Not long ago I came across an image—don’t remember where or why—in which celebrated writer and feminist Lena Dunham was clad in a red, white and blue shirt emblazoned all over with the name “Hillary.” It struck me as curious that someone held up publicly as an example of enlightened 21st century thought (I’m not aware of whether Dunham considers herself as such; perhaps she doesn’t) would feel comfortable broadcasting so unabashedly her affinity for Mrs. Clinton, so I looked into it further.
“Nothing gets me angrier,” Dunham said in January to a crowd in Iowa prior to that state’s caucus, “than when someone implies I’m voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she’s female.”
Fair enough; it must be insulting to have strangers imply, or otherwise assert, that her endorsement of Clinton can be reduced to a sort of blind gender loyalty. And to Dunham’s credit, she has attempted to spell out exactly what is it about Clinton she finds so enchanting. The least we can do is consider her own words on the matter.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Clinton’s “commitment to fighting for women” is at the top of the list. After all, it’s an important issue, one about which Dunham is ostensibly serious and which Clinton allegedly “comes at … from every direction.” For example: She “fights for equal pay”; she says she will “fight for more funding” of Planned Parenthood; she “stays current on prenatal-nutrition research”; and she “flies to countries where women are routinely denied basic freedoms … and puts their leaders on blast.”
Summing it up: “In a million ways, for women and girls in every walk of life, Hillary does the damn thing.”
Dunham is also fetched by Clinton’s alleged opposition to racism. “I’ve been moved,” she writes, “by the stories of people across the country who attest to Hillary’s decades of working for social justice in their communities.”
Gun control, “a feminist issue,” factors into the equation as well: “Hillary has a plan specifically to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.”
And lest her audience mistakenly perceive that she finds no fault in her favored candidate, Dunham would like us to know that she recognizes that Hillary has “made mistakes.” One such mistake, as Dunham sees it, is Hillary’s vote in favor of Bush’s invasion of Iraq. But while this was a “huge miscalculation,” Dunham is encouraged by her belief that Hillary “worked her heart out as secretary of state to make up for it.”
“Wouldn’t it be cool,” Dunham inquires rhetorically, “if everyone else who voted for that war did as much to promote peace and human rights around the world?”
One charitably assumes that Dunham either doesn’t know what she’s saying or doesn’t mean it. Otherwise she can and should be disregarded as yet another vulgar propagandist whose supposed empathy doesn’t extend beyond the margins of her own very narrow perspective.
Before continuing, I’ll make a distinction that shouldn’t have to be made because it’s self-evident: we are dealing with someone of a degree of cultural significance who has been enthusiastically campaigning for Clinton from the beginning; we are not dealing with someone prepared to cast a vote for Clinton because they are persuaded by the lesser-evil argument. These are two very different casts of mind and are not equally assailable.
There’s no question that Clinton professes to care about women, just as Barack Obama professes to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or Mrs. Clinton’s husband professed to believe that the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant he blew up was used by terrorists to produce chemical weapons. The question, of course, is whether we’re justified in taking them at their word. The historical record, as well as common sense, suggest that we’re not.
Dunham’s remark about Hillary flying around “to countries where women are routinely denied basic freedoms” to put “their leaders on blast” is interesting. There are two possibilities: either she fails to recognize the inanity of her own comment, or else she’s trusting that her audience will fail to recognize it. In the former case, she’s ignorant and irresponsible; in the latter she’s dishonest and hypocritical, and should be exposed as such.
Saudi Arabia, as all but the most uninformed of people fully understand, is world’s leading exporter of Wahhabism, the radical Islamic ideology that reduces women to chattel. According to this ideology—which, thanks to US foreign policy, can now be observed all over the Middle East and elsewhere—women are fit to be kept as sex slaves, fit to be genitally mutilated, fit to be punished for exposing their skin in public, fit to be punished (or killed) for resisting an arranged marriage, fit to be punished for being gang raped. With that said, the misogynistic thugs governing Saudi Arabia produce oil [and more importantly transfer global revenues from the sale of petroleum to Wall st.] and are hostile to Iran; ergo they are a crucial US ally.
As such, while serving as secretary of state, Clinton facilitated billions of dollars in munitions sales to Saudi Arabia; in fact, US arms exports to Saudi Arabia increased by 97 percent during this time. (Recall that, according to Dunham, Clinton is very concerned about keeping weapons out of the hands of those who are liable to use them against women.) These weapons are now being used to massacre civilians—including, of course, women and children—in Yemen and to bolster Saudi Arabia’s regional (and thus global) influence. When said influence increases, so too does Wahhabi-style persecution of women, a circumstance any feminist—indeed, any decent human—finds utterly despicable and ought to resist.
This, presumably, is one way in which Hillary “worked her heart out as secretary of state to make up for” her Iraq war vote.
Another way is perhaps her support for the 2009 military coup in Honduras, whereby, according to Greg Grandin of The Nation, “Clinton allied with the worst sectors of Honduran society.” Grandin’s article, a eulogy for a female activist in Honduras who was gunned down by political opponents, is of particular relevance considering Dunham’s assertion that Hillary is dedicated “to women’s reproductive health and rights” and moreover has a “holistic approach to protecting the vulnerable.”
Consider the following details regarding the rights of women following the military coup Mrs. Clinton helped to consolidate:
Despite the fact that he was a rural patriarch, [toppled president Manuel Zelaya] was remarkably supportive of “intersectionality” (that is, a left politics not reducible to class or political economy): He tried to make the morning-after pill legal. (After Zelaya’s ouster, Honduras’s coup congress—the one legitimated by Hillary Clinton—passed an absolute ban on emergency contraception, criminalizing “the sale, distribution, and use of the ‘morning-after pill’—imposing punishment for offenders equal to that of obtaining or performing an abortion, which in Honduras is completely restricted.”)
Elsewhere, Honduran feminists have spoken plainly about the devastating effects of the US-sponsored coup in their country. Believe it or not, many of them reject the idea that Clinton empathizes with their plight. Take for instance the words of Neesa Medina, of the Honduran Women’s Rights Center:
The 2009 coup had repercussions for sexual and reproductive rights for Honduran women…. As a member of a feminist organization severely affected by the support of the U.S. for militaristic policies of recent governments, I must say that it is important that voters take the time to do a critical structural analysis of all of the information in the campaign proposals and previous actions of those running for president. United States support for militarily invasive policies in other countries has a negative impact on the women in these countries.
The current dictatorship under [President Juan Orlando] Hernandez is part of [Hillary Clinton’s] creation. The misery doesn’t just affect women with more brutality, but also our bodies are exposed to the militarist ideology with which they uphold poverty and kill us; to the conservative fundamentalism with which they deny the exercise of our sexual autonomy; and to the possibility of being creative people and not just workers for their factories and way of life.
Clinton, to my knowledge, has yet to put the Hernandez regime, for which she and President Obama bear major responsibility, “on blast” for its abominable treatment of women.
There is also, of course, NATO’s military bombardment of Libya, a horrific and illegal policy decision—spearheaded by Clinton’s State Department—which effectively invited an assortment of misogynistic Islamic gangs to reap the benefits of the chaos sown by the removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power.
