Perverse ironies of Honduran political crisis
Talk about bad timing. The US State Department has just certified that the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for the Central American country to receive millions of dollars in US aid—just as President Juan Orlando Hernández has suspended constitutional rights, unleashed the army on protesters, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to suppress unrest sparked by his contested re-election. The document, dated Nov. 28 and reported today by Reuters, indicates that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified Honduras for the assistance, just two days after the apparently fraudulent election of Washington favorite Hernández.
The election pitted Salvador Nasralla, a TV personality turned populist politician, against incumbent Hernández, representative of the corrupt oligarchy. Hernández is the second elected president since the 2009 coup d'etat after the similarly reactionary Porfirio Lobo—and his 2013 election was also tainted by claims of fraud. This time around, it is even more blatant. Nasralla was ahead until the computer system counting the votes mysteriously failed the night of Nov. 29. When the system got back up again—lo and behold, Hernández was in the lead! (Hernández's ruling National Party seems to have taken a trick from the playbook of what was then Mexico's one-party dictatorship in the stolen elections of 1988.)
Nasralla and his Opposition Alliance say they will not recognize the outcome. They are being backed up by the allied LIBRE party of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in the 2009 coup that Hernández (then a member of the National Congress) supported.
Which brings us to a second irony. The justification for the coup against Zelaya was that he had merely broached seeking a second term, and had called a non-binding referendum to gauge voter support for changing constitutional provisions that barred re-election by a sitting president. For this, he was rousted from his bed by army troops in the wee hours of June 28, 2009 (the day the vote had been scheduled), and put on a plane out of the country while still in his pajamas. The conservative-dominated National Congress and Supreme Court both signed off on the coup after the fact, but this cover of pseudo-leaglity didn't appease Zelaya's supporters, who launched a civil resistance movement. Zelaya was barred from running for the presidency again under terms of the deal that allowed him to return to the country after a degree of legitimate rule was restored in 2011. Most Zelaya supporters seem to now be backing Nasralla, and there is an unsettling sense of history repeating itself. But this time the crisis was sparked by Hernández's own dubious election to a second term!
Hernández launched his bid for a second term after Supreme Court judges—some appointed by Hernández himself—struck down the constitution's no-reelection provision in April 2015. Almost exactly a year later, in April of this year, the high court issued a resolution specifically approving Hernández's re-election bid. (FT, Dec. 4; The Guardian, Dec. 2; AP, Nov. 29; LAT, Nov. 30; NYT, Nov. 23; PanAm Post, April 18)
So something that was so onerous when even discussed by left-populist Zelaya that it warranted a coup d'etat is apparently hunky-dory when actually carried out by a Washington-backed scion of the conservative oligarchy.
A final irony concerns how all this is playing out in the gringo media, with right and "left" each happily peddling absolutely contradictory versions of recent events in Honduras—especially concerning the role of Hillary Clinton, who is of course hated by both sides. For the Wall Street Journal's reactionary Mary Anastasia O'Grady (who has built a career by taking dishonest pot-shots at the left in Honduras and across Latin America), Manuel Zelaya is the puppet-master behind the current protests, and "Hillary Clinton's favorite Central American." She shares the view of the Honduran oligarchy that the Obama administration's official disavowal of the coup was a betrayal—as lukewarm as it was. Meanwhile, the widespread assumption on the "left" (typified by Justin Raimondo, conspiracy guru of AntiWar.com) is that Hillary was behind the coup that ousted Zelaya the way Henry Kissinger was behind the coup that ousted Chile's Salvador Allende in '73. Kinda like the blind men and the elephant, eh?
The actual, um, facts were parsed by this website here. Nothing suggests the Obama White House or Clinton State Department were behind the coup (speculation aside), although they arguably acquiesced in it after the fact—to a certain degree. There is greater evidence that rogue elements of Washington power in the orbit of the Republican Party were in on the coup beforehand—and certainly aggressively mobilized to defend it ex post facto.
In any case, there is little ambiguity about how the Donald Trump White House will respond to yet another illegitimate power-grab in Honduras. And this (let's not forget) is the far more relevant question.