Wednesday, Jeff Boyer (Appalachian State Univ Prof) and Jon Carter (Doctoral Candidate at Columbia Univ) spoke – via cell phones placed next to a microphone connected to an amplifier – at an event organized by the Balance for Accuracy in Journalism. (Jon Carter’s work “is based on questions pertaining to criminality and sovereignty in Honduras, and Central America more generally”.) The topic was: Honduras – behind the coup headlines, and the speakers definitely took us behind the headlines.
Here are some interesting points from the discussion.
* In 2001, a Zero Tolerance campaign was implemented (officially) against the gangs, many of which were homeless children targeted violently by the police. The Zero Tolerance Campaign was developed by Rudy Giuiliano of NYC. Here’s what the BBC says of his Zero Tolerance Campaign – as implemented in NYC: Nearly 70,000 people are suing the police over being strip-searched for minor offences like fare-dodging. Suing the police is one thing. Rudy Guiliano’s Zero Tolerance Campaign can be clearly portrayed in the policies that allowed 4 policemen to murder Amadou Diallo. As the courts declared when they acquitted the four policemen: “they followed standard police procedure when they asked Diallo to halt, and when — thinking the wallet in his hand might be a gun — they fired 41 times. And standard procedure — not premeditated brutality by rogue officers — is the real crime in Diallo’s death. … In the Diallo case, there was no sadism, no rage, no coverup. Instead, there was just standard operating procedure: plainclothes officers accosting a civilian who might well have mistaken them for gangbangers, firing their guns in confusion and fear at the first mistaken hint that he might be armed, hitting Diallo 19 times. …Around the country, it is not rogue officers but standard operating procedure which has turned police brutality into the civil rights issue of the decade.” And this “standard operating procedure” is what Giuliano brought to NYC — and what he brought to Honduras. (Here’s another good piece on Giuliano and NYC police brutality.)
* Over the years – particularly since the 1970s, privatization has increased and land reform has decreased.
* Two examples of the disenfranchised were discussed: The homeless children, targeted by police, who grow into gang members who “learn to play the games of corruption better than the ones who invented it” (quote from Jon Carter), and communities of once-politically-active churches that now are resigned from from political activity because they see political systems as a farce, and, contrary to the gangs who also share their views on the political systems, have chosen to opt out.
* Others in the middle class see Zelaya as a puppet of Chavez – and many no longer believe in solidarity – but in ‘free market’ and ‘liberalism’ and in this ‘atomized’ society. [Quite similar to the viewpoints of many in Lebanon.] They have given up on solidarity although it was Honduras that inspired others in the 1970s with the labor strikes in the banana plantations, (and the US would not allow Honduras to develop its own politics and sovereignty then). Nevertheless, as Jon Carter said, “there is the memory of those times – when peasant leaders in Honduras organized and inspired.” (By the way, Jon Carter is working on a book entitled “Once upon an agrarian nation.”)
* Both speakers commented strongly on the immense influence the US has on Honduras. As Jon Carter said, the US embassy runs the country or the private contractors of the US Defense Department run the country. And those private contractors range from Blackwater (which has recently changed its name to Xe (pronounced ‘Ze’)) to Triple Canopy. As one speaker said, “Honduras is crawling with defense contractors” — that have become 3 times the size of the army. Example: the very same building built by the CIA was used by Blackwater to train Hondurans and Chileans for mercenary ‘work’ in Iraq in 2006/2007. And here’s an interesting story about those CIA operatives in Honduras.
One CIA defense contractor was masquerading as an evangelical minister offering counsel and giving sermons in the prison system when he was actually making contacts with organized crime. This man was also at the right hand of the (then) First Lady who – as is often the case – was given the “case” of the youth, and thus he was placed in charge of the juvenile prison system (and he failed miserably). He – and the First Lady – were also under suspicion in an adoption scandal, and thus, one day before the last day of the (then) President, he fled to avoid a criminal charge.
As for the US Embassy, well…”The U.S. State Department describes Honduras as being a close Washington ally since the 1980’s when that country’s government “supported U.S. policy opposing a revolutionary Marxist government in Nicaragua and an active leftist insurgency in El Salvador.” The State Department also notes that Honduras was one of the first countries to sign a bilateral agreement exempting U.S. government and miltary peronnel (past and present) from the International Criminal Court for war crimes and other crimes against humanity. This would protect the U.S. from rulings like the one the World Court made in 1986, charging Washington with “unlawful use of force”, or terrorism, for its support of the Contras and other actions carried out covertly and overtly by the the U.S. government, the CIA and the military. Thus, is it surprising to hear that: “the US scholar James Petras said in an interview with the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) that, in his opinion, the US government is implicated. “From many angles we could make the analysis. First, there is the fact that Honduran military do not act without consulting the US advisors present in that country.”
* There are other points of US influence in Honduras: US businesses. Let us remember: Honduras is the original ‘Banana Republic.’ And remains so. Cargill, Monsanto and Walmart are some of the largest – but not the only – US businesses active and influential in Honduras. Hard to say where Us businesses interests stop in Honduras.
* What about all this talk of constitutional legitimacy? Well — there have been 16 constitutions in Honduras recently – so there is little credibility to the coup instigated to protect the constitution. So, why? Well, said Jeff Boyer, the threat of Nicaragua being close to Chavez and of Zelaya being close to Chavez gave an opportunity for the US to create a mess, or perhaps it is the ‘saturation of free market warriors who use Honduras as a base’, or perhaps there is an issue of timing of this coup (while the US increases its offensive in Afghanistan), and, if so, then there is a question about Dick Cheney’s connections to those businesses (the mercenary ones) …
This country that Galeano has given only a footnote in his many historical writings, this country that is viewed by Chavez as the weakest link in the ALBA chain, … it now could develop into a proxy war between Obama and Chavez.
But now, for a moment, said Jeff Boyer, Honduran politics has stopped. Maybe there will be space for a revolution.
As I was walking out, I was stopped by a long-time local activist, and by long-time, I mean this individual has been politically active for decades upon decades. She told me, in her typical hurried manner, of the upcoming protests and activities. “I’m active with an anti-torture group,” she told me. “OH! Things are very bad. There is much to do!”
I smiled. There is still hope: you still have hope.