Blood on the Wire: The American-backed Honduran Dictatorship

Most of Latin America is free from foreign domination and influence, for the first time since the Spanish conquests of the area starting in the 16th century. Since this is the case, America doesn’t have much pull over the area, except for ties with Honduras and Mexico. Honduras is the real focus here, especially since the coup three years ago. The friction with America really started back in 2007 and 2008 when now-ousted President Manuel Zelaya  followed Hugo Chavez’s alternatives to free trade agreements and started to take more “progressive” positions. Such positions included minimum wage increases for Honduran workers in Chiquita’s plants, making Chiquita angry, saying it would cut into their profits.

In June 2009, on the orders of the Supreme Court, the Honduran army stormed the President’s residence and detained the President, sending him out of the country. As it turned out, six Honduran soldiers involved in the coup were trained in the American-based the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which is notorious for training soldiers “in counterinsurgency techniques” and more.  If that’s not enough, current Attorney General Eric Holder defended Chiquita in the 1980s on charges of giving bribes to a terrorist organization, for which it was convicted of (the only company convicted of this count in U.S. history). In June 2009, the United States government ended military cooperation with Honduras and revoked visas of those who participated in the coup. At the same time, two months later, when the U.S. government was considering cutting aid to the country, the State Department met with a pro-coup delegation. Following this, it is no surprise that Zelaya would say “the United States was behind the coup” and that the former Honduran culture minister would say “CIA operatives… aided the conspirators of the coup d’état” and helped organize “a propaganda campaign against… Zelaya’s government.” Even, Noam Chomsky says that the U.S. supported the “military coup in Honduras.” All of these accusations can be confirmed to some extent because America is the largest source of foreign investment for the country and accounts for much of its trade. Still, in September 2009, the State Department cut off all aid to the country until about seven months later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to restore all foreign aid going to the country.

Later that year, the State Department denied that human rights abuses were happening in the country, even though they were evident. In September 2011, the White House Press Secretary showed that the U.S. still supported the regime, saying Obama welcomed President Lobo’s supposed efforts “to restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras” and was happy the country returned to the American-controlled Organization of American States. The next month, Lobo, met with President Obama who praised Lobo’s “strong commitment to democracy and leadership,” reaffirming American support for the regime.

After the coup in Honduras had occurred, the coup plotters had hired lobbyists with ties to the Clintons, in order to get more support from the American government. Also they had curtailed civil liberties and closed media outlets, something they reversed after massive protests in favor of the ousted president, Zelaya. In November 2009, a pro-coup President, Pepe Lobo, was elected with 55% of the vote in an election that many said was bogus and was boycotted by the country’s opposition.

A journalist  was killed in the country because she reported on drug corruption. These abuses, were supported with millions of taxpayer dollars officially to “strengthen democracy and the rule of law, enhance citizen security, and support vulnerable communities.” Since the coup in June 2009, two military bases have been constructed in the country, police training has increased and drones have been flown over the country. At the same time, in Washington, no one seems to be speaking out for the Honduran resistance, which is “alive…despite terrifying and relentless repression,” a group that needs “progressives in the United States to back them, and to take on repressive policies in Latin America.” Instead of people speaking, the DEA has involved itself in a secret drug war in the country even though numerous world leaders have condemned the coup.

Dana Frank wrote in The Nation Magazine in her article titled: “Honduras: Which Side is the US On?” that “the United States has… been… escalating its military presence in Honduras, pouring police and military funding into the regime of President Porfirio Lobo in the name of fighting drugs. The DEA is… deploying squads of commandos with US military Special Forces backgrounds to work closely with the Honduran police and military.” The extent of the drug trafficking in the country and corruption is unprecedented, Frank writes. It is even imbedded in the state itself, “from the cop in the neighborhood all the way up to the very top of the government” with “prominent critics and… government officials… talk[ing] of ‘narco-judges’ who block prosecutions… ‘narco-congressmen’ who run cartels… [and] the police department… riddled with death squads and drug traffickers.”

