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Garifuna Communities of Honduras Resist Corporate Land Grabs

FINALLY 2

By Samira Jubis | Council on Hemispheric Affairs | September 23, 2015

The fate of the Garifuna people of Honduras hangs in the balance as they face a Honduran state that is all too eager to accommodate the neoliberal agenda of U.S. and Canadian investors. The current economic development strategy of the Honduran government, in the aftermath of the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, has not only benefited the political and economic elite in Honduras, but it has also encouraged the usurpation of some of the territories of indigenous peoples of this Central American nation. The often-violent expropriation of indigenous land threatens the Garifuna’s subsistence.

The Garifuna people are descendants of African slaves and two indigenous groups originally from South America—the Arawaks and the Carib Indians. In 1797, the British deported 5,000 Garifuna, also known as Black Caribs, from St. Vincent to Roatán. Since then, the Garifuna people have immigrated throughout North and Central America.[i]

Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra are home to two of the forty-eight Honduran Garifuna communities along the Honduran Atlantic coast corridor. Due to an ecologically rich geopolitical position, these regions have attracted foreign-backed investments, including tourist and recreational centers, natural resource extraction industries, and self-governing corporate zones. The concept of “self-governing” does not apply to democratic procedures of native citizens, but to the domination of foreign elites who view the Garifuna land as a mere means to the private accumulation of wealth.

Mega development projects have been advertised as a stimulus to economic growth and employment within the country. However, in practice, they have aggravated discrimination and harassment against indigenous and ethnic groups, whom developers generally perceive as obstacles to the expansion of such economic projects. Hence, the Honduran political system, in thrall to ambitious tycoons and foreign interventionism, has infringed on the Garifuna community’s relationship to and management of their ancestral lands. The displacement of these Honduran Afro-descendant communities from their ancestral lands for the development of economic projects accelerated after the coup d’état of June 28, 2009 against the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, and the installment of a U.S. backed golpista regime.

The United States and Canada perceived the center-left policies of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya as an intolerable restraint on American and Canadian investment objectives in Honduras. The alignment of Honduras with the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe along with stricter domestic reforms to rein in the damage caused by neoliberal policies, emboldened the U.S.-Canadian intervention in the Honduran political system. The coup brought the golpista regime of Roberto Micheletti (June 28, 2009 to January 27, 2010) to power and was followed by the subsequent election of two right wing presidents. Tegucigalpa has pursued policies that are more obedient to the economic consensus of Washington and Ottawa, reversing its march towards progressive land and labor reforms and opening the doors wide to foreign investors. As a result, Honduras has been the bloody stage for human rights violations against those who have resisted some of the more intrusive features of the neoliberal economic model.

The Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, for example, possessed title deeds of full ownership to their ancestral territories. However, the U.S. and World Bank-backed 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law not only led to the expansion of Tela’s city boundaries, but also stimulated future transactions of ancestral lands without consent of the Garifuna community members.[ii] Grahame Russell is the director of Rights Action and has devoted his life to protecting human rights in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Russell points out: “All along the north coast, most particularly in the Tela Bay and Trujillo Bay areas, Garifuna villages are being pressured—with false legal documents, with forced sales and with repression—to sell their lands and territories to international tourism operators that are supported by the illegitimate and repressive Honduran regime.”[iii]

The municipality of Tela sold ancestral territories to a corporation called Inversiones y Desarrollos del Triunfo S.A de C.V. The municipality later issued construction permits for the development of tourist projects, such as the Indura Beach and Golf Resort.[iv] Government officials and foreign investors have overlooked the Garifuna people’s opposition to these projects. In turn, there have been frequent territorial disputes between the investors and members of the Garifuna community. In 2014, the Honduran national police and military officials attempted to violently dislodge the Garifuna population from their lands. Despite the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring that the Garifuna culture is one of the nineteen Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2001), violence and physical force have been constantly used to threaten the livelihood of the Honduran Garifuna communities. Oscar Bregal and Jesus Alvarez, two committed Garifuna leaders, were murdered in 1997 while protesting against the violation of the human and civil rights of the Garifuna communities. Oppression and harsh conditions been the principal causes of displacement and emigration of the Honduran Garifuna inhabitants

According to the Indura Beach investors, the first phase of this US $120 million tourist-complex development has created 400 direct jobs and 800 indirect jobs.[v] The Honduran Tourism Institute insists that these jobs have primarily benefited the communities around the complex, especially the Garifuna communities. These benefits, however, have not reached the hands of the Garifuna population. As a matter of fact, unsustainable tourist projects have threatened the Garifuna people’s food sovereignty. As stated by Miriam Miranda, leader of The Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), the Garifuna people cannot continue to exist without the land required to grow their subsistence crops. Foods like rice, beans, and yucca not only make up the Garifuna daily diet, but also represent critical components of the Garifuna culture. The women of the communities sow and harvest the land for household consumption and income. The Honduran state’s failure to protect the interests of these Honduran citizens has led Garifuna indigenous communities to request the intervention of international organizations.

