Honduran Coup d’état, a ‘win’ for the U.S.?

January 27, 2010

Today, Pepe Lobo will be inaugurated as the new President of Honduras in what many consider to be an institutionalization of the coup d’état which took place seven months ago. Lobo comes to the Presidency as a result of a highly disputed election process carried out by the coup regime. The elections, which have been widely condemned as illegitimate were boycotted by a large percentage of the Honduran population.  

U.S. Undersecretary Thomas Shannon, in a maneuver that totally subverted an extended negotiation process, announced that the U.S. would recognize the election, even if there was not a prior return to constitutional order. The U.S. celebrates today’s inauguration as the ‘way forward’ for Honduras and has aggressively pressured other Latin American countries to recognize Lobo’s government. 

While the United States is eager normalize the situation and to get on with business as usual, the June 28th coup d’état has yielded unexpected consequences for Washington, both inside and outside of Honduras. Unforeseen by the coup plotters and the United States, the military takeover of Honduras unleashed a broad based, sustained resistance movement inside the country. A spirit long dormant in Honduras was awakened, transforming the country into a hub of political activity previously unimaginable.

The resistance movement has brought together people from many sectors of Honduran society, including large numbers of disaffected Liberal Party members. The unifying theme is that they no longer accept the status quo for their country. Events of the last seven months have accelerated and deepened a process demanding deep structural change.  Organizations such as “Los Necios”, a small, left wing organization of students and young people struggled to maintain a membership of around 100.   In these few months, their membership has swelled to over 1000. 
Currently 57 local expressions of the national resistance organization operate in cities and towns around Honduras.  Confounding the coup leader’s strategy, the movement is gaining strength despite brutal repression, state terror and the attempt to institutionalize the coup via elections. The resistance movement is holding large protest marches today and is working to implement a four-year plan for movement building in preparation for the next national elections.
In Latin America, the coup in Honduras is widely understood to be a test case for U.S. policy towards Latin America.  By attacking the weakest and most vulnerable of the ALBA countries, the U.S. hoped to strike a blow to this alternative economic block which the U.S. counts as enemy.  However, in the wake of the coup, the U.S. found itself in a historically unprecedented position at the OAS. Viewed by Latin American governments from both the right and the left as a potential direct threat to each of them, the OAS took a unanimous position denouncing the coup and ejecting Honduras from the OAS. The U.S. was forced to accept this decision.  Most countries in Latin America continue to refuse to recognize the results of the coup regime sponsored “elections” on November 29th despite heavy pressure and arm twisting on the part of the Unites States to do so. 
Disappointment stemming from the contradiction between statements of a recently inaugurated President Obama to Latin American heads of state at the Summit of the Americas in April of 2009, and a virtually unchanged U.S. policy has been articulated by leaders throughout Latin America. Three recent ‘moments’ have contributed to a rapid readjustment of expectations. First was the coup in Honduras and refusal of the U.S. to take proactive policy measures against it. Second was the announcement of seven new U.S. military bases in Colombia. And the third was Secretary of State Clinton’s declaration that Latin America countries should “think twice about flirting with Iran.”
The willingness of Latin American countries to challenge U.S. positions indicates a slowly changing balance of power in the Hemisphere.  Soon after Arturo Valenzuela was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere he paid a visit to the Mercosur Countries. Far from the diplomatic protocol to which the U.S. is accustomed, in Brazil and Argentina, the first two countries which he visited, Mr. Valenzuela was not received by the President or the Foreign Minister in either country. In a press statement near the time of Valenzuela’s visit, Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim criticized the US for being “extremely tolerant” of the coup and the de facto regime. 
What seems most clear is that the U.S. State Department remains mired in an outdated cold war mentality, failing to recognize and adapt to the profound and complex changes that have occurred in Latin America during the last decade. Unfortunately, there seem to be few signs that this will change anytime soon. 

Today’s inauguration in Honduras is happening in a context in which the old ghosts from the worst decades of U.S. policy toward Latin America have been conjured in an attempt to silence opposition.   The sharp escalation of human rights violations and use of state terror in an attempt to destroy the resistance movement has now entered a phase which human rights defenders describe as “silent, selective and systematic.” Death squads and paramilitaries relentlessly pursue those resisting the coup. Many have been executed, and others have fled in order to save their lives.  

The repression continues in the context of a people who are empowered, determined and who are not afraid. The resistance movement has declared that it will not recognize Porfirio Lobo as President, but rather consider him to be the continuation of the dictatorship imposed though the June 28th military coup. Their non-violent struggle for deep structural change via a constituent assembly will continue.   What has happened in Honduras serves as a marker for change in Latin America. It signals that attempts by the United States to rule the hemisphere through coercion and force will be met with new and unexpected challenges and forms of resistance.