América Held Hostage: Day Two of the Coup in Honduras
By Al Giordano
During the 2002 coup in Venezuela by an alliance of military generals, corporate media, that country's disgraced political class and the Bush administration in Washington, our colleague (and victorious codefendant) Mario Menéndez Rodríguez spoke some words to me that I've never forgotten:
"You will know the true character of a person by his actions during an hour of moral crisis."
As the coup-plotters in Honduras (similarly of a military-media-political class alliance, but this time without the support of Washington) enter their second day of temporary power with the rejection of the entire hemisphere and planet upon them, and the inconformity of the Honduran people (who defied martial law last night to erect barricades in the streets and otherwise resist the coup), we can observe "the true character" of various media and political voices across the political spectrum.
Let's start with the "newspaper of record," the New York Times, which in 2002 at first editorialized in praise of the Venezuelan coup, only to be forced to publish an unprecedented correction and apology (in large part urged by an email campaign sparked by readers of Narco News) for its initial anti-democratic position.
This time, the Timesmen are more circumspect, acknowledging that there was indeed a coup d'etat in Honduras, but they're having a very hard time wrapping their Columbia School of Journalism-addled brains around the reality that Washington is on the same page as Caracas and the rest of the hemisphere's democracies in opposing the coup. In what is billed as a "news analysis," titled "Rare Hemisphere Unity in Assailing Honduran Coup," Simon Romero, who holds the Gray Lady's Juan Forero seat in defense of oligarchies, Romero tries to come to grips with the new geopolitical realities of our América. He almost pulls it off, but then the fangs come out:
And while governments in the region may reject military ousters much more easily than, say, the civilian demonstrations that forced democratically elected leaders to resign earlier this decade in Argentina and Bolivia, the Obama administration has also shifted the way in which Washington reacts to such events.
In other words, Romero equates mostly peaceful acts of civil resistance by societies with those of violent military coups d'etat if social movements cause the resignation of a president. The means mean nothing, to Romero, compared to the ends. (There were, in the United States in 1974, a certain similar group of crazies that thought President Nixon's resignation was akin to a coup, too.) In those words is Romero's "tell," in poker terms, of how exasperating he finds this situation. It's unfamiliar to him, and to so many, that Washington would, for the first time, side against an oligarchic coup in Latin America. The only handle of hope Romero can grasp onto now is to try and lump nonviolent civil resistance (what the US Constitution calls "redress of grievances") of the kind that has changed our América for the better in recent years in with the violent actions of military gorillas at the bidding of the upper classes.
That the New York Times struggles bombastically to adjust to new realities shouldn't surprise anyone. Big, lumbering and bureaucratic institutions, including those in the corporate media, don't adapt well to change and consider it instinctually as threatening.
But there has also been a very similar dynamic in response to the new reality from some corners of the left (this is very similar to - in some cases overlapping with - responses we recently covered to the crisis in Iran, too).
Over just 24 hours, we have seen certain colleagues first claim that if there is a coup in Latin America, Washington must be behind it. Then when Washington - in contrast to the Bush administration's cheerleading reaction to the 2002 coup in Venezuela - rejected the coup plotters' scam that the removed president had "resigned," that line of critique began moving the goal posts. Okay, some said, Washington says it opposes the coup but it hasn't denounced it strongly enough!
They sound like John McCain scolding the Obama administration for not denouncing the regime in Iran with sufficient testosterone.
My point is this: Look at Simon Romero's spin in the NY Times, and deduce where it is coming from: He is fundamentally uncomfortable with a situation in which an overreaching oligarchy in Latin America can't count on Washington for support of its violent coup against a left-leaning government. And in some corners of the left, there are counterparts to Romero that have the exact same unease, only from an equal and opposite direction.
For years we (this newspaper included) have justifiably denounced it when US foreign policy got out ahead of the democratic aspirations of Latin Americans and began dictating what other countries should do through tough talk and open blackmail. Such "cowboy diplomacy" was inherently anti-democratic and imperialistic.
Today, when Washington has taken the opposite stance, there are some misguided voices that express upset with that, too. First, because they are deprived of the same easy-to-navigate script that has allowed them to drive on automatic pilot for so many years. It's confusing to some to have to navigate new terrain, even if it is improved terrain. Second, without the bogeyman of Washington to blame as the root of all evil in the hemisphere, they are at an exasperated loss for an enemy to demonize. (One would think that the Honduran oligarchy, or the capitalist system, alone would be a sufficiently bad actor to cast in the role of devil - indeed, they are the source of this coup d'etat - but for some it appears to involve too much heavy lifting to educate and inform the public of that reality.) They seem surprisingly nostalgic for the old Uncle Sam as the villain in every movie.
I should add that Washington's clear opposition to the coup plotters in Honduras - and its unambiguous stance that it will not recognize any president other than the elected one, Manuel Zelaya - is immensely demoralizing to the Honduran oligarchy and its own cast of upper class esqualidos, or "squalid ones."
Since demoralizing the enemy is one of the first rules of battle, one would think that all intelligent opponents of the coup would find this development - Washington's clear rejection of the coup - very satisfying, for it will speed the collapse of the coup. Reading the "oh noes" Twitter comments from coup defenders, their heads exploding over Obama's opposition to their coup, should be gratifying enough. But some are so addicted to the comfort of the past roadmap that they fail to think strategically about how this coup will be dismantled most quickly and bloodlessly.