According to a March report by Human Rights Watch, Libyan women living in Sirte (now ISIS-controlled territory) endure extraordinary repression. The rule of the land is a hardline interpretation of Sharia Law, imposing unprecedented restrictions on Libyan women’s freedom. For instance, “all women and girls as young as 10 or 11” are required by law “to cover themselves from head to toe in a loose black abaya outside their homes, and to never leave without … a male relative such as a husband, brother or father.” If a woman is caught violating the dress code, her husband is either fined or flogged. Furthermore, “shop owners are whipped and fined and their shops are closed if they receive an unaccompanied woman.” And it perhaps goes without saying that men residing in Sirte are coerced into surrendering their daughters over to ISIS militants, who then force marriage and God knows what else upon the girl.
No doubt the women of Libya can appreciate Clinton’s image, in the eyes of the West, as a model feminist. Remember: she “does the damn thing” for “women and girls in every walk of life.”
In Gaza, where the Israeli government (with unilateral US support) has imposed an illegal siege for nearly a decade, 36 percent of pregnant women suffer from anemia, a direct result of the fact that a staggering 80 percent of Gaza’s Palestinian population is dependent on food-aid. Moreover, owing to regular IDF aggression against the besieged territory, as well as the Israeli government’s practice of administrative detention, women in Gaza are often left to support their families by themselves, all while being unable to find work.
“The siege affects us all, but it especially affects women,” said Tagreed Jummah, director of Gaza City’s Union of Palestinian Women Committees. “In recent years, more women have been forced to become heads of the family because their husbands have been killed, are in Israeli prisons, or are unemployed as a result of the siege. But the majority of these women have no means of earning money.”
In the summer of 2014, while Israeli missiles rained down on the people of Gaza (killing well over 1,000 civilians), Clinton gave an interview in which she dismissed international condemnation of Israel’s military aggression as “uncalled for and unfair”—just one of countless examples of her apologetics for Israeli terror. On that note, Hillary has promised that, should she win the election, she will invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (described by Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein as a “certifiable maniac”) to the White House in her first month in office. Such is her empathetic concern for the men, women and children writhing under the heel of Zionist brutality.
All of this is readily available to anyone mildly curious about Clinton’s humanitarian credentials. One wonders, then, how someone like Lena Dunham, whose primary concern (ostensibly) is the oppression of women, can laud Mrs. Clinton as a person genuinely troubled by and committed to eradicating that very oppression wherever it exists. How, for instance, could she seriously characterize Clinton as a politician who fights to “promote peace and human rights around the world”? Could Dunham be that confused? Or is she merely ignoring facts inconsistent with her argument? Does she understand that her comments could easily (and not illogically) be construed as evidence of a racist disdain for people who happen to have been born outside of the United States?
Dunham ought to clarify whether she believes Palestinians, Hondurans, Libyans, Yemenis, etc. to be somehow unworthy of the human rights she speaks and writes so passionately about. If this is indeed the case, then her arguments in favor of Hillary Clinton, while morally and intellectually bankrupt, make perfect sense.
If, however, she is appalled to learn of her chosen candidate’s (at best) callous indifference to the fate of women in other parts of the world, Dunham should revise her position accordingly. After all, she communicates not only to a broad audience, but a broad audience of young people who by and large represent the future of Western liberalism. By simply ignoring the reality of Hillary Clinton’s worldview (and all of this could just as easily have been said of Barack Obama), Dunham is assisting the corporate media in breeding a generation of “liberals” whose compassion is terribly shortsighted, and who are thus liable to stand back and observe their leaders’ crimes with equanimity—so long as progress is being made on other fronts. When this sort of truncated empathy reigns, as history has repeatedly shown, there’s virtually nothing a wayward government can’t do. And as Orwell demonstrated, there is perhaps nothing more terrifying than an omnipotent state.
I’ll say it again, since reading comprehension varies: this was not written as a rejoinder to the argument that Clinton is preferable to Donald Trump or any other opponent; it was written in response to a relatively influential celebrity who has repeatedly attempted to cast Hillary Clinton as a champion of human rights, which is manifestly preposterous and, in my view, ultimately dangerous. Any number of individuals (celebrities, journalists and pundits alike) could have been substituted for Dunham in this context. One can vote for Hillary Clinton without telling half-truths about her sordid record.
Among the right-wingers that have jumped the Republican ship and thrown their support behind Hillary Clinton in the last few months, you’ll find neoconservatives and warmongers who have vocally supported just about every heinous US foreign policy venture under the sun, from the Iraq War to Libya to torture. But though their cheerleading may have been valuable in the push for these actions, few can claim direct responsibility in the making of these disasters.
Not so for John Negroponte, the former career diplomat who served under four Republican presidents and one Democrat and whose support for Clinton was announced last week.
The endorsements of Clinton by right-wing hall-of-famers like Negroponte have not come about entirely out of nowhere. It’s true that many elements of Clinton’s foreign policy appeal to the interventionist and neocon wing of the Republican Party.
Nonetheless, as Politico reported last week, the Clinton campaign has been actively courting leading lights of the GOP, culminating in last week’s launch of “Together for America,” a site touting the growing list of high-profile Republicans and independents backing Clinton.
This is a curious development, given that in the very first Democratic debate of 2015, Clinton proclaimed that the enemies she was most proud of making throughout her career were “the Republicans,” a line that drew both raucous cheers from the crowd and a broad smile from the candidate herself.
Given her stated animosity toward Republicans, seeking out the support of someone like Negroponte presumably must be very valuable for Clinton. But who exactly is Negroponte, and why has Clinton prized the endorsement of someone like him?
Reagan’s Man in Tegucigalpa
The son of a Greek shipping magnate, Negroponte cut his diplomatic teeth in Vietnam, where he served under future Clinton mentor and war criminal Henry Kissinger (another luminary whom Clinton’s campaign is now reportedly wooing for an endorsement) during the Paris peace talks.
While Kissinger helped Nixon to win in 1968 by secretly scuttling peace negotiations with North Vietnam, once in power, both wanted eventually to get the United States out of the war, mostly out of concern for how a continuing quagmire would hurt Nixon politically. Negroponte challenged him about a concession in the peace agreement that allowed the North Vietnamese to station troops in the South after US withdrawal.
“Do you want us to stay there forever?” Kissinger asked the young Negroponte. The United States’ years of bloodletting in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos apparently wasn’t enough for Negroponte.
Negroponte worked for several years in a number of less prominent diplomatic positions, owing, at least in one observer’s view, to being “exiled” by Kissinger because of his break with the secretary of state over Vietnam.
Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 gave Negroponte his big break.
Under Reagan, Latin American politics took a hard right turn, which his administration enabled by sending aid, arms, and, in the case of Grenada, troops to assist right-wing governments and forces — nearly all of which aided in scores of human rights atrocities.
In 1981, Reagan made Negroponte the US ambassador to Honduras. Negroponte had held earlier posts in Greece and Ecuador; Honduras was the big leagues.
In 1980, neighboring El Salvador had plunged into civil war between leftist guerillas and a quasi-fascist, US-backed military government and its right-wing paramilitary forces that included death squads. A year earlier, its other neighbor, Nicaragua, had seen its US-backed dictator deposed and replaced by the socialist Sandinista government.
The Sandinistas were opposed by a coalition of brutally violent counterrevolutionaries that included former members of the National Guard, ex-soldiers, Conservative Party members, and disgruntled peasants and farmers. They were known as the Contras, later of Iran-Contra fame.
In both countries, the Reagan administration threw in with the right-wing torturers and murderers.
