The New York Times has touted President Obama’s restriction of visas for Honduran citizens as “raising pressure on the government that took power” after the coup d’êtat in Honduras on June 28, 2009. What American mainstream media fails to point out, however, is that President Obama’s actions have thus far been symbolic at most, and tantamount to complicity at least. The president’s initial response to the coup that ousted a democratically elected president in our hemisphere failed to condemn the act. His stance on the coup has been called “tepid” by rightful president Manuel Zelaya and his supporters, and his inaction has incited anger across Latin America, as his promises to extend human rights and democracy to neighboring countries have proven false.
While the Times insists that the administration has “repeatedly condemned the military coup,” and that the restriction of visas shows the president’s resolve on the matter, why has he failed to restrict the visas of the very military junta he supposedly condemns? Why has he failed to freeze the assets and cash of de facto president Roberto Micheletti in U.S. banks?
The U.S. has a long history of supporting and instigating coups, dictatorships, juntas, and their crimes against humanity in Latin America. The consistency among these “interventions” is that they always remove a progressive leader whose policies benefit the poor, the working class, the indigenous, women, students, and the politically powerless. While these may sound like fringe groups to many the Times’ readers, please recall that in Latin America, big business, the wealthy, and the elite are a slim minority of the population. However, these are the very groups who hold the vast majority of power and wealth, often stemming from intimate ties with the U.S. and Europe.
In this case, Zelaya, a rancher and long-time timber worker, whose economic stance is left of center, was ousted. Micheletti, his replacement, has ties with the U.S. (he lived and studied in Florida and Louisiana), as well as an economic stance that would directly benefit large American corporations. Ideologically, Micheletti is similar to a moderate conservative who prioritizes big, international businesses over the working poor of his own neighborhoods. Also, in Latin America, where indigenous blood runs through the veins of about 70% of the population, his Italian heritage has not gone unnoticed.
The State Department’s assertion that “President Zelaya’s insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal” is a classic case of blaming the victim. To borrow an analogy penned by Dr. Martin Luther King, this blame game is much like naming a robbed man as the culprit, since he possessed something of value, which led to his being robbed.
It should also be noted that Micheletti’s regime celebrated the statement issued by the State Department, being able to read between the lines fairly easily.
President Obama has stated that the “the situation must be resolved by Hondurans and their democratic institutions in accordance with the rule of law.” It hardly seems necessary to point out that democracy and law have been destroyed in Honduras, while international law has not been enforced by the U.N., the U.S., or any other powerful institution. While the Organization of American States (OAS) has voted overwhelmingly for the “immediate and unconditional” return to power of Zelaya, the Obama administration has failed to lend the support necessary to make this a reality. Was this vote not democratic? Are the laws of the OAS not to be considered valid?
Obama claims he “can’t push a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya.” In its most absurd and literal sense, this statement is true. However, the president of the United States cannot pretend to be powerless with respect to Latin America. While there is no magic button, there are obvious and easy ways to put real pressure on Micheletti’s junta. He could easily remove our ambassador (who was inconveniently out of town at the time of the coup). Ending diplomatic ties with Micheletti would topple his government almost instantly. The freezing of his assets in U.S. banks—which amount to millions—would cripple the junta.
Restricting visas for middle class Hondurans who wish to work and study in the U.S. will do nothing to disable Micheletti, and the lack of meaningful action shows our president’s complicity with the illegal coup in Honduras.