, fake, self-serving analysis that have become a hallmark of the higher echelons of mainstream US intellectual life – right up to Barack Obama. This is the same intellectual class that so aggressively sang the praises of their consumer capitalist system, currently the most spectacular crash in over seventy years. Now that imperial decline is bearing unmistakably down on the swarm of individuals that make up this pullulating class of phonies, conciliation and dialogue has become their superficial watchword.

But no matter how hard they try on the masks of agreeableness, their arrogance, hubris and infatuation with US military power seep out all over the place. Barack Obama's aspiration to reclaim US leadership in Latin America means not just maintaining US military presence in the region but boosting it. For example, in Colombia the US is currently negotiating not one but five extra military bases.

Policy continuity to believe in

The Honduran coup makes very clear that six months into the first Obama presidency, the pattern of US government regional destabilization, self-evident under the Bush regime in 2008, continues as viciously as before, though perhaps with more sophisticated deniability. As a candidate the Obama brand sales pitch was that under his presidency the US would reclaim leadership in Latin America.

That snowball lasted just a couple of microseconds into the infernal Honduran coup. In fact, it has been the ALBA countries led by Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua that have made the running. Their prompt determined response made Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama look even more like double talking frauds than they would have done otherwise.

The US government continues to deal in propaganda rather than facts. Its policy in Latin America is based on a virtual reality confection - mechanically reproduced innumerable times over by the corporate media - that the United States government is committed to promoting democracy. If one escapes from this through-the-looking-glass State Department propaganda even for a moment, one finds that its“democracy promotion” policy persistently uses the tools of neocolonialist intervention to nourish anti-democratic forces almost everywhere in Latin America.

That is true in the case of the murderous separatists in Bolivia, the embittered oligarchies in Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru and too of their coup-mongering counterparts in Central America. In Colombia and Mexico, US military aid props up hopelessly corrupt regimes committed to vicious wholesale repression against indigenous peoples, human rights activists, trades unionists and community leaders. The credibility gap of the United States among the great majority of people in Latin America is almost unbridgeable.

The twin assertion accompanying fake US “democracy promotion” is its grifting twin, the pernicious myth of free market economic prosperity. The irrefutable reality now is that unregulated corporate monopoly capitalism has destroyed the US economy, creating mass unemployment and recalcitrant stagnation likely to last perhaps a decade or more. The very same intellectual class that oversaw that debacle are still, even now in the middle of their comprehensive systemic failure, vociferously proclaiming the wondrous benefits of free market prosperity to Latin America.

The counterfactual corollary of the manifestly absurd idea that the United States promotes democracy and economic prosperity in Latin America is that its antagonists, like Venezuela, must do the opposite. Venezuela and its allies are therefore cast as malevolent, comically incompetent adversaries deliberately acting to deny freedom and prosperity to the region's peoples. The most cursory look at the record speaks otherwise.

Decades of credit and aid channelled by the US and its allies to the region completely failed to provide energy and food security, significantly reduce illiteracy, provide adequate health care or radically improve access to credit for the excluded majority. Since 2004 it has been Venezuela and Cuba and their allies that have made a dramatic difference in all those areas. UNESCO confirmed last month that illiteracy has been eradicated in Nicaragua, for example. But still, disingenuous frauds like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dan Restrepo, Thomas Shannon, and Arturo Valenzuela repeat their completely implausible propaganda.

As a political class, their peers on the domestic economy have betrayed the well-being of the people of the United States for many years ahead. That political class and its representatives are just as false and crooked on foreign policy. Just about wherever they turn, they get things hopelessly wrong by sticking obtusely to discredited, patently counterfactual premises. In Latin America, those premises are definitively falsified, exposed as nonsense, by the adhesion of 20 countries with over 110 million people to Venezuelan-driven economic initiatives like Petrocaribe and ALBA.

As for the North American and European neocolonialist Left, on Nicaragua and on Iran they repeated the false imperialist line, insisting on spurious allegations of massive electoral fraud. On Honduras, they have dropped the issue almost as quickly as the mainstream corporate media has done. In practice, at a fundamental level, they are almost completely irrelevant to the efforts of the impoverished majority in Latin America to achieve decisive change.

Central America - fitting up the facts

Many writers have noted the damning contrast between the media-political outrage about the young Iranian woman murdered in Teheran and the almost total indifference to the murder of Isis Obed Murillo in Tegucigalpa. One might also contrast coverage of human rights abuses in Iran and the long term non-reporting of security force-related murders and violations in Colombia or Mexico. For many people in Latin America, the juxtaposition of the events in Iran with those in Honduras has been compelling – and entirely unfavourable both to the United States government and the corporate media in general. CNN's abysmally partisan reporting on Honduras seems to have been truly eye-opening for large numbers of previously relatively uncritical viewers in Latin America.

