The Significance of Washington’s Coup Attempt in Honduras

Shamus Cooke

There should be no doubt about the U.S. decisive role behind the now-crumbling military coup in Honduras. As commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, the blame for this intervention lies solely on President Obama.

The White House, however, would like you to believe that they attempted to convince the Honduran military not to intervene.

Rubbish.

When it comes to the Honduran military, the U.S. government needn’t ask permission for anything. The decades long relationship between the two institutions is one of dependence — Honduras’ military has long been financed and trained by the U.S. The New York Times explains:

“The two nations have long had a close military relationship, with an American military task force stationed at a Honduran air base about 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa. The unit focuses on training Honduran military forces, counternarcotics operations, search and rescue, and disaster relief missions throughout Central America.” (June 28, 2009)

And from Latin American expert Eva Gollinger:

“The US Military Group in Honduras trains around 300 Honduran soldiers every year, provides more than $500,000 annually to the Honduran Armed Forces and additionally provides $1.4 million for a military education and exchange program for around 300 more Honduran soldiers every year.”

This year U.S. aid to Honduras was $43 million. It is utterly unimaginable that the Honduran military would act against the wishes of the hemisphere’s military and economic superpower.

In fact, the chief military leader of the Honduran coup — Joint Chief of Staff Romeo Orlando Vasquez Velasquez — lived and was trained at the notorious School of Americas (SOA), a U.S. military base that trains Latin American military officers to act in the best interests of United State’s corporations. It is no coincidence that another coup leader — Air Force head Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo — is also an SOA graduate. When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya realized that Vasquez was acting against him, he fired the general — the rest of the military chiefs resigned in protest; and the coup was on.

The highly conservative Honduran Supreme Court then gave the military the “legal” cover it needed to pursue the coup, a fact the U.S. media uses to justify the events.

The reason for the coup lies in President Zelaya’s recent foreign policy shift — away from the United States towards Venezuela and the rest of Latin America. This turn was the result of the United States largely ignoring Honduras, after a long lasting, villainous relationship had ended: the U.S. had, for years, funneled large amounts of cash and arms to the Honduran government to kill the regions political leftists, the high point being the regions turbulent 1980’s.

After Zelaya was elected in 2006 (he still has one year left in his term), he promised to shift Honduras’ politics toward helping the poorer segments of society. He realized that he could not achieve any of his promises with the scant amount of aid from the U.S. and looked instead to the Latin American trade association, ALBA. Zelaya explained: “I have been looking for projects from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Europe, and I have received very moderate offers … that forces us to find other forms of financing like ALBA.” (Reuters, April 26, 2008)

The U.S. government did not like this move, since it prefers U.S. banks to dominate the economies of Latin American countries. The New York Times confirms:

“…[Washington’s] relations with Mr. Zelaya…had recently turned colder because of the inclusion of Honduras in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA, a leftist political alliance led by Venezuela.” (June 28, 2009)

Nearly all of the U.S. media’s writing about the Honduran coup is littered with negative references to Hugo Chavez, the “socialist project,” and other buzzwords meant to influence the reader toward acceptance of the coup.

For example:

“…[Zelaya] has the support of labor unions and the poor. But the middle class and the wealthy business community fear he wants to introduce Mr. Chávez’s brand of socialist populism into the country, one of Latin America’s poorest.” (New York Times, June 28, 2009)

Obama himself did nothing of substance to stop the coup. After it was announced, Obama was merely “deeply concerned” about the events in Honduras, but his vague comments about “dialogue” and respecting “legal procedures” were full of loopholes — big enough for a coup to squeeze through. International pressure later forced Obama to use harsher language against the Honduran military, but his actions didn’t mirror the rhetoric.

If Obama immediately refused to recognize the newly installed coup government in Honduras, while threatening to withdraw U.S. military and financial aid — along with the U.S. ambassador — the coup would dissolve in seconds. Strong actions like these, however, were completely absent.

Eva Gollinger comments:

“I think a clear coup d’etat against a democratic government that also happens to be a major dependent on U.S. economic and political aid should provoke a more firm and concise statement by the US Government.”

Such a statement did come not only from the General Assembly of the United Nations, but from the formerly U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS). Both organizations are refusing to recognize the new coup government in Honduras and are demanding the return of Zelaya. This is a big blow to Washington, who in better times could rely on the OAS and U.N. to turn a blind eye to a U.S.-sponsored coup, such as the one in Haiti in 2004.

Now, however, the OAS has largely broken from the U.S. stranglehold, emboldened by the independent path taken by numerous Latin American countries, especially Venezuela.

And this is the broader motive for the coup. The U.S. banks and other corporations that once dominated Latin America are being quickly pushed aside, so that governments may use their country’s wealth for social services and real economic development — not foreign for-profit plunder.

The U.S. coup attempt in Honduras is thus a sign of desperation. It was also a huge gamble. Obama had hoped that the U.N. and OAS would let this one slide. It was also hoped that the Honduran people would be intimidated by martial law and a communications blackout. Neither was the case.

Huge protests have defied the military-ordered curfew. Latin American countries have united in defiance of a tyrannical U.S. policy. It is reported that these happenings are causing splits in the Honduran military, while also a general strike was being prepared by the nation’s trade unions.

In consequence, the coup is likely to crumble, and Obama’s first attempt to re-tame Latin America will have failed. The actions of the U.N. and OAS are striking examples of the shrinking international influence of the U.S., meaning that future interventions — both military and economic — are likely to be more direct to restore U.S. hegemony. Obama’s more subtle attempts to uphold U.S. “influence” in the world will ultimately require blunter, Bush-like tactics.

If the Honduran coup fails, Obama will eloquently discuss how pleased he is that “democracy was restored” — while refusing to admit that he tried to kill it.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at portland@workerscompass.org