Proofs of a Conspiracy? Part 2:The Single Spark
“A single spark can light a prairie fire.”-Mao
Original comment by Conservative Policy News on the crisis in Honduras. Part 2
The Single Spark
Although many date the beginning of the crisis in Honduras to June 28, 2009, the political crisis actually began more than a year earlier. President Manuel Zelaya, though aligned with the center to moderately center-left Liberal Party of Honduras, had been in secret negotiations with Hugo Chavez for Honduras to join PetroCaribe, the oil consortium promoted and controlled by the Venezuelan government. In January 2008, Honduras officially became the 17th member of the consortium, and upon its joining, Chavez finalized a deal where 30% of Honduran oil loans could be paid for through agricultural products and all outstanding loans Honduras owed to Venezuela from past regimes were forgiven. A good deal. However, Zelaya’s real debt to Chavez was political, and from that moment the President of Honduras began to make good on the loan.
PetroCaribe was founded 2005, and is a “development mechanism” that provides cheap, subsidized oil to its members through loans with low interest rates, deferred payments, and- when oil prices are high- accepts loan payments through bartered goods. As of this writing, 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are members of the consortium.
In reality, however, PetroCaribe is the most important economic engine for Latin American international socialism. It was created under the auspices of Fidel Castro in order to encourage the poorer countries of the Caribbean and Latin America to reject “neoliberalism” and the Free Trade Agreements that are supported in the Americas by the United States. Additionally, PetroCaribe overtly fosters socialism and regional integration into an anti-U.S. and anti-capitalist bloc within Latin America and the Caribbean.
The agreements that members must sign with PetroCaribe contain provisions that require members to establish a nationalized oil industry, or in terms of the agreement, “state bodies shall be required to implement energy-related operations.” This is meant to assure that international oil interests, especially those from the United States, do not assert their influence within the member countries. It also serves other purposes though: It keeps oil consumers insulated from the oil market and the influence of international speculators, and suppresses free market reforms within the member states.
These nationalized entities are generally developed with the guidance Venezuelan specialists and are complemented by administrators trained in the Cuban bureaucratic apparatus. Also, Cuban medical missions are thrown in to sweeten the deal. Eventually, through the perceived economic advantages brought about by cheap oil, the Marxist caudillos of the “Bolivarian Revolution” hope to persuade those same countries to join in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA. It is hoped that experience with PetroCaribe’s state interventionist policy requirements, will be used to establish the political base necessary to convince member states to then join ALBA, which will allow for further international integration of the socialist model throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Most reports in the West treat ALBA as an organization that merely proposes a soft, welfare state alternative to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Consequently, many American liberals and leftists support the initiative as a more humane model than the free market models proposed by the U.S.
However, ALBA is much more than a trade agreement: it is inarguably an anti-capitalist and anti-American political and military alliance. In October 2009, the member countries of the organization announced that it would be establishing a new virtual currency which would replace the U.S. dollar in transactions between the 9 member countries. The new currency, the SUCRE, is intended not only to replace the dollar in Latin America, but is part of a new economic model proposed by leftists and globalists to diminish the viability of the dollar as a reserve currency worldwide. In the same meeting, Chavez made it clear that it was also the intention of ALBA to confront nations who have friendly security arrangements with the United States and to challenge U.S. security primacy wherever it is found in the region.
Because most Hondurans traditionally favor the free market and their country’s relationship with the United States, Zelaya’s overtures to Chavez and PetroCarbe in early 2008 were met with wide suspicion. Almost immediately after Zelaya’s PetroCaribe deal was announced, members of Congress from his own party came out in opposition to it. The head of the National Congress, Roberto Micheletti, also a member of Zelaya’s own Liberal Party, announced he would seek to defeat the deal. However, since Honduras was going through a food crisis at the time and the deal with PetroCaribe was too good to pass up, the Honduran National Congress approved the PetroCaribe deal narrowly in March 2008. (Evidence has also come to light that Zelaya was paying off members of National Congress to vote for the measure, which would account for its passage amidst strong opposition.)