Complaints that Washington hasn't acted fast enough to denounce the Honduran coup are silly and ignorant on the face of them. The Obama administration has already acted faster - in a single day - than the Organization of American states acted when it denounced the 2002 coup in Venezuela. In fact, Washington was very much involved in yesterday's OAS statement, which it endorsed.
One can in fact read in the transcript of yesterday's conference call with "two senior administration officials" (since I wasn't party to the call I've made no agreement not to note that they sound a lot like Thomas Shannon and Dan Restrepo, the latter of whom did most of the talking) that the US was out in front of the OAS as an organization, and participated positively in steering it toward its unanimous statement.
These are exact quotes from those senior officials. And while no reporter should ever take the words of any official as gospel, these refer to a collective process with other OAS governments that, had they been untrue, would have already been denied by the other governments, including Venezuela, that also worked together on the OAS statement rejecting the coup. Therefore, astute observers can be certain that they offer an accurate recount of events of the past 24 hours:
"...we’ve been working in the OAS Permanent Council towards a consensus resolution that will condemn the effort to depose President Zelaya of Honduras, calling for his return to Honduras and for full restoration of democratic order. Although that resolution is not done yet, but I think it shows how quickly the OAS under the leadership of a variety of key countries, the United States included, has responded to this event and how relevant the OAS, and in particular the Inter-American Charter, has been in determining how the OAS and the regional countries respond to this kind of event..."
In other words, rather than come out blasting with "cowboy diplomacy," Bush-style, Washington sought and found consensus with the other nations of the hemisphere. This is unprecedented, and is to be cheered. It is also a more effective path to more quickly dismantle the coup. When the US and Venezuela, among other nations, can come to agreement on a unified strategy via the OAS, that strategy is going to be more effective than merely having a US president shoot from the hip, given the long bad history of US meddling in Latin America's sovereign affairs.
The senior US officials also said:
"It’s profoundly regrettable that that was not the case and that this morning the military moved against President Zelaya, detaining him, and then expelling him from the country to Costa Rica. As noted, we’ve condemned this action. We view President Zelaya as the constitutional president of Honduras, and we’ve called for a full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. And we will continue to work with our partners in the OAS and elsewhere to ensure that that happens...
"...our ambassador in a public press conference called for the release of all officials who have been detained, demanding that Honduran authorities release them immediately...
"We have been attempting to communicate with especially members of congress and others who have been driving this process, and insisting that they need to step down and restore full democratic and constitutional order....
"We recognize Mel Zelaya as the democratically elected and constitutional president of Honduras. We see no other...
"I believe the word 'coup' will be used in the OAS resolution. And I would certainly characterize a situation where a president is forcibly detained by the armed forces and expelled from a country an attempt at a coup. We – I mean, we still see him as the constitutional president of Honduras. So it was an attempt at a coup. We don’t think it was successful...
"...once the forces that have conducted this act in Honduras recognize and understand how isolated they are and how committed the region is to restoring democratic order, that they’ll see they have no choice but to do so...
"...it was the armed forces that detained the president today and expelled him from the country. But as we’re seeing now with the naming of an interim president by the congress, this was an effort that has included other political institutions..."
Some who complain that somehow those words aren't strong enough, or tough enough, or macho enough, are - really, they should look in the mirror and admit it - full of a kind of perverted and twisted line of thought that wishes the US would return to its bullying role in the hemisphere. (Again: Whether it's because they really don't understand that such unilateral meddling by Washington in Latin American affairs is what we're against, or because they don't know how to formulate a narrative without casting the US as the "chico malo" of the movie, it reveals their own vast shortcomings and weaknesses as strategists and tacticians more than it says anything about the current situation.)
Of course, what some will claim - again errantly - is that I'm merely being some kind of apologist for the Obama administration here. But no apology is needed nor given. I'll simply remind that when Obama policy toward Latin America is wrongheaded, as with its support for Plan Mexico and its Calderon regime - no news source has been more frequently critical of those Obama policies than Narco News. One need only browse the 436 instances in which we have criticized that harmful US policy regarding Mexico, to see that when Washington is wrong or harmful, we spare no punches and take a back seat to none of its critics. Not one of the poor souls that has made that claim, by the way, has done any heavy lifting at all in opposition to Plan Mexico; they're all talk, no action.
No, what I'm saying is that if we are to effectively dismantle the Honduras coup, we need to use an accurate road map of how that coup came to be and who is really behind it, just as we did when participating in the undoing of the 2002 Venezuela coup.
Inventing convenient untruths while doing that only muddies the waters. It also loses the credibility any publication or writer needs to have any impact at all. The public is not stupid. Most can see when one is trying to "fool the crowd" in a moment of crisis. It bears repeating the words of our colleague Mario, quoted atop these words: "You will know the true character of a person by his actions during an hour of moral crisis."
In this hour, those that adhere strictly to the documented facts are those that are showing character worth trusting, today and into the future. Others are squandering that credibility just as badly as NY Timesman Simon Romero fritters away his own. We leave it to the public to sort out the conflicting claims, and to the authentic coup opponents to draw the accurate roadmap that successfully defeats this anti-democratic and violent coup d'etat.