Clinton, the election, and our shameful history in Central America
I'm saying this upfront: I never thought I'd hear presidential candidates in the 2016 electoral cycle refer to the U.S.-backed coup that toppled the democratically-elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954.
That dark deed, presumably undertaken to protect the U.S. business interests from Arbenz's planned land reforms, ushered in 30-plus years of repression, armed internal conflict, and ultimately the genocide of indigenous peoples in the small Central American country.
That post-Arbenz Guatemala — authoritarian, tortured, a country where 200,000 would die and another 40,000 would be disappeared with impunity — is the Guatemala I grew up in.
So, needless to say, my attention was caught by the reference during the March 9 debate in Miami. Bernie Sanders was the one to bring it up (mentioned with other U.S.-backed interventions in Central America and Chile), in the context of explaining statements he made in 1985 on video praising some of the social gains made by Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Later Hillary Clinton would return to Sanders' comments, saying: "And I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders. I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves. I just couldn't disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere."
Sanders responded: "Well, as I said earlier, I don't believe it is the business of the United States government to be overthrowing small countries around the world."
It wasn't lost on me nor, I'm sure, the catrachos (Hondurans) in the United States listening to the debate, that Sanders was arguing with a politician who, as Secretary of State, may not have explicitly endorsed the coup that deposed Manuel Zelaya (the democratically-elected president of Honduras) in 2009, but who actively worked to thwart efforts to restore him to office and offered support to the coup regime.
Via Clinton, the U.S. backed — reportedly at the behest of lobbyists and business interests, as in Guatemala in the '50s — what has been brutally repressive leadership, and the result for Honduras has been dire. In the ensuing years Honduras has become one of the most murderous countries in the world.
"Hundreds of Hondurans (were) killed for speaking up since the June 28, 2009 military coup that deposed democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. Hundreds among the living have received threatening messages or are followed home by strangers in dark cars, and count their futures in days, not years," wrote The Nation's Dana Frank in 2012. "The Obama administration’s 'partnership' with the ongoing coup regime in Honduras is getting harder to defend every day — with every act of brutality against the opposition committed by the corrupt government and its allies."
While Clinton told Julio Ricardo Varela at Latino USA that the claims of U.S. involvement are nonsense, news organizations from the Huffington Post to Al Jazeera to the Intercept have argued convincingly otherwise.
And there is no doubt at all about U.S. involvement in the coup according to Honduran activists who opposed the regime change and have been viewed as the opposition ever since. In the 2014 video that heads this posting, environmental, indigenous and community activist Berta Cáceres (coordinator of COPINH, a Honduran council of civic indigenous and community organizations) speaks about U.S. intervention (minute 4:50) as a continuation of U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in the 1980s, and to shore up current mining interests. In minute 5:56, Cáceres talks specifically about the 2009 coup, and quotes Clinton's memoir (minute 6:14) to bolster her argument that Clinton did everything she could to keep Zelaya out of office. Cáceres traces a line between that support of those viewed as friendlier to U.S. business interests and the subsequent militarization and rampant fraud in Honduras.
Cáceres was assassinated a mere three days before this Democratic debate, and shockingly, despite Clinton's state department gig and the Latino interviewers involved, no one at the debate thought to ask her about the lasting effects in Honduras of foreign policy choices she made for the Obama administration.
If you watch the above video interview with Cáceres until the end (caveat: it is entirely in Spanish), you will hear her respond to questions about her own safety and the safety of other environmental and community activists. While she admits to the specific threats activists, journalists and other high-profile folks have received, she makes clear that in Honduras everyone is at grave risk from the out-of-control violence.