Spoiling Manuel Zelaya's Homecoming
The US should not stand by while
the coup government in Honduras brutally cracks down on Manuel
by Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic
www.truthout.org/, September 23,
Now that Manuel Zelaya has returned to
Honduras, the coup government - after first denying that he was
there - has unleashed a wave of repression to prevent people from
gathering support for their elected president.
This is how US secretary of state Hillary
Clinton described the first phase of this new repression Monday
night in a press conference: "I think that the government
imposed a curfew, we just learned, to try to get people off the
streets so that there couldn't be unforeseen developments."
But the developments that this dictatorship
is trying to repress are very much foreseen. A completely peaceful
crowd of thousands surrounded the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa,
where Zelaya has taken refuge, to greet their president. The military
then used the curfew as an excuse to tear-gas, beat and arrest
the crowd until there was nothing left. There are reports of scores
wounded and three dead. The dictatorship has cut off electricity
and water to the embassy and cut electricity to what little is
left of the independent media, as well as some neighbourhoods.
This is how the dictatorship has been
operating. It has a very brutal but simple strategy.
The strategy goes like this: they control
the national media, which has been deployed to convince about
30-40% of the population that their elected president is an agent
of a foreign government who seeks to turn the country into a socialist
prison. However, that still leaves the majority, who have managed
to find access to other information.
The strategy for dealing with them has
been to try to render them powerless - through thousands of arrests,
beatings and even some selective killings. This has been documented,
reported and denounced by major human rights organisations throughout
the world: Amnesty International, the Centre for Justice and International
Law, Human Rights Watch, the Inter American Commission on Human
Rights and others.
One important actor, the only major country
to maintain an ambassador in Honduras throughout the dictatorship,
has maintained a deafening silence about this repression: the
US government. The Obama administration has not uttered one word
about the massive human rights violations in Honduras.
This silence by itself tells you all you
need to know about what this administration has really been trying
to accomplish in the nearly three months since the Honduran military
squelched democracy. The Obama team understands exactly how the
coup government is maintaining its grip on power through violence
and repression. And Barack Obama, along with his secretary of
state, has shown no intention of undermining this strategy.
In fact, Zelaya has been to Washington
six times since he was overthrown, but not once did he get a meeting
with Obama. Why is that? Most likely because Obama does not want
to send the "wrong" signal to the dictatorship, ie that
the lip service that he has paid to Zelaya's restoration should
be taken seriously.
These signals are important, because the
Honduran dictatorship is digging in its heels on the bet that
they don't have to take any pressure from Washington seriously.
They have billions of dollars of assets in the US, which could
be frozen or seized. But the dictatorship, for now, trusts that
the Obama team is not going to do anything to hurt their allies.
Luz Mejias, the head of the Organisation
of American States' Inter-American Human Rights Commission, had
a different view of the dictatorship's curfew from that of Hillary
Clinton. She called it "a clear violation of human rights
and legal norms" and said that those who ordered these measures
should be charged under international criminal law.
What possible excuse can the military
have for breaking up this peaceful gathering, or can Clinton have
for supporting the army's violence? There was no way that this
crowd was a threat to the Brazilian embassy - quite the contrary.
If anything it was protecting the embassy. That is one reason
why the military attacked the crowd.
On 11 August, 16 members of the US Congress
sent a letter to Obama urging him to "publicly denounce the
use of violence and repression of peaceful protesters, the murder
of peaceful political organisers and all forms of censorship and
intimidation directed at media outlets." They are still waiting
for an answer.
Some might recall what happened to Bill
Clinton when his administration sent mixed signals to the dictatorship
in Haiti in 1994. Clinton had called for the dictator Raul Cedras
to step down so that the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide could be restored. But Cedras was convinced - partly
because of contradictory statements from administration officials
like Brian Latell of the CIA - that Clinton was not serious.
Even after Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell
and then-senator Sam Nunn were sent to Haiti to try to persuade
Cedras to leave before a promised US invasion, the dictator still
did not believe it. In September 1994, Clinton sent 20,000 troops
to topple the dictatorship and restore the elected president (who
ironically was overthrown again in 2004, in a US-instigated coup).
By now, the coup government in Honduras
has even less reason than the 1994 Haitian dictatorship to believe
that the Obama team will do anything serious to remove it from
What a horrible, ugly message the Obama
administration is sending to the democracies of Latin America,
and to people who aspire to democracy everywhere.