Why Is Hillary OK With Honduran Death Squads?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

18 March 16

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/35818-why-is-hillary-ok-with-honduran-death-squads

Honduran assassination has deep American roots if not fingerprints

 

hen a Honduran death squad gunned down internationally-honored environmental activist Berta Caceres, 44, a retired teacher and mother of four, in her home on March 3, the media-filtered world as we know it took note, briefly, expressed some regret, provided little context, and moved on. The outcry from rest of the real world included demands from the UN, more than 20 U.S. Congress members, and hundreds of NGOs for an independent investigation of this political assassination [a 2014 letter from 108 congressmen to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for the U.S. to address human rights abuses in Honduras had little impact]. Now, in response to a similar request, the U.S. has sent FBI agents to help the Honduran government, whose first action was to detain the only witness, Gustavo Castro Soto, himself shot twice in the same attack (and still in Honduran custody two weeks later).

What our media-shielded world mostly did not note is that Honduras is one of the original banana republics, long open to corporate plunder under the protection of the U.S. government. Nor was there much attention to longstanding political corruption in Honduras with its “elected” puppet government and major American military presence. Also omitted generally was how Honduras has served as a main base of American military operations at least since the Reagan administration’s illegal and war-crime saturated war against Nicaragua in the 1980s. Several hundred U.S.Marines are deployed in Honduras with official missions to train Hondurans and fight the war on drugs (similar to the missions of 3,500 Marines in Peru and others elsewhere), consistent with U.S. military expansion in Central America during President Obama’s first term.

But how could any of this be relevant to the assassination of yet another Honduran activist defending human rights, defending the rights of indigenous people, defending the environment, or defending the Honduran majority against military repression? None of the people currently running for president have apparently thought it worth more than a passing comment at most, not even Bernie Sanders, whose vision of an America run by billionaires has long been a grotesque reality in oligarchical Honduras. Pretty much irrelevantly, Sanders did take a glancing swipe at Clinton’s relationship with Honduras (rated “Mostly True” by Politifact) during their March 9 debate:

One of the great human tragedies of recent years is children came from Honduras where there’s more violence than in any place in this country, and they came into this country…. And I said welcome these children into this country. Secretary Clinton said, send them back. [This omits Clinton’s lawyerly conditions for expatriation, but accurately characterizes her bottom line: “Send them back.”]

So why are Honduran children fleeing in the first place?

Perhaps the most interesting contextual aspect of the Berta Caceres assassination is that it’s an extension of American “engagement” in Honduras and provides a lucid paradigm of foreign policy as Hillary Clinton practices it.

On June 27, 2009, Honduras had a legitimately elected president, Manuel Zelaya, himself a multi-millionaire oligarch, who was accused of instigating a months-long power struggle over whether he could extend his term-limited presidency by democratic but constitutionally-challenged, nonviolent means. Zelaya denied this intent, saying he would leave office as scheduled in January 2010. His opposition, including the Congress, attorney general, and Supreme Court, were holding their own in June. Congress had begun to consider impeachment. The stated issue was apparently not the real issue.

In the mid-1970s, Zelaya’s father had been convicted for taking part in the massacre of at least 15 priests, students, and other protestors, killed by Honduran military forces. Victims’ bodies were burned, castrated, and otherwise mutilated. In 1980, Zelaya’s father was freed by an amnesty after less than two years of a 20-year sentence. Zelaya, during his rise to the presidency, was accused of embezzling all or part of a missing $40 million, but he was not prosecuted. He won the presidency in 2005 with 45.6% of the vote. Zelaya ran as a traditional Honduran conservative from the Liberal Party and seemed at first to be no great threat to the Honduran sense of order, control, and wealth distribution. The National Party accused the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of gross errors and contested Zelaya’s 3.4% margin of victory, only to concede the election ten days later.

Once in office, Zelaya started doing things that displeased the elites as well as the United States. He led Honduras to join ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba to promote social, political, and economic integration of Latin countries. Although the U.S. remained Honduras’s main trading partner, Zelaya pursued expanded trade with Oceania and Africa. His foreign policy included improving relations with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. This alienated Honduran business elites, as did his other initiatives, including: education for all children, subsidies to small farmers, lower bank interest rates, an 80% increase in the minimum wage, and numerous programs that reduced poverty by 10% in Honduras (one of the world’s poorer countries with a 62.8% poverty rate in 2014, substantially higher than when Zelaya was in office). For three years, Honduran mass media, owned by just six families (media concentration similar to the U.S.) provided little unbiased coverage, leading Zelaya to invoke a little-used law to force the media to carry government broadcasts.

