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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Consistency is not a virtue

The Los Angeles Times has established itself as one of the worst editorial voices in the US mainstream media commenting on the Honduran crisis, and their latest effort is not the cure. Muddled logic, actual errors of fact, and an unconvincing conclusion really make it barely worth mention, except as an illustration of persistent misunderstandings that mar mainstream news coverage.

On the positive side: the editorial recognizes the harmful effects of US Republican politicians grandstanding about Honduras, encouraging Micheletti not to work to end the crisis:
U.S. Republicans who oppose Zelaya's return have given the Micheletti camp false hope that it can hold out without cost.
But oh, the bad side: Micheletti should give in, we are told, because the coup
made the point they'd hoped to make when they deposed President Manuel Zelaya in a civilian-military coup last June: that he had broken the law by seeking to alter the constitution to extend his rule.
Huh? So it wasn't a naked power grab fueled by an exploitative business elite? It was some kind of communication act? Not to mention that the "point" being made is not true, something someone at LA Times should have figured out a long long time ago.

Zelaya, we are told,
hasn't helped himself with the elites worried about his leftist politics by sneaking back into Honduras to take refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and calling his supporters to the streets
Ignore the fact that the only reason there has been any movement-- if indeed there has been-- in recent weeks is because Zelaya returned to Honduras. Ignore the fact that the resistance-- which is not simply Zelaya's "supporters"-- has been in the streets continuously before and after Zelaya returned.

(And am I the only one wondering why the US media routinely say "snuck back" instead of, say, "secretly made his way back"?)

What is most bizarre here is the return to taking "leftist" as a natural, obvious, uncontested label for a centrist president. Is it too much to ask US media to actually think before they write?

Micheletti, in contrast, only "risks" dragging Honduras into instability and economic decline; never mind the economic deterioration well documented in previous blog posts here, or the daily civil disobedience, military repression, and repeated (and usually illegal) suspensions of civil rights, which apparent do not qualify as "instability".

The editorial then speculates about whether Micheletti is genuinely concerned that President Zelaya might "call out the army" if he returned to his constitutionally mandated position. We are assured by an anonymous US official that this would not happen due to
a constitutional requirement that control over the military pass to the Supreme Electoral Council a month before elections; Zelaya, therefore, couldn't call out the army.
Point one: surely the actual calling out of the Army by a reactionary regime has made it clear that President Zelaya did not have control over the military? what more reassurance would anyone actually need that the Armed Forces are not waiting to follow orders from President Zelaya-- orders to what? have a coup? oh wait, been there, done that...

Point two: there is not any existing constitutional requirement that control over the military passes to the Election Tribunal. This proposal in the San Jose Accord has been specifically rejected by virtually all Honduran parties, other than President Zelaya. Someone needs to explain to the US, to Oscar Arias, and to the OAS that the San Jose Accord will not work if it demands Honduras change aspects of its constitution.

The LA Times reaches its crescendo of sheer idiocy, though, in its summation; there should be no worry about allowing President Zelaya to resume his legal position, because
neither presidential candidate is a Zelaya ally, so he couldn't rule by proxy after leaving office in January.
Neither candidate? Does the LA Times really not realize that there are more than two parties in Honduras-- and a pretty strong independent candidate to boot? And this "ruling by proxy" thing actually is hilarious: or it would be if the next sentences didn't make clear that the LA Times persists in its belief that Zelaya was indeed clearly planning to grab power, with his (nonexistent) control of the Armed Forces:
U.S. and OAS officials must do everything in their power to persuade the Micheletti camp to relent and allow Zelaya's return. And they must convince Zelaya that there would be zero tolerance for any attempt to stay in power.
No. The US long ago should have stopped all aid to the de facto regime, and reined in Republican loose cannons undercutting the message that the real elected government needs to be restored. But continuing to demand that Zelaya renounce something he never in fact proposed is simply encouraging the de facto regime.

The US needs to start accepting the word of the legally elected President of Honduras, that his goal was something different: equally objectionable to the de facto regime, a call for public participation in constitutional reform. Working out whether that is legal or not, feasible or not, good for Honduras or not should have been done through political debate. To pretend that talking about reforming government is the same thing as kidnapping and expatriating the president, and beating and repressing the people, is a failure of understanding.

By now, if we were going to see good reporting done by MSM it would be visible. So it is worth asking whether the de facto regime is just that good at message control, or is it that good at limiting access to anything but a narrow part of the country and a narrow range of informants-- or, is this another case where Honduras is simply not important enough to US media, unless they can reduce the real story down to a US policy debate or a simple story that feeds an us-versus-them narrative?

5 comments:

Michael said...

I won't say a word in defense of the Times, but one thing you say puzzles me: that the "point" they say was being made by coup is not true, that point being that Zelaya "had broken the law by seeking to alter the constitution to extend his rule."

Are you saying that the referendum was not aimed at permitting reelection? That such an attempt is prohibited in the constitution is quite clear.

phoenixwoman said...

And Radio Globo en Internet remains silent. For a time last night, according to chat at the darkened LibreExpresion site, all opposition media was silent. But Progreso is now up.

--Charles

phoenixwoman said...

I certainly hope you write to the Los Angeles Times to draw these matter to attention.

