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Honduras: Obama's Achilles Heel or Wounded Knee?

Honduras: Obama's Achilles Heel or Wounded Knee?

By Julie Webb-Pullman

President Obama has come under considerable criticism for his administration’s equivocal response to the Honduras coup, leading many to question not only the role of the United States in the entire affair, but also Obama’s authority.

His defenders cite in his favour his abandonment of the ‘cowboy diplomacy’ of previous administrations, by leaving it to other actors, such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) and Costa Rican President Arias, to sort out the mess. But is this more indicative of a purported new direction in U.S. foreign policy, or of his administration’s capture by the right and his own increasing powerlessness?

The schism between Barack Obama and powerful players in his own administration, most clearly demonstrated by the contradictions between Obama’s statements and those of Hilary Clinton of the State Department, taken with the actions (or lack thereof) of the Southern Command, strongly suggest Honduras may not be the only scene of battle.

This schism is most obvious in Obama’s description of Honduras events as a coup and his support for President Zelaya’s return, while Hilary and her State Department, even yesterday, were still declining to describe them as such and have yet to call for the reinstatement of the legitimate president.

Scarier still, Hilary’s advisers include John Negroponte, notable for representing George W Bush at the U.N. and in Iraq, but most famous for his role as Ambassador to Honduras under the Reagan administration, and his participation in the eventually-disgraced provision of arms and funds to the Contras.[i]

The schism becomes a chasm when the Southern Command is considered. The United States has a very fine airstrip at the Soto Cano/Palmerola Air Base, with plenty of room to land the private jet President Zelaya returned in on 5th July. When the Honduran military blocked the landing in Tegucigalpa of the plane carrying the man Obama has described as “the legitimate President of Honduras” why didn’t Obama make Palmerola available to him?

Obama also claims to have suspended military aid to Honduras, yet the National Catholic Reporter tells us that not only do Honduran soldiers continue to trained at Fort Bennington (ex-School of the Americas, or SOA), but also that activities at the Soto Cano/Palmerola Air Base where the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Task Force-Bravo is stationed, haven’t paused for a minute. SOA Watch founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, in Honduras on a fact-finding mission, reported that "Helicopters were flying all around, and we spoke with the U.S. official on duty, a Sgt. Reyes about the US.-Honduran relationship. We asked him if anything had changed since the coup and he said no, nothing." [ii]

The relationship between the Southern Command, the SOA, and many of the Honduran coup leaders has been noted by several commentators. Linda Cooper and James Hodge reported that between 2001 and 2008 the SOA trained 431 Honduran officers. The general who overthrew Zelaya, Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, is a two-time graduate of SOA, and not the only SOA graduate linked to the current coup or employed by the de facto government.[iii] Since 2005 the Department of Defense has barred the release of the names of SOA trainees after it was revealed that the school had enrolled well-known human rights abusers. Obama may prefer, as Jerry Meldon suggests, “ never look backwards even when the history involves serious crimes”, but the Honduran people “...haven’t forgotten that during the Reagan era, the CIA and Argentine dirty warriors ran roughshod over their country. They also know that [de facto president] Roberto Micheletti’s [de facto] security adviser, Billy Joya, was a member of one of those Reagan-era death squads.” [iv]

Popular resistance in Honduras is strengthening by the day, and the people are demanding not only the return of their legitimate President, Manuel Zelaya, but also their right to participate meaningfully in the political life of their country by developing a constitution that enables them to do so.

Echoing Obama on the campaign trail, Teresa Reyes, Garifuna leader from Triunfo de la Cruz and current president of the Patronato told independent media on Monday, “Honduras has to create a change. We can't live a full life just favouring one political class in the country. There also has to be a change for those who have been dispossessed for centuries, for years, those who have been historically vulnerable and marginalized, that's what the constitutional assembly is about. We believe it is an opportunity for us that we have to take advantage of because it is giving us an opening to participate, because we have never had the opportunity to participate in decision-making in the country.”[v]

Obama’s position on Honduras is increasingly under attack, both from outside and within his own administration. Now more than ever he would clearly benefit from a backward glance. When President Carter came into power, he sacked and retired some of the far right military commanders, and embargoed arms sales. The coup in Honduras has given President Obama all the reasons he needs to clear the next generation of them out of the Southern Command and the Pentagon. Clinton, and the worms with so much wiggle-room in her ear, should be next in line.

Obama and Zelaya have more in common than perhaps he would like to admit. Both are facing revolts/insubordination from within the oligarchy and military, despite enjoying popular support.

In the words of the popular Latin American chant, “The people, united, will never be defeated,” and Hondurans are flocking to support the National Front Against the Coup.

Their victory might be quicker with a principled president, rather than a eunuch, in their back yard.

Zelaya is exercising his legitimate power - it's time Obama started exercising his.

[i] http://www.independent.couk/news/world/americas/democracy-hangs-by-a-thread-in-honduras-1752315.html
[iii] Others are: Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, head of the Honduran air force, who arranged to have Zelaya flown into exile; Gen. Nelson Willy Mejia Mejia, the newly appointed Director of Immigration, who a year after being awarded the U.S. Meritorious Service Medal, faced charges in connection with the infamous death squad, Battalion 3-16, for which he was an intelligence officer; Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, the Honduran army's top lawyer; Lt. Col. Ramiro Archaga Paz,the army's Director of Public Relations; Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, a two-time SOA graduate, and Minister of Security.


Julie Webb-Pullman (click to view previous articles) is a New Zealand based freelance writer who has reported about - and on occasion from - Central America for Scoop since 2003. Send Feedback to

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