The action was principally in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but Negroponte had not been relegated to some insignificant backwater. Honduras was central to the Reagan administration’s efforts to halt the spread of leftist rule in Central America, serving as the home base for its covert war against the Left in the region. Honduras had one of the largest US embassies in Latin America, hosted thousands of American troops, and eventually housed the biggest CIA station in the entire world.
Although Honduras had a civilian government — its first in more than a century — the military remained powerful, and General Gustavo Alvarez, the chief of the armed forces, held considerable sway. Under Alvarez, Honduras became the training ground and headquarters for the Contras and other right-wing forces, who were then sent to wreak havoc in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
It was also where budding members of Honduran death squads received their schooling, including the notorious Battalion 3-16, responsible for the disappearance of at least 184 people, mostly leftists, and the torture of many more.
All of this was done with the support of the United States and its man on the ground, Negroponte.
US military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $200 million between 1980 and 1985, and the Reagan administration paid top Honduran military brass for their assistance. Repressive forces, including Battalion 3-16, were trained by the CIA and FBI, and the United States provided the money to hire Argentinian counterinsurgency officers — involved in their own US-backed, horrific, decade-long “Dirty War” against leftists — to provide further instruction.
The “coercive techniques” they learned were partly taken from CIA interrogation manuals that advocated using threats of violence and disruption of “patterns of time, space and sensory perception” against prisoners.
With this training in their back pocket, these US-backed Honduran forces proceeded to cut a swath of brutality across the country and its neighbors. Within Honduras, hundreds of people suspected of being subversives were kidnapped, tortured, disappeared, or all three. All of it was known, and quietly approved, by Negroponte.
The torture endured by prisoners covered just about the entire spectrum of depravity, including suffocation, beatings, sleep deprivation, electrocution of the genitals, rape, and the threat of rape toward family members. In one case, military forces used rope to tear off a man’s testicles before killing him.
People were picked up off the street and thrown into unmarked vans. Some victims were completely innocent, such as a union organizer who was befriended and betrayed by a battalion member who knowingly turned him over to security forces under false charges.
Military forces barged into homes, ransacked them, and arrested the occupants if they found Marxist literature. And the Contras, who Ronald Reagan called the “moral equals of our Founding Fathers,” were possibly even worse.
Negroponte played a key role in covering up all of this. As the ambassador, Negroponte’s job was to ensure that the abuses committed by Honduran forces remained unknown to US lawmakers and the general public so they could continue unabated.
Had Congress caught wind of the atrocities, the government would have had to shut off the flow of tens of millions of dollars of military aid to the country, which, under the Foreign Assistance Act, is prohibited to governments engaging in human rights violations. This was the last thing Negroponte and the Reagan administration wanted. They were bent on defeating the leftists, and if that required turning a blind eye to widespread torture, rape, and murder, so be it.
The Reagan administration’s grand strategy was enabled by a steady stream of obfuscation from the Honduran embassy and Negroponte himself.
In one 1983 cable to Thomas Enders, an assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Negroponte chided the State Department for talking openly about the Contra presence in Honduras. “Since when, in open channel messages, do we refer to United States support for Honduran based exiles as Department does in para four reftel?” he wrote.
At the time, the Reagan administration’s support for the Contras was still secret; Negroponte likely did not want references to them to appear in state documents that were subject to open records requests.
In another, this one from 1984, he advised the secretary of state on how Washington agencies could help suppress wider knowledge of the actions of the Contras in Honduras, who had “obviously overdone things” and needed “to lower [their] profile to the absolute minimum.”
Publicly, Negroponte consistently whitewashed this “overdoing.” He wrote to the Economist in 1982 that “it is simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras.”
A year later, he wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times acknowledging that while there had been “arbitrary arrests” and “some disappearances,” there was “no indication that the infrequent human rights violations that do occur are part of deliberate government policy.”
As late as 2001, he continued to insist on this point, telling the Senate at his confirmation hearing to be Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations: “I have never seen any convincing substantiation that [Battalion 3-16] were involved in death squad-type activities.”
Consequently, the annual human rights reports produced for Congress by the Honduran embassy under Negroponte’s watch were sanitized to the point of parody, as these excerpts from the 1983 edition illustrate: “There are no political prisoners in Honduras”; habeas corpus “appears to be standard practice”; “access to prisoners is generally not a problem for relatives, attorneys, consular officers or international humanitarian organizations”; “sanctity of the home is guaranteed by the Constitution and generally observed.”
Noting the obvious absurdity and transparent lies of the report, one embassy officer joked at the time, “What is this, the human rights report for Norway?”
Suppressing the Evidence
Of course, Negroponte knew very well that conditions in the country were the very opposite of how he portrayed them. It was virtually impossible for him not to.
The Honduran press put out hundreds of stories about military abuses, victims’ families protested in the streets, and both they and Honduran officials pleaded with US officials for intervention — including with Negroponte himself. As soon as Negroponte took over, Jack Binns, his predecessor, personally briefed him on the atrocities he’d learned of — and unlike Negroponte, had made noise about with higher-ups.
The ambassador stayed up to date on the latest barbarities. In 1982, when the embassy press spokesman informed Negroponte that the Honduras military had kidnapped and was busy torturing a prominent journalist and his wife, Negroponte intervened on their behalf — not out of a concern for human rights, but because of the potential damage the US program would suffer if word of the incident got out. The prisoners were released and allowed to leave to the United States on the condition they never spoke about their experience.
The episode was left out of that year’s originally damning embassy report, which high-ranking officials at the embassy cleansed of all references to Honduran abuses.
As a 1997 report by the CIA inspector general made clear, the embassy under Negroponte regularly suppressed inconvenient information about the Honduran military. In 1984–85, several reports “were identified as ‘politically sensitive’ by the Embassy, which requested either their non-publication or restricted dissemination.”
In 1983, read the report, “unspecified individuals at the Embassy did not want information concerning human rights abuses during [a Honduran military operation] to be disseminated because it was viewed as an internal Honduran matter.”
The report outlined how Negroponte personally “was sensitive to political ramifications that might have resulted” from reports on the Olancho Operation, which resulted in the death — possibly an execution — of an American priest. It also documented his concern that “over-emphasis would create an unwarranted human rights problem for Honduras.” It was all part of Negroponte’s aim “to manage the perception of Honduras,” as one officer quoted in the report put it.
In fact, embassy cables that were declassified many years later as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Washington Post show that Negroponte did much more than just suppress damaging information. Despite the Sandinistas’ repeatedly stated willingness to enter negotiations with the Contras to reach a settlement, the Honduran ambassador consistently argued against them, calling negotiations a “Trojan horse” that would help consolidate the Sandinista revolution.
The Contadora Process, the peace negotiations initiated by several Latin American states in 1983, would lead to “effectively shutting down our special project,” he warned. Rather than take the Sandinistas up on their offer to end the torture and bloodshed that US-backed forces were responsible for, Negroponte pushed hard to keep them going.
Straying far from the typical duties of an ambassador, Negroponte appeared at times to direct US support of the Contras. In one cable he suggested publicizing US contact with anti-Sandinista forces and stepping up action in Nicaragua’s southern front in order to counter the idea that “all of this is emanating from Honduras.”
In another, he furnished the State Department with detailed information about Sandinista military movements on the Honduran and Nicaraguan border. Speaking with Honduran president Roberto Suazo Córdova in April 1982, Negroponte “urged that strongest possible pre-emptive measure be taken” to prevent revolutionary violence from “taking on unmanageable proportions later on” — a tacit encouragement of the abuses already being committed by the Honduran military.
