Thursday, July 09, 2009

Honduras: the Puppet Problem

As I read through blogs and news about Honduras, I have become increasingly tired of what I have come to think of as Puppet Problem. This refers to the idea that we need to look outside Honduras to understand what's happening there. Hondurans are just puppets. The result is that what's best for Hondurans themselves gets lost in the shuffle.

There are two dimensions to the Puppet Problem. The first, and most common, is that Honduras is all about Hugo Chávez. Its least sophisticated form comes from people like Cardinal Rodríguez, who says simply that "Chávez wanted to control the country." More common is the idea that we should judge the coup in terms of whether Chávez somehow wins or loses as a result. From this perspective, Honduran law matters little, and the well-being of the Honduran people matters not at all. What matters is making sure that Chávez loses.

The other side of the Puppet Problem is that the United States is responsible for the coup. This either means the Obama administration itself or just past notorious policy makers. Since Venezuelan officials themselves raised the point, we even get to the ridiculous point where Otto Reich writes an op-ed in the Miami Herald entitled, "I did not orchestrate coup in Honduras." This perspective entails refusal to examine the real life events that led up to the coup. Since the U.S. orchestrated it, there is no need to understand the complex political conflict that was taking place in the weeks prior. Once again, Honduras itself is secondary to outside influence.

Of course, Honduras is a small impoverished country with weak political institutions. Outside factors always play a role in its economic and political development. Assigning them primary importance, however, is the essence of the problem. This coup was Honduran, and any solution must focus squarely on domestic Honduran realities.

24 comments:

John (Juan) Donaghy 9:11 AM  

Your entry strikes home since I continue to here both puppet allegations.
However, some of those who FEEL a US hand in this are well aware of the complexities of the situation. They remember the times when nothing could be done in Honduras without the permission of the US. They don't say this publicly like some Zelaya supporters, partly because they are not Zelaya supporters, but they share their concerns with me. I argue strenuously against them on this, but I do find that my Honduran friends feel - and fear - a US hand and especially fear a return to some of the tactics of the eighties.
Thanks for the commentary!

el callao 10:33 AM  

The US may not have orchestrated the coup but it will certainly play a strong role in what happens now. Both Micheletti and Zelaya say that they will not negotiate but like sour-faced siblings after a fight they will both sit down to "mediate" after mommy Clinton told them to work it out between themselves (or else).

Anonymous,  11:02 AM  

The two tendencies are prevalent because the outside factors are precisely what animate the standoff. The fiasco on Sunday was designed, directed and broadcast live from Caracas. Populists need enemies. This political theater distracts from Venezuela's crises just as the Ecuador/Colombia stand off did last year.

The US, in contrast, was quietly hoping for minimal fatalities and sounding out possible forms of breaking the stalemate. Its actions have been low key and cautious. It is too bad that Brazil, Chile and other leading Latin American countries with democratic legitimacy could not get involved to arrange mediation rather than simply follow the Venezuelan/Insulza script of confrontation. It was a lost opportunity to demonstrate that the Latin American countries can exercise responsible regional leadership w/o the US.

As for the Micheletti coup, I don't think this event occured in a vacuum. The clear impetus came from a disgust with Zelaya's actions and the fear of Venezuelan influence in the country (whether well-founded or not). It was a pre-emptive coup. Therefore, when you argue that Chavez's influence has been overstated you dismiss exactly what a substantial portion of Hondurans say about it. Another form of puppetry?

el callao 11:24 AM  

But what portion of the Honduran population is afraid of Chavez? I don't think the subsistence peasant in a mountain hamlet stops much to ponder about Chavez' socialist agenda, nor does the impoverished maquiladora worker. Most Hondurans are too busy trying to survive to worry about Chavez's designs on their country (or the US's for that matter). The people worried about Chavez come mainly from the middle and upper classes, a small portion of Honduras' population indeed.

leftside 12:49 PM  

It is worth noting that the accusation against Otto Reich (specifically his Arcadia Foundation) first came from from the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization, OFRANEH. Of course, Reich does not acknowledge that in his huffy response and focuses exclusively on some undefined comments of the Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS instead.

And it is not at all irrelevant that large sums of money were sent to the so-called Movimiento Paz y Democracia (Peace and Democracy
Movement) through the U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), both U.S. agencies with a long history of intervention in the internal affairs of countries around the world. The public deserves to know the full IRI role in the country as well. The fact that these things are secret is a big part of the problem and a reason why speculation must be employed.