U.S.-sanctioned military coup ended Honduran non-crisis

On June 28, 2009, Honduran military forces seized President Zelaya and took him to a nearby U.S. military base. From there, Zelaya was sent into exile in Costa Rica, setting off protests around the region and the world, including a UN General Assembly resolutionon June 30, with Zelaya present at the UN (in Washington, Obama officials refused to meet with him). The resolution, agreed to by consensus, unanimously condemned the coup and demanded immediate, unconditional restoration of democratically-elected President Zelaya. The U.S., by choosing not to block the consensus, managed to avoid voting for or against a resolution that condemned its own proxies’ actions.

In October 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement re-affirming the June resolution that “condemns the coup d’état in the Republic of Honduras that has interrupted the democratic and constitutional order and the legitimate exercise of power in Honduras.”

At least part of the explanation for U.S. duplicity was made clear in an email to Clinton from Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, saying that he planned on “calling the new SouthCom Commander to ensure a coordinated U.S. approach [since] we have big military equities in Honduras through Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano airbase.” Coincidentally or not, Shannon was in Honduras a week before the coup, consulting with the military and civilian groups later involved in the coup.

Given the longstanding, close, bi-partisan ties between U.S. and Honduran governments, especially their military establishments, it is all but inconceivable that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration, perhaps Obama himself, did not have at least some advance notice of (if not involvement in planning) the coup. How else does the Honduran military take a president at gunpoint and fly him to a U.S. military base only to be welcomed with open arms?

The Obama administration has never offered a credible, principled explanation for indirectly supporting and directly securing the Honduran coup. Early on, President Obama gave appropriate lip service to opposing the coup: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” By avoiding calling the transparent military coup a “military coup,” Obama avoided triggering an American law that would have imposed significant sanctions against Honduras and especially the Honduran military. Instead, the Obama administration applied only token sanctions, did little to resist Republican support for the coup government, maneuvered to take the issue out of public view, and acted as if the Honduran government’s investigation of itself was sufficient response. The point person in this exercise in anti-democracy was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who described her actions in her official autobiography “Hard Choices” (now out in paperback with the Honduran section scrubbed).

Hillary Clinton’s “diplomacy” whitewashed the military coup

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was excellently positioned to move the question of the Honduran military coup out of the potentially pro-democratic forum of the Organization of American States into more sheltered talks that included both Zelaya and his appointed successor, Roberto Micheletti Bain, who publicly offered to step down during the summer of 2009 on the condition Zelaya would not return to power. During that same period, Clinton received an email from Ann-Marie Slaughter, then director of policy planning at the State Department, strongly urging her to “take bold action … find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a position the administration had refused to take for the prior six weeks. Slaughter’s August 16 email added:

I got lots of signals last week that we are losing ground in Latin America every day the Honduras crisis continues; high level people from both the business and the NGO community say that even our friends are beginning to think we are not really committed to the norm of constitutional democracy we have worked so hard to build over the last 20 year [sic]. The current stalemate favors the status quo; the de facto regime has every incentive to run out the clock as long as they think we will have to accept any post-election government. I urge you to think about taking bold action now to breathe new life into the process and signal that regardless what happens on the Hill, you and the president are serious.

No such seriousness was forthcoming from the administration. Clinton, with no interference from Obama, played out the clock until bogus elections, held under the complete control of the coup government, could produce a result satisfactory to the U.S. The State Department kept negotiations alive among a variety of parties (including Zelaya and Micheletti) until it was effectively too late to have a meaningful democratic election. During September and October, Micheletti suspended five basic constitutional rights (including freedom of association, movement, speech, and personal liberty, as well as habeas corpus). On October 30, a joke of an “agreement” was announced by mediator and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. Under this agreement, Zelaya was to be reinstated, almost powerless, in the final weeks before the election, which would remain under the control of the coup government, and even this farce included its own poison pill: the requirement  that the Honduran Congress approve Zelaya’s temporary reinstatement. Not surprisingly, the agreement was never realized, in part because four days later, the U.S. said it would honor the coup government’s “elections” whether Zelaya was ever reinstated or not. So much for the restoration of democracy in Honduras under Secretary Clinton.

What good is an election that doesn’t confirm the power structure? 

