Posts tagged Central America
I am happy to have a post today from my old college buddy Michael Oreste, who served 30 years in the State Department, including a stint in Honduras. He served his last two tours in Haiti and Iraq, respectively, where his clashes with the Bush Administration led to his retirement. –David
As our fearless blogger David Tatelman braves the tropical perils of Roatan off the coast of Honduras, this ancient friend from the late sixties was recruited to pontificate on the coup that replaced the democratically elected President of that beleaguered Central American nation. While David forged a new niche in the world of publishing, I landed in the Foreign Service, where I slogged away in places like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Haiti. This experience apparently earned me the chance to pinch hit for Mr. Tatelman while he scuba dives and surfs the waters of the Caribbean, a well-deserved respite for our intrepid publisher. But first, a few relevant disclosures: Although my political work in our embassies gave rise to frequent bouts of hubris, and assimilation into that Borg-like bastion of the status quo – the State Department – I could never completely shake my memories of 1969 and streets of Washington, D.C. In these nostalgia laden moments, I remembered that sea of blue-jeaned protesters laying siege to Nixon’s capital and the challenge it raised to the morality of war as an instrument of American hegemony. I could go on about the misguided arrogance of our policies in Haiti and Iraq, but let’s segue back to Roatan and Honduras.
In June, a military coup deposed President Manuel Zelaya, and replaced him with the leader of the Congress, who was part of the orchestrated effort that removed the President from office. The stated excuse for the coup was opposition to Zelaya’s plan to convene a sort of constitutional convention. The underlying reason for the coup was right wing opposition to the fundamental shift in power away from the traditional elite to an impoverished majority that could have occurred if the constituent assembly took place. A military spokesman admitted, that “Zelaya’s allegiance to Chávez” was hard to stomach and that “It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible. I personally would have retired, because my thinking, my principles, would not have allowed me to participate in it.” It was the specter of Chavez that alarmed the political leaders Honduras and the conservative “Washington consensus” that still dominates American foreign policy.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we often heard that the United States was the world’s only remaining superpower. This theme was popular among pundits and the press. Foreign leaders picked up the phrase. The airy thought of holding dominion over the planet should have been reassuring to America, but it had a certain gut wrenching irony to it. The Russians had studied the cost of empire in the eighties and concluded that imperialism cost more than it was worth. After seven years of unnecessary war in Iraq and a hopeless for, more excusable, engagement in Afghanistan, we have expended our goodwill and political capital. Obama has discovered how hard it is to reverse the policies of war. Add to that the meltdown of our economy in 2008, and the world’s only superpower is no more. We are first among equals and we can project power globally, but we are drained, we are exhausted, we have suffered unnecessary and horrific casualties and inflicted even more. In one sense our hands were tied in Honduras. No longer could we command that the Honduran military stand down. What was worse, we were divided. The State Department and conservative Republicans marched to a different drum.
A significant opportunity to consolidate our position with the liberal governments of the OAS was lost and we – once again – were going it alone. My boss in Suriname, Ambassador Dennis Hays once told me that it is best when “you can do well by doing good.” No doubt Dennis would disagree with me about Zelaya and the reversal of the coup, and even I will admit to no great love for his style and friendship with Chavez, we should always support democracy, even when the results stick in our craw. We are not the policemen of the world nor its moral authority. We need to seek international partners built on a consensus consistent with the values and interests of our allies, who should be as many as the tent will hold. We can ill afford conflict in a world on the precipice of economic and ecological disaster. The big tent needs as its pillars, democracy, human rights, protection of the planet and the dignity of its people. That is how we best further our national interests and those of our friends. The coup in Honduras was undemocratic, violent, in violation of the OAS charter and international norms, and despite some fancy footwork and smoke and mirrors, undermined the national interest of the United States and Honduras, it weakened the OAS and brought into question our commitment to the very principles that define us.
As I look at reports of Haiti collapsed into its deepest misery, I think back to the coup that was fomented their by the right wing of the Republican party, the former military and a gang of drug fueled thugs and insurgents. The Bush administration stood by and let a democratically-elected President fall to cocaine peddlers and misguided ideologues. We need to stop our cowboy instincts and act in accordance with our values. The consequences of getting into bed with the enemies of democracy to oppose democratically-elected officials is always a mistake. This is especially true when the reason for deposing someone is because that person supports a plebiscite. We need to figure out how to get on the right side of the down-trodden pluralities and majorities in Latin America.
On Haiti, Please do what you can. Send money to reputable charities on the ground there.