Negroponte’s enabling of rights violations in the country was exposed thanks to the declassification of secret documents many years after the fact, as well as a fourteen-month-long investigation by the Baltimore Sun in 1995. But what should have been a scandal only boosted Negroponte’s status in Washington.
A Diplomat’s Diplomat
Among his later career highlights, Negroponte was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1989 by George H. W. Bush, in which position he helped facilitate the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (Unsurprisingly, he’s also a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.)
He went on to serve in a number of different posts in the second Bush administration, including as the first ever director of national intelligence and as the first post-Saddam ambassador to Iraq. Despite faint stirrings of criticism about his past, he was easily confirmed to each position.
In establishment circles, he’s simply a “diplomat’s diplomat,” a venerated elder statesman whose hand in terrible human rights abuses is as relevant as his shoe size. As his wife put it in 2004 to the critics still taking him to task for the carnage he licensed in Central America: “Haven’t you moved on?”
Perhaps people have moved on, which is why Clinton now feels it safe to seek out and publicize Negroponte’s praise for her “leadership qualities.”
It’s hard not to see in the publicizing of the endorsement a less-than-subtle hint of what a Clinton administration foreign policy would look like, however — one that ruthlessly prioritizes US strategic and political interests at the expense of peace, human rights, and the lives of poor people in foreign countries.
Say what you will about Clinton’s shifting political beliefs over the course of this election and her entire career, but she’s been fairly consistent on foreign policy, pushing the kind of unapologetically interventionist approach that made her the darling of hawks long before Trump came along.
And like Negroponte, she has both her own dubious history in Honduras and has backed both NAFTA and the TPP (at least until she — maybe — changed her mind about the latter). On these issues, they’re kindred political spirits.
Clinton’s embrace of Negroponte’s support could be viewed as simply part of the tried-and-true process of padding one’s resume with endorsements from respected establishment figures. Some would say Negroponte’s support doesn’t really matter — that it’s just pageantry, not remotely a sign of her future foreign policy intentions.
Even if we grant this, however, seeking and embracing the support of a man who actively facilitated years of stomach-churning atrocities is particularly unseemly — as Democrats and Clinton herself have argued in the recent past. The party has smugly — and justifiably — pilloried Trump for his praise of authoritarian rulers like Putin and Saddam Hussein.
“Donald Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds,” read a Clinton campaign statement last month, which also criticized Trump for approvingly citing Saddam’s dismissal of legal formalities like reading people their rights. “Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as Commander-in-Chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks.”
Compliment brutal dictators and Clinton will slam you. But actually help them carry out their abuses, as John Negroponte did, and her campaign will seek and proudly tout your support.
“How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer” was the headline over the lead article in the New York Times‘ “Week in Review” (8/11/16), with the teaser reading, “Programs funded by the United States are helping transform Honduras. Who says American power is dead?”
The piece never really got around to explaining, though, how Honduras became the most dangerous place on Earth. That’s American power, too.
Reporter Sonia Nazario returned to Honduras after a three-year absence to find
a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime…. The United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.
Nazario described US-funded anti-violence programs in a high-crime neighborhood in the Honduran city San Pedro Sula:
The United States has provided local leaders with audio speakers for events, tools to clear 10 abandoned soccer fields that had become dumping grounds for bodies, notebooks and school uniforms, and funding to install streetlights and trash cans.
She offered the results of this and similar programs as evidence that “smart investments in Honduras are succeeding” and “a striking rebuke to the rising isolationists in American politics,” who “seem to have lost their faith in American power.”
But Nazario failed to explain how American power paved the way for the shocking rise in violence in Honduras. In the early 2000s, the murder rate in Honduras fluctuated between 44.3 and 61.4 per 100,000—very high by global standards, but similar to rates in neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala. (It’s not coincidental that all three countries were dominated by violent, US-backed right-wing governments in the 1980s—historical context that the op-ed entirely omitted.) Then, in June 2009, Honduras’ left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup, kidnapped and flown out of the country via the joint US/Honduran military base at Palmerola.
The US is supposed to cut off aid to a country that has a military coup—and “there is no doubt” that Zelaya’s ouster “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” according to a secret report sent by the US ambassador to Honduras on July 24, 2009, and later exposed by WikiLeaks. But the US continued most aid to Honduras, carefully avoiding the magic words “military coup” that would have necessitated withdrawing support from the coup regime.
Internal emails reveal that the State Department pressured the OAS not to support the country’s constitutional government. In her memoir Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton recalled how as secretary of State she worked behind the scenes to legitimate the new regime:
In the subsequent days [following the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras, and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.
With a corrupt, drug-linked regime in place, thanks in large part to US intervention, murder in Honduras soared, rising to 70.7 per 100,000 in 2009, 81.8 in 2010 and 91.4 in 2011—fully 50 percent above the pre-coup level. While many of the murders involved criminal gangs, much of the post-coup violence was political, with resuscitated death squads targeting journalists, opposition figures, labor activists and environmentalists—of whom indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was only the most famous.
At one point, it seemed like Nazario was going to acknowledge the US role in creating the problems she gives “American power” credit for ameliorating. “We are also repairing harms the United States inflicted,” she wrote—but the explanation she gives for that was strangely circumscribed:
first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras.
No mention of the US supporting Honduras’ coup, or the political murders of the US-backed regime.
At one point, three-quarters of the way through the lengthy piece, Nazario did acknowledge in passing the sinister role the US plays in Latin America:
It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.
Surely it’s relevant that some of the despots the US helped keep in power were in the country she’s reporting from, and that this led directly to the problem she’s writing about? But she dropped the idea there, moving on immediately to talk about the US’s interest in reducing the flow of child refugees.
The most troubling part of the op-ed is that it didn’t feel the need to acknowledge or even dispute the relationship between US support for the coup and Honduras’ shocking murder rate. The New York Times covered much of this ground, after all, in an op-ed by Dana Frank four years ago (1/26/12). Now, however, that information is down the memory hole—leaving the Times free to tout donations of trashcans and school uniforms as an advertisement for American power.
Amid raging corruption, social pathologies and outright political thuggery, a new gang of vassal regimes has taken-over Latin America. The new rulers are strictly recruited as the protégé’s of US financial and banking institutions. Hence the financial press refers to them as the “new managers” – of Wall Street.
The US financial media has once again provided a political cover for the vilest crimes committed by the ‘new managers’ as they launch their offensive against labor and in favor of the foreign and domestic financiers.
To understand the dynamics of the empire’s new vassal managers we will proceed by identifying (1) the illicit power grab (2) the neo-liberal policies they have pursued (3) the impact of their program on the class structure (4) their economic performance and future socio-political perspectives.
Vassals as Managers of Empire
Latin America’s current vassalage elite is of longer and shorter duration.
The regimes of longer duration with a historical legacy of submission, corruption and criminality include Mexico and Colombia where oligarchs, government officials and death squads cohabit in close association with the US military, business and banking elites.
Over the past decades 100,000 citizens were murdered in Mexico and over 4 million peasants were dispossessed in Colombia. In both regimes over ten million acres of farmland and mining terrain were transferred to US and EU multinationals.
Hundreds of billions of illicit narco earnings were laundered by the Colombian and Mexican oligarchy to their US accounts via private banks.