The November 27 sham election held under the control of a “unity government” that included no constitutionally-legitimate members, was punctuated by police violence and widespread media censorship. The winner was Porfirio Lobo Sosa, another multi-millionaire agricultural oligarch, who had lost to Zelaya in 2009. In an election boycotted by numerous candidates and with a turnout 6% lower than 2005, Lobos won 56.6% of the vote. The result was rejected by Spain and 11 Latin American countries, but widely accepted by the U.S. and its allies – and got a hypocritically glowing gloss from Assistant Secretary Shannon in an email to Clinton aide Cheryl Mills that falsely hyped the voter turnout:

The turnout (probably a record) and the clear rejection of the Liberal Party shows our approach was the right one, and puts Brazil and others who would not recognize the election in an impossible position. As we think about what to say, I would strongly recommend that we not be shy. We should congratulate the Honduran people, we should connect today’s vote to the deep democratic vocation of the Honduran people, and we should call on the community of democratic nations (and especially those of the Americas) to recognize, respect, and respond to this accomplishment of the Honduran people….

As president, Lobo presided over the further descent of Honduras (literally “the depths”) into violence, chaos, and corruption. Political assassinations now run to the hundreds as Honduras has achieved the highest murder rate in the world. Lobo (and now his dubious successor) have nurtured a vicious but U.S.-friendly government that has allowed its country to grow so violent that Hondurans flee northward by the thousands, while those who stay behind to resist are murdered by the hundreds. The environmental organization Global Witness, which tracks assassinations of environmentalists worldwide, found Honduras the most dangerous country per capita for environmental activists.

Among Clinton’s foreign policy achievements, Honduras may or may not be more disastrous than Libya. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton assessed Honduras this way:

We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.

In retrospect, the “strategy” failed to restore order, ensured no free and fair elections, nor any legitimate election – but it did effectively legitimize a military coup undertaken in America’s interest (as in Haiti or Egypt – sorry, Madagascar).

Clinton’s record seems unknown only to Americans  

In a healthy democracy, one might expect candidates for president to challenge the one who actively supported a military coup that helped turn an impoverished country into an expanding charnel house. In the United States in 2016, the devastation produced by American foreign policy is an issue only for those who see it as inadequate. In the home countries, American depredation is not such a secret, least of all to those who resist it. In 2014, more than a year before her assassination, Berta Caceres named Clinton as one of the perpetrators of Honduran suffering (translated):

We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community – officials, the government, the grand majority – accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.[emphasis added]

Writing in The Nationhistorian Greg Grandin amplified what Caceres meant when she warned that Clinton policy “was going to be very dangerous.” Once the sham election installed a U.S.-compliant government, Honduras adopted Washington-sponsored terrorism and counterintelligence laws that criminalized political protest. Clinton’s policy consolidated the power of murderers, Grandin noted, and led to the murder of Caceres:

Well, that’s just one horror. I mean, hundreds of peasant activists and indigenous activists have been killed. Scores of gay rights activists have been killed. I mean, it’s just—it’s just a nightmare in Honduras. I mean there’s ways in which the coup regime basically threw up Honduras to transnational pillage. And Berta Cáceres, in that interview, says what was installed after the coup was something like a permanent counterinsurgency on behalf of transnational capital. And that was—that wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for Hillary Clinton’s normalization of that election, or legitimacy.

Of course, it was also Obama’s discreet blessing of a predator state that keeps Honduras bleeding. There’s blood enough for his hands as well as Clinton’s and all the apparatchiks at the White House and State Department who enthusiastically helped this enduring crime against humanity go down.

And now there is another victim that we know about among the hundreds still unknown. On March 15, another death squad (or perhaps the same one) shot a man four times in the face in his home. He was a member of the same indigenous people’s organization as Caceres (she is one of 14 members killed so far). He was Nelson Noe Garcia Lainez, 39, father of five and a community leader. His execution followed a violent government eviction of indigenous people from their homes because they were protesting the megadam project (Agua Zarca, funded in part by USAID) that would destroy their ancestral land.

The Associated Press reported, with profound but apparently unintended irony: “The United States Embassy condemned the killing, saying that ‘coming so close to the murder of his colleague Berta Cáceres, his death is cause for particular concern.’” So it would not be a cause for concern had it happened later?

When Latino USA asked if Clinton “is still proud of the hell she helped routinize in Honduras,” a Clinton spokesperson said criticism of Clinton’s Honduras policy “simply nonsense.” Clinton is not known to have expressed regret for any part of her Honduran activities, not even sending children back to hell. Running an empire ain’t for sissies.

 

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s