Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I wouldn't say there has been a coup": David Scott Palmer and the art of contradiction

Honduran correspondents sent me a Spanish language interview with David Scott Palmer, datelined August 16 from Buenos Aires, from the Argentinian online news medium Pagina12. A faculty member at Boston University, Palmer is described in the Spanish language media as an insider, "an academic and consultant for the State Department and the network of US intelligence agencies, and ex-instructor at the School of the Americas".

As a reminder, here is what Palmer said about the prospects for military coups in the 21st century in Fall 2002 in an article published by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University:
The military coup is no longer an alternative mechanism for acceding to power in the region. There were 19 successful coups in the 1960s in Latin America and 18 in the 1970s, but just seven in the 1980s and only two in the 1990s. The two coups thus far in the new century lasted just hours, both aborted by intense international pressure.
As the days become months, Honduras would seem to spoil this lovely emerging pattern, wouldn't it?

That would be because we don't understand that what happened in Honduras is not a coup, just "an interruption of democracy", which apparently isn't bound to the same timetable:
[Q] Why did the Obama government not act more decisively in the face of the coup in Honduras?
[A] I wouldn't say that there was a coup, rather an interruption in democracy, as occurred with Bucaram, Mahuad, and Gutierrez in Ecuador or Sánchez de Lozada in Bolivia. I think that the US was very clear, it condemned the removal of Zelaya and brought the topic to the OAS, to correct the error of the Bush government of having supported the coup against Chavez in 2002.

Not at all clear on the face of it why Honduras should be compared to these two examples.

The Ecuadorian situation saw the overthrow of the three named presidents in 1997, 2000, and 2005. One analysis notes that
All three presidents who have fallen from power [in Ecuador] have been similar in their authoritarian attempts to concentrate power....In the three governmental collapses, the behaviour of the US has been similar: to ensure that whoever succeeds to government is firm on the US military base at Manta, the foreign debt and the FTAA - TLC trade agreement and to ensure a constitutional resolution.
So perhaps what we are to take from this comparison is that Zelaya was an authoritarian attempting to concentrate power, and that US interests are in maintaining access to military bases (Palmerola/Soto Cano), trade agreements, and at least some form of constitutional succession? Or maybe the comparison is intended with the role of violence in Ecuador:
The three crises have not involved the highest levels of armed confrontation with the civilian population; nevertheless, civil confrontation and brutal repression have become increasingly normal.
"Increasingly normal" brutal repression. But not "the highest levels of armed confrontation" that might, one presumes, have qualified as coups (and not just an "interruption").

The Bolivian situation seems even less comparable, as it involves the resignation of the president in 2003 following popular mobilization. Maybe what is supposed to be comparable is that it was a popular movement that rejected President Sánchez de Lozada, who is accused of ordering the killing of unarmed civilians, thus perhaps to be identified with the "brutal repression" that characterized Ecuador's three political crises. Or maybe the idea is that somehow the complex social movements that mobilized against President Sánchez in Bolivia, as discussed by Nancy Postero, are somehow comparable to the complexity of the factions against President Zelaya-- even though it sounds more like a description of the forces now demonstrating for the restitution of constitutional government.

Our confusion was shared by the interviewer for Pagina12, Santiago O’Donnell, whose next question was actually a statement, and that drew one of the oddest comments on the Honduran coup to date:
[Q] It doesn't seem to me that these were similar situations. They took Zelaya in his pajamas.
I understood that he was in pajamas when they went to detain him, but that the military gave him time to dress, therefore there are no photos of Zelaya in pajamas. The military acted by order of the Supreme Court, but they did wrong in expelling Zelaya from the country. The problem is the Honduran Constitution does not contemplate political trial of the president. Greater firmness is demanded of the US, but it did what it had to do. If we learned anything in Central America in the 80s it is that the parties are the only ones who can resolve a conflict. In 1987 the presidents of Central America closed themselves up in a house in Esquipulas, in the outskirts of San José, and signed their peace accord despite the opposition of the US and the Contadora group, that were excluded from negotiations and were not even named guarantors of the process.
Compressed into one short paragraph are all the myths of the expulsion of President Zelaya, along with the argument offered for imposing the Oscar Arias mediation on the Honduran situation. And something new: the military, it seems, wasn't rude at all: they allowed President Zelaya to get dressed...which means all those pictures that are captioned "President Manuel Zelaya, still in his pajamas", need to be re-examined: on second look, clearly he is wearing a T-shirt. So much more dignified.

To be fair, President Zelaya got some support from Palmer. O’Donnell reports that during the question and answer session after his talk, which was about foreign policy in the Obama administration, Palmer
surprised a Honduran student and declared anti-chavista, saying that Zelaya did well in allying himself with the bolivarian leader: "Chavez sold oil at low price to Honduras, as well as other Central American, Caribbean, and South American countries. Honduras does not have oil and its provision is fundamental, especially in these times. Therefore I think that Zelaya did well, although such aid always comes at a price, and that price is obvious".
Obvious indeed: not a coup, just an interruption in democracy.

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