U.S. money goes to corrupt police under the auspice of training, but as ousted President Zelaya noted: “The police are the drug traffickers. If you fund the police, you’re funding the drug traffickers.” Such police have conducted major repression in the country:  a concert of a resistance movement-friendly musician was attacked in September 2010, student resistance was attacked at a Honduran university, teachers received shock treatment, trade unionists  have been attacked for political activities, poor farmers who fought to take back land from agribusiness were killed, police burned a community to the ground, allowing for illegal and unconstitutional “autonomous economic zones” where  “transnational investors will be free to invent their own entire society” without restriction, the regime planned to privatize public education, the police and military tear-gassed an opposition radio station, and then clubbed and tear-gassed peaceful demonstrators in September 2011. A month later, five activists were assassinated by a wealthy oligarch who backed the coup, and state terrorism continues without any investigation or judgment. Such problems in the country include prison fires, like the deadly fire in a Honduran prison where 350 prisoners who hadn’t even been charged were killed.

With a corrupt political process and U.S. recognition of the regime, the regime fears Zelaya’s return. Partly this is because  promised reform has never come; corruption has not been cleaned up; illegal wiretapping has been allowed; the world’s most repressive contraception law has been passed (“making it a crime to distribute the morning-after pill, even to rape victims,”) allowing the military to take over original police duties, in violation of the Honduran Constitution. The Honduran armed forces are corrupt as well, with “300 automatic rifles and 300,000 bullets” magically disappearing from a warehouse of an elite army elite and a decree allowing the military to accept no-bid contracts will allow more corruption in the military. Hence, it’s no surprise the country has the world’s highest murder rate. At the same time, the United States government asserts it must help the Lobo government because of drug trafficking, but it’s really about keeping corporate interests like  “mining and hydroelectric investments, Dole’s and Chiquita’s expansive banana operations… apparel, auto parts and other manufacturers that employ” hundreds of thousands of people and keeping military bases in the region. Still, groups supporting protesters challenging the government have included the following demands: “stop repressing the opposition with tear gas, wiretapping, harassment and extrajudicial killings. Enforce the law, including labor rights. Clean up the prisons. Purge the judiciary, the police and the military of known criminals. Enact real agrarian reform.” If the United States supports the corrupted and murderous government it is not only an accessory in bloodshed but it’s not enforcing federal and international law, something it could do simply by ending all U.S. aid to the country as many have asked for.

Support for dictatorial regimes has made the United States government an accessory to gross violations of human rights including torture, murder, and blood on the streets. Even though countries like Britain, Israel, and France suppress those advocating for social justice, such places can’t technically be considered dictatorships. The same goes for Somalia, which doesn’t have a functioning government; Congo, which is mined by U.S. companies, the U.S. ally Rwanda; the shady country, Uganda; the oil-rich South Sudan; the very corrupt Afghani government; the pro-Western coup-installed Libyan Transitional Council; the pro-Western Tunisian government; the corrupt Mexican government; likely non-U.S. support of El Salvador’s leftist government; and exploitation of resources like gold and oil in post-earthquake Haiti.

It is shocking how many dictatorships exist in the world. This not a new phenomenon despite what Jimmy Carter wrote in his op-ed piece last month. Dictators have been supported by the U.S. throughout history in among others, Nigeria, Uganda, Bolivia, Cuba, Brunei, South Africa, Brazil, Haiti, Guatemala, Taiwan, Honduras, El Salvador, Vietnam, Liberia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Germany, Morocco, Philippines, Zaire, Turkey, Iran, Greece, South Korea, Chile, Cambodia, Fiji, Ethiopia, Portugal, Nicaragua, Rhodesia, Paraguay, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Argentina and Pakistan. Each one has been repressive.

American people should know nineteen repressive dictatorships (listed here for your benefit) are backed by “the full faith and credit of the United States government.” Mainstream news media outlets never talk about it. Only a piecing together of different sources can reveal the true nature of the American government, which is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Instead it has dictatorial governments governing for U.S. elitist interests and the maintenance of a taxpayer-subsidized worldwide empire. Citizens of the world wherever they are must resist such developments by staying alert, knowledgeable and practicing direct action to put in place governments that serve the people, not the wealthy world elitists.

Hopefully, the song by Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance, will set the tune for change:

On the radio talk shows and the TV
You hear one thing again and again
How the USA stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends—
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can’t take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire…
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire.

Burkely Hermann is an activist who wants to change the world for the better by imagining alternatives to the status quo of neoliberal global capitalism. In order to illuminate these alternatives and outline the status quo, he runs numerous online blogs, writes numerous articles, and uses his tech savvy skills to fight for social justice. Read other articles by Burkely.