Friday, July 03, 2009

Honduras: Coup and Me Against the World

By Al Giordano

In a discussion yesterday at Daily Kos, one commenter – we’ll presume he or she is, as self-described, Honduran or of Honduran descent – typed the following words:

“You obviously do not know us. We may be a poor country but we are very proud and will not be pushed around, even by the ‘great colossus to the North.’ Remember, we went to war over a soccer game...

“Zelaya has violated the Constitution. The term limits of the Presidency are not subject to referenda and Mr. Insulza will learn something about our Constitution when he visits Honduras.”

This comment is fairly representative of many similar ones across the Internet. And it is instructive as to the attitude of what I call the Oligarch Diaspora that drives the deep disconnect between how coup defenders see themselves and how everybody else sees them.

Note the emphatic uses, in the comment, of the words, “we” and “us.”

“You don’t know usWe are very proud… We went to war over a soccer game.”

It’s as if the commenter personally was a combatant in the brief Honduras-El Salvador “Soccer War” of 1969, which I very much doubt. (Interestingly, the intervention of the Organization of American States, or OAS, was required to bring that conflict, which had no military victor, to an end).

And when OAS chairman José Miguel Insulza arrives today in Tegucigalpa for the last-ditch diplomatic effort to persuade the Honduran coup plotters to stand down and let democracy resume with its elected president restored, the attitude expressed is “Mr. Insulza will learn something about our Constitution when he visits Honduras.”

The Honduran Constitution of 1982 is a series of 375 Articles – most of them just a sentence or two long - divided into seven sections. It has been amended 22 times since its enactment, and it is the country’s twelfth constitution since 1838.

In that light, the kernel of the coup’s charges against President Zelaya – that his efforts to convene a Constitutional Convention (“Constituent Assembly”) were somehow illegal – are bizarrely extreme in a land where the Constitution already gets rewritten and amended with such rapid-fire frequency.

My point is that it doesn’t require any kind of divine birthright or special genetics to read and understand that document. In fact, two non-Hondurans, North American professor Greg Weeks (“Honduras: Summing Up Some Basic Points”) and Salvadoran attorney Alberto Valiente Thorensen ("Why Zelaya's Actions Were Legal") have offered, so far, the most astute analyses of how the Constitution applies to the current crisis in Honduras.

Attorney Insulza – widely respected throughout the world for his diplomatic skills and intellectual toughness – is not someone who would have any problem at all reading and analyzing the Honduran Constitution as it applies to the current crisis. The suggestion that he has something to “learn” about the document that can only be provided to him by those the commenter calls “us” reveals more about the commenter than the Constitution.

Insulza, part of the Allende government in Chile in 1973 when it was deposed by military coup, who later spent years of exile in Mexico, could inform many throughout the world, including in Honduras, about the nature of coups d’etat from his unique personal experience. Historic events like that – unlike legal documents – are more difficult to understand without direct lived experience. But, no, coup defenders in Honduras largely view his travels to Tegucigalpa today to be sessions in which, like the commenter said, he has to “learn something about our Constitution.”

The generalized problem with the oligarchies throughout this region is that "we," to them, doesn't include the people they look down upon, which is pretty much everybody that isn’t in their economic-social class. To them, "we" does not mean a nation, but, rather, those who purport to own it.

I think I have already mentioned somewhere the story of the Cuban exile in Miami who said, "Before Castro, everybody had a maid!" Well, unless the maids also had maids, not everybody had a maid. Think about that. “Everybody,” in the oligarchic mind, doesn’t include, well, everybody, certainly not servants and the rest of the working and poor population.

I've witnessed these attitudes first hand in Mexico, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil... It’s widespread among a certain class that is the distinct minority in each population, but that has its hands more firmly on the economic levers of power in each country.

The current behavior of upper class Honduras and its aspirants brings to mind a scene from an episode of the television series, House M.D., in which Dr. Gregory House is on an airplane and a passenger falls ill. The other passengers go into a shared panic as suddenly everybody else on the plane begins complaining of, and even exhibiting, physical symptoms of what they thought – errantly, it turned out – to be a contagious illness.

There is precisely that kind of 30,000-feet-above-sea-level, in a closed and claustrophobic space, hysterical, shrieking tone to the pro-coup defense: That only "we" at these altitudes understand our Constitution; that "we" have to educate the rest of you, etcetera.

