'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Time is Not Right 

Pity poor Manuel Zelaya. He wants to return to Honduras to assume his powers as President, but Canada, speaking for both itself and the US within the Organization of American States, believes that he should wait awhile. After all, it's only been nine days since he was seized by the military and forcibly removed from the country.

Yesterday, Zelaya, against the wishes of Canada and the US, tried to return to Honduras by plane despite being threatened with arrest. He rallied his supporters from abroad, encouraging them to come to greet him at the airport. He even had the temerity to speak to the throngs gathered outside the Tegulcigapa airport that responded to his call from his plane as it unsuccessfully attempted to land, earning the condescending disdain of the New York Times. By the standards of the Grey Lady, that's just not how its done, going over the heads of the US State Department and the Pentagon, so as independently organize your return to power.

Both the coverage of the NYT and the public comments of the Obama administration echoed the line of the coup supporters in Honduras: the situation in the country is too volatile, and the return of Zelaya could incite violence. Most tellingly, no one in the Obama administration stated that Zelaya had the right, and, indeed, the obligation, to reassume his position as President. Equally disturbing, no one stated that the coup leaders should allow him to land in Tegulcigapa, and turn over control of the Honduran state to him. Nor did they make it plain that, if any violence erupted, as it did briefly yesterday, resulting in two deaths, that the US government would hold the coup leaders and the Honduran military responsible.

So, the fence straddling continues, a fence straddling designed to reduce Zelaya to an Aristide, one either permanently deposed, or one, if allowed to return to Honduras, sufficiently disempowered that the US accomplishes the goal of preserving the hegemony of the oligarchy and the military over Honduran society. It is reported that Zelaya is going to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow. Off the record sources have made the administration's objective quite clear:

One option under consideration is trying to forge a compromise between Zelaya, Micheletti and the Honduran military under which the ousted president would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited and clearly defined powers, according to a senior U.S. official.

In exchange, Zelaya would pledge to drop aspirations for a possible constitutional change that could allow him to run for another term, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic exchanges.

Leaving aside the factual error that Zelaya's proposed constitutional measure would have allowed him to run for another term as President, something that, in the case of Colombia and Uribe, the US is willing to accept, the source candidly acknowledges that the Obama administration wants to typically have its cake and eat it, too. As noted here last Friday, it wants to burnish its credentials supporting democracy by overturning the coup in Honduras, while facilitating a transfer of power to the people responsible for it. Here, we have a classic instance of the mastery of the Obama team in regards to understanding distinctions between symbolism and substance as they seek to fashion a win-win scenario that pleases both domestic progressives and those with vested material interests in Honduras.

If this sounds familiar, it should, as correctly anticipated by Greg Grandin last week:

It seems like what the United States might be angling for in Honduras could be the "Haiti Option." In 1994 Bill Clinton worked to restore Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he was deposed in a coup, but only on the condition that Aristide would support IMF and World Bank policies. The result was a disaster, leading to deepening poverty, escalating polarization and, in 2004, a second coup against Aristide, this one fully backed by the Bush White House.

There is only one problem with such expedient, self-serving policy. The people of Honduras are becoming dissatisfied with the coup leadership, as explained by Al Giordano yesterday over at Narco News, with Zelaya having shown himself as willing to put his life on the line. By all accounts, Honduras is far removed from the conditions that prevailed in Venezuela just prior to the 2002 coup, where Chavez had substantial support among the populace and the military.

Even so, Hondurans are still willing to take action to reverse the coup, even if they are not yet willing to embrace a radical program of social change. Perhaps, that is the best that they can hope to achieve at this time, leaving the prospect of a transformed Honduras, liberated from neoliberal exploitation, to another day. There is a, however, a glimmer of hope in the fact that the US and coup leadership are so insistent that Zelaya abandon any hope of serving a second term as President, because it tends to suggest that he is not nearly so unpopular as we are repeatedly told.

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