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The Obama administration’s first military coup

Now SouthCom’s in control: SouthCom grabs the reins of an ALBA member state

In raising questions about US military presence in Soto Cano and in subscribing to Alba, Honduras has enraged Washington. Soldiers trained at the School of Americas and led by US Advisers have toppled the Constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya and have installed in his place his rival, also in the liberal party, Roberto Micheletti. Thierry Meyssan revisits what is at stake in this confrontation which marks the willingness of the Obama Administration to take Latin America in hand.

| Beirut (Lebanon)
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Roberto Micheletti, President of the Congress and still rival of Manuel Zelaya from the Liberal Party, greets the MPs that have just come from appointing him as President of Honduras.

Noone thought that the crisis pitting Honduras against the United States could unleash a military coup d’Etat. Washington seemed to have renounced these methods although the Bush administration had again recently bribed a group of soldiers to topple the constitutionally elected president of Venezuela (12 April 2002) [1] and had sent its own special forces to kidnap the constitutional president of Haiti (29 February 2004) [2]. But the communications officers at the White House had finally used the broad smile of the sparkling Barack Obama to convince international public opinion that the United States had changed and that it had laid to rest its imperial ambition.

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The five states of the former federal republic of Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) offer a specific strategic interest since they form the passage between two continents and two oceans. Although, none of these states have any particular resources, each may be used to control the area. Thus during the Sadinistas revolution in Nicaragua, Washington used Honduras as a support base for a counter-revolution. Under the direction of John Negroponte, the US embassy in Tegucigalpa has become the headquarters for the Nicaraguan “contras” and their death squads. In this perspective, the anti-imperialist revolution of Honduras, after the return to power of the Sadinistas in Nicaragua, presented less of a problem en soi than a danger of contamination”.

Thus how does the evolution in the Honduran situation represent such a danger that Washington decides to have recourse to its methods of old to risk destroying all its efforts for communication?

Maduro’s Presidency and the 2005 Elections

As in all other parts of Central America, Honduras is prey to maras (gangs). The most famous of these is the Mara Salvatrucha. What we have here are gangs of kids that, because they are drug addicts, are manipulated and organized according to mystic criminal rites [3]. The gang members commit all types of violence, occasionally reaching unheard of levels of brutality and in some cases real massacres.

In 2001, the nationalist candidate Ricardo Rodolfo Maduro Joest had been elected to fight crime after his 25 year old son had been kidnapped, tortured and assassinated. The funeral rites of the young man had been transformed into a national demonstration. On becoming president, Ricardo Maduro had ordered spectacular anti-gang operations. He had strengthened the arsenal of the policemen and had made the military come out of their barracks to lend them a strong hand.

Supported by Christian democracy, he had a law adopted that punished the mere membership of a mara by a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison. Although the law had been copied from Guatemala and Salvador, it was later held to be invalid by the Honduran Constitutional Court. This is because it inculpated individuals by association for crimes that they had not committed. The application of these measures produced an astronomical rise in the prison population. This in turn sparked off bloody mutinies in the prisons. For sure, as that law did not address the social causes of this phenomenon, already extensive, these initiatives did not cap the crime figures.

In 2005, the nationalist candidate following Maduro, “Pepe” Lobo, was of the view that the maras could only be eradicated through a war. In a sort of one upmanship, he therefore proposed re-introducing the death penalty through a referendum that would also contemplate making a collective declaration against the gangs. However a study led in the neighbouring Salvador had demonstrated that 51.9% of these criminals are between 11 and 15 years. This would mean that Honduras would have to kill a number of its own children. Opposing him was the liberal candidate, Manuel Zelaya. He proposed a more reasonable approach, not only founded on repression but included genuine attempts at educating and integrating these children.

The assessment of President Ricardo Maduro was also discussed at the economic level.

Maduro was the former governor of the Central Bank and a brilliant businessman (holder of the Xerox business contract and Director of the Investment Funds La Paz). He negotiated with the IMF and the Paris Club for the Honduran debt to be reduced. But he agreed in return to increase taxes and cut back on the number of officials, a policy that weighed in on the middle classes alone. He also made his country sign up to the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), without facing any particular political opposition, despite the disastrous consequences for small farmers. President Maduro’s excellent relations with his US homologue, George W. Bush, were cemented by sending 370 men to Iraq where they served with the Spanish in the area placed under Polish administration. However, as a consequence of Zapatero’s decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, Maduro was politically forced to withdraw this contingency. And finally, Ricardo Maduro’s mandate ended in a grotesque atmosphere by a scandalous divorce.

The left liberal José Manuel Zelaya Rosales proposed a seductive alternative:
- To make budgetary cuts, he intended to cut back on the state’s life style rather than shutting down public services.
- To increase state revenues, he proposed encouraging employment in the sectors that were labour intensive.
- To fight against juvenile criminality, Zelaya announced his intention to provide all schools with computers and to make public education free for everyone.