After joining PetroCaribe, Zelaya put himself at the center of a storm of events that sought to consolidate the “Bolivarian Revolution” inside Honduras. First, Zelaya openly sought to damage the Honduran relationship with the United States. In the spring of 2008, Zelaya announced his intentions to sue U.S. diplomat Otto Reich for publicly stating that there was evidence that Zelaya was complicit in a scandal involving the state-run cell phone company Hondutel. (The charges are well-known and believed inside Honduras; irregularities by Zelaya have been found.)
Also in the spring, Zelaya publicly berated a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to suspend Honduran cantaloupe shipments to the U.S. in light of an outbreak of salmonella in 16 U.S. states. In a dramatic gesture, Zelaya got on TV, bit into a melon and asked what the matter was. This became a heightened controversy within Honduras as U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford accused Zelaya of biting into a honey dew instead of an unsafe cantaloupe.
Further and by far the most important, in September of 2008 Zelaya refused to accept the credentials of the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens. Zelaya did this to show solidarity with Venezuela and Bolivia which expelled U.S. Ambassadors from their countries on September 11, 2008, blaming the U.S. for fomenting unrest against their authoritarian regimes.
In coordination with his campaign against the United States, Zelaya began to attack Honduran political institutions, politicians and the press. Perhaps presaging opposition to his friendliness to the “Bolivarians,” Zelaya frequently insulted national leaders and insinuated they were plotting against him. The international left obliged Zelaya and the “Bolivarian Revolution” by reiterating unsubstantiated rumors of a secret plot against Zelaya. Regardless, inside Honduras, the result was that Zelaya was rapidly losing popularity throughout 2008.
In August 2008, Honduras officially joined ALBA. This stirred controversy because the details of the agreement were kept secret from the National Congress by Zelaya. It was also done amidst growing suspicions that Zelaya was planning to follow the pattern established by other leaders of the “Bolivarian Revolution” to usurp the Constitution and extend himself in power indefinitely: a tactic successfully pulled off by Chavez in February 2009 and sought by Sandinista President Ortega in Nicaragua.
Interestingly, the celebration that took place in Tegucigalpa on August 25, 2008 marking Honduras’ membership in ALBA, was boycotted by many in the business community, was attended by public employees and pro-Zelaya activists who were paid to come and were bused in free, and featured a speech by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who berated any Honduran who had apprehensions about joining ALBA, as “ignorant” and declared that attacks against ALBA “will not stop the revolution in Latin America.”
Consequently, the suspicion level about Zelaya increased, and in what has to be one of the most significant yet underreported events regarding the crisis in Honduras, there was in fact, a widespread belief that Zelaya was planning a coup in September 2008 in order to insure that ALBA would be adopted. Because members of the National Congress were adamant that they would not support ALBA if there was a military component to the treaty, many believed that a secret meeting with military commanders (in Spanish) called by Zelaya in September was the genesis of his takeover plan.
Even though rumors of the coup abated, the damage to Zelaya’s reputation inside Honduras was fatal. Roberto Micheletti, then the President of the National Congress, made a deal with Zelaya in which he shepherded ALBA approval through congress in return for support in the upcoming presidential primaries. As evidence of Zelaya’s falling popularity, his support only garnered Micheletti 27% of the vote, with Liberal Party voters giving 54% to Elvin Santos. Santos, who was the elected Vice-President of Honduras, was forced out by Zelaya a year earlier and called Zelaya’s constitutional efforts a “path to dictatorship.”
Still, Zelaya’s declining popularity did not deter him from proceeding to follow the examples set by the “Bolivarian Revolution.” On November 11, 2008, Zelaya announced that he would be proposing that a fourth ballot box be added to polls for the presidential elections scheduled for November 2009. This initial proposal was to run a binding referendum that would establish a national constituent assembly (NCA) which would re-write the Honduran Constitution. At the time, he did not clarify what he felt needed changing or did nothing in his official capacity to further the goal. Yet, it has been subsequently discovered that Zelaya was creating an emergency, and possibly illegal, fund to support the referendum.