Even those asking the most pointed questions - like Gollinger, Kozloff and Parenti - do not directly accuse the US of "orchestrating" anything. That is a simplification that minimizes the seriousness of their work. They are bringing potentially important information to the table and raising questions. Isn't that the job of journalism?

I agree that the Chavez perceptions can not be underplayed. Books could be written to understand the powerful "boogey-man" effect he has on the elites of Latin America. It is probably more relevant than any other single thing to explain the real basis of Zelaya's removal.

I think Greg's underlying point is valid, that looking exclusively elsewhere for answers can easily cloud one's view of events. But the US influence on Honduras, particularly, their military, has been so great the last 20+ years that it would be irresponsible not to work that angle. After all, only the US KNEW about the coup plans beforehand. That alone, should raise significant eyebrows in the mainstream press. Instead, this angle has been ignored and alternative journos have had to do the work. They should not be disparaged, nor their conclusions be simplified.

Vicente Duque 1:26 PM  

Mr Weeks :

I visit your site everyday. Thanks for concern on Honduras and Democracy in Latin America. I appreciate your efforts. Very important your work on Honduras.

This problem of Honduras is very complex and hard to understand. Difficult for me .... Issue is very complex.

I hope that you soon return to Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Where I am sometimes mad with the Extreme Vulgarity and Aggressivity of certain presidents and I become fired with ( too much ) passion.

Anyway the U. S. can do a lot of good work in Honduras and Latin America. Bush had bright spots in his Latin America's Policy.

Thanks Again

Vicente Duque

Anonymous,  7:35 PM  

"But what portion of the Honduran population is afraid of Chavez? I don't think the subsistence peasant in a mountain hamlet stops much to ponder about Chavez' socialist agenda, nor does the impoverished maquiladora worker. Most Hondurans are too busy trying to survive to worry about Chavez's designs on their country (or the US's for that matter). The people worried about Chavez come mainly from the middle and upper classes, a small portion of Honduras' population indeed."

el callao, This is exactly what I am talking about. The Hondurans have held elections for 25 years. Their representatives in government and its institutions, including the military and judiciary, felt there was reason enough to be concerned and to overthrow a legitimately elected president. Many everyday people may be largely indifferent or too preoccupied with economic survival to care but they did have a say through their representatives. It is not a direct democracy. Nor is it perfect. Honduras is a poor country that is struggling to establish a workable system in the face of extremely difficult economic circumstances.

But what if the everyday people did care? Most Hondurans have access to television and modern media. Heaven forbid, some may even be patriots or religious believers. They may own a small plot of land. Stop patronizing the working class and the rural folks as rubes being oppressed by a oligarchich ruling class. This marxist caricature does nothing more than fulfill a leftist version of puppetry.

Justin Delacour 1:18 AM  

It is too bad that Brazil, Chile and other leading Latin American countries with democratic legitimacy could not get involved to arrange mediation rather than simply follow the Venezuelan/Insulza script of confrontation.

This is just really bad analysis. First, Chavez and Insulza are two very different figures. Second, there is no doubt that Insulza has the FULL backing of Chile and Brazil, both of which are ADAMANTLY opposed to this coup and have stated as much in no uncertain terms. The issue here is not Chavez. The issue here is that the coup threatens the stability of the entire region because, if Micheletti and company don't come out on the losing side of this debacle, this coup will embolden prospective coup plotters all throughout the region. Insulza is absolutely right when he warns that, if the Honduran crisis is not resolved quickly, it could leave the door open for other coups in the region.

And to return to the days of military juntas and dirty wars would be too tragic to even ponder.

el callao 10:44 AM  

"if Micheletti and company don't come out on the losing side of this debacle, this coup will embolden prospective coup plotters all throughout the region."

And the coup plotters have been able to get away with it for almost two weeks now with no sign of giving in to international pressure. And this is happening in Honduras, a small country completely dependent on the outside world. Imagine if we had such a coup in a country like Brazil that can pretty much isolate itself indefinitely.

Anonymous,  1:35 PM  

Justin, Do you really think that Lula and Bachelet would have sponsored a contrived attempt to land at the airport with a civilian mob facing an army outside the fences. No, I don't think so. Insulza went along with the plan rather than stop Chavez by saying that it would endanger lives and not succeed in returning Zelaya to Honduras. (Note how Fernandez, Correa and Insulza all jumped off Zelaya's plane.) They quietly went along with the plan because they were unable to stand up to Chavez and separate OAS policy from Caracas. As long as Insulza allows the OAS reaction to be dominated by Chavez's confrontational rhetoric and tacticaL decisions this works in favor of the coup with regard to world public opinion.