And it is from that zone of shared hallucination that their claim - "Zelaya has violated the Constitution" – arises.

They’ve demonstrated that they simply can't believe that anyone but members of their group (the “we” they frequently cite) would dare even try to interpret what only the educated and propertied classes of their milieu "know": in this case the Honduran Constitution.

A wisdom one learns when traveling and reporting in so many different lands: People aren't all that different from country to country. There are good and bad in all of them, and generally the different demographic types resemble each other very well across international borders. I've heard this “we” rap from the educated classes before but more to the point: I've lived alongside their attitude long enough to recognize it rather quickly when it surfaces.

There is something about elites – and its especially visible in this hemisphere – that demonstrates a kind of superiority complex wrapped around an inferiority complex, and all the while dripping with absolute bloody hatred and resentment toward "those people," the ones that don't see things as they and their demographic group see them in their shared hallucination. That's true of elites in the United States, in Honduras, the whole world over.

Insulza – who walks into that snake pit today – has also seen and heard people like that before, and lived the consequences of when their frenzied and shared hallucinations inflict upon society in brutal and violent ways. I’m fairly certain he has no illusions about changing the coup leaders’ minds with facts and reason: oligarchies are too often caught up in those shared hallucinations to be influenced by facts they perceive as external. Today’s visit is more likely to simply demonstrate that there will be no back-room deal from the OAS, that the return of the elected president is a non-negotiable demand, and perhaps to lay out explicitly what the consequences beyond Honduras’ expulsion from the OAS will be for continued intransigence by the coup.

The coup “president” Roberto Micheletti continues to labor under the illusion that he can negotiate a solution, which is why he is loudly proposing early elections and other trial balloons. But the nations of the hemisphere – and a significant swathe of the Honduran population – are not going to fall for such tricks by which an illegitimate coup government administrates an “election.” Nobody believes that such a vote could be fair or free, and to agree to such a scenario would only embolden other aspiring coup-plotters in other countries of America to then adopt the Honduran model to derail elected governments.

From the standpoint of the hemisphere, anything short of the unconditional return of Zelaya to the presidency would unleash a domino effect of coup attempts in other lands.

And, so far, in the shared hallucination of the coup defenders, they seem to believe they can bluff their way into forcing a negotiation still.

And this touches close to another misconception in some other circles that is being spoken: that if only the United States would cut off all aid to Honduras, the coup would instantly fall. (A related spin is that if only the United States had instructed the coup plotters in advance that said aid would be cut off – something that may have well occurred anyway - the coup would never have happened.)

That kind of analysis falls short for two reasons:

One, the hallucinatory nature of how the Honduran elites see themselves includes a willingness to destroy their own economy in a blazing attempt to assert their hallucination upon Honduras and the world. True or false, the pig-headed coup adherents really seem to believe they can survive and remain in power without that aid, or at least they seem willing to try for a while.

Secondly, Washington’s announcement that it has already put all but humanitarian aid “on pause” - the flow of money is already cut off - pending a decision on whether to legally define the regime in Honduras as a “military coup” isn’t having that effect.

From this vantage point, it’s strange to see people who I thought opposed the concept that Washington should dictate events in the hemisphere basically insisting that Washington should now dictate them. They seem to disregard the advances of the last decade that have made it impossible for the US to rule the hemisphere by decree anymore, something we should all celebrate.

And all this leads to the coming weekend – Sunday, to be exact – when President Manuel Zelaya says he will return to Honduras, and the coup regime says it will mobilize 25,000 people plus an arrest warrant to stop him.

This big game of chicken awaits one side or the other to blink. If neither side blinks, Zelaya will return and be imprisoned, sparking a rapid escalation of the conflict inside Honduras that might turn extremely violent. And Washington will certainly, in response, trigger the full cut-off of all US aid.

If Zelaya blinks, and doesn’t return to Honduras this weekend, he will lose popular support much in the same way that other legitimate presidents denied in this hemisphere - Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas after 1988, Al Gore after 2000, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador after 2006 - lost popular steam from perceptions among their own supporters that they did not resist the electoral frauds against them with sufficient force.

If the coup blinks, it won’t be because of the penalties from OAS or the US, but, rather, because of internal divisions, specifically from two groups: the Armed Forces, and/or the commercial media. The first group, to me, seems a more plausible source of mutiny than the second, because the Honduran military – which, importantly, is not made up of members of the economic elite (and therefore is not caught up in the shared hallucination), but, rather, has long struck a deal to service them in exchange for certain privileges and powers – does, unlike the civilian coup plotters, know that it is Washington that pays its rent and bar tab.