In 2009, Zelaya re-doubled his efforts to establish the fourth ballot box referendum. In March 2009, Zelaya initiated his authoritarian quest with a famous visit to his idol, Fidel Castro. At that meeting, Castro famously wrote that Zelaya and him discussed the potential of Zelaya extending his presidency:
He is very young. “I can be president of Honduras for only 4 years of my life. I belong to the Liberal Party; my country is very conservative, starting with the very party of which I am a member”. I write his words almost verbatim, just as I heard them. Any error is solely my responsibility.
That doesn’t provide the leader of a country even with a second, in the quest for the Efficient State, something every society needs today more than ever, I declared…
For Zelaya, “the capitalist system is the most repugnant conception of justice that human beings can harbor”.
Just a few weeks after his visit to Castro, Zelaya made his move on the proposed referendum. On March 23, 2009 he issued Executive Decree PCM-005 2009 that ordered a public consultation on the NCA take place no later than June 28, 2009. Almost immediately, the Human Rights Ombudsman, the National Congress and the Chief Prosecutor condemned the Decree as illegal because Zelaya did not have the constitutional authority to call for a referendum himself. Under Honduran law, the president does not have the authority to call either a non-binding plebiscite, or a legally binding referendum which would create an NCA. The power to call a non-binding referendum falls to the National Electoral Tribunal, and the power for a NCA is given to the National Congress.
On May 8, the Chief Prosecutor filed a suit against the Decree with the Court of Administrative Litigation and they issued a decision on May 12 declaring the Decree illegal. Additionally, because Zelaya’s Decree contained directions to the National Institute of Statistics and the military to begin preparations for the referendum, the Court ordered that all preparations end.
But that did not stop Zelaya. At the same time of this legal ruse, Zelaya was also openly encouraging his supporters to put pressure on government officials and the agencies adjudicating the matter. For instance, in another much under-reported story, members of the radical Marxist indigenous group, COPINH, showed up at the Public Ministry (Honduras’ Justice Department) on May 18, 2009 with machetes and threatened violent insurrection if legal authorities did not recognize the legality of the NCA referendum.
COPINH also issued this public statement at the time of their protest which contained the following threat:
There will be insurrection and civil disobedience if there are any attempts to impede the Executive Branch’s promotion of a community consultation regarding the formation of a Constituent National Assembly.
Today, outside the Public Ministry, over one hundred campesino and campesina members of COPINH, machetes in hand, staged a protest.
Last week, representatives of a number of civil society groups met to back up Manuel Zelaya Rosales’ project to carry out a community consultation in June. The people would be consulted on the initiative to install a Constituent National Assembly and draw up a new political constitution.
On May 12, the Contentious Administrative Court found in favour of a request from the Public Ministry to declare the fourth ballot promoted by the Government of Manuel Zelaya null and void… The decision was read this morning by Judge Zelaya Saldana. COPINH considers that the Public Ministry answers only to the power groups and to conservative political groups who do not want progress to create a true justice system and institutional structure that would benefit the people of this country.
Due to the unfavorable ruling, Zelaya then rescinded the initial Decree and issued another on May 26, Executive Decree PCM-19-2009, which ordered a national poll –Encuesta de Opinion Publica-on the same issue. Three days later the Court issued another ruling on the new Decree which ordered Zelaya to suspend the plebiscite and all acts for its preparation. They clarified the next day:
suspension of the consultation ordered on March 23, 2009, includes any other administrative act, whether general or particular, which has been issued or might be issued, whether explicitly or implicitly, by publication or lack thereof in the Official Gazette, which might be conducive to the same administrative act which has been suspended, as any other procedural consultation or question which may be designed to avoid obeying this ruling [of May 29]
Of course, this did not stop Zelaya either. On the same day that the Court issued its clarification, Zelaya put into force Executive Accord 027-2009 and announced to the Honduran public that there would be a public opinion poll carried out by the National Institute of Statistics in June. This caused a flurry of litigation throughout June which resulted in numerous rulings against Zelaya’s Decrees. It also evoked public statements by every government agency in Honduras condemning the Decrees and the President’s persistence in holding the plebiscite. The National Congress, The Supreme Court, The National Electoral Tribunal, and the Honduran Bar Association all either condemned Zelaya’s actions and declared the plebiscite illegal, or both. A good compilation of the litigation can be found here. A good review of the events of June can be found here.
