"Why haven't there been attempted coups in Washington DC? Because there's no
US Embassy there." -- Joke told by Chilean journalist to President Obama during President
Michelle Bachelet's White House visit.
In 1954, conservative Dwight Eisenhower authorized the CIA to overthrow Guatemala's government, modeled on a 1953 "regime change" in Iran. In 1964-65, liberal Lyndon Johnson authorized coup d'etats in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. Dominicans resisted; Johnson sent in troops.
In September 1970, conservative National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon disapproved of the government Chileans had elected. They decided to alter Chilean destiny by replacing Dr. Salvador Allende's democratic government with 17 years of military fascism, 1973-90.
In the post-Cold War world, such flummery became laughable. Washington thus faced an apparent dilemma: direct policy toward law and human rights or continue collaborating with military thugs. National security officials tried to finesse this impasse with a new blueprint, a façade that would perpetuate Latin American oligarchs and satisfy US corporations and banks linked to local elites.
In 2002, the first test came when US-backed military officers kidnapped Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But unforeseen opposition arose inside the Venezuelan military; masses of Venezuelans took to the streets. The coup failed.
Washington continued ranting against the "undemocratic" Chavez without mentioning his five successive victories -- since 1998 -- in internationally supervised elections. Chavez' government won because it directed its energy toward meeting basic needs, despite middle and upper class opposition.
In 2004, in test two, the State Department "to protect" Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, helped his kidnappers. Following the Venezuela model, the Haitian plotters fabricated a "resignation letter." It worked.
In June, the third coup test began. Military thugs kidnapped Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Civilian plotters faked his letter of resignation. The Honduran Supreme Court provided legal cover by ordering Zelaya's arrest -- not kidnapping and deportation -- for violating the Constitution. A 2009 State Department Human Rights Report had characterized that Court as issuing "politicized rulings" and contributing "to corruption in public and private institutions."
All three 21st Century coups followed traditional US policy in Latin America. Oppose change that helps the poor. Presidential re-election becomes "constitutional" when aspiring Latin American candidates serve local ruling class and Washington interests as in Colombia and Costa Rica. Otherwise, they remain sacred, no matter what they actually say about democracy.
Mind-numbing discussions of "legally authorized behavior" have omitted reference to conditions in Honduras. A 2003 report showed the richest 10 percent still netted 50 times more than the poorest 10th. 86.3% of the Honduran rural population lived in poverty; 71.3% of urban dwellers qualified as poverty-stricken.
A 2006 United Nations Development Program described Honduras as "suffering from
profound social inequalities, with very high levels of poverty, and with an insufficient economic growth where the population had a relative dissatisfaction with the results of democracy." 15% of rural Hondurans have a 40 years or less life expectancy; 20.4% of the adults remain illiterate. The UNDP concluded that "the time for change is now."
Until Zelaya tried to incorporate democracy into the governing equation, Honduras' elite with US banking and corporate backing, exercised a seemingly perfect recipe: people vote but don't change anything. Congress and Courts belong to the rich and powerful who also control the military in cooperation with the Pentagon. Washington provided aid. The School of the Americas trained Honduran officers.
For Zelaya, the UNDP Report coincided with a brutal fact. Switzerland and Honduras each have 7 million people. Swiss yearly average income is $53 thousand; Hondurans $2K. When Zelaya began to act on his "obligation" to meet peoples' needs the rich in Tegucigalpa and some of the powerful of Washington reacted: a coup. This déjà vu experience to millions of Latin Americans changed, however, when the OAS voted to reject the "de facto" government. One hundred and ninety two countries also refused to recognize the "putschists."
Coup defenders like the Honduran Catholic and Protestant hierarchy and right wing anti-Castroites of Miami applauded the "rescue of Honduras from the claws of Chavism."
The polarized drama descended toward farce, however, when Costa Rican President Oscar Arias did not arrest the kidnappers, impound their military plane and demand the surrender of the illegitimate gang in Tegucigalpa. Instead, he allowed them to return. No high official or mainstream reporter has yet suggested Arias aided and abetted a kidnapping and coup even when Collaborator Arias became Mediator Arias.
Twenty years ago, Arias refused to allow US bases in Costa Rica for its illicit war against
Nicaragua. His one act of "disobedience" won him a Nobel Prize. Since then, he has shown loyalty to Washington's and Wall Street policies.
Arias followed US dictates by not befriending Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro or any serious "change" talker. Zelaya disobeyed. Washington, faced with a unanimous OAS, formally disapproved of the coup. But Secretary Clinton wouldn't call it a coup and proposed that Zelaya return with "reduced powers." She wanted a coalition government to further weaken him and no punishment for the coup-maker. This plan would also cost Zelaya control of the Honduran military.
Clinton's formula calls for early elections, a phenomenon US Presidents hail -- when they benefit US interests. Elected governments helping the poor and reducing US corporate interests beget US-backed coups. Washington insists they obey term limits and abide by their Constitution which State Department officials have apparently not read.
- U.S. Department of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Honduras. February 25, 2009.
- J. MacDonald, Expresión de la pobreza en la ciudad, Reunión Grupo de Expertos sobre Pobreza Urbana en America Latina y el Caribe, 27-28 de Enero 2003, p 4-5.