The current political managers, Peña in Mexico and Santos in Colombia are rapidly de-nationalizing strategic oil and energy sectors, while savaging dynamic social movements – hundreds of students and teachers in Mexico and thousands of peasants and human rights activists in Colombia have been murdered.
The new wave of imperial vassals has seized power throughout most of Latin America with the direct and indirect intervention of the US. In 2009, Honduras President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by a military coup backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Zelaya’s program of agrarian reform, regional integration (with Venezuela) and constitutional elections was abolished. Zelaya was replaced by a US vassal, Roberto Micheletti who proceeded to murder several hundred landless rural workers and indigenous activists.
Washington moved to organize a constitutional cover by promoting a highly malleable landowner, Porfirio Lobo Sosa to the presidency.
The State Department next ousted Paraguyan President Francisco Lugo who governed between 2008-2012. Lugo promoted a moderate agrarian reform and a centrist regional integration agenda.
With the backing of Secretary of State Clinton, the Paraguayan oligarchy in Congress seized power , fabricated an impeachment decree and ousted President Lugo. He was briefly replaced by Vice President Federico Franco (2012-2013).
In 2013, Washington backed , the capital, Asuncion’s, notorious crime boss for President, one Horacio Castes – convicted for currency fraud in 1989, drug running in 1990, and most recently (2010) money laundering.
The Honduras and Paraguayan coups established (in miniature) the precedent for a new wave of ‘big country’ political vassals. The State Department moved toward the acceleration of banking takeovers in Brazil, Argentina and Peru.
In rapid succession, between December 2015 and April 2016 vassal managers seized power in Argentina and Brazil. In Argentina millionaire Mauricio Macri ruled by decree, bypassing constitutional legality. Macri fired scores of thousands of public service workers, closed social agencies and appointed judges and prosecutors without Congressional vote. He arbitrarily arrested social movement leaders – violating democratic procedures.
Macri’s Economic and Finance Ministers gained millions of dollars by ‘buying into’ multinational oil companies just prior to handing over private options on public enterprises.
The all-encompassing swindles and fraud carried out by the ‘new managers’ were covered up by the US media, who praised Macri’s professional team.
Moreover, Macri’s economic performance was a disaster. Exorbitant user fees on utilities and transport for consumers and business enterprises, increased three to ten-fold, forcing bankruptcy rates to soar and households to suffer light and gas closures.
Wall Street vulture funds received a seven billion dollar payment from Macri’s managers, for defaulted loans purchased for pennies over a dollar, twenty-fold greater then the original lenders.
Data based on standard economic indicators highlights the worst economic performance in a decade and a half.
Price inflation exceeds 40%; public debt increased by twenty percent in six months. Living standards and employment sharply declined. Growth and investment data was negative. Mismanagement, official corruption and arbitrary governance, did not induce confidence among local small and medium size businesses.
The respectable media, led by the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post falsified every aspect of Macri’s regime. Failed economic policies implemented by bankers turned cabinet ministers were dubbed long-term successes; crude ideologically driven policies promoting foreign investor profiteering were re-invented as business incentives.
Political thugs dismantled and replaced civil service agencies were labelled ‘a new management team’ by the vulgar propaganda scribes of the financial press.
In Brazil, a phony political power grab by Congressional opportunists ousted elected President Dilma Rousseff. She was replaced by a Washington approved serial swindler and notorious bribe taker, Michel Temer.
The new economic managers were predictably controlled by Wall Street, World Bank and IMF bankers. They rushed measures to slash wages, pensions and other social expenditures, to lower business taxes and privatize the most lucrative public enterprises in transport, infrastructure, landholdings, oil and scores of other activities.
Even as the prostitute press lauded Brazil’s new managers’, prosecutors and judges arrested three newly appointed cabinet ministers for fraud and money laundering. ‘President’ Temer is next in line for prosecution for his role in the mega Petrobras oil contracts scandal for bribes and payola.
The economic agenda by the new managers are not designed to attract new productive investments. Most inflows are short-term speculative ventures. Markets, especially, in commodities, show no upward growth, much to the chagrin of the free market technocrats. Industry and commerce are depressed as a result of the decline in consumer credit, employment and public spending induced by ‘the managers’ austerity policies.
Even as the US and Europe embrace free market austerity, it evokes a continent wide revolt. Nevertheless Latin America’s wave of vassal regimes, remain deeply embedded in decimating the welfare state and pillaging public treasuries led by a narrow elite of bankers and serial swindlers.
As Washington and the prostitute press hail their ‘new managers’ in Latin America, the celebration is abruptly giving way to mass rage over corruption and demands for a shift to the political left.
In Brazil, “President” Temer rushes to implement big business measures, as his time in office is limited to weeks not months. His time out of jail is nearing a deadline. His cabinet of ‘technocrats’ prepare their luggage to follow.
Maurico Macri may survive a wave of strikes and protests and finish the year in office. But the plunging economy and pillage of the treasury is leading business to bankruptcy, the middle class to empty bank accounts and the dispossessed to spontaneous mass upheavals.
Washington’s new managers in Latin America cannot cope with an unruly citizenry and a failing free market economy.
Coups have been tried and work for grabbing power but do not establish effective rulership. Political shifts to the right are gyrating out of Washington’s orbit and find no new counter-balance in the break-up of the European Union.
Vassal capitalist takeovers in Latin America generated publicist anesthesia and Wall Street euphoria; only to be rudely shocked to reality by economic pathologies.
Washington and Wall Street and their Latin America managers sought a false reality of unrestrained profits and pillaged wealth. The reality principle now forces them to recognize that their failures are inducing rage today and uprisings tomorrow.
As was reported following the assassination of prominent Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres in March, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton erased all references to the 2009 coup in Honduras in the paperback edition of her memoirs, “Hard Choices.” Her three-page account of the coup in the original hardcover edition, where she admitted to having sanctioned it, was one of several lengthy sections cut from the paperback, published in April 2015 shortly after she had launched her presidential campaign.
A short, inconspicuous statement on the copyright page is the only indication that “a limited number of sections” — amounting to roughly 96 pages — had been cut “to accommodate a shorter length for this edition.” Many of the abridgements consist of narrative and description and are largely trivial, but there are a number of sections that were deleted from the original that also deserve attention.
Clinton’s take on Plan Colombia, a U.S. program furnishing (predominantly military) aid to Colombia to combat both the FARC and ELN rebels as well as drug cartels, and introduced under her husband’s administration in 2000, adopts a much more favorable tone in the paperback compared to the original. She begins both versions by praising the initiative as a model for Mexico — a highly controversial claim given the sharp rise in extrajudicial killings and the proliferation of paramilitary death squads in Colombia since the program was launched.
The two versions then diverge considerably. In the original, she explains that the program was expanded by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe “with strong support from the Bush Administration” and acknowledges that “new concerns began to arise about human rights abuses, violence against labor organizers, targeted assassinations, and the atrocities of right-wing paramilitary groups.” Seeming to place the blame for these atrocities on the Uribe and Bush governments, she then claims to have “made the choice to continue America’s bipartisan support for Plan Colombia” regardless during her tenure as secretary of state, albeit with an increased emphasis on “governance, education and development.”