In 2005, during a ballot of only one round, the Honduran electorate chose him to be their president with 49.9% of the votes cast, and gave him 48.4 % of the seats in Congress (unicameral parliament). His main competitor, the nationalist, right wing Porfirio Lobo Sosa, only received 46.2% of the votes and 42.9% of the seats in Congress. The results were so tight that they had to be validated which was finally done after two weeks of uncertainty.

The following three small parties then found themselves playing the role of judges in the Congress:
- The Democratic Union;
- The Christian Democratic; and finally
- Innovation and unite.

Presidential Elections
(27 November 2009)
Legislative Elections
(27 November 2009)
José Manuel Zelaya Rosales
49.90 % of the votes
Partido Liberal
62 seats
Porfirio Lobo Sosa
46.2 % of the votes cast
Partido Nacional
55 seats
Juan Ángel Almendares Bonilla
1.5 % of the votes cast
Unificación Democrática
5 seats
Juan Ramón Martínez
1.4 % of the votes cast
Democracia cristiana
4 seats
Carlos Sosa Coello
1.0 % of the votes cast
Innovación y Unidad
2 seats

The Presidency of Manuel Zelaya

There was no indication that the rancher Manuel Zelaya could enter into an open conflict with Washington. It seems all the less likely since the relative majority that he had did not encourage a political rupture.

In the first place, Zelaya continued the decentralization that he had begun when he had taken on ministerial functions in the past. What had to be done was to draw the centres of decision-making closer to the people to strengthen popular powers and transparency. This reform caused a cleavage between the corrupt political class in the capital and the new distinguished locals. It also shed light on the military control of part of the economy. [4]

In particular, in June 2006, Manuel Zelaya announced his intention to direct commercial traffic to the air base of Soto Cano [5], home to a US contingent. Confronted by the Pentagon’s hostile reaction, the Hondurian Minister of Defense tried to retreat, arguing that the equipment cost was too significant. However, President Zelaya kept to his decision. Officially, Soto Cano was nothing more than a small base with 190 soldiers and 730 civil personnel. Its runway is the only one in Central America capable of accommodating the enormous carriers of the troops. Fort Bravo is the only antenna of South Com outside the USA [6]. Especially, Soto Cano is a base for listening linked to two secret units Cerro La Mole and Swan Island. This provision is indispensable to military intelligence in the region. Curiously, no treaty has ever been signed between the two countries to specify the status of these installations.

While the president is enjoying a surge in popularity, he has been ambushed by a press campaign accusing him of the following: not keeping to his promises, being incapable of improving the level of life and containing crime. In actual fact, he was not able to protect his country from the global hike in oil prices, and a vast number of sensational reports created the impression of an explosion of maras. Manuel Zelaya responded to this by requiring the private audio-visual media to replay several hours of interviews of the members of its government.

Washington clearly expressed its annoyance by cutting back on its aid programmes to the people; yet it kept its security programmes going. In actual fact, the US grants significant resources to Honduras so that it implements on Honduran territory elements of its plans to fight organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. For example, Washington funds high tech equipment used at the Cortés Harbour to ensure that all containers that transit there heading for the United States are scanned.

On the one hand, Washington has powerful means to put pressure on Tegucigalpa. While 7 million Hondurans live in Honduras, almost another million live in the United States, notably following the devastation caused by cyclone Mitch in 1998. 78 000 of them have a temporary status, several times renewed, and can be deported to the border just on the basis of an administrative decision.

The president continued his action against corruption, forcing several high officials to resign. In return, several among them began to plot. We discovered that the former director of the public telephone company had wiretapped the president.

In the context of the sub-prime crisis breaking out in the United States and a global hike in the prices of staple food products, President Zelaya logically turned towards the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), an inter-governmental organization initiated by Venezuela. This guarantees the food and energy security of its members and furthermore, coordinates programmes for public health.

This decision was greeted with strong popular support but also triggered concern among the middle classes which had already been hit by the global economic crisis.

On 25 August 2008, Manuel Zelaya paid homage to the “Heroic Guerilla” Ernesto Che Guevara and, before a crowd of 100 000 persons at Tegucigalpa, signed his country up to become a member of Alba. He did this in the presence of the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, and the Vice President of Cuba Carlos Laje. The President of the Dominican Republic, President Leonel Fernández, was also represented.

Honduras had just tipped over to the side of the rebel nations.

The Military Coup d’etat

US officials admitted to the New York Times that they entered into contact with the putschists in recent days. However they declare that they did so with the purpose of dissuading them to stage a coup [7]. According to these witnesses, these contacts should have stopped this Sunday (which is then the day the coup began).

Now, the small Honduran army is completely equipped, trained and led by the United States. Of course it obeys its leader, the President of the Republic, then its Chief of Staff. But in practice, it is largely controlled by SouthCom following Soto Cano and Miami [8]. To be precise, the Pentagon has hurriedly installed the new command of SouthCom, General Douglas M. Fraser, last Monday, to follow the coup.