But, none of this stopped Zelaya.
Since the government was ordered by the Court to end preparations for the plebiscite, it did not prepare for the election. Ballots were not printed inside Honduras and ballot boxes were not being distributed. However, on June 24, Zelaya ordered the head of the military command, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez to distribute election materials which were produced in Venezuela. Due to the court rulings declaring the plebiscite illegal, Velasquez refused and Zelaya then had him promptly removed from command.
The next day (June 26) a plane from Venezuela arrived at the Toncontin International Airport with additional printed election materials. The Congress ordered the shipment seized and brought to the Hernan Acosta Mejia Air Force base. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled that General Velasquez be reinstated and the Honduran Congress began discussions on impeachment of Zelaya.
Later that day, in clear violation of the law, Zelaya and his supporters broke into the Air Force Base and confiscated the Venezuelan ballots. At the same time Hugo Chavez was making threatening statements in support of Zelaya. Many bloggers on the ground during the event pointed out the reality that this all seemed to be a manufactured drama. For a good video of Zelaya’s break-in and on-the-ground commentary concerning Chavez’ complicity, go here. There were also reports in the Honduran press that troops from Venezuela and Nicaragua were fighting with Hondurans at the border.
Inside Honduras, Zelaya and his supporters were alone in maintaining the legality of the referendum and the theft of the ballots even though, as we noted above, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Election Council, the nation’s Attorney General and the National Congress- led by members of Zelaya’s own party- all ruled the planned referendum violated the Honduran Constitution. But Zelaya and his supporters would not be deferred and they began to distribute the ballots anyway. The Supreme Court then promptly issued an arrest warrant for the President.
If you want a quick review of events, this video made at the time works for that:
Conclusion to Part 2:
The events in Honduras since the crisis that began in June 2009 are moving fast and ever-changing. Presently, Honduras remains in crisis despite the successful elections held on November 29, 2009. Zelaya, the ousted former president, remains holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa (where he has been since returning to Honduras in September), refusing to submit both to arrest orders issued by the Honduran Supreme Court and any deal for political asylum in another country.
Zelaya has also refused to recognize the legitimacy of the November elections and this has incited and energized various Marxist groups within Honduras-known generically as The Resistance- who have called for a pitched effort of civil disobedience against the government until Zelaya is returned to power.
The United States and a handful of other countries have recognized the elections in November as legitimate, however, the countries of the “Bolivarian Revolution”- Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia,- continue to maintain their illegitimacy.
The International community, for its part, has been trying mightily to negotiate a final deal with the Honduran government, yet it is very obvious that they want a final deal that favors Zelaya and the idea that his arrest in June was a “right-wing” military coup, and not legal a removal of a constitutional officer who had overstepped his legal authority.
In fact, just a few days ago on January 7, the first legal action taken by the Honduran Supreme Court in relation to the crisis was the indictment of General Velasquez for taking Zelaya out of the country. But, given what is reported here and what people suspected back then, it is probably safe to say that getting Zelaya out of the country was an act of heroism that saved the country from violence and perhaps, a civil war.
Also, the international left continues to push the preposterous idea that the crisis was a coup and there are massive human rights violations associated with the interim government. This line of attack against the democratic forces that removed Zelaya from office has been repeatedly exposed as a lie. What is forgotten is that Zelaya himself was no stranger to being accused of human rights abuses and the suppression of free speech in Honduras.
And although the international left and the LAME won’t acknowledge it, there is vast, international opposition to Chavez and the “Bolivarian Revolution.”