The Real Winner in Honduras: The United States?

by Joseph Shansky

Originally published at Upside Down World

Sunday, 01 November 2009

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Never underestimate the capabilities of the slightest American muscle-flexing.

After deliberately failing to use its massive economic and diplomatic influence in the tiny Central American country, the US has reportedly given the international community reason to breathe a sigh of relief in what Hillary Clinton is calling an “historic agreement”. According to the US, the Honduran governmental power struggle has been resolved, and an agreement for President Manuel Zelaya to be reinstated has been reached.

All thanks to a breezy State Department intervention that could have come four months, twenty-six lives, hundreds of disappearances, and thousands of random detentions earlier for Honduran citizens. Instead they let it play out like an internal civil disagreement while watching from above until the time was politically opportune to step in.

In other words, the two children who were bickering in what Henry Kissinger famously dubbed “our backyard” have been rightfully scolded, and forced by Uncle Sam to make nice.

But the details of what is now being called the Guaymuras Accords are messy. They involve a series of conditions and fine print designed to continue the regime’s now-familiar tactic of delaying real progress through semantics and by creating more legal headaches. At the same time, any pressure on the US to fight for a constructive return of Zelaya’s presidential powers is now gone.

Despite coup leader Roberto Micheletti’s claim that his de-facto government has made “significant concessions” in the accords, the real concessions have come from the other side. All one needs to do is imagine how Zelaya’s supporters and coup opponents would have reacted soon after the coup to the type of “power-sharing” agreement that is currently being celebrated. It would have been considered laughable.

These are the basic terms both sides have agreed to:

– Creation of a government of national reconciliation that includes cabinet members from both sides

– Suspension of any possible vote on holding a Constitutional Assembly until after Jan. 27, when Zelaya’s term ends

– A general amnesty for political crimes was rejected by both sides

– Command of the Armed Forces to be placed under the Electoral Tribunal during the month prior to the elections.

– Restitution of Zelaya to the presidency following a non-binding opinion from the Supreme Court and approval of Congress

– Creation of a Verification Commission to follow up on the accords, consisting of two members of the Organization of American States (OAS), and one member each from the constitutional government and the coup regime.

– Creation of a Truth Commission to begin work in 2010

– Revoke international sanctions against Honduras following the accords

The accords give President Zelaya some of his original rights as the democratically-elected president of Honduras. But who knows when? As of October 31, there have already been several contradictory statements coming out from Micheletti’s team. One of his negotiators said that since Congress would not be in session before the elections, it is now unlikely that Zelaya would be returned to any kind of power before that date.

If he is, it hinges on approval by the same Congress that approved his seizure and relinquishes his executive power over the armed forces. In the “power-sharing” agreement, the coup government would retain control over the military, a critical advantage.

It also dismisses amnesty for political crimes on both sides, but at the moment Zelaya is the one facing a mountain of trumped-up charges, thanks to a summer of legal proceedings which took place under an illegitimate government and a shady judicial system.

Another obstacle to a rightful reinstatement may be the Honduran Supreme Court, which has consistently interpreted constitutional law at its leisure throughout the coup. For example, from Sept. 22 through Oct. 19, five constitutional rights were suspended under a decree by the coup government. These included personal liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, habeas corpus, and freedom of association. This was based on a clause in the 1982 Constitution which allowed for such restrictions in states of emergency, and is a perfect example of why Hondurans are demanding a new Constitution.

The Honduran Supreme Court, which has been described by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs as “one of the most corrupt institutions in Latin America”, can give a non-binding opinion regarding Zelaya’s return which Congress can then take or leave. However, this process takes time, again indicating stalling on the part of the coup regime.

Perhaps most importantly, the push for a popular Constituent Assembly during his term has also been dropped by Zelaya and his negotiating team. The Constituent Assembly would have created a body to rewrite the 1982 Honduran Constitution in newly democratic terms. On June 28, the day that Zelaya was forcibly removed from power and ejected from the country, Hondurans were scheduled to vote on a non-binding referendum for a Constituent Assembly. The outcome was to determine whether or not to then have a later vote to rewrite the outdated 1982 Constitution, which caused much debate on the coup in the first place. Subsequent polls have indicated a majority of Hondurans support this reform. In the big picture, this is the real change for the future which thousands of Hondurans have been fighting for in the streets.

Now, what the Guaymuras Accords actually do most is create a space for the United States to recognize the legitimacy of the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for November 29. With National Party front-runner Pepe Lobo likely to win (thanks to a campaign season in which any independent voices were sharply silenced by media censorship), the US also likely secures another puppet in the region who will be opposed to the progressive social, economic and political reforms being articulated and demanded by the country’s social movements. This also serves to counter the region’s growing independence from Washington’s political and economic influence.

Furthermore, throughout the entirety of the coup, neither Secretary of State Clinton nor President Obama (surely occupied with political concessions of his own at home) have acknowledged the repression and violence perpetrated by the Micheletti government and Honduran military in its wake. And they still refuse to do so.

So the actual power returned to Zelaya may be symbolic at best. But it’s extremely important for another group involved- the Resistance movement all around the country. Since the announcement on October 30 of Zelaya’s pending reinstatement, people here have triumphantly taken to the streets in a manner unseen since…actually, two weeks ago when Honduras qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

The unity of the Resistance has put continual pressure on the coup government. Its mobilization constantly put Honduras into the world spotlight, and highlighted the violent reaction of a surprised regime. Undoubtedly the prospect of Zelaya’s return would never have occured without the leadership of the Resistance. The psychological effects of bringing their President back in any way after more than 125 days in the streets mark a clear victory for the movement.

And of course there are enormous differences between the (relatively) bloodless Honduran coup and the devastating Kissinger days of the 1970s, which led to tens of thousands of CIA-sponsored murders and disappearances in countries like Chile and Argentina.

Still, the bottom line remains the same. Military coups in Latin America are not a thing of the past yet, and their outcome can be strongly influenced, in fact practically determined, by the US. Time will tell if the events in Honduras were an isolated affair, or if they indicate the type of reaction we will be seeing to the new age of leftist revolutions and social movements in Latin America.

What is clear now is that after months of refusing to take real diplomatic action, the State Department has found a way to not only save face internationally, but to manipulate the outcome to make it appear to be a foreign policy win for the US.

Though it’s still early in the proceedings, a clear victor has already emerged in the Honduran stand-off.

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