Across the political spectrum in the Western Bloc countries of the United States and its allies, comment and analysis turned mainly around two non sequiturs that defined coverage of the coup in terms imposed by the coup regime's powerful supporters. Firstly, almost all writers persistently referred to Manuel Zelaya as a “leftist”. Secondly, they all insisted on the non-issue of re-election as some kind of explanation for the coup.

Manuel Zelaya has never talked about nationalizing the means of production in Honduras. It is an extremely tendentious stretch of the imagination to describe him as a socialist. So what do those descriptions of him as a “leftist” refer to? When Manuel Zelaya sought help in Washington to ease the energy and food security problems his government faced, he was rebuffed by the United States government. His case presents yet one more example of counter-productive United States foreign policy using a self-exculpatory cliché to justify categorical failure.

Zelaya's public policy trajectory, ever since his time as a government functionary coordinating post-Hurricane Mitch reconstruction, has been one of trying to improve conditions for his country's impoverished majority. His case shows we have reached a point where a broad spectrum of opinion from right to left, glibly defines decisive action to reduce poverty as being “leftist”. Delivering basic rights to health care and education is now “leftist”.

Ensuring access for the impoverished majority to affordable credit is now “leftist”. Worrying about how to stimulate small and medium scale agricultural production is “leftist”. Guaranteeing food and energy security is “leftist”. But not one of those policies would look out of place anywhere in currently dominant public policy in North America or Western Europe.

The kind of logic that considers such unhelpful use of “leftist” as an adjective applicable to someone like Manuel Zelaya hollows out words, turning them into meaningless shells. Users of those shells – like Barack Obama - shuffle them around the screen to confuse the onlooking public. Such corrupt use of language narrows possibilities of understanding down to the blinkered avenues so carefully, neatly and deceitfully laid out by shifty corporate media propaganda originators like the Center for American Progress.

Despite the kind of euphoric rhetoric Zelaya may occasionally use to encourage or perhaps seduce parts of his national audience, in practice his decisions have been those of a nationalist centrist-perhaps-social-democrat very much in the mould of Ramon Villeda Morales, another reforming Honduran president overthrown by a military coup in 1963. Framing Zelaya more fully in a perspective that includes his own political biography as well as relevant history from the last fifty years makes “leftist”, when applied to him, look like the cheap disposable tag it is.

Likewise, the issue of re-election has always been a complete non sequitur. If Zelaya wanted to run for re-election the earliest he could possibly do so would be 2013, even if a Constituent Assembly were to take place. But still, writers across the political spectrum insisted on treating the re-election issue as if it were highly relevant to the coup in some sense other than as a baseless pretext. It was the combination of “leftist seeks re-election” that allowed the corporate media to play down the viciousness of the decisive rupture of democratic norms in Honduras that has so shocked most of Latin America. The Honduran coup instigators condemned a non-binding consultative vote as undemocratic - quite stunning nonsense.

The Obama administration was left behind by that broad continental reaction for the fundamental reason that they do, after all, support the aims of the coup leaders. Those aims are several and interlocking. One is to prevent democratic participation by the impoverished majority in decisions that affect their chances of a decent life for themselves and their families.

Such participation would end the corrupt oligarchic elite's feudal stranglehold on the country's resources, enabling a decisive redistribution in favour of the majority. Another aim is to defend United States domination and military occupation of Honduras which is wholly concomitant to the seigneurial grip on political power of the country's tyrannical oligarchy. Self-evidently, those aims have absolutely nothing to do with “promoting democracy”.

Ends unknown in their beginning

Last night, Manuel Zelaya gave the coup-leaders an ultimatum, effectively calling the Obama administration's bluff on the farcical dialogue mediated by President Oscar Arias in Costa Rica. Sunday July 19th in Managua should see what for Central America may well be truly momentous declarations. As Fidel Castro wrote in the title of his recent analysis of events in Honduras – either the coup dies or Constitutions do. Why bother holding elections if governments can be elected de facto by a country's legislature?

From start to still undecided finish, the coup in Honduras has proven to be a defining moment in the historical development of the Americas. The United States government's slow, tepid condemnation of the coup barely masks its support for the coup leaders' aims. It has been the ALBA governments that have galvanized the region's governments to act against the coup regime. Inside Honduras, the coup has stirred nationwide resistance unknown since the great strike of 1954. Whatever the outcome, on current form the United States is now likely to be left even more isolated and discredited in the region than it was under George W. Bush.


toni writes for

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