While Chile and Brazil are unconditionally supporting a return of Zelaya, they have not accepted a more prominent role in figuring out a diplomatic resolution. Unfortunately they ceded agency in the crisis to Venezuela (ALBA), missing an opportunity for practical and effective regional leadership without the US. Latin America is slowly moving its way forward in establishing democratic standards for regional legitimacy. Yet this coup is exposing the weaknesses of the Inter-American system and what the standards should be. The OAS positions should not mirror what the less democratic countries want but what the consensus supports in practical terms. Until the moderate left stands up to the radicals, accepting the responsibilities of regional leadership, the right will not be held accountable easily. (Of course, the US must also step aside which in this case the Obama administration appeared willing to do.)

I view the mediation of Arias as a positive sign. I also view the US cutoff in military aid as positive. Both are forms of the carrot and stick that can induce some flexibility on both sides.I am in favor of returning Zelaya and clipping his wings. The solution to the coup is a fair election in November.

Justin Delacour 2:43 PM  

Justin, Do you really think that Lula and Bachelet would have sponsored a contrived attempt to land at the airport with a civilian mob facing an army outside the fences.

That was Zelaya's call, not Insulza's. The only government in the region that expressed reservations about Zelaya's attempted return is that of the United States. If Micheletti doesn't agree to give up power soon, Zelaya may well decide to make another such daring attempt. And, in the event that Honduras' legimately elected president makes another such attempt, those who are truly concerned about the fate of democracy --including the Brazilian and Chilean governments-- will support Zelaya's efforts.

And, by the way, who are you to second-guess Bachelet's backing of Insulza? Insulza is closer to Bachelet than to any other leader in the region, so excuse me if your cheap speculation about Bachelet's supposed reservations doesn't hold much water with me. The Chilean concertacion has every reason to be horrified by this coup because the dangers of the precedent ring home to them. I don't think they ring home to you, though.

As long as Insulza allows the OAS reaction to be dominated by Chavez's confrontational rhetoric...

More bullshit. Reuters just astutely pointed out that Chavez has moved into the background in this whole fiasco because he knows his stances are polarizing and not always helpful.

I hate to break this to you, but Chavez is not running the show here.

Anonymous,  4:33 PM  

Justin--
1) Sunday's televised melodrama (Telesur, Chavez's plane, Chavez’s pilot etc...) was hardly decided upon with Hugo Chavez in the background;
2) I didn’t speculate on Insulza’s differences with Bachelet I just point out that the OAS leader went along with something that I think he probably didn’t agree with—reasonable speculation after he and the other presidents changed planes;
and 3) my point is there is nothing in Bachelet’s history as a public leader to indicate that she supports such reckless and counter-productive actions. While she supports democracy unconditionally, she is more concerned with tangible results rather than utopian fantasies and televised foolishness. Further both she and Lula have a long record of conflict with Chavez over many regional issues.

http://www.global21online.org/articles/1004.html

As for disparaging my convictions about democracy in Latin America that is a cheap shot. I am an unapologetic liberal. I don’t support military coups nor do I support demagogic populism. Our real difference of opinion is that I see the current moment as a plastic juncture rather than just establishing a “precedent.” I think the patterns of a coup d’etat can be overcome with the right form of Inter-American institutions. Given the recent approach of the US, a kind of benign neglect historically speaking, Latin America has an opportunity to manage its affairs in a way that it never has before. However, one of the biggest obstacles to this happening is demagogic populism leading rather than the pragmatic and democratic socialists.

Anonymous,  5:16 PM  

Chavez, an avowed socialist and critic of the United States, has emerged in the unlikely role as the leading champion of democracy for Honduras, though he catapulted to fame as an army colonel by trying to overthrow Venezuela's democratically elected government in 1992. Chavez was first elected president in 1999, but he's been stripping Venezuelan elected opponents of their power recently.

"Chavez has been showing a great level of influence" in the Honduras crisis, former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga said by telephone from La Paz. "He has been setting the tone for the international community; the OAS (Organization of American States) has been running at his rhythm and pace; and he has been milking this for all it's worth. It's been an incredible gift given to Chavez by the (Honduran) military."

