In a throwback to the political upheaval and unrest of the 1980s, the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted by the military and flown to Costa Rica on Sunday. Coverage of Iran’s rigged election has dominated the airwaves for weeks, but western MSM has been largely silent about the Honduras coup — strange, since both countries have had long histories of U.S. intervention, and protestors in both countries face lethal force at the hands of a government military with extensive U.S. ties and questionable legitimacy.
So whose responsibility is it to get the struggles of our southern neighbors in the headlines? Ours, of course.
Here are five things you can do right now, to get educated and make a difference.
1. Educate yourself on the long history of United States relations with Honduras. While Obama has denounced the coup and has so far taken a stance of non-intervention, the U.S.’s involvement in Honduras dates back decades. In the last 80 years, the U.S. has set up shop in Honduras to cultivate banana plantations and exploit its workers, funneled money to train Nicaraguan counterinsurgency troops during the Iran Contra scandal, and, after the passing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, continues to exploit poor workers throughout the country in the form of maquilas. Although the U.S. government has denied having any role in the upheaval in Honduras, the U.S. has a sordid history of imperialism, colonialism and violating the sovereignty rights of countries where people of color live that would lead some to believe otherwise. In the case of Central America the U.S. as invaded and/or instigated civil wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama in the name of fighting communism.
2. Read Roberto Lovato’s analysis comparing and contrasting the Honduran coup to the Iranian elections, and his argument about how President Obama should deal with the overthrow.
The differences between Iran and Honduras are marked and clear in important ways: the M-16’s pointing at this very moment at the thousands of peaceful protesters are paid for with U.S. tax dollars and still carry a “Made in America” label; the military airplane in which they kidnapped and exiled President Zelaya was purchased with the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid the Honduran government has been the benefactor of since the Cold War military build-up that began in 1980’s; the leader of the coup, General Romeo Vasquez, and many other military leaders repressing the populace received “counterinsurgency” training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the infamous “School of the Americas,” responsible for training those who perpetrated the greatest atrocities in the Americas.
The very short version: Zelaya was attempting to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for another term in the upcoming November elections. The military answered with a violent overthrow, in the process illustrating who really rules the country. As the Brookings Institution wrote:
Now the Honduran military have responded in kind: an illegal referendum has met an illegal military intervention, with the avowed intention of protecting the constitution. Moreover, as has been so often the case, this intervention has been called for and celebrated by Zelaya’s civilian opponents. For the past week, the Honduran Congress has waxed lyrical about the armed forces as the guarantors of the constitution, a disturbing notion in Latin America. When we hear that, we can expect the worst. And the worst has happened. At the very least, we are witnessing in Honduras the return of the sad role of the military as the ultimate referee in the political conflicts amongst the civilian leadership, a huge step back in the consolidation of democracy.
During the turmoil, the capital of Tegucigalpa was on lock down, as electricity and water were shut off from homes. When The New York Times reported that it was the first military coup to take place in Central America since the end of the cold war, it sent chills down my spine to think that “left leaning, socialist” leaders will continue to be harassed and labeled as communists in a cold war mentality that dates back decades.
4. Join Latin America Solidarity Coalition’s campaign to stop U.S. foreign intervention in Honduras until Zelaya returns to the country, and to call for an investigation into the sanctions against the president.
5. Talk to your friends and educate others on how the politics of Honduras and Latin America are inextricably intertwined in the fortunes of the United States. Keep the story alive and continue following the limited news coming out of Honduras. The BBC and Democracy Now are two excellent English-language sources for up-to-date coverage.