The reality is that American media are identical in nature to the Honduran media. Two thirds of readership is owned by the leading two dozen groups. Although the major media do not have the lockstep conformity that the Honduran print media seem to show, there is no national opposition newspaper to compare to Tiempo. Concentration in electronic news media is probably worse than that suffered by Honduras prior to the coup. And, although opposition media exists in the form of Pacifica, DemocracyNow and Air America Radio, it barely qualifies as having national status.

When the COIMER&OP poll came out, I made sure that several media outlets were apprised of its existence. The poll clearly is a game-changer. Its results demonstrate that the coup has no legitimacy whatsoever: Zelaya is popular, far more popular than Micheletti. More to the point, it strengthens the morale of the opposition to the coup and, to the extent that its results are known, cannot but dishearten those supporting the coup. Most important from the standpoint of Americans, it tells us that by failing to help bring the coup to a swift end, we are responsible for the misery of millions of brave people. The poll has been reported by Agence France Presse, so it's clearly a legitimate story-- but the report is in Spanish. As of today, there are no more than 11 mentions in Google News of this poll, none of them in English (and, sadly, none from the European press). This is not an accident. It is further evidence that the American media amount to being a propaganda arm of the American oligarchy.

Madison Avenue long ago learned that controlling the perception of reality was almost as powerful as controlling reality itself. The narrative has been created, and is evidently believed by our decision makers, that Manuel Zelaya broke laws and does not deserve to hold power, that the Honduran people did not like him, and that he has no right to want to see his wife and child and to be with the majority of the country who wants to have him back in power. If people believe these things, then they can see tens and hundreds of thousands of people protesting and imagine that these are "looters," they can see the shutdown of opposition media and imagine that circumstances must justify that. In the end, of course, reality wins. But if its only victory is an article 20 years after the fact in The New York Times, it means millions of broken and stunted lives and a generation-long grievance against the United States.

The LA Times editorial is not the worst we will see. It is just the first.


--Charles

RAJ said...

Michael,

the vote scheduled for June 28 was not a "referendum", and it was not on extending the term of the President. The LA Times is either using a misleading piece of short-hand, or, more likely, they are ignoring the fact that this characterization is propaganda that has been advanced by proponents of the coup.

The June 28 vote was a non-binding public opinion poll. It was on the question of whether the respondents would like to see a binding vote on the November ballot to determine whether people voting in November were for or against convening a constitutional assembly, which would have had to be approved for the ballot by Congress. A constitutional assembly could not have been convened until after the November election results were tallied, assuming it gained the necessary level of support. Zelaya would have left office long before any projected constituent assembly could have been convened. I am not just speculating here; the government offices I was working with were busy completing projects in preparation for the end of the Zelaya government.

A constituent assembly could undertake reform of the constitution. But the stated goals of constitutional reform did not include changing the term of the office of President, but rather had to do with such things as ensuring the rights of sexual minorities, indigenous people, and the African-descendant peoples of Honduras, all guaranteed particular consideration under international treaties Honduras had signed. Other goals of reform mentioned by the Zelaya government were institutionalizing public accountability of government and public participation, supposed to be mandated by a law for which Congress neglected to provide implementing regulations. Finally, there was the matter of institutionalizing newly recognized forms of human rights, such as the right to health care and to environmental justice.

The present Constitution of Honduras does not prohibit all attempts at reform. The so-called set-in-stone articles refer specifically to such things as the form of government (elected, democratic, and representative) and the term of office of the President. No one in the cuarta urna campaign ever called for changes to those articles.

To say that the coup leaders "made their point" ignores all these facts. And it also happens to ignore the fact that in the wake of the coup, more people have spoken out in favor of constitutional reform than had before it, including constitutional law experts noting that the set-in-stone articles themselves are of dubious status, since if taken literally, they mean the sovereignty of the people forever more will be blocked. Thus, far from achieving their mission, the coup leaders have done nothing except disrupt the economy, society, civil rights, freedom of expression; taint the November election with illegitimacy no matter what happens between now and then, since there is no freedom of speech and no real campaign can be said to be underway, and the Armed Forces charged with guarding the polling process are now seen by many Hondurans as bullies and thugs; and the coup has in fact brought into the open the fundamental problems of governance that are so profound that even moderate voices in Honduras are talking about constitutional reform.

TITO said...

Michel,

As RAJ points out, Zelaya NEVER stated he wanted the reelection, but to start a debate over rewriting the Constitution.

The mainstream media in Honduras is owned by the political and economic interests that financed the coup. Do not expect them to tell you the truth ever.

Even thought the final decision to execute the coup may have been June 25th, when Congress had already on their hands a FAKE resignation letter of President Zelaya; the coup has been placed into course way back more that a year ago.

Here is a photo album with some news paper cutouts from golpista media, and "El Poder Ciudadano" paper owned by the government under Zelaya.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ojoindependiente/sets/72157622450220935/

Also there are two youtube channels where there is some truth that never got to the golpista media.

http://www.youtube.com/user/GobiernodeHonduras

http://www.youtube.com/user/VideosPresidenciales

The best description of the kind of media covering up the coup and not wanting the truth to be heard is in this video series.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqhSnKctkVQ

Hope you understand Spanish!

Thanks RAJ for your work!