Buried on page A23 of Sunday’s L.A. Times (7-26), an article says ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has set up camp on the Nicaraguan side of his country’s border with that neighboring state, hoping his family will be allowed to visit him there. Where, in the face of this continuing insult to democracy, is the USA? Where is the Obama Administration? Why has Secretary of State Clinton not flatly condemned this outrageous, illegal coup d’etat and demanded its end?
As recently as the Summit of the Americas on April 17th, President Obama inspired hope by pledging “that we seek an equal partnership” and promising “engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values.”
“We must not tolerate violence and insecurity,” he declared, adding “true security only comes with liberty and justice… bedrock values of the Inter-American charter.”
Yet today the Obama Administration quibbles about compromise. With whom? With which element of this assault on democracy do we share values?
This tragic situation takes me back to 1982 when, on a mission for Concern America, I delivered medical supplies to UNHCR camps in Honduras for refugees from the murderous governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. In those days Zelaya’s country, one of the poorest in Latin America, was referred to derisively as the U.S.S. Honduras because Reagan’s CIA used it as the base for their Contra war against Nicaragua’s dreaded Sandinistas.
It was clear then and on subsequent trips that the U.S., viewing everything through an anti-communist filter, had consistently aligned itself with the most violent, repressive and authoritarian forces in the region to the detriment of our standing in the world. We not only trampled our principles but did so in a way that made us hated and feared by people who yearned for nothing more than the freedom we claimed to embrace and champion.
Returning to Honduras in 2004 with the Center for International Policy to support Padre Andres Tamayo and his followers in their ‘Marcha Por La Vida’ (March for Life), we demanded an end to illegal logging and the resultant rape of the countryside. It was another rich but frustrating experience. Threats to Tamayo’s life (five environmentalists had already been murdered) and attempts to destroy the Marcha were foiled, but as inspiring as it was to walk with the good Padre, it was depressing to see that so little had changed over the years. The vast majority remained poor and powerless while the wealthy controlled business and dominated social and governmental decision-making, carefully coordinated with counterparts in North America.
Padre Tamayo’s popular movement struck a chord, however, and the effort we supported led to some progress in democratization, including the election of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales in 2006. And that year we returned to meet with President Zelaya and celebrate the establishment of Democracy Without Borders, a project of the Center for International Policy.
For all Zelaya’s ineptitude, his attempts at environmental protection and efforts to make economic changes that confer a degree of opportunity on the underprivileged made him anathema to those long in control of the levers of power. Last month, unable to accept his attempt at constitutional reform, they acted, forcing him out of the country at gunpoint and setting off a storm of protest from the people.
The coup, though fronted by Roberto Micheletti, the former head of Congress, is clearly the child of wealthy influence brokers and a power-hungry military. If successful, it promises the return of the bad old days and bodes ill for the region.
The UN General Assembly quickly condemned it, as did the Organization of American States, the European Union and heads of government in the region. How then do we understand the Obama Administration’s dawdling? Has the anti-communist filter been exchanged for a pro-business one?
Former Ambassador Robert White, now President of the Center for International Policy and an expert on the region, says the solution is simple: all Secretary Clinton need do is have U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens call a press conference in Tegucigalpa and, with the OAS representative at his side, read the OAS resolution and state that the return of President Zelaya is firm U.S. policy. Then he can stand back and “watch the coup regime unravel.”
Instead, Honduran citizens are dying in pro-democracy demonstrations and others are murdered or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Failing to restore a stolen presidency makes a mockery of Obama’s words at the Summit of the Americas. So what keeps Secretary Clinton from denouncing this theft of government and demanding the return of the elected president? Certainly her relationship with Lanny Davis, the well-connected DC lawyer who has been hired by the financiers of the coup to be their U.S. mouthpiece can’t supersede support for democratic rule… Can it?
Mike Farrell, author of “Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist” and “Of Mule and Man,” is spokesperson for Concern America and a member of the board of the Center for International Policy.