Washington’s Magical Realism

Against the Current, No. 145, March/April 2010

Saul Landau & Nelson Valdes

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
— Henry Kissinger, June 26, 1970

“I’ve heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras. … What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?” — W. Lewis Amselem, US Representative to the Organization of American States, November 11, 2009

A COUP BECOMES a coup — for U.S. magical realists — when Washington defines it as such. On March 10, 1952 Cuban General Fulgencio Batista grabbed power and sought to legitimize his coup by holding fake elections. Magically, the coup makers won; Washington recognized Batista.

In 1964, Brazil’s military removed President João Goulart and covered naked crime with electoral fig leaves, as if coups came with routine republicanism.

In 2009, few people imagined Honduran military goons taking orders from a corrupt supreme court, kidnapping a President and exiling him to Costa Rica. Fewer imagined Costa Rican President Oscar Arias cooperating with the kidnappers and, instead of charging them with major felonies, allowing them free return in their military plane.

More 21st Century Magical Realism surfaced when Arias evolved from collaborator to mediator — with U.S. and Organization of American States (OAS) blessing.

Washington could have frozen the plotters’ assets, or denounced the coup-supporting Honduran congressional hooligans for producing a fake resignation letter, one President Manuel Zelaya had not signed and that bore the wrong date.

Instead of the State Department labeling the blatant heist a coup, officials “studied” the absurd allegation that Zelaya had violated Honduras’ Constitution by calling for a non-binding referendum (consultation) with his people — to see if they wanted to change the document. Indeed, a 2009 State Department human rights report had labeled as corrupt the very Supreme Court that ordered Zelaya arrested. Yet even the court did not authorize kidnap and exile.

By November, the thugs had repressed opposition media, killed, tortured and beaten protesters. Only then were the conditions ready for the plotters to hold “elections.” Fifty percent or fewer voted for candidates who reflected none of Zelaya’s programs. Despite charges of fraud and irregularities, Washington recognized the “process” and beseeched the world to forget Honduras’ disagreeable past: five months of a nation’s upset stomach?

With U.S. support, President “Whatshisname,” a member of the worried crème de la crème, moved the former Banana Republic now riddled with maquiladoras, back into “the community of nations” — with objection from dozens of member countries.“Hey,” said a reporter in Tegucigalpa, “the election was as legitimate as the Afghanistan farce.”

Success took longer than its plotters desired, but official Washington defined last year as ancient history. The kidnapping of Zelaya — for offering legal steps to reform — and subsequent death squad murders, well, “let bygones be bygones.”

The Oligarchy Strikes Back

The dozen oligarchic families have owned the country for decades. They learned from their experiences with the quixotic Zelaya’s “disobedience” not to delegate political control, even to wealthy allies. The hotsy totsy class has now pushed family members to “win” congressional seats and “serve” on the court.

Hondurans’ elite replaced Zelaya because, like many illegitimate entities, they grew concerned that their victims, the majority of Honduras, would mobilize and change the Constitution: the foundation that protected them against structural change. Zelaya’s proposed referendum threatened their minority rule. A new Constitution would allow the majority to replace the Cold War system.

From the late 1940s on, Washington trained Latin American militaries to use anti-Communism as the pretext to repress movements advocating policies opposed by large U.S. investors and local aristocracies. Counterinsurgency from the 1960s through the 1980s became the era of military dictatorships — with republican façades.

Utopians believed Obama’s ascension would bring change: the President would respect even elections that didn’t turn out as desired, when Latin Americans elected the “wrong” presidents. “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves,” said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, justifying support for the 1973 coup in Chile.

Thirty six years later, at the Trinidad summit, President Obama eschewed such crudeness. The rule of law went hand in hand with its globalization policies. Coups these days upset business.

Why then did the ruling elite and its military stage a coup and ultimately get Washington’s blessing? Because they thought they could get away with it — and they did.

The imperial policy of old, favoring large corporations and banks, prevailed. And why not? After all, Obama’s first acts were bailing out big banks and auto companies.

So, thanks to Washington’s magical realism (was there a coup there?), Honduras is again safe — temporarily — for Chiquita Banana, U.S. banks and local aristocrats.

ATC 145, March-April 2010