Thursday, November 26, 2009


In 1983 American Jesuit priest James Carney was brutally tortured and thrown to his death from a helicopter on the orders of Honduran Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, founding commander of the elite Battalion 3-16 death squad. The same year Ronald Reagan presented the General, whose portrait adorns the School of the Americas, the Legion of Merit for "encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras," raising suspicion that the killing was sanctioned by then U.S ambassador John Negroponte.

Even if that was not the case, which seems unlikely, Negroponte presided over the largest CIA station in the world and one of the darkest periods in the tortured U.S-Honduran relationship. "[I]ntelligence collection and reporting requirements on human rights abuses," euphemistically reported a subsequent CIA review "were subordinated to higher priorities," namely the interests of American corporations. Summarizing declassified documents the National Security Archive comments that "reporting on human rights atrocities" committed by Battalion 3-16 is "conspicuously absent from the cable traffic" and that "Negroponte's cables reflect no protest, or even discussion of these issues during his many meetings with General Alvarez, his deputies and Honduran President Robert Suazo. Nor do the released cables contain any reporting to Washington on the human rights abuses that were taking place." In his stint as ambassador Negroponte, dubbed "the proconsul", worked to undermine regional peace initiatives, provide logistical support to the Nicaraguan Contras, who were based in Honduras, and worked closely with the leading Generals who were torturing their country on behalf of powerful American and local business interests.

That history makes the current situation in Honduras and Washington extremely concerning. The response to the June coup deposing democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was initially positive. State Department officials described the situation as a military coup, the U.S funded Freedom House called for the restoration of the elected government, as did the Obama administration. However, the U.S offered unwavering, if tacit, support of the de facto government, without which it would not be able to retain power.

As the coup government has grown more secure in its position it has become increasingly repressive. The post-coup period has been followed by forced closures of media outlets, extrajudicial killings, assassinations and kidnapping of opposition leaders by members of the security forces, torture, bans on political expression, forced disappearances, and a nationwide curfew. Though an unelected government that rules through terror is hostile to civilized opinion, it is highly laudable from the perspective of the wealthy local elites and foreign corporations that control the economy.

The U.S has broken from the rest of the world in refusing to recall its ambassador and pledging to recognize the results of Sunday's ballot, which is being boycotted by the opposition. President Obama has even suggested it was hypocritical to suggest the U.S should exert its leverage to restore democratic rule while opposing U.S subversion in foreign nations.

As the business community is obliged to offer cash discounts to individuals with stained fingers on election day in hopes of raising voter turnout to levels sufficient to give the election a veneer of legitimacy the U.S has pledged to recognize the results of the contest, which features no opposition candidates. The position of the American government, reminiscent of the policies of death squads and dictators that characterized the last five decades of interaction between the region and the global hegemon, is a dangerous step backwards in U.S-Latin American relations.

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