Hillary Clinton’s Real Scandal Is Honduras
By Emily Schwartz Greco
Surely you’ve noticed the wave of Central American child refugees arriving on our southern border.
Some of President Barack Obama’s supporters are trying to blame this immigration crisis on the Bush administration because of an anti-trafficking law George W. signed in 2008 specifically written to protect Central American children, which preceded the uptick in their arrivals. But which country is the top source of kids crossing the border? Honduras, home to the world’s highest murder rate, Latin America’s worst economic inequality, and a repressive, U.S.-backed government.
When Honduran military forces allied with rightist lawmakers ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, then-Secretary of State Clinton sided with the armed forces and fought global pressure to reinstate him.
Washington wields great influence over Honduras, thanks to the numerous military bases built with U.S. funds where training and joint military and anti-drug operations take place. Since the coup, nearly $350 million in U.S. assistance, including more than $50 million in military aid, has poured into the country.
That’s a lot of investment in a nation where the police, the military, and private security forces are killing people with alarming frequency and impunity, according to Human Rights Watch.
In short, desperate Honduran children are seeking refuge from a human rights nightmare that would cast a dark cloud over Clinton’s presidential bid right now if the media were paying any attention.
A careful reading of the Clinton emails and Wikileak U.S. diplomatic cables from the beginning of her tenure, expose a Latin America policy that is often guided by efforts to isolate and remove left-wing governments in the region (see “Latin American and the Caribbean” and “Venezuela” in the new book The Wikileaks Files). The chapter on Latin America in Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices reaffirms this vision of U.S. Latin America policy, and one short passage from the chapter is particularly telling:
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.
Needless to say, Honduras’ elections weren’t seen as legitimate by most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and the question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Despite heavy U.S. lobbying of “friendly” governments in Latin America – Valenzuela’s first big mission after taking over Shannon’s WHA job in December 2009 – many countries would refuse to recognize the Honduran government until Zelaya was finally allowed to return to his country in May of 2011. Latin America also shifted further away from the U.S. In a context of growing frustration with U.S. policy, a new multilateral group was created – the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (with the initials CELAC in Spanish) – with the participation of every government in the region except the U.S., Canada (that had backed U.S. hemispheric policy all the way) and the de facto government of Honduras (only admitted after Zelaya’s return to Honduras in 2011).
The “hard choices” taken by Clinton and her team didn’t just damage U.S. relations with Latin America. They contributed to the enormous damage done to Honduras. In the years following the coup, economic growth has stalled, while poverty and income inequality have risen significantly. Violence has spiraled out of control. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has increased military assistance to Honduras, despite alarming reports of killings and human rights abuses by increasingly militarized Honduran security forces. Many Congressional Democrats have asked for a complete suspension of security assistance while human rights violations continue with impunity. But neither the Clinton nor Kerry State Departments have heeded their call.
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Five men have been arrested for her murder, including Maj Mariano Díaz Chávez, an active-duty major in the Honduran army. Díaz had previously participated in joint US-Honduran military operations in Iraq, and is reported by local media to be a graduate of the elite Tesón special operations course which is partly taught by US special forces. Diaz was a military police instructor when arrested, but has since been given a dishonorable discharge.
On the coup’s seventh anniversary, as Clinton does her best to expunge her role from the record, one would like nothing more than to see her own ship sink.
Read more: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Honduran-Shipwreck-Hillary-Clintons-Coup-Turns-7-20160627-0034.html
According to Reuters, Honduran soldiers were accused of being involved in nine murders, 20 cases of torture and 30 illegal detentions between 2012 and 2014. The military was also accused of abuses in the protests following the 2009 coup.
Day after day, masses of people marched peacefully in the streets demanding a return of the elected leader; Honduran security forces were decidedly less peaceful, and subjected crowds to tear gas, water cannons loaded with pepper spray, and more lethal projectiles.