(I only mention the commercial media – such as the pro-coup daily newspapers in Tegucigalpa and their owners - because they are so mercenary and corrupt that they could likely be bribed into temporarily turning on the coup regime. That’s an option that, if I were the OAS and its nations, I would carefully consider. They come relatively cheaply. The problem is, with them, that as an important sector of those elites, they are caught up in the shared hallucination, too, and thus if a higher bidder then comes forward, they are capable of switching allegiances on alternate days. The Armed Forces would be, if secured, a more reliable alliance of convenience.)

What Zelaya needs to land in Honduras on Sunday without being arrested is an airfield or border entry point that is sufficiently protected either by large crowds or a sector of the Armed Forces loyal to him (which means, practically, both, since one will follow the other). If he can pull that off, he’ll quickly be president again, and the coup plotters will be seeking exile in other lands.

If he doesn’t have that, Zelaya still has to go and subject himself to arrest, which will spark another chapter in this saga that could turn more violent yet. But not to do so would ensure a much greater and permanent violence: the maintenance of an illegitimate coup regime that has already proved its contempt for the most basic of freedoms, ripping up the very Constitution that it claims it has rallied around.

Whatever happens this weekend, I'm certain of this: it will be no soccer game that comes next.

Coup “President” Installs Nephew as “Mayor” of Honduras’ Second City

By Al Giordano

The Oligarch Diaspora shouts, again and again, in its flailing attempt to convince the Honduran people and the world that its coup d’etat was somehow legitimate, “we want democracy!”

Well, here’s a powerful example of the kind of “democracy” they apparently want.

In November of 2008, the voters of San Pedro Sula – with a population of one million, it's the second largest city in Honduras – elected Mayor Rodolfo Padilla Sunseri (right, in the photo above) to be their Liberal Party candidate for mayor, with 63 percent of the vote.

Another candidate in that contest – William Hall Micheletti (left, in the photo above, and doesn't that last name sound familiar?) – garnered just 16 percent, coming in third.

Padilla went on to win the mayoralty.

But when your uncle Roberto Micheletti is the newly installed dictator of your country, coming in third is good enough!

At 11 a.m. this morning, workers and citizens in and near San Pedro Sula City Hall heard gunshots and explosions, while riot police attacked a crowd that was demonstrating outside against the coup. More than 50 citizens were reportedly arrested. And nobody has seen Mayor Padilla ever since.

So who is now “mayor” of the city? Telesur reports: the coup “president’s” nephew, William Hall Micheletti.

Ain’t their version of “democracy” grand?

Watch the coup's soldiers taking Channel 36 TV off the air:

Watch the coup's soldiers force Radio Progreso 103.3 FM to cease broadcasting:

That scene is from 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, after the station had reported that a coup d’etat had taken place. Spontaneously, listeners of the station in the nearby neighborhood gathered outside its gates to find out what happened. That turne d into a demonstration in defense of the radio station, with chants of “People! Unite!”

At seven minutes into the video, a radio station employee comes out and says “we’ve decided to stop broadcasting.”

Here’s what happened next:

A radio station employee explains how they were convinced by the soldiers to stop broadcasting. A local citizen then addresses the crowd: “Radio Progreso is the voice of all the people of Progreso…. They are informing us that to avoid confrontations… they have decided to close operations... They are going to close the radio frequency… Radio Progeso asks that the people organize ourselves.”

Then a group of soldiers leaves, heading for one of the various trucks they arrived in, as people yell “get out, get out.”

Honduras' Coup Congress Cancels Five Basic Liberties

By Al Giordano

Despite the best efforts of what I call "the Oligarch Diaspora" to flood the Internet with near identical messages that the Honduran coup "is not a coup" and that was a "constitutional succession" (cough, cough) dressed in the blue-and-white flag of Honduran democracy, the coup regime bared its fangs today. And like any vampire, it's coming out at nightfall.

