Gob-smacked

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CounterPunch.org

Dateline: July 3-5, 2009

While the American media try hard to ignore the Honduran coup, and Obama wishes for zero coverage, the plot remains on track but the outcome this time may be different.

By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

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President Zelaya: The jackals were given the green light. A litmus test for Obama’s rhetoric about Latin America, announcing a genuine “good neighbor” policy.

There’s no continent where the pwogwessive  “left” (I have to set this exhausted noun on the crutches of gloomy quotemarks) in the United States has entertained higher hopes of Obamian change from traditional U.S. thuggery than Latin America. This was a big constituency for Obama to allure last year. Radicals here in their senior decades have been rooting for Cuba ever since they cheered Fidel’s triumphant entry into Havana in 1959. Twenty-five years later in the late 70s and mid-80s the hottest issue for young people on the left in the US was the brutal and ultimately successful efforts of the US government in the Carter and Reagan years to crush revolutions in El Salvador and Nicaragua. To this day the “Hands off Central America”  movement of those years remains by far the most determined mobilization of the US left in the post Vietnam era.

Now, after six months, the desire among many of these  pwogs to believe that in the White House resides  Gob (Good Obama) rather than  Jaaap (Just Another Awful American President) is pitiful to behold. What, in Latin America, do they have to hang their hat on, regarding Gob’s actual performance? He’s maintaining the embargo on Cuba, pushing for the “free trade pacts” that have laid waste Latin American for a generation. He fondly embraces the vicious Uribe regime in Colombia.

The zig-zagging response of the Obama administration to last Sunday’s coup in Honduras has now put these hopes to to the test of reality yet again, and already the progressives are successfully persuading themselves that either it’s “unclear” what Obama’s complicity amounted to, or even that he opposed it from the getgo.  To believe this nonsense requires powerful doses of self-deception about the nature of this presidency.

The coup itself was an entirely traditional enterprise. Honduras is a wretchedly poor place – the third poorest in the hemisphere, where about 70 per cent of the population live in grinding poverty. President Zelaya, ousted last weekend, took office as a credentialed member of the commercial and political elite and then, against all expectation, moved to the left, as well described on this site last week by Nicholas Kozloff and other writers.

He ordered a 60 per cent increase in the minimum wage This, he declared, would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.” He joined a regional organization, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas – known by its Spanish acronym ALBA – a socially progressive trade pact backed by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela opposing the  U.S “free trade” model. He  started using Chavezian rhetoric, declaring his to be “a government of great social transformations, committed to the poor.” He welcomed Cuban doctors and harshly denounced  US meddling in the region.

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Obama seducing the Africans.

The Honduran elite viewed Zelaya, elected to his 4-year term in 2006, with growing alarm and diligently communicated their disquiet to Washington, where the military and civilian intelligence agencies were already being primed by their substantial assets and agents inside Honduras, historically an important CIA and military staging post in Central America, from which  many sinister and lethal operations in the region, such as the Contra war,  were supervised.

A large number of Honduran military commanders have their own long-term relationships with the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, many of them forged during their training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Here is the notorious School of the Americas where promising officers from Argentina, Colombia, Honduras and other US allies are given training such useful skills as seizing power, hunting down leftists and torture.

In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the School providing expertise in torture, extortion and execution. Among the SOA’s nearly 60,000 graduates are Manuel Noriega  of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. SOA graduates were responsible for the assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians. Check out the excellent School of the Americas Watch website for the detailed history.   In 2001 the Pentagon tried to clean up the School’s image by changing its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. It didn’t catch on.

The Obama administration hypocrisy is no different than any other emanating from the inner councils of the US government.  Its shocking value derives almost exclusively from Obama’s success as a demagogue proclaiming its commitent to “change” and other nostrums.

School of the Americas alumni are thick on the ground in Honduras, including General Juan Melgar Castro who seized power in 1975, followed five years later by another grad, Policarpo Paz Garcia, patron of the infamous Battalion 3-16, a death squad founded by Honduran SOA graduates with the help of Argentine SOA graduates. There is profuse evidence available in declassified files that these SOA men were in constant touch with CIA case officers and the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Last Sunday’s power grab was led by yet another SOA grad, Romeo Vasquez, whose men bundled Zelaya, still  in his pajamas, onto a plane to Costa Rica and installed as interim president, Roberto Micheletti, a conservative businessman and creature of the elites.The rationale was an alleged effort by Zelaya to cling to office beyond a Honduran president’s single four year term. Actually Zelaya had merely asked the military to help in distributing materials for a non-binding referendum to assay whether Hondurans were interested in proceeding towards another referendum on constitutional changes.

The US government has admitted that its officials had been in touch with the conspirators in the run-up to the coup, It  makes the claim that it was seeking to head off any coup. This is as absurd as Henry II claiming he tried to talk his knights out of killing Thomas Becket and that what he really said was “Do not rid of me of this meddlesome priest” and it somehow got garbled and came out as “Who will rid me of this meddlesome  priest?” We can take it as an absolute certainly that CIA and Pentagon advisors were at the elbows of the Honduran plotters, giving the green light and barely bothering to maintain deniability, and that Obama and Mrs Clinton had been fully briefed.  The coup was modeled on the initial stages of the attempted ouster of Chavez in 2002, before popular resistance put Chavez back in power. Earlier versions of the script are profuse in the archives of the School of the Americas.

The first statements from Obama and Secretary of State Clinton bear all the marks of careful preparation. In the coup’s immediate aftermath last Sunday they merely urged negotiations with the coup plotters to “restore constitutional order”, feebly enjoining “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter”, which has all the moral and persuasive power of  telling a child not to go swimming immediately after lunch. Carefully avoided was any tough demand by Obama or Clinton – still hoarse from shouts for “democracy” in Iran — for the legitimate Honduran President Zelaya to be returned to office. The plan was obviously to try and run out the clock with indecisive parleys until Zelaya’s term ends in six months.

It was only after  furious denunciation of the coup  and  call for Zelaya’s reinstatement from the Organization of American States, the presidents of Brazil and Argentina , the Rio Group,  the European Union, and the UN General Assembly – that Obama was forced to climb off the fence and declare on Monday that “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras…” Secretary of State Clinton did not call for Zelaya’s reinstatement. There have  been no tough words from Obama or Clinton,  about the shutting down of all opposition press, the curfew, the violent suppression of free speech.

The silver lining may conceivably be, as in 2002 in Venezuela, that Honduras has been another miscalculation in Washington of the strength of the spirit of real as opposed to merely rhetorical change across Latin America.

Alex Cockburn is a co-founder of CounterPunch.org, and a legendary media critic.

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