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24 September 2009 Edition

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Propping up a coup

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned to his country on 21 September nearly three months after being deposed in a military coup d’état. He sought refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa and hundreds of his supporters gathered outside. President Zelaya appeared on the balcony of the Brazilian Embassy waving to crowds of supporters.  Witnesses said a military helicopter flew overhead.  Shortly afterwards officials imposed a 15-hour curfew. Here Dara Mac Neill looks at the background to the coup and the US government response.

Many years ago Henry Kissinger provided a rather revealing insight into how Washington views the world, particularly its near neighbours in Latin America. Commenting on the bloody 1973 coup that murdered both President Salvador Allende and Chilean democracy and inaugurated decades of bloody terror in that country, honest Henry explained: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
Of course Henry was in a position to know, having orchestrated and organised the coup in his role as Secretary of State under President Nixon. It was Chile’s own September 11, taking place on that same date in 1973. However, unlike its more famous successor, that day in Chile simply marked the beginning of the terror, not its culmination: thousands were murdered and ‘disappeared’ just in the early months of the Pinochet regime. Thousands more met the same fate in the years that followed.
Honest Henry’s comments are instructive and make much of Latin America’s recent history explicable. But all that was supposed to have changed in January 2009, with the Obama administration promising a new engagement with the region. And, yes, the bellicose language of the Bush era is gone, the overt bullying too, along with the tired, shabby efforts to smear all opponents with the ‘narco’ label.
But on its biggest test to date – the restoration of democratic rule to Honduras – Washington has failed abysmally. It is now almost three months since a ragbag of reactionary elements ousted President Manuel Zelaya, physically removing him from the presidential palace in the early hours of June 28 and ‘deporting’ him to Costa Rica.
The ‘interim’ regime in Tegucigalpa has imposed martial law and disappeared so-called ‘dissidents’ – in fact it is the illegal regime which is dissident. It is recognised by no country on earth and has been expelled by the Organisation of American States – ironically the first such country to meet this fate since Cuba, in 1962. Brazilian President Lula gave voice to the feelings of the region, stating that “we cannot compromise” on Zelaya’s restoration.
Faced with such remarkable unanimity, Washington has made the right noises but, strangely, insists on retaining its ambassador in the country,  an example that no other nation or international body has chosen to follow. And unusually, given the time that has passed, the US Government has yet to formally determine that a military coup d’état occurred in Honduras. Its officials do talk of a coup d’état – but pointedly neglect its military aspect (despite it being led by an army general trained in the US).
The distinction is subtle, but crucial. Where it is determined that a military coup has taken place, the US is legally obliged to cut off all aid and funding. Instead Washington aid dollars still flow south to prop up an illegal coup regime.
The World Bank has stopped lending to Honduras, as has the InterAmerican Development Bank, as has the Central American Bank of Economic Integration, while the EU suspended some $90 million in aid.
Interestingly, one of the largest sources of US aid is a body called the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an official body whose board chair is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While the MCC claims it has cut aid, it admits that it continues to pay monies to which it is ‘contractually committed’ – despite the fact that any such contracts would have been drawn up with the legitimate government of Zelaya, not the  illegal one now in office. Indeed, since 28 June the MCC has disbursed over $10 million and is ‘contractually committed’ to a further $100 million, over the next 15 months.
And then in early September it was announced that the International Monetary Fund – a body reviled across the world as the Institute for Misery & Famine – had loaned the illegal coup regime $150 million, and planned to loan a further $14 million. It is simply not conceivable or plausible that such a significant disbursement of funds would have occurred without Washington’s knowledge, if not its support.
None of the above adds up to change, much less a change we can believe in. There are some who speculate that Washington’s obsession with ‘containing’ Hugo Chavez lies behind its less than sterling efforts in support of democracy.
How else to interpret the remarks of one Philip Crowley, a senior apparatchik at the US State Department, who followed in the tradition of Honest Henry when he opined:
“We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.”
Some people will never learn.


Cuba lost a hero this week, with the passing of Juan Almeida Bosque, at the age of 82. Almeida was one of revolutionary Cuba’s ‘founding fathers’ having joined the fight against Batista at an early stage. Indeed, he was among the small number that participated in the July 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, the event which launched the Cuban revolutionary war. Almeida was also among those exiled to Mexico in the wake of the attack, where Che Guevara joined their ranks. From Mexico, a force of 82 journeyed back to Cuba in 1956 to re-launch the campaign. The force was ambushed upon landing and only 16 survived; Almeida among their number. During that attack it was  Almeida who is credited with issuing the injunction that “no one here gives up.” They didn’t and three years later they entered Havana victorious. Juan Almeida was one of the few to bear the official title Commander of the Revolution.

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