Clinton, Kissinger and the coup in Honduras

Honduras: peasant protests

By ANN MONTAGUE

In one of the early Democratic Party debates, in order to inflate her credentials as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton threw out an off-the-cuff comment about her relationship with Henry Kissinger: “I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better—better than anybody had run it in a long time.

In 2014, when Clinton reviewed Henry Kissinger’ book, “World Order,” she called him a “friend” whose counsel she “relied on.”

This was all too much even for Bernie Sanders, who had refrained from criticizing any of Clinton’s actions when she was Secretary of State. Sanders stated that Kissinger was “no friend of mine” and launched into describing Secretary of State Kissinger’s nefarious role in the bombing of Cambodia. He did not use the word “war criminal,” but this was the verdict of the International Tribunal at The Hague, and summons for his arrest issued by judges in France and Spain are still in effect.

While Secretary of State, Kissinger oversaw the destruction of civilian populations and the assassination and kidnapping of leaders who got in his way.

It is well known that Clinton is a strong proponent of “regime change.” This is an innocuous term that means that the U.S. claims the right to violate the sovereignty of any nation to enable the removal of that nation’s leader. This can be done with massive military might, creating instability, financially and militarily supporting opposition groups, or with a wink and a nod to the nation’s military.

What many people might not know is that this includes removing popularly elected leaders. Two examples in history were Salvador Allende in Chile (1973) and Manuel Zalaya in Honduras (2009).

The U.S. role in Chile

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Secretary of State, spoke openly about his involvement in the coup in Chile. One of his most famous statements is also a description of what is meant by “regime change”: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist [sic] due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

Declassified documents show that Kissinger set up a two-track plan. One was ostensibly diplomatic and the other was a strategy of destabilization, kidnapping, and assassination designed to provoke a military coup. One out of every seven members of the command staff of DINA, the notorious Chilean intelligence agency responsible for many of the worst human rights atrocities during the Pinochet years, were graduates of the notorious U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Once the coup had been completed, on Sept. 11, 1973, and Augusto Pinochet and his cohorts were in the good graces of U.S. corporations, they turned to making fortunes for themselves from the privatization of public services.

Honduras military overthrows Zelaya

President Manuel Zelaya was a popular leader who won election in 2006 with a coalition of unions, indigenous leaders, LGBT activists, and women’s rights supporters. He was not a socialist but a large landowner and a social reformer. Zelaya supported a 60% wage hike, which angered U.S. corporations like Chi-quita Brands International and the Dole Food Co., who were concerned that the higher minimum wage would spread to other countries in Latin America.

Zelaya put in place other liberal policies, including free education and meals for children, subsidies to small farmers, lower interest rates, and free electricity. As a result, Honduras saw a 10 percent decline in poverty.

The Honduran international airport, Toncontín, is one of the most dangerous in the world. For years prior to the coup the Honduran authorities had discussed the possibility of converting the U.S. Air Base at Soto Cano (also called Palmerola) into a much-needed civilian airport. The U.S. military would be moved to another base on the Honduran coast.

Venezuela agreed to reciprocal trading agreements to help finance the new airport. Right-wing Hondurans protested the use of Venezuelan funds, but after a major airline crash at Toncontín, President Zelaya announced that they would proceed with construction at Palmerola. A couple weeks after Zelaya had announced that the armed forces would engage in the construction, the military rebelled.

The coup was carried out by Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military and by Gen. Luís Prince Suazo, the head of the air force. Like the notorious Chilean intelligence agency, they were trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly called the U.S. Army School of the Americas) at Fort Benning.

On June 28, 2009, Zelaya was overthrown by the Honduran military, who broke into his home and kidnapped him at gunpoint. They forced him onto a plane that flew him to Costa Rica and dumped him onto the tarmac. According to Zelaya, an Honduran military plane flew him to Costa Rica and stopped to refuel at Soto Cano, the Honduran air base that is home to 600 U.S. soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

The coup was followed by months of protests by the Honduran people against the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti and for a return of their president. While virtually all Latin American governments condemned the coup and called for Zelaya’s restoration, Secretary Clinton, who had been in Honduras a few weeks before, immediately called for elections to bring in a new government.

Using the word “crisis,” Clinton immediately praised the Honduran military for bringing “stability” to Honduras. She detailed some of her actions in her book “Hard Choices,” published in 2014. Days after the coup, she teamed up with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa to forge a response: “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”

In regard to Chile, Kissinger, the U.S. president, and the CIA were all on one page. But on Honduras, President Obama initially stated that it was a coup and Zelaya should be returned. WikiLeaks also reveals that the former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugh Llorens, sent a cable to Clinton with the subject line, “Open and Shut: The Case Of The Honduran Coup.” The cable said, “there is no doubt” that the coup was “illegal and unconstitutional.”

