The deposing of the president of Honduras on June 28, 2009, has been interpreted in different ways by different groups. In this article I would like to offer the bigger perspective, and show how each of the other discourses fit into the bigger picture.
Honduras is the second poorest country in Latin America, after Nicaragua, its southern neighbour. A large part of the GDP comes from low-cost manufacturing for the US market, with bananas no longer being number one. The majority of the population lives below the poverty line. The other year, the Swedish government classified Honduras as the second most unequal country in the world, after Guatemala, its western neighbour. The present democratic constitution is from 1981. In that year an election was held during the last military rule, and the democratically elected president took office in 1982. The constitution is the longest surviving one in Honduras history, and it contains strict formulations to make new coups impossible. Yet, in 2009 the president was deposed. Honduras says it was because he tried to do a coup d’état and ran afoul of those strict prohibitions, while the rest of the world says that his deposing in itself was a coup d’état.
Zelaya’s original argument
President Zelaya, elected in 2005, wanted to help the poor people. They were being suppressed by the rich, and they had no democratic influence. The only way in which they could get influence was to write a new constitution, by holding a Constituting Constitutional Assembly (and thus throw out the old constitution).
Comment: this is exactly what Chávez and several other presidents in ALBA have done.
Nobody has explained in which way the existing constitution is to blame for the poverty, nor has anyone proposed what the new constitution would look like, or why a constituting assembly is required. The existing constitution can be changed by the elected representatives in Congress, and the president can propose changes – but he never did! There is only one relevant article that cannot be changed: The prohibition for the president to be reelected. Thus, the purpose of Zelaya’s policy must have been to enable reelection. Why is this important? Read on!
An alternative point of view
The poverty is rather a result of corruption, crime, a dysfunctional legal system, human rights violations, resulting in a somewhat failed State. The way out is to strengthen the rule of law, and the respect for the law. To overthrow the constitution, a patently unconstitutional act, would be totally counter-productive. Instead, the deposing of Zelaya by the rule of law was a good thing, that strengthened people’s belief in the State. The fact that many of his corrupt accomplices are now being prosecuted is a step in the right direction, but the fact that the present president is trying to stop the courts from doing this job is very discouraging. There is unfortunately a misunderstanding in the international community; they are effectively working to undermine the rule of law in Honduras, by pressuring Lobo to pressure the courts not to follow the law as they see it, but rather as the international community sees it (though they are no experts on Honduran jurisprudence).
The accusation that the US was behind the “coup”
This is based on two things: First that the US has supported military coups in Latin America and elsewhere in the past, and second that the US has a military base in Honduras (they are allowed to operate from the Palmerola, aka Soto Cano, military airport). Those making the accusation claim that the US acted to preserve its military base.
However, this is ridiculous on the face of it. First, since it was no coup according to Honduras. Second, since USA denies any involvement. Third, since even those having been accused of being behind the “coup” claim that USA made it clear in advance that Obama would not recognize the interim president, no matter how legal the procedure to replace Zelaya was. This stance was formulated by Senator John Kerry, according to my source. [UPDATE: A Senate staffer informed me that Kerry cannot have been the one to set this policy since they were not informed about the plans to depose Zelaya in advance. On the other hand, there are indications that the US ambassador to Honduras, Llorens, was personally strongly opposed to his country recognizing any interim president replacing Zelaya, also before Zelaya was deposed.]
Although in Kerry’s defense [or Lloren’s], he might just have been under the impression that there was no legal way to depose Zelaya, but that they were talking about a coup, the reason being that Honduras does not have the institution of impeachment. Rather, the president can be prosecuted and dealt with by the courts just like any other person.
The arguments of Zelaya sound plausible for many, but they are not his real motivation. During the election campaign he received some $50 million from a South American country. They were transferred via a bank in El Salvador. Once in office he sent them back, but the money was returned. The message was clear: We don’t want your money, we want you to follow our orders.