By contrast, the paperback makes no acknowledgment of these abuses or even of the fact that the program was widely expanded in the 2000s. Instead, it simply makes the case that the Obama administration decided to build on President Clinton’s efforts to help Colombia overcome its drug-related violence and the FARC insurgency — apparently leading to “an unprecedented measure of security and prosperity” by the time of her visit to Bogotá in 2010.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership
Also found in the original is a paragraph where Clinton discusses her efforts to encourage other countries in the Americas to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement during a regional conference in El Salvador in June 2009:
So we worked hard to improve and ratify trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and encouraged Canada and the group of countries that became known as the Pacific Alliance — Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile — all open-market democracies driving toward a more prosperous future to join negotiations with Asian nations on TPP, the trans-Pacific trade agreement.
Clinton praises Latin America for its high rate of economic growth, which she revealingly claims has produced “more than 50 million new middle-class consumers eager to buy U.S. goods and services.” She also admits that the region’s inequality is “still among the worst in the world” with much of its population “locked in persistent poverty” — even while the TPP that she has advocated strongly for threatens to exacerbate the region’s underdevelopment, just as NAFTA caused the Mexican economy to stagnate.
Last October, however, she publicly reversed her stance on the TPP under pressure from fellow Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Likewise, the entire two-page section on the conference in El Salvador where she expresses her support for the TPP is missing from the paperback.
In her original account of her efforts to prevent Cuba from being admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) in June 2009, Clinton singles out Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a potential mediator who could help “broker a compromise” between the U.S. and the left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Her assessment of Lula, removed from the paperback, is mixed:
As Brazil’s economy grew, so did Lula’s assertiveness in foreign policy. He envisioned Brazil becoming a major world power, and his actions led to both constructive cooperation and some frustrations. For example, in 2004 Lula sent troops to lead the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, where they did an excellent job of providing order and security under difficult conditions. On the other hand, he insisted on working with Turkey to cut a side deal with Iran on its nuclear program that did not meet the international community’s requirements.
It is notable that the “difficult conditions” in Haiti that Clinton refers to was a period of perhaps the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere at the time, following the U.S.-backed coup d’etat against democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Researchers estimate that some 4,000 people were killed for political reasons, and some 35,000 women and girls sexually assaulted. As various human rights investigators, journalists and other eyewitnesses noted at the time, some of the most heinous of these atrocities were carried out by Haiti’s National Police, with U.N. troops often providing support — when they were not engaging in them directly. WikiLeaked State Department cables, however, reveal that the State Department saw the U.N. mission as strategically important, in part because it helped to isolate Venezuela from other countries in the region, and because it allowed the U.S. to “manage” Haiti on the cheap.
In contrast to Lula, Clinton heaps praise on Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was recently suspended from office pending impeachment proceedings:
Later I would enjoy working with Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s protégée, Chief of Staff, and eventual successor as President. On January 1, 2011, I attended her inauguration on a rainy but festive day in Brasilia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as the country’s first woman President drove by in a 1952 Rolls-Royce. She took the oath of office and accepted the traditional green and gold Presidential sash from her mentor, Lula, pledging to continue his work on eradicating poverty and inequality. She also acknowledged the history she was making. “Today, all Brazilian women should feel proud and happy.” Dilma is a formidable leader whom I admire and like.
The paperback version deletes almost all references to Rousseff, mentioning her only once as an alleged target of NSA spying according to Edward Snowden.
The Arab Spring
By far the lengthiest deletion in Clinton’s memoirs consists of a ten-page section discussing the Arab Spring in Jordan, Libya and the Persian Gulf region — amounting to almost half of the chapter. Having detailed her administration’s response to the mass demonstrations that had started in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt, then Jordan, then Bahrain and Libya, Clinton openly recognizes the profound contradictions at the heart of the U.S.’ relationship with its Gulf allies:
The United States had developed deep economic and strategic ties to these wealthy, conservative monarchies, even as we made no secret of our concerns about human rights abuses, especially the treatment of women and minorities, and the export of extremist ideology. Every U.S. administration wrestled with the contradictions of our policy towards the Gulf.
And it was appalling that money from the Gulf continued funding extremist madrassas and propaganda all over the world. At the same time, these governments shared many of our top security concerns.
Thanks to these shared “security concerns,” particularly those surrounding al-Qaeda and Iran, her administration strengthened diplomatic ties and sold vast amounts of military equipment to these countries:
The United States sold large amounts of military equipment to the Gulf states, and stationed the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar, and maintained troops in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as key bases in other countries. When I became Secretary I developed personal relationships with Gulf leaders both individually and as a group through the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Clinton continues to reveal that the U.S.’ common interests with its Gulf allies extended well beyond mere security issues and in fact included the objective of regime change in Libya — which led the Obama administration into a self-inflicted dilemma as it weighed the ramifications of condemning the violent repression of protests in Bahrain with the need to build an international coalition, involving a number of Gulf states, to help remove Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi from power:
Our values and conscience demanded that the United States condemn the violence against civilians we were seeing in Bahrain, full stop. After all, that was the very principle at play in Libya. But if we persisted, the carefully constructed international coalition to stop Qaddafi could collapse at the eleventh hour, and we might fail to prevent a much larger abuse — a full-fledged massacre.
Instead of delving into the complexities of the U.S.’ alliances in the Middle East, the entire discussion is simply deleted, replaced by a pensive reflection on prospects for democracy in Egypt, making no reference to the Gulf region at all. Having been uncharacteristically candid in assessing the U.S.’ response to the Arab Spring, Clinton chose to ignore these obvious inconsistencies — electing instead to proclaim the Obama administration as a champion of democracy and human rights across the Arab world.
Relatives of Berta Caceres, Indigenous and environmental leader murdered in Honduras March 3, reaffirmed their distrust of the public prosecutor after having been excluded from the investigation, regarding the arrest of four suspects Monday.
“They excluded us from the investigation process from the beginning, we have no way of knowing whether the arrests are the result of exhaustive proceedings, nor do we know whether these include the masterminds at all levels,” they said in a statement.
They also stated that the alleged involvement of active and retired military linked to the company DESA demonstrates the involvement of state agents in the murder of Caceres.
Children and other relatives of Berta Caceres learned of the arrests through the media “and not through the channels they are entitled to by law,” the statement said.
The Honduran Office of the Public Prosecutor reported that 10 coordinated raids were carried out Monday in connection with Caceres’ homicide in the capital Tegucigalpa, as well as in La Ceiba, and Trujillo.
The four suspects are scheduled to appear in court in the following days, the OPP added.
Caceres’ death prompted massive international condemnation and led to huge protests in Honduras, a country that currently has the one of highest murder rates in the world.
Honduran radio journalist Felix Molina | Photo: Facebook / Felix Molina
Prominent Honduran radio journalist and critic of the country’s 2009 military coup Felix Molina has been wounded after suffering an assassination attempt on the eve of World Press Freedom Day and the two-month anniversary of the murder of another renowned Honduran figure, Indigenous leader Berta Caceres.
“I declare myself a survivor of the insecurity that the majority of the country faces,” Molina said in a statement released by the local human rights organization Cofadeh on Tuesday from the University School Hospital in Tegucigalpa where he is being treated for injuries from the attack.
Molina was the victim of a double attempt on his life on Monday. In the second attack, he suffered four bullet wounds, two in each leg, while taking a taxi in the capital city.
Photo: Facebook / Cofadeh
Hours earlier, he had reported on his Facebook account that two youth had pulled a gun on him while he rode in a taxi, asking him to hand over his phone. One of the attackers shouting at the other to shoot, but the driver sped away before the trigger was pulled.