The U.S. Embassy listed arguments by supporters of the coup to claim its legality, and dismissed each of them, saying, “none … has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.” The Embassy went on to say that the Honduran military had no legal authority to remove President Zelaya from office or from Honduras. They characterized the Honduran military’s action as an “abduction” and kidnapping.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly did everything she could to help the military coup in Honduras succeed, at the same time that it was violently cracking down on the media and the opposition. She inferred that Zelaya was legally removed from office and she violence baited the Honduran people who were non-violently demanding the return of their president.

Clinton claimed that Honduras was on the verge of a civil war. The “elections” that she helped organize for November 2009 in Honduras were not recognized as legitimate by the rest of the region and the world. The Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Carter Center all refused to send observers.

Rosemary Joyce of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) said: “The election was conducted without the presence of certified international observers that would be necessary to accept the results even in normal times, let alone with the election conducted under a government exercising fierce repression of the media and of free speech. It was a ‘demonstration election.’ An election held for little other purpose than to buff the image of an anti-democratic government.”

Yet Clinton continued to claim that the situation was merely a “crisis,” not a coup, and that Zelaya should be replaced with hastily called elections. The fraudulent election was financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, known for its pro-U.S. obstructive practices in Latin America and around the world, and the U.S. State Department.

In 2013, when Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, ran for president, over 30 candidates of her Libre party were murdered. The right-wing presidential candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was declared the winner, although many international observers reported evidence of intimidation, vote buying, and other irregularities at the polls.

The Clinton e-mails

In January 2016, three batches of Secretary Clinton’s e-mails were released. The Center For Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has reported that while many of the e-mails are heavily redacted, they give a clearer picture of how Clinton handled international developments during her tenure at the State Department.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, then Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, sent an e-mail to Clinton on Aug. 16, 2009, strongly urging her to “take bold action” and to “find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a move that would have immediately triggered the suspension of all non-humanitarian U.S. assistance to Honduras: “I got lots of signals last week that we are losing ground in Latin America every day the Honduras crisis continues … even our friends are beginning to think we are not really committed to the norm of constitutional democracy.”

Fifteen House Democrats asked the State Department to “fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place.” They expressed concern that “every passing day gives Micheletti and his associates the chance to tighten their illegitimate hold on the reins of power.”

As we know, Clinton spurned this advice, which meant that millions of dollars of U.S. military assistance continued to flow to the military coup. While strategizing the best way to keep Zelaya out of power, Clinton’s e-mails mention working with Lanny Davis, a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, who was working as a consultant for a group of Honduran businessmen that supported the coup.

Horrible aftermath of the Honduran coup

The decisions made by Clinton contributed to the enormous damage done to Honduras since the coup. Poverty has increased, and violence has spiraled out of control. The U.S. government has continually increased military assistance to Honduras, despite alarming reports of killings and human rights abuses by the military and security forces.

Honduras is the size of New Hampshire, and before the coup there were five military bases. After the coup the number of bases has doubled; the U.S. instituted multi-million-dollar projects to build two U.S. naval bases. One of the bases is on Guanaja in the Bay Islands, which destroyed a popular tourist destination that had been known as a diving mecca for its pristine waters.

Honduras rapidly descended into a period of extreme violence after the coup, as security forces suppressed protests. The British organization Global Witness has released figures that show at least 109 people were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2015, for taking a stand against destructive dams and mining, logging, and agricultural projects. Of the eight victims whose cases were publicly reported in 2015, six were from indigenous groups.

A major LGBT leader and activist with the front of resistance against the coup was assassinated on Dec. 14, 2009. Ten days before his murder, Walter Trochez was kidnapped, beaten, interrogated, threatened with death, and told to cease his activism. He managed to escape after being told they had orders to kill him. Trochez was documenting and publicizing homophobic killings and crimes committed by forces behind the coup. He also was documenting human rights violations committed during anti-coup demonstrations.

Three days after his body was found, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission stated, “The death of Walter Trochez is the 16th known murder in the LGBT community since the military coup. The accelerated rate at which LGBT people have been killed in the last seven months shows a targeted pattern of violence.” The fact that at the same time Hillary Clinton was making sanctimonious speeches about U.S. advocacy of LGBT human rights around the world shows the height of hypocrisy.

Honduran feminists speak out

Hillary Clinton has built her presidential campaign around her self-proclaimed dedication to fighting for women’s rights and her experience as Secretary Of State. Honduran feminist artist Melissa Cardoza has another view of Secretary Clinton’s legacy in Latin America: “As is well known, she supported the coup d’etat in my country, which has sunk a very worthy and bleeding land further into abject poverty, violence, and militarism.

“In Honduras, women suffer widespread gender violence as well as a crisis of human rights abuses since the U.S.-backed 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected Manuel Zelaya.”