In any event, the operation was conceived a long time ago. Like the attack on the Moldavian official buildings, the cleaning of the valley of Swat, the extermination of the Tamil Tigers or the “green revolution” in Iran, the coup in Honduras had been planned by the Bush Administration, then executed by the Obama Administration, despite defects in legality.

The tension intensified when President Zelaya called a referendum – scheduled for Sunday 28 June— to determine if the electorate were in favour of electing a Constituent Assembly. Immediately, an international press campaign had been initiated to present this initiative as a manoeuvre with the express purpose of opening Manuel Zelaya to the possibility of a second mandate. This is actually completely untrue, since the election of the constituent assembly would only have taken place the day of the following presidential election and that the constitution would only have been amended much later. Therefore, the president could not have been able to be a candidate for his own succession. But this is clear: after falsely accusing Hugo Chavez of wanting to be president for the rest of his life, he then had to accuse his ally Manuel Zelaya of also marching towards a dictatorship.

On 9 June, the Honduran Congress adopted a constitutional law prohibiting a referendum less than 180 days of the presidential election. The Supreme Court declared the referendum illegal (but not contrary to the constitution) although the law bringing in the amendment was itself a violation of the constitution.

However, relying on this decision, the Military Chief of Staffs, General Romeo Vasquez, blocked the organization of the referendum.

The President then went himself to a military base to “retrieve” the material that could be used in the referendum and to revoke the military chief of staff for insubordination.

Like ever other coup-maker in Latin America, General Romeo Vasquez has been trained by the USA at the School of the Americas, whose reputation was sullied.

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Today, Soto Cano base is commanded by Colonel Richard A. Juergens. When he was Director of the Special Operations Command, he probably gave the command to kidnap the Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On Sunday 28 June 2009, at around 5.30 a.m. (local time), the electricity and telephone lines (fixed and Hertzian) were cut. Commandos of hooded soldiers [9] attacked the residence of President Zelaya and forced him to follow them. They put him in an airplane and packed him off to Costa Rica in his pyjamas. At least eight ministers, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and different personalities, including the Mayor of San Pedro Sula (the second city in Honduras) were arrested. When the power cut was over and electricity was re-established, the audio-visual media announced that a cease fire had been decreed, the Dominican (dominicales) religious offices had been annulled and the referendum.

In the afternoon, having been authorized to move about, the MPs met in the Congress for an extraordinary session. The President of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, read out a letter, dated Friday 26 June, from President Manuel Zelaya purportedly giving his resignation. This letter bearing the date 27 June took noone by surprise. Observing that the office of president was now vacant, Congress appointed its president as the president of the Republic. For its part, the Constitutional Court specified in an Orwellian communiqué that the army had defended the Constitution and prevented President Zelaya from directing a referendum coup. The Court sustained that blocking the referendum ordered by the President of the Republic, the Joint Chief of Staff had acted legally, if it had acted on an order issued by a judge.

So that noone is unaware of the real stage of this operation, the soldiers have arrested the ambassadors or the chargés d’affaire of the ALBA member states.

The technique used for the coup brings to mind that in 2004, against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide: the kidnapping in the early hours of the morning and the appearance of a letter of resignation.

The way in which the Atlantic press agencies have related with a pack of lies the contentious election to give an appearance of legality to the coup d’etat show the premeditation of the operation by Washington. The treatment of the coup itself, in hiding the central challenge at the base of Soto Cano and the connections between Honduran soldiers and US soldiers, shows a willingness to clear the Obama administration.

Translation
Anoosha Boralessa

[1] « Opération manquée au Venezuela », par Thierry Meyssan, Réseau Voltaire, 18 mai 2002. (to be translated into English).

[2] « La CIA déstabilise Haïti », « Coup d’État en Haïti » and « Paris relâche le président haïtien », by Thierry Meyssan, Réseau Voltaire, 14 Januray 1 and 19 March 2004.

[3] «Mara Salvatrucha se coloca en Estados Unidos y Canadá», por Gastón Pardo, Red Voltaire , 4 de febrero de 2005.

[4] Democracy was set up rapidly in Honduras while the region was the theatre for revolutions and counter revolutions. The United States has veillé that a part of the economy remains indirectly under their coupe via through soldiers.

[5] This base is also known by its former name as Palmerola. It is situated 747 miles to the North West of Tegucigalpa.

[6] SouthCom is the US Strategic Command to control Latin America.

[7] « Honduran President Is Ousted in Coup », by Elisabeth Malkin, The New York Times, 29 June 2009.

[8] South Com is installed in Miami, but has a satellite at Soto Cano and sites avancés at Comalapa (Salvador), Manta (Ecuador) and on the islands of Aruba and Curaçao ( Dutch Antilles).

[9] For this type of operation, the port de la cagoule is pointless and counter-productive except to conceal foreign military advisers.

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