Medical professionals reported that after receiving treatment, Molina’s life was not in danger due to the non-fatal location of the gunshot wounds.
“It is not my intention to speculate on this act, but with the repeat of the attack on the same day I think this was not a simple telephone theft but rather a direct attack against me,” Molina continued in his statement to rights defenders from the hospital, adding that he awaited a thorough and fair investigation. “If it is that, I am the most interested to know because I want to continue practicing journalism without fear, and continue living without fear.”
Human rights defenders were quick to point out that the attempt on Molina’s life was not an isolated event but part of the systematic repression and intimidation against activists and journalists that has sharply increased since the U.S.-backed military coup that hurled the country into crisis.
The human rights defense network of the western Honduran department of Lempira released a statement through Cofadeh holding the Honduran government responsible for the attack on Molina.
Human rights defender and prominent resistance activist Gilberto Rios wrote on social media that it is urgent to spread the news of the attack nationally and internationally.
“It is important that the world knows that is happening in Honduras everyday,” Rios wrote. “Freedom of expression is a precious right and there are not many journalists that identify with popular causes. No more assassinations of journalists!”
In the immediate aftermath of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras, Molina was a pivotal source of information amid a media blackout around the coup and repression against massive protests taking over the streets. Through his radio program Resistencias, aired on Honduras’ Radio Globo, and other alternative media, he has reported on pro-democracy and resistance movements from the front lines of struggle, despite receiving death threats.
The human rights situation in Honduras has drastically deteriorated since the 2009 coup, and the country has become one of the most dangerous countries in the region for media workers, second only to Mexico.
Since the 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, 59 journalists have been assassinated in Honduras. Four have been murdered since the beginning of 2016.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton did not express any regret Monday about her support for the 2009 coup in Honduras, despite the deteriorating human rights situation, recently highlighted with the murder of prominent Indigenous activist Berta Caceres.
In fact, in an interview with the New York Daily News, in her opinion, the U.S. aid to military and police forces in Central America will eventually pay off just like Plan Colombia.
Plan Colombia was established under the administration of Bill Clinton in 1999 under the guise of fighting the war on drugs. The U.S. aid package, totalling almost US$2 billion, gave 78 percent of the funds to the Colombian military and police for counternarcotics and military operations against the rebel forces.
Despite a long list of studies and evidence that shows that Plan Colombia contributed to human rights abuses by security forces and the rise of paramilitary forces, Clinton took most of the credit for the current peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels, suggesting Plan Colombia brought peace to Colombia.
“I didn’t like the way it looked or the way they did it but (the coup leaders) had a very strong argument that they had followed the constitution and the legal precedence,” she said in an interview with the New York Daily News.
Democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya was forcibly put on a plane and sent out of the country by the Honduran military in June 2009.
Clinton justified the move despite opposing advice from her top aides, who urged her to declare it a military coup, and to cut off U.S. aid, as some emails leaked in July revealed.
She admitted that the coup leaders “really undercut their argument by spiriting (Zelaya) out of the country in his pajamas, where they sent the military to take him out of his bed and get him out of the country.”
Nevertheless she strongly rejected the idea of cutting U.S. aid for Honduras, claiming this would have harmed the Honduran people, although it is mainly directed to the country’s security forces. It is used to keep the drug war within Honduran borders – as well as to keep Central American migrants running away from drug violence from reaching the United States.
Since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup that removed President Manuel Zelaya, 59 journalists have been assassinated in Honduras, with four of them being murdered just in 2016 alone.
The most violent year until now has been 2015, with 218 alerts registered and 12 journalists assassinated.
In April 2015, the Honduras National Congress approved the Journalist Protection Law, which included measures like providing police protection when a journalist receives a threat. The law also planned the creation of a center monitoring threat follow-ups, although the government has not yet approved the budget.
In four years of former President Profirio Lobo’s government, 30 journalists were murdered, while in the current government headed by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, 22 journalists have been assassinated in the two years and three months since he took office. These two post-coup presidencies have been accused of systematic human rights abuses and corruption.
The Attorney General’s office has only processed six cases, while only four people have been prosecuted and sent to jail. There has not been any investigation into who ordered these crimes and the motivations behind each one.
Brazil keeps its coups quiet (or at least quieter than many other Latin American countries). During the Cold War, there was much more attention to overt military regime changes often backed by the CIA, such as the overthrow of Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, the ouster of Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973 and even Argentina’s “dirty war” coup in 1976, than to Brazil’s 1964 coup that removed President João Goulart from power.
Noam Chomsky has called Goulart’s government “mildly social democratic.” Its replacement was a brutal military dictatorship.
In more modern times, Latin American coups have shed their image of overt military takeovers or covert CIA actions. Rather than tanks in the streets and grim-looking generals rounding up political opponents – today’s coups are more like the “color revolutions” used in Eastern Europe and the Mideast in which leftist, socialist or perceived anti-American governments were targeted with “soft power” tactics, such as economic dislocation, sophisticated propaganda, and political disorder often financed by “pro-democracy” non-governmental organizations (or NGOs).
This strategy began to take shape in the latter days of the Cold War as the CIA program of arming Nicaraguan Contra rebels gave way to a U.S. economic strategy of driving Sandinista-led Nicaragua into abject poverty, combined with a political strategy of spending on election-related NGOs by the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, setting the stage for the Sandinistas’ political defeat in 1990.
During the Obama administration, this strategy of non-violent “regime change” in Latin America has gained increasing favor, as with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decisive support for the 2009 ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya who had pursued a moderately progressive domestic policy that threatened the interests of the Central American nation’s traditional oligarchy and foreign investors.
Unlike the earlier military-style coups, the “silent coups” never take off their masks and reveal themselves as coups. They are coups disguised as domestic popular uprisings which are blamed on the misrule of the targeted government. Indeed, the U.S. mainstream media will go to great lengths to deny that these coups are even coups.
The new coups are cloaked in one of two disguises. In the first, a rightist minority that lost at the polls will allege “fraud” and move its message to the streets as an expression of “democracy”; in the second type, the minority cloaks its power grab behind the legal or constitutional workings of the legislature or the courts, such as was the case in ousting President Zelaya in Honduras in 2009.
Both strategies usually deploy accusations of corruption or dictatorial intent against the sitting government, charges that are trumpeted by rightist-owned news outlets and U.S.-funded NGOs that portray themselves as “promoting democracy,” seeking “good government” or defending “human rights.” Brazil today is showing signs of both strategies.
First, some background: In 2002, the Workers’ Party’s (PT) Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to power with 61.3 percent of the vote. Four years later, he was returned to power with a still overwhelming 60.83 percent. Lula da Silva’s presidency was marked by extraordinary growth in Brazil’s economy and by landmark social reforms and domestic infrastructure investments.
In 2010, at the end of Lula da Silva’s presidency, the BBC provided a typical account of his successes: “Number-crunchers say rising incomes have catapulted more than 29 million Brazilians into the middle class during the eight-year presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former trade unionist elected in 2002. Some of these people are beneficiaries of government handouts and others of a steadily improving education system. Brazilians are staying in school longer, which secures them higher wages, which drives consumption, which in turn fuels a booming domestic economy.”
However, in Brazil, a two-term president must sit out a full term before running again. So, in 2010, Dilma Rousseff ran as Lula da Silva’s chosen successor. She won a majority 56.05 percent of the vote. When, in 2014, Rousseff won re-election with 52 percent of the vote, the right-wing opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) went into a panic.
