Birds of a Feather: GOP Lawmakers, Colombian Death Squads Fly to Defense of Honduras Coup Regime


10-12-09, 9:29 am

There is a Spanish saying: “Dios los hace, y ellos se juntan.” “God makes 'em, and then they get together.” The English equivalent is “birds of a feather flock together.” Thus it is not a surprise that the news out of Honduras is that both Republican politicians and right-wing Colombian death squad members have been flocking to Honduras to lend support, rhetorical and practical, to that country's right wing de-facto regime. 

The legally elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown in a coup d'état on June 28 of this year, evidently because the country's oligarchy and military brass feared that he was taking Honduras into a left-wing trajectory similar to those of other Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Responding to demands from labor unions and organizations of peasants, women and ethnic minorities, Zelaya had scheduled a non-binding referendum for the day he was overthrown, which simply asked voters if they wanted an item on the November 29 general election ballot asking whether there should be a constituent assembly (a sort of constitutional convention) to reform the 1982 Constitution, which Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias has called “the worst constitution on the face of the earth”. The oligarchs got the Supreme Court to declare the non-binding referendum illegal, and called in the military that sent Zelaya into exile. 

Since that time, there have been almost daily protests against the de-facto regime set up by the coup, whose president is businessman Roberto Micheletti. Almost all countries in the Hemisphere, including the United States, have taken the position that the overthrow of Zelaya was an illegal military coup, and sanctions have been imposed on the Micheletti regime by regional governments, by the Organization of American States, and by the Obama administration. The South American countries have declared that unless Zelaya and constitutional normality are restored, they will not recognize the results of the November 29 elections.     

President Arias of Costa Rica was asked by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to mediate the coup. Arias presented a proposed solution which involved returning Zelaya to the presidency with somewhat reduced powers, an amnesty for all concerned, and some other points. Zelaya accepted the plan, but Micheletti insists that Zelaya can not return as president and has to face criminal charges. Many people in Honduras and  beyond concluded that Micheletti was cynically dragging out the Arias negotiations until the November 29 election, in the hope that with a new president installed, the world would forget about what happened on June 28.   Zelaya made a dramatic return to Tegucigalpa on September 21, and has been ensconced, under virtual siege, in the Brazilian embassy since then. The return of Zelaya re-focused the world's attention on the Honduras crisis, with speaker after speaker at the opening sessions of the UN General Assembly denouncing the Micheletti regime and demanding Zelaya's restoration. Mass protests increased in the streets of Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, and other communities. In response, Micheletti declared martial law for 45 days, and closed down the only pro-Zelaya radio and TV stations, while the protests were brutally repressed, bringing the death toll since June 28 to about 14 people, with many more injured and jailed. This greatly annoyed some of Micheletti's allies, because it undercut coup supporters' claim that the November 29 elections would be free and fair, and obviously they can't be if opposition leaders are in jail or exile and the opposition press is shut down. Micheletti has announced he will lift martial law, but repression goes on. But many commentators are suggesting that the Micheletti regime could be at the point at which its internal conflicts, exacerbated by the vast amounts of money the Honduran oligarchy is losing due to the sanctions and the general disruption of commerce, will cause it to crack.    But, never fear, help is on the way! Since the start of the Honduras crisis, virtually the whole of the Republican Party in the US, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and former presidential candidate John McCain, have been loud in their support of the Micheletti regime. They hosted lobbying visits by Micheletti's allies until the point that the Obama administration finally revoked their US visas. So now Republican politicians are running down to Tegucigalpa on bogus “fact finding missions” whose real purpose is to bolster support for the Micheletti coup regime, and to try to find a way to use the situation to embarrass and weaken the Obama administration.   Last week, a GOP delegation composed of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced that they were headed for Tegucigalpa, and requested the use of a US Air Force airplane to take them there. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tried to block this, but somehow the Air Force provided the craft anyway. When DeMint returned after the requisite dinners and photo ops with the coup gang, he made a most amazing statement to the press: “In a day packed with meetings, we only met one person in Honduras who opposed Zelaya's ouster, who wishes his return, and who mystifyingly rejects the legitimacy of the November elections: US Ambassador Hugo Llorens” (the Hill, Blog Briefing Room). DeMint also denounced the Obama administration and ambassador Llorens for calling the coup a coup. 

The attack on Llorens is ironic because many on the left in the United States and beyond have suspected Llorens, who is Cuban-American, of having worked hand in glove with the coup plotters.  

DeMint's statement, and those of other Republicans who are supporting the Micheletti coup regime, including right wing GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Connie Mack, would be laughable if it were not for the fact that by lending this verbal support to the regime, they encourage it to resist both US and world pressure to negotiate a reasonable settlement via the OAS group of foreign ministers that visited Honduras last week. Beyond that, deMint has been using his traditional prerogative as a Senator to block Obama administration appointments related to Latin American affairs, including that of Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs, and Thomas Shannon as ambassador to Brazil. 

The press in Colombia has been publishing reports about at least 40 members of the supposedly disbanded “self-defense” forces in that country being brought into Honduras as bodyguards for wealthy landowners (who are trying to undo Zelaya's incipient land reforms) and to support the Micheletti regime. These death squads are among the most bloodthirsty armed paramilitary groups in the world, having been responsible for countless thousands of murders Colombia, and are known to have strong ties to the international drug trade. According to the Colombian reports, some of these individuals are eager to get out of Colombia so as to escape charges for various crimes including drug dealing, and the contracts from Honduran landowners are just the ticket.   

The use of death squads is not new in Honduras. During the “Contra” wars in the 1980s, when the US government under Ronald Reagan covertly supported ultra-rightist murder squads to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua, the famous Battalion 316 of the Honduran army operated in a death squad mode, and some people involved with it have now shown up as Micheletti supporters. During the Contra Wars, thousands of innocent people were killed by such groups.  

Last week, a UN panel on the illegal use of foreign mercenaries, established in 2005, issued a statement denouncing the recruiting of such people by the Micheletti regime and its allies. In addition to the 40 Colombians, the panel complained that as many as 120 such individuals may have been recruited from the Latin American area.    The panel issued a statement saying “We urge the Honduran authorities to take all practical measures to prevent the use of mercenaries within its territories and to fully investigate allegations concerning their presence and activities.”

President Zelaya and the Honduran resistance are calling on people in all countries, especially the United States, to push their governments for even stronger sanctions against the coup regime and its supporters, including freezing of their bank accounts and other assets.