The same Congress that, after the military had kidnapped, beaten and dumped President Manuel Zelaya in Costa Rica had declared one of its own, Roberto Micheletti as the coup "president" today passed an emergency law stripping Hondurans of the following rights from the country's constitution:

1. The right to protest.

2. Freedom in one's home from unwarranted search, seizure and arrest.

3. Freedom of association.

4. Guarantees of rights of due process while under arrest.

5. Freedom of transit in the country.

Tomorrow morning's papers are already out across the ocean in Europe, and correspondent Pablo Ordaz of the Madrid daily El Pais has reported from Tegucigalpa about the Coup Congress' decree:

"Minute by minute, step by step, Honduras moves farther from its freedoms..."

Read the defenders of the coup and they are united by one powerful feeling: fear. They're afraid of the growing demonstrations in the streets, like the in the capital city this afternoon captured in the video above, where despite the brutal repressions against the people, each day the opposition crowds grow larger, more emboldened, and better organized. In the defiant but smiling faces of the Hondurans opposing the coup you can see the palpable difference between their passion and the lack of it from the passive bumps on a log that attended yesterday's pro coup rally.

The Congressional decree specified that only at night may those five freedoms be disappeared. And so tonight, a new reign of terror begins.

The coup defenders are afraid, they say, of Honduras becoming another another Cuba, or Venezuela, or Nicaragua, of losing their "freedoms" and their "democracy." But today, in one fell swoop their leaders erased those very freedoms, atop all the other ones they've already burned alive - freedom of the press, freedom to elect their own president, among them - and buried democracy with it.

For democracy is not possible unless a people has freedom to protest, freedom from unwarranted invasion of their homes, freedom of association, rights of due process under law, and freedom of travel in its own country.

That's over now, and will be as long as the coup regime remains in power.

The Oligarch Diaspora will not likely blink, comforting themselves with the Kool-Aid that this attack on civil rights and freedoms is not (well, not yet) aimed at them, but, rather, at "those people," the workers, the poor, the farmers, the indigenous, the rebel students and youth, their social organizations, organizer priests, defense attorneys, human rights observers and authentic journalists, the ones that want their democracy back so much that they risk life and limb now each time they say it.

The Oligarch Diaspora will continue spamming the Internet with their hysterical claims that the rest of the world "just doesn't understand," that the coup was "legal" (attorney Alberto Valiente Thorensen made mincemeat of that claim today), that they represent a majority (unsaid is that they are afraid to let that majority vote on a non-binding referendum, revealing that even they know they are not), that "Honduras wants the coup." But if the opposition were so small would the Coup Congress really have needed to enact the State of Siege and its repeal of those five basic freedoms?

The Oligarch Diaspora - and hey, Larry Birns (yes, you to whom I sent that memo on Sunday) didn't you and your organization COHA find out the hard way this week how they swarm and leech upon NGOs and media organizations to spread their falsehoods, causing your organization to have to issue another embarrassed "clarification"? - will continue to deceive the gullible into thinking they're really of democratic and freedom-loving tendencies.

But what they don't tell you is that they don't want those freedoms for all Hondurans, just for the ones with money and property and political power and privilege: themselves. The rest must be subordinated to them and controlled, by force if necessary.

And so today, Honduras said goodbye to the following articles of its Constitution:

Article 69: "A persons liberty is inviolable and can only be restricted or suspended temporarily through process of law."

Article 71: "No person can be arrested nor kept incommunicado for more than 24 hours without being placed before a competent authority to be judged. Judicial detention during an investigation must not exceed six consecutive days from the moment that the same is ordered."

Article 78: "Freedoms of association and meeting are always guaranteed when they are not contrary to public order and good customs.

Article 79: "All persons have the right to meet with others, peacefully and without weapons, in public demonstration or transitory assembly, in relation to their common interests of any type, without necessity of notice or special permission."

Article 81: "All persons have the right to circulate freely, leave, enter, and remain in national territory. No one can be obligated to change home or residence except in special cases and with those requirements that the Law establishes."

The Oligarch Diaspora says that the democratically elected president was removed by force because he supposedly "violated the Constitution" by proposing a nonbinding referendum to ask all Hondurans if they wanted the chance to vote about whether they wanted to rewrite it through a Constitutional Convention.

But the coup leaders the Oligarch Diaspora defends just rewrote that same constitution today without any formal process of consulting the people at all.

They claim they're fighting for their constitution, but they just ripped it apart.

Gone. All gone. Everything they claim to be defending is gone now, destroyed and in tatters at the hands of the very political class that claimed it was protecting them.

And now, with the Congress' invitation to enter the people's door, the vampires begin to come out... tonight.

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