Meanwhile, Clinton & Co. scurried around behind the scenes rendering the Zelaya question moot. Fresh elections were eventually held under the illegitimate and abusive coup regime, meaning that they were fundamentally neither “free” nor “fair.”
And it’s been a nonstop party ever since. In the aftermath of the coup, Honduras’ homicide rate has soared along with other forms of violence. As The Guardian’s Nina Lakhani recently noted in an article on the March assassination of Honduran human rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, whose name reportedly appeared on a hitlist belonging to U.S.-trained Honduran special forces:
“Human rights groups have condemned U.S. support for Honduran security forces amid mounting evidence implicating police and military in systematic abuses. In April, activists warned Congress that death squads were targeting opposition activists, much like they did during the ‘dirty war’ in the 1980s.”
Cáceres, an indigenous Lenca leader who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for a campaign against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot dead in her home in March. Before her murder, she had reported 33 death threats linked to the campaign and had warned international human rights delegates that her name was on a hitlist.
Cáceres’s name appeared on a list given to a military police unit in the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina), which last summer received training from 300 US marines and FBI agents.
The course became the subject of intense controversy when footage emerged showing a trainee being forced to eat the head of a dog. (see video below)
As more and more Honduran kids cross our border in search of a safe haven, voters should take a good look at her track record at the State Department and reconsider the inevitability of another Clinton administration.
Three batches of Hillary Clinton’s emails have now been released and, though many emails are heavily redacted, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how Clinton handled major international developments during her tenure at the State Department. One of the first big issues to hit Clinton’s desk was the June 2009 coup d’Etat in Honduras that forced democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya into exile. Officially the U.S. joined the rest of the hemisphere in opposing the coup, but Zelaya – who had grown close to radical social movements at home and signed cooperation agreements with Venezuela - wasn’t in the administration’s good books.
The released emails provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of how Clinton pursued a contradictory policy of appearing to back the restoration of democracy in Honduras while actually undermining efforts to get Zelaya back into power. The Intercept and other outlets have provided useful analyses of these emails, but there are a number of revealing passages, some in the most recent batch of emails, that haven’t yet received the attention they deserve.
A number of Clinton emails show how, starting shortly after the coup, HRC and her team shifted the deliberations on Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS) – where Zelaya could benefit from the strong support of left-wing allies throughout the region – to the San José negotiation process in Costa Rica. There, representatives of the coup regime were placed on an equal footing with representatives of Zelaya’s constitutional government, and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias (a close U.S. ally) as mediator. Unsurprisingly, the negotiation process only succeeded in one thing: keeping Zelaya out of office for the rest of his constitutional mandate.
On October 30, President Arias presided over the signing of an agreement between Honduras’ constitutional government and the coup regime that stipulated the return of Zelaya for the final weeks of his mandate, but with limited powers and with a “unity government” that would include coup supporters. Under the agreement, the national elections would take place on November 28. In addition to being a far cry from a complete restoration of democracy, the agreement text included a dangerous loophole: Honduras’ congress would be called on to endorse Zelaya’s restitution. In an earlier email discussing the San José negotiations, Craig Kelly underlined that “the understanding is that [Zelaya] would resume limited functions with a national unity cabinet until he hands over power to an elected successor.”
But, four days after the agreement was signed, the U.S. official position grew much more flexible. On November 3, Shannon announced to CNN en español that the U.S. would be prepared to recognize the elections even if Zelaya wasn’t first reinstated. The rest of the region reacted with shock and anger. Major regional groups like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) had already declared back in August that they wouldn’t recognize elections held under the de facto government. They then restated this position on the eve of the Honduran elections.
But, with the U.S. being by far the most powerful external actor in Honduras, the coup regime had little incentive to allow the restoration of democracy. The congress voted against Zelaya’s reinstatement and the elections took place under a so-called “unity government” that included no one from the constitutional government, despite the fact that nearly every country in the region besides the U.S. considered them to be illegitimate.