Hondurans are still suffering from the effects of the June 2009 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mel Zelaya. The coup has unleashed a wave of violence against political opposition, journalists, small farmers and others, with impunity for the security forces that have been implicated in these murders. This is exactly what those who opposed the coup regime -- and its consolidation of power with marred "elections" in November 2009 -- were worried about.
On the wrong side of this fight was the Obama Administration, which -- after some hesitation -- made some statements against the coup but went on to do quite a bit to help the coup government succeed. Nearly three years and hundreds of political killings later, it seems that this administration is still on the side of repression and denial of Hondurans' basic human rights.
Nothing has made this clearer than the attempts of Democratic members of the U.S. Congress to pressure the administration to change course. On March 9, 94 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her "to suspend U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces."
The Members of Congress note a "pattern of human rights violations in which human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists are the subject of death threats, attacks and extrajudicial executions." They call particular attention to the situation in the Bajo Aguan region, about 350 miles northeast of the capital, where "Forty-five people associated with peasant organizations have been killed." This violence, which is committed by landowners' gunmen and security forces against peasants struggling for land rights, is a direct result of the coup; under the Zelaya administration there were negotiations taking place to resolve the disputes peacefully.
The letter from members of Congress is politically quite striking because it is signed by just about half of all the Democrats in the House, including some in leadership positions. This is an election year, and these people are not eager to fight with their president over something that is not likely to be a key concern in their districts. So they must have been quite convinced that these are outrageous violations of human rights that our government has a responsibility to do something about.
But the major media in the U.S. did not seem to notice this letter or its political significance. And there were no reports at all on a similar letter to Secretary Clinton four days earlier, from a number of U.S. Senators who expressed their concern over "credible reports of killings and violent attacks that allegedly involve police and military agents," and "the failure of [Honduran] state authorities to prosecute violators and protect the rights of victims and their families."
These omissions are even more striking as Vice President Biden traveled to Honduras on March 6, putting the country in the news cycle. The major media serve as enabler in this circumstance by not reporting this congressional action by so many members of President Obama's own party. The administration looks to the press and, seeing nothing, reasons that if nobody heard this big tree falling in the forest, then it didn't happen.
There has been no response so far from the State Department other than a highly misleading statement regarding what the 94 members of Congress were asking. Whereas the letter call for a suspension of U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police while the killings continue with impunity, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "I think the concerns that we have with this particular proposal is that it calls for a cutting of all aid to Honduras," and that "this recommendation to cut it all off is a relatively blunt instrument." (Emphasis added.)
Even worse, the Obama Administration has increased its requested military aid for Honduras for fiscal year 2012 -- one of only two increases in the region (the other being Mexico). The excuse, of course, is the infamous "war on drugs." One has to wonder what the U.S. government would do if the violence associated with drug trafficking were ever to subside, it has been so convenient to them in building up their military and security presence in the region, and the political influence that goes with it. Perhaps that is part of the reason why the Obama Administration has been so cold to the talk of the legalization of some drugs by even U.S.- supported presidents such as Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, as well as a number of prominent former presidents and leaders .
In the past decade-and-a-half, South America has liberated itself from Washington, winning a historic "second independence" that makes it almost impervious to the kind of U.S.-supported coups that threw Honduras into this wave of violence and repression. These governments unanimously distanced themselves from Washington by demanding the unconditional return of President Zelaya in 2009 and opposing the "elections" held that year to consolidate the coup government.
But they need to do much more, and begin to see Central America and the Caribbean as part of their region, and not, as Washington sees it, "our little region over here, which never has bothered anybody." The Cartagena agreement that allowed for Zelaya's return contains human rights guarantees, and allows for other South American countries (besides Colombia and Venezuela, who brokered the agreement) to participate in ensuring compliance.
With help from South America, and from all the organizations and activists that succeeded in getting 94 Members of Congress to challenge the Obama Administration on their complicity, the Hondurans who are fighting so courageously for their human rights and national sovereignty will put an end to this violent repression.
This article was originally published in The Guardian Unlimited (UK) on March 22, 2012.