This panic was not just because democracy was failing as a method for advancing right-wing goals, nor was the panic just over the fourth consecutive victory by the more left-wing PT. The panic became desperation when it became clear that, after the PT had succeeded in holding onto power while Lula da Silva was constitutionally sidelined, he was likely returning as the PT’s presidential candidate in 2018.
After all, Lula da Silva left office with an 80 percent approval rating. Democracy, it seemed, might never work for the PSDB. So, the “silent coup” playbook was opened. As the prescribed first play, the opposition refused to accept the 2014 electoral results despite never proffering a credible complaint. The second move was taking to the streets.
A well-organized and well-funded minority whose numbers were too small to prevail at the polls can still create lots of noise and disruption in the streets, manufacturing the appearance of a powerful democratic movement. Plus, these protests received sympathetic coverage from the corporate media of both Brazil and the United States.
The next step was to cite corruption and begin the process for a constitutional coup in the form of impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff. Corruption, of course, is a reliable weapon in this arsenal because there is always some corruption in government which can be exaggerated or ignored as political interests dictate.
Allegations of corruption also can be useful in dirtying up popular politicians by making them appear to be only interested in lining their pockets, a particularly effective line of attack against leaders who appear to be working to benefit the people. Meanwhile, the corruption of U.S.-favored politicians who are lining their own pockets much more egregiously is often ignored by the same media and NGOs.
In recent years, this type of “constitutional” coup was used in Honduras to get rid of democratically elected President Zelaya. He was whisked out of Honduras through a kidnapping at gunpoint that was dressed up as a constitutional obligation mandated by a court after Zelaya announced a plebiscite to determine whether Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution.
The hostile political establishment in Honduras falsely translated his announcement into an unconstitutional intention to seek reelection, i.e., the abuse-of-power ruse. The ability to stand for a second term would be considered in the constitutional discussions, but was never announced as an intention by Zelaya.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court declared the President’s plebiscite unconstitutional and the military kidnapped Zelaya. The Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president: a coup in constitutional disguise, one that was condemned by many Latin American nations but was embraced by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This coup pattern reoccurred in Paraguay when right-wing Frederico Franco took the presidency from democratically elected, left-leaning Fernando Lugo in what has been called a parliamentary coup. As in Honduras, the coup was made to look like a constitutional transition. In the Paraguay case, the right-wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least 11 people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only 24 hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it.
Brazil is manifesting what could be the third example of this sort of coup in Latin America during the Obama administration.
Operation Lava Jato began in Brazil in March of 2014 as a judicial and police investigation into government corruption. Lava Jato is usually translated as “Car Wash” but, apparently, is better captured as “speed laundering” with the connotation of corruption and money laundering.
Operation Lava Jato began as the uncovering of political bribery and misuse of money, revolving around Brazil’s massive oil company Petrobras. The dirt – or political influence-buying – that needed washing stuck to all major political parties in a corrupt system, according to Alfredo Saad Filho, Professor of Political Economy at the SAOS University of London.
But Brazil’s political Right hijacked the investigation and turned a legitimate judicial investigation into a political coup attempt.
According to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Professor of Sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, although Operation Lava Jato “involves the leaders of various parties, the fact is that Operation Lava Jato – and its media accomplices – have shown to be majorly inclined towards implicating the leaders of PT (the Workers’ Party), with the by now unmistakable purpose of bringing about the political assassination of President Dilma Rousseff and former President Lula da Silva.”
De Sousa Santos called the political repurposing of the judicial investigation “glaringly” and “crassly selective,” and he indicts the entire operation in its refitted form as “blatantly illegal and unconstitutional.” Alfredo Saad Filho said the goal is to “inflict maximum damage” on the PT “while shielding other parties.”
The ultimate goal of the coup in democratic disguise is to neutralize Lula da Silva. Criminal charges — which Filho describes as “stretched” — have been brought against Lula da Silva. On March 4, he was detained for questioning. President Rousseff then appointed Lula da Silva as her Chief of Staff, a move which the opposition represented as an attempt to use ministerial status to protect him from prosecution by any body other than the Supreme Court.
But Filho says this representation is based on an illegally recorded and illegally released conversation between Rousseff and Lula da Silva. The conversation, Filho says, was then “misinterpreted” to allow it to be “presented as ‘proof’ of a conspiracy to protect Lula.” De Sousa Santos added that “President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet has decided to include Lula da Silva among its ministers. It is its right to do so and no institution, least of all the judiciary, has the power to prevent it.”
No “presidential crime warranting an impeachment has emerged,” according to Filho.
As in Honduras and Paraguay, an opposition that despairs of its ability to remove the elected government through democratic instruments has turned to undemocratic means that it hopes to disguise as judicial and constitutional. In the case of Brazil, Professor de Sousa Santos calls this coup in democratic disguise a “political-judicial coup.”
In both Honduras and Paraguay, the U.S. government, though publicly insisting that it wasn’t involved, privately knew the machinations were coups. Less than a month after the Honduran coup, the White House, State Department and many others were in receipt of a frank cable from the U.S. embassy in Honduras calling the coup a coup.
Entitled “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup,” the embassy said, “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” The cable added, “none of the . . . arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.”
As for Paraguay, U.S. embassy cables said Lugo’s political opposition had as its goal to “Capitalize on any Lugo missteps” and “impeach Lugo and assure their own political supremacy.” The cable noted that to achieve their goal, they are willing to “legally” impeach Lugo “even if on spurious grounds.”
Professor de Sousa Santos said U.S. imperialism has returned to its Latin American “backyard” in the form of NGO development projects, “organizations whose gestures in defense of democracy are just a front for covert, aggressive attacks and provocations directed at progressive governments.”
He said the U.S. goal is “replacing progressive governments with conservative governments while maintaining the democratic façade.” He claimed that Brazil is awash in financing from American sources, including “CIA-related organizations.” (The National Endowment for Democracy was created in 1983, in part to do somewhat openly what the CIA had previously done covertly, i.e., finance political movements that bent to Washington’s will.)
History will tell whether Brazil’s silent coup will succeed. History may also reveal what the U.S. government’s knowledge and involvement may be.
She has the record and the vision
“For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.” —Robert Kagan
“I have a sense that she’s one of the more competent members of the current administration and it would be interesting to speculate about how she might perform were she to be president.” —Dick Cheney
“I’ve known her for many years now, and I respect her intellect. And she ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen.” —Henry Kissinger
Nobody Beats This Record
- She says President Obama was wrong not to launch missile strikes on Syria in 2013.
- She pushed hard for the overthrow of Qadaffi in 2011.
- She supported the coup government in Honduras in 2009.
- She has backed escalation and prolongation of war in Afghanistan.
- She voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
- She skillfully promoted the White House justification for the war on Iraq.
- She does not hesitate to back the use of drones for targeted killing.
- She has consistently backed the military initiatives of Israel.
- She was not ashamed to laugh at the killing of Qadaffi.
- She has not hesitated to warn that she could obliterate Iran.
- She is not afraid to antagonize Russia.
- She helped facilitate a military coup in Ukraine.
- She has the financial support of the arms makers and many of their foreign customers.
- She waived restrictions at the State Department on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar, all states wise enough to donate to the Clinton Foundation.
- She supported President Bill Clinton’s wars and the power of the president to make war without Congress.
- She has advocated for arming fighters in Syria.
- She supported a surge in Iraq even before President Bush did.