Your guess is as good as mine as to who the money came from.
Chávez has oil millions, he started the ALBA political block, and he is anti-USA. Someone also contributed money to the election campaign of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who once elected threw out the US military base from that country, changed the constitution so he could be reelected, and joined ALBA. When Evo Morales was elected president in Bolivia he, too, changed the constitution and joined ALBA. Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua also joined ALBA, and plans to change the laws so he can be reelected. Chávez, of course, already has changed “his” constitution.
ALBA is an anti-USA alliance named after Simon Bolivar. It has been suggested to become a military alliance, and it belongs in the far left politically. Although Chávez calls it a socialist revolution, it is probably more accurate to call it communist. They are armed by Russia and have contracted to get nuclear technology from Iran.
The hidden agenda
International politics is about influence. One way to get that is to project power. As is evident from the above map, USA and Russia (following the tradition of the Soviet Union) use different methods. Look for instance at the Guantanamo base on Cuba. USA retained that after the war with Spain. It is thus irrelevant who is running Cuba at present. Just like the colonial powers of centuries past had fortresses around the coasts of Africa and India, surrounded by other countries, USA has military bases in other countries surrounded by sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile nations.
Russia does not. Instead, they have “sold” top modern fighter jets to Venezuela, apparently intended to be operated by Russian pilots if they are ever needed.
As we see, the US strategy does not depend on the colour of the government in the country. It can be a democracy that shifts policy every 4 years, doesn’t matter. USA maintains control of its military resources.
Russia, on the other hand, is using a strategy that hinges on that the government remains faithful to Moscow. This does not work well in a country where the president cannot be reelected.
I think I need to say no more. It is pretty obvious why the Honduran constitution had to change, from Moscow’s perspective (and this explains why an alleged Russian agent was spreading anti-Honduran propaganda in the US press, doesn’t it?).
You know, I suspect that the real strategist behind this is Fidel Castro. The whole game plan seems so based on the Cold War strategy that he knew so well. And no wonder he wanted Barack Obama elected president; he must have figured out that he would not dare to stop him by using a military coup, so by just playing Obama into a corner where any attempt of stopping Zelaya would even appear to be a military coup, Chávez would win. However, he didn’t know the Hondurans, the proudest little nation in the world last year.
The attackers have far from given up. They try to get the head of the supreme court deposed so that they can alter the composition of the court. They also want Zelaya’s corruption charges counted as political crimes, so that they will be covered by the political amnesty extended to all in January 2010 (against the will of the vast majority of the Honduran people, but forced on them by the international community as a condition for recognition). With those two things in place, Zelaya could return and continue his work with overthrowing the form of government, whether he is working as an agent for Venezuela, Cuba, or Russia itself.
Honduras value lies in two fields: First, that they could get rid of a US base there. Second, that they could make the country a base for themselves instead.
It is clear that the presence of the US military base does not make Honduras safer; quite the opposite. It is the very reason why attacking the country’s democracy and sovereignty is so attractive for the communists.
In light of this, one might ask if it wouldn’t be in the interest of both Honduras and USA to discontinue the Palmerola base in Honduras, and instead equip and train the Honduran military to carry out the necessary drug traffic control. Or perhaps some other arrangement, as long as it does not involve a US base on Honduran soil, because that is a democratic weakness. A strong democracy in Honduras, that does not attract attacks from anti-democratic forces, also seems in the US interest.
Another key factor is to decrease the social tensions in Honduras. The elite has got the message. They have understood how their behaviour has undermined the safety of their country. The time for compromise and a new social contract is now. The poor have never had a better opportunity to negotiate, but they need to talk to their countrymen, and not listen to the foreign agitators and their Quislings.
Honduras is at a cross-roads. There is a good way to take, and a bad. But one thing they should not do. They should not listen to the international community. They should sit down in a closed room and make peace between themselves, and then stand united without any foreign influence. That is the meaning of free, independent, and sovereign.