Neesa Medina of the Honduran Women’s Rights Center told Telesur that the coup has had an impact on all human rights, but particularly the rights of women. “As a member of a feminist organization we are severely affected by the U.S. support for militaristic policies in other countries, which always has a negative effect on the lives of women”. In Honduras the femicide rate increased by over 260% between 2005 and 2013. In 2014, 513 women were murdered, and in 2015 one woman was killed every 16 hours.

Since 2009, Tegucigalpa has become known as “The Murder Capital of the World.” Since 2009, 59 journalists have been assassinated in Honduras, with 12 journalists assassinated last year and four murdered so far in 2016 as of April.

Adding to her shame is Hillary Clinton’s stance in regard to the refugee children who have fled Honduras and other Central American countries. In a 2014 interview with CNN, for example, Clinton said that children arriving in the United States should be “sent back” to their violence-prone countries. “We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay,” she said. Recently, however, in debate with Sanders, Clinton backtracked from that position.

The assassination of Berta Cáceres

On March 3 of this year, two assassins broke down the back door of the home of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres and killed her. Last year, Cáceres was given the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her 10-year fight against the Agua Zarca Dam, a project planned along the river sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. She led the struggle against Canadian and U.S. corporations for promoting development that the people considered threats to their very existence because they eliminated access to the rivers, forests, and mountain environments critical for agriculture, food, and water.

Cáceres and Gustavo Castro co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). They led the movement that was pressuring the Honduran government to ratify a law that requires the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous communities before projects can proceed on their land.

Recently, thousands of people converged on Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, in a massive mobilization to demand justice for Berta and an end to repression and government support for corporate interests. All around Tegucigalpa, her face has been spray-painted next to the words, “Berta did not die. She multiplied.”

A week after the death of Berta Cáceres, another member of COPINH, Nelson Garcia, was shot to death. Before he was murdered, Garcia was at the site of the Rio Chiquito eviction, where Honduran police and military were violently forcing the community out by destroying homes and crops. Garcia went to his mother-in-law’s home, where two gunmen were waiting for him and shot him dead.

The following week, the Dutch development Bank FMO and the Finnish development bank Finnfund said they would suspend funding of the Agua Zarca Dam. In a statement, FMO said it was “shocked” by the deaths and would halt all activities in Honduras.

Berta’s daughter, Bertha Zuniga Carceres, came to the United States to demand an international investigation of the recent deaths. She was also concerned that “since the coup hundreds of concessions were given for hydroelectric exploitation, for mining.” She pointed out that a number of projects aimed at dispossessing the population have been established, including “model cities” to house people who were displaced.

“So, we are actually experiencing the results of the coup d’état now with the establishment of a whole series of projects that are strengthening an economic model that represents the pillage of the common goods of nature.”

COPINH states that more than 300 hydroelectric dams are planned for Honduras, of which 49 are on COPINH lands. In addition, 872 contracts have been handed out to corporations for mining alone. The majority of these are planned for indigenous lands.

Brigitte Gynther of the Washington-based School of the Americas Watch told Telesur, “The U.S. is essentially financing this repression.”

At the same time, colleagues and relatives of Cáceres in Honduras have raised questions about the role of Honduran soldiers and police in her March 3 death. They cite what they call a pattern of intimidation and abuse by security forces, including a national police unit called Los Tigres, which was set up by U.S. Special Forces soldiers over the past two years and receives funding and training from the United States. Before she died, Cáceres warned U.S. visitors about Los Tigres, describing the unit as a “repressive” force in her region of western Honduras.

Secretary Clinton enabled the coup with a wink and a nod to the military by supporting fraudulent elections and by avoiding the word “coup,” which ensured that U.S. military aid would continue to flow to the murderous regime. According to Foreign Policy In Focus, the U.S. gave $37 million in direct aid to the Honduran military and security forces from the date of the coup through 2013. But equally culpable are all Democrats. During the current presidential campaign no one, including Bernie Sanders, has said a word about the ongoing human rights crisis in Honduras and U.S. culpability.

Dan Beeton, international communications director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told AlterNet that the “Obama administration is loathe to put any pressure on the Honduran government. I would say, worse than that, they are pretending there is not a problem. It’s hard to understate Clinton’s actions in Honduras. Clinton needs to answer why she did this and why they thought this was a good idea.”

Yet Clinton refuses to answer any questions about her role in Honduras. The newly issued paperback edition of her book has been wiped clean of the sections on Honduras that appeared in the first edition. Nevertheless, the murderous outcome of her actions in 2009 cannot be erased from the memories of the Honduran people..

Photo: Honduran police arrest peasant leaders from the district of Bajo Aguán at a protest in Tegucigalpa. The peasants were protesting the takeover of their land for big World Bank-funded palm oil plantations. Palm oil is exported to Europe for use as bio-fuel. AFP / Getty Images.