10:30 am - July 25th 2009
Meet Jim DeMint. Jim is a United States Senator from South Carolina, one of the most conservative members of Congress and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Silly Analogies.
Worried that Barack Obama might merrily lead his country to dictatorship, DeMint has claimed the administration is eerily redolent of Orwell’s 1984; has suggested that America now resembles Germany just before WWII; and has speculated that the Hopey One may – in the words of ABBA – finally be facing his Waterloo. He’s also protested Obama’s habit of exporting his tyranny abroad, supporting “despots like Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Castro” and the ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
The removal of Zelaya from office by Honduras’ miltary (which I’ve discussed here & here ) was condemned by the Obama administration but gleefully embraced by conservatives like DeMint, who insists that the ‘transition of power’ in that tiny, impoverished country was no more of a coup than Gerald Ford’s ascension to the Presidency or Al Franken’s recent election as Senator for Minnesota.
‘Interesting’ comparisons, I guess, except that Gerald Ford lawfully assumed the Presidency after his predecessor turned out to be a crook, whilst Manuel Zelaya was bundled out of the country at gunpoint whilst dressed in his pajamas. As for Al Franken, well, he at least won a slim majority of the votes in Minnesota; the Honduran junta has yet win the votes of even its closest family members.
But whilst it’s always fun to point & laugh at preposterous little hacks, the reason I highlight DeMint’s mad ramblings is to demonstrate that despite the Obama administration taking the correct position in denouncing the coup, the country still bears some responsibility for its origins and its continued existence.
Earlier this month, supporters of ‘President’ Roberto Micheletti hired two lobbyists to massage the American political class into viewing it, perversely, as a victory for democracy. Both Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliffe had previously held important roles in the Clinton administration, and Davis was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Party’s Primaries. In Congress, an informal ‘coup caucus’ has emerged, with the apparent aim of unifying the message they use to sell the junta’s actions.
As others have noted , the American media’s response has also left a lot to be desired, with anti-Zelaya bias noticable in a great deal of the reporting & commentary – this editorial by the Wall St. Journal even had the temerity to call the coup ‘democratic’. The aim of this lobbying is simple; with Honduras so reliant on the international community for aid and the huge export market of the United States, America could exert real pressure on the illegal regime. As such, the best way for this motley crew to maintain power is for domestic pressure to be placed on the Obama administration in the hope of restraining it from fully exerting its own power.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of the American military/intelligence communities and their decades-old influence in the region. I think it’s generally accepted that CIA interference in Latin America is not what it was, and has reduced considerably since the days of Kissinger. However, it’s still the case that several key figures in the coup, including the leader, General Romeo Vasquez, were trained at the US-funded School of the Americas .
On top of this, the country continues to receive training & millions of dollars in military aid, ostensibly for the purpose of combating drug trafficking. So the United States may not have permitted or endorsed this coup, but it did, albeit inadvertently, fund and train those who carried it out.
For the Obama administration, Honduras represents a number ironies. On the campaign, Senator Obama promised a different approach to Latin America; one which was more collaborative than coercive and which saw the decades of overt & covert interference from successive administrations come to an end. Now as President, he can see two large obstacles towards achieving this.
First, such is the U.S.’ long history in the region, his office doesn’t actually have to do anything for the United States to be somehow implicated in events. Second, after years of wishing for the more collaborative relationship he promised, I think there’s now a trend in Latin America towards wanting to America to resume its position of regional leadership. Even the frequently combative & combustible Hugo Chavez recently sent Obama a simple, but rather surprising, message on the crisis: “do something.” For a man who has fancied himself as something of a regional powerhouse, that’s quite some deference.
With talks between Zelaya & Micheletti’s representatives still in a seemingly intractable stalemate and the deposed President once more seeking to return to his country, I doubt this conflict’s going to be over any time soon. But the events in Honduras demonstrate that presidents don’t always have the luxury of choosing their own foreign policy or even making a completely clean break from the past. Sometimes you just have to make the best of what other people have handed to you, whether that’s grouchy, paranoid Republican Senators, or small, poor & volatile South American states.
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
· Other posts by Neil Robertson
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Realpolitik ,South America
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