Chavez choreographed the cinematic tour de force Sunday when Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras by flying to Tegucigalpa without permission from Honduras' de facto government while thousands of Zelaya's followers cheered him on and clashed with security forces.

Zelaya was traveling on a Venezuelan plane flown by Venezuelan pilots, and the drama was covered live throughout Latin America by Chavez's fledgling Telesur cable network, which had the only TV cameras aboard the plane. The runway blocked, the plane circled the Honduran capital and then landed in neighboring El Salvador. You have to admit that it's been quite a show," Quiroga added.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/world/AP/story/1131675.html

Justin Delacour 7:55 PM  

3) my point is there is nothing in Bachelet’s history as a public leader to indicate that she supports such reckless and counter-productive actions.

What would be "reckless and counter-productive" would be to fail to turn back this coup.

While she supports democracy unconditionally, she is more concerned with tangible results rather than utopian fantasies and televised foolishness.

And Insulza comes from the very same tradition of Chilean center-left politics as she does.

Further both she and Lula have a long record of conflict with Chavez over many regional issues.

Uh, no, Lula has no such "long record of conflict" with Chavez. Lula and Chavez certainly have different approaches to domestic policy, but Lula and Chavez get along quite well. Lula has repeatedly defended the Chavez government against selective and hypocritical attacks upon it, but you're not gonna read about that in the U.S. press.

As for Bachelet, she has had more friction with Chavez than Lula because she's under a lot of pressure from the Chilean right, but that's totally irrelevant to the question of how she feels about the Honduran coup. Insulza has had some significant friction with Chavez as well, but that doesn't change the fact that ALL leftist and centrist governments in the hemisphere recognize the need for unity in the face of this coup.

Unfortunately, there are others (like yourself) who would prefer to use this time to bash the Latin American Left than to help turn back the gravest of threats to democracy in the hemisphere.

Anonymous,  10:51 AM  

Our differences boil down to the following:

1) I support a negotiated and peaceful end to the coup. You offer no solution to a stalemate except perhaps making the Honduran people miserable.
2) I do not use “all” in my analyses as absolutes don’t exist in this situation. As in “All leftist and centrist govt.s”
3) I think defining Honduras’s democracy as simply about Zelaya and his removal is a narrow vision of democracy. Mel’s actions (and Chavez too) contributed to this outcome.
4) I think there are important divisions in the OAS underneath the seeming consensus. Sometimes diplomatic silence is telling.
5) I believe that much of foreign policy derives not from of conviction, ideology nor interest but for domestic political considerations.
6) I think a combination of international sanctions, face-saving measures and leadership from Latin American moderates and the US is the way to go.
7) I lament the absence of Lula and Bachelet who are missing an opportunity to lead in this crisis. I believe that they would have a different approach.
8) I think the desire of Chavez to heighten conflict (Sunday’s media circus) is counterproductive to a democratic solution. More populist demagoguery only inflames the situation.

Anonymous,  10:57 AM  

Here are a range of articles that support various points that I would make if we were sitting in a classroom or café and and discussing it. None of my points are particularly original. The Spanish language/LA press has been talking about these issues for a long time. The sources, of course, represent a wide variety of political viewpoints, and I am not in agreement with everything they argue.

Latin American politics is changing, left and right.

http://www.elpais.com/articulo/
internacional/Derechas/
izquierdas/latinoamericanas/
elpepuint/20090710
elpepuint_5/Tes

Lula and Bachelet and the Cuban exception—missed opportunities for regional leadership.

http://www.latimes.com/news/
opinion/commentary/
la-oe-martinez30-2009jun30,0,7505798.story

Demagogic populism as a threat to democracy

http://www.spiegel.de/international/
world/0,1518,635471,00.html

Anonymous,  10:59 AM  

Lula supports democracy in Honduras but not last Sunday’s debacle.

http://www.clarin.com/diario/
2009/07/07/elmundo/
i-01953906.htm

Insulza supports Arias negotiations.

http://www.lanacion.cl/
prontus_noticias
_v2/site/artic/20090709/
pags/
20090709122523.html


Chavez torpedoes Arias negotiations as waste of time (and dead before starting).

http://www.miamiherald.com/
news/americas/AP/story/
1135060.html

Anonymous,  11:02 AM  

Examples of conflicts with Chavez and Bachelet include IberoAmerican summits, free trade vs. ALBA, regional organizations such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR, various incendiary comments by Chavez, and Bolivian nationalizations.