From August 24 to August 29, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held its 53rd period of extraordinary sessions in Honduras. During the sessions, the court visited the Garifuna Communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra to commence proceedings against the Honduran state. OFRANEH— speaking on behalf of the Garifuna inhabitants of Triunfo de la Cruz, Punta Piedra, and Cayos Cochinos—claimed that Honduras has failed to ensure these communities’ right of land ownership as well as their right to free, prior, and informed consent. Although Honduras has ratified the International Labour Organization Convention no. 169, and the Honduran constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous and ethnic peoples, the Honduran Garifuna communities continue to face discrimination and harassment within the Honduran economic and political systems. The petition of the Honduran Garifuna communities was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights on October 29, 2003. [vi] Following the commission’s hearings, the Honduran state agreed to put in place measures to protect the property rights of the Garifuna people. The state, however, has failed to uphold this agreement.

In February 2013, the commission submitted the case Garifuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members v. Honduras to the Inter-American court after the Honduran government failed to inform the Commission of the measures it had taken to enforce the property rights of the Triunfo de la Cruz inhabitants.[vii] This case not only confirms state collaboration with the violation of Garifuna people’s rights in Honduras, but it also challenges the effectiveness of the international community—in this case the court’s jurisdiction, in protecting those rights.

It has been 12 years since the petition was presented to the commission and the Honduran Garifuna communities are still living in despair and fear. Do we hear their call for justice in the North? Russell remarks that “while OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities are waiting for the Inter-American Court to render its final decision, which—if justice is to prevail—will find in favor of the Garifuna people, against the actions and omissions of the Honduran State, they are not depending on it.” Furthermore, Russell adds that the Honduran Garifuna communities, “resist peacefully, resolutely, on and on, from one community to the next.”

The usurpation of ancestral territories by multinational corporations backed by the political and security structure of the Honduran state has evoked justified skepticism among the Honduran Garifuna communities in regards to neoliberal economic policies that put profits before human needs and respect for participatory democratic procedures. While the Garifuna communities are still waiting for the court’s final decision on their case against the State of Honduras, they have been committed to voicing their grievances. The leadership and determination of the Honduran Garifuna has encouraged other indigenous and ethnic groups in the western hemisphere to fight against hegemonic neoliberal policies that threaten their ability to live and develop in community.

Featured Photo: Chachahuate, a small Honduran island inhabited by Garifuna communities. From: Dennis Garcia

[i] Escure, Geneviève, and Armin Schwegler. “Garifuna in Belize and Honduras.” In Creoles, Contact, and Language Change Linguistics and Social Implications, 37. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=622399.

[ii] Brondo, Keri V. “La pérdida de la tierra y el activismo de las mujeres garífunas en la costa norte de Honduras.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, 9, no. 3 (May 2008): 374.

[iii] Grahame Russell, e-mail message to author, September 20, 2015

[iv] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 159, 160.

[v] Diario El Heraldo Honduras. “Lista Primera Etapa De Indura Beach and Golf Resort.” Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.elheraldo.hn/alfrente/566419-209/lista-primera-etapa-de-indura-beach-and-golf-resort.

[vi] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 1.

[vii] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (2013). IACHR Takes Case involving Honduras to the Inter-American Court. Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2013/076.asp [Accessed 22 Sep. 2015].

September 24, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hidden Script of U.S. Militarization in Honduras

By Laura V. Natera | Council on Hemispheric Affairs | July 2, 2015

On June 2, the United States announced that 180 Marines would be deployed to Honduras as a preventative measure primarily concerning the upcoming hurricane season. Both the U.S. Marines and the White House affirmed that the military mobilization will be temporary and that its functions will only be used to protect the local populace in the case of a natural disaster.[1]

Regional specialists, however, fear that the presence of sophisticated U.S. military and surveillance equipment, as well as the sheer number of Marines that the United States brought to the Soto Cano Base Area in Palmerola, signal that this mobilization is the beginning of a new round of expansion of the United States’ presence in Central America reminiscent of Washington’s pro-contras and anti-sandinistas practices during the 1980s. These assumptions are based on how the United States has favorably supported the new Honduran government, despite it being established by the illegitimate removal of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office by military troops on June 28, 2009.

Countries in the Americas have been almost universally skeptical about the authenticity of the 2009 coup d’état and the statements made by President Barack Obama regarding this issue. In fact, according to the journalist Michael Parenti, certain indicators suggest that the 2009 Honduran coup was sponsored by the United States.[2]  In her book Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted “that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office.”[3] It was later revealed that the cadre of influential lobbyists hired to galvanize support in Washington for the coup have strong ties to both Hillary and Bill Clinton.[4] Additionally, many Latin Americans have made definitive links between the United States and the movement that overthrew President Zelaya in 2009, and President Obama shied away from promptly denouncing the military coup