Ousted Honduran president should be checking out real estate in Costa Rica
I hope I've gotten this one completely wrong, or should I say hope Political Decoder's perspective is out-of-whack.
President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by a Honduran army coup on Sunday to denunciations from world leaders, including President Barack Obama, as well as rights groups like Amnesty. The knowledgable Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, sounded optimistic about his return in an interview Monday on CBC radio's As It Happens. Military coups are a bad thing, agreed?
Odds are, though, that Zelaya will stay Costa Rica, where he was unceremoniously dumped, until a successor is chosen in the November presidential elections. That's because the coup would have been highly unlikely without, at the least, a nod and a wink from the CIA. Things of that nature don't happen in the Americas without assurances the U.S. won't pull a Panama. It's the Monroe Doctrine writ large, and Honduras is in America's backyard. The U.S. still has 600 soldiers stationed at Soto Cano military base in Honduras, also the site of a regional U.S. task force on narco-trafficking, humanitarian issues and disaster relief (read counter-terrorism). Washington is no fan of left-wing politicians, especially one so physically close as Zelaya, with his ties to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, and efforts to change the consitution to allow him to run for re-election.
Venezuelan President Chavez blames the entire coup on the CIA. Maybe, but unlikely; it wouldn't have been necessary. Top soldiers in most Latin American countries, including Honduras, have done their advanced training at the School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation), and ties to the U.S. defence elite are maintained in many ways, including in-country spooks. (A link to an organization that opposes the existence of the Institute. ) Washington gets very nervous when Latin American or Caribbean leaders lean left. If something can be done, it is.
I first witnessed how it works when then Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest, was ousted in a 1991 army coup. The State Department immediately denounced it, as did the big world agencies - just as the U.N. General Assembly moved this week to condemn the Honduran coup.
However, three days after the coup I walked into army headquarters in Port-au-Prince to find the local CIA agent sitting there. (Sorry, naval attaché.) He was all chummy with coup leader Lt. Gen. General Raoul Cédras. Both men regaled me with stories of Aristide's lunacy, backed by bizarre documents lifted from the president's home by a shadowy Canadian, nicknamed (yup), "The Shadow." The documents were, to me, hilarious. In the age of snail mail, real weirdos sent reporters rants that would curl your toes - sometimes literally on toilet paper - and these documents were just like that. At the time, remember, the U.S. Administration wasn't supposed to be having buddy-buddy relations with the coup leaders and later backed a United Nations embargo that crippled the country's already improverished citizenry.
That was a Thursday. The next day, a top U.S. official in Haiti met privately with a select group of American reporters in Port-au-Prince and, Saturday, the big weekend U.S. papers carried the first stories about how Aristide had been unfit for the job, the coup was necessary, blah-blah. Obviously, the "proof" lay in those same wacko documents. The media covered them as if they proved something and that coverage fueled Aristide's opponents on Capitol Hill. By the time Aristide got back to Haiti in 1994, but he was a changed man, his liberation theory plans for his country in shambles. Of course, that's why he was allowed to return.
I learned covering the coup that U.S. policy is not monolithic - and I'm not talking here about division of powers - and that the State Department, or even the president, can have very different objectives from the defence and intelligence communities. The latter usually wins if the issue involves security or perceived security. Witness Obama on Gitmo. Understanding Haiti would help me me see and write about the CIA hand in fabricating the "weapons of mass destruction" in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Arguably, Dr. Paul Farmer's The Uses of Haiti is the best book on the country's tangled relations with the U.S., including the Aristide coup. Farmer is the physician and Harvard professor who spends six months of the year running a health clinic in Haiti with donated funds. (I should disclose he cites my coverage for the Toronto Star in his book.)
I wager the CIA signed off on the Honduran coup in ways that won't be proven for 30 years, if ever. Zelaya will malinger in Honduras during the ongoing debate about his return - Will he? Won't he? - and that a new president, more pleasing to Washington's taste, will be "elected" in November. The coup has barely rippled in the public consciousness.
I hope I'm out in left field on this one and I'll be happy to blog about it if I am. But I've seen this movie before.
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The Decoder (www.twitter.com/PoliticalDecode) will be back Thursday. Have a great Canada Day!