http://www.lanacion.cl/prontus_
noticias_v2/site/artic/
20090331/pags/
20090331093137.html

Examples of conflicts between Chavez and Lula include rivalry for regional leadership and Bolivian nationalizations. Note the difference between what Brazil says publically and what they actually support when it push comes to shove. Actions often speak louder than words.

http://www.lanacion.cl/
prontus_noticias/site/artic/
20061019/pags/
20061019213932.html

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/
story/cms.php?story_id=4780

Anonymous,  11:06 AM  

http://www.sptimes.com/
2008/01/16/State/
Brazil_s_outreach_to_.shtml

Bachelet’s temperment and Chile’s foreign policy

http://www.emol.com/
noticias/nacional/detalle/
detallenoticias.asp?
idnoticia=351902

The US responsibility for the coup and the effectiveness of Telesur in heightening conflict according to Cuba. Not quite unity.

http://www.granma.cu/
ingles/2009/julio/
mar7/28hdoble-i.html

The existence of two LA lefts and the need for leadership from moderates. This is a controversial analysis, as was his history of the LA left—Failed Utopias--but it can’t just be disregarded altogether.

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/
articles/61702/
jorge-g-castaneda/
latin-americas-left-turn

http://www.latintelligence.com/
tag/hugo-chavez/

Evo,  4:46 PM  

Annonymous, will you please stop cowtowing to imperialist/ transnational oligarchic party line (seriously, "moderates"? From fucking Foreign Affairs? And Miami Herald? Really? The desperation in calling people they'd help depose decades ago "moderates", while calling friendly extremist middle-east countries "moderates" just serves to show us how they're interested in these regimes in that they placate even more "populist" movements in those countries - MST, worker's control in Ar, natives movements throughout many countries etc).

These little soap-operas of what leaders say and act to each other (and little conspiracies about Chavez having any pull whatsoever, like the old days' conspiracy theories about Castro's international communism ruling the world etc) doesn't really help analysis in any way. Your blatant stupidity, and putting agency onto those actors like you're watching your little imperialist soap, on matters like Lula and Chavez's "conflict" on matters of bolivian resources just goes to show that (without ever mentioning Brazil's complex domestic politics that ultimately serves, as a "moderate", in being dedicated to international capital - hence the barrage of complements from international press in the recent months to a ex-union-man president they would kick to the floor 15 years ago, but it served to tame any leftwards movement in discourse and in the people "as a almost socialist union man" while continuing many neoliberal policies, but they still allow to defame him in domestic press in order to put someone even more neoliberal than him).

So stop trolling and copy-pasting even the most inane imperialist bullshit like a goddamn brainless parrot (it'd be understandable if you were the usual imperialist misinformed "white man's burden" liberal, but you're genuinely parroting even the most insane extremist right-wing propaganda).

Thank you, bye.

el callao 6:18 PM  

"ALL leftist and centrist governments in the hemisphere recognize the need for unity in the face of this coup."

And even right-wing governments like Mexico and Colombia have supported the reinstatement of Zelaya.

Anonymous,  11:42 PM  

Shoot the messenger. Of course, call me a troll and a reactionary. Very good argumentation. But facts are stubborn things.

On the simple point that there is a divergence on the left in Latin America (never mind the center and right) the answer is clear. There is no reason to believe that the hemisphere's countries are united. Chavez has been trashing the Arias effort since the moment it started. This coup exposes the same regional fissures that have been developing for quite a while. Mexico and Colombia (the democratic right), and Chile and Brazil (the democratic left) are not only not joining the ALBA countries in ridiculous pronouncements (or contrived events) they are supporting the Arias initiative quietly. None of them has the political capital or will to directly sponsor the talks. What happens if the coup is not undone? What if a major rebellion breaks out? They will blame the US. So, they step back and let the US do the heavy lifting. Meanwhile they don't have any of the political risks and they can keep proclaiming how the coup must not stand. I think the Inter-American system will remain weak until the natural leaders step up to the plate.

Lastly, I gave you a range of source material to consider. Yes, some of it establishment stuff. Some from the right. If your response is to declare everyone's view as simply imperialist stooges then clearly you can't read. Granma, for pete's sake, is the communist party paper from Havana.

Alabama_John 1:26 PM  

New president running an old imperial government -- Where is the hope for change?

As goes Honduras toward the progressive left so goes Central America, and Empire USA is going to pull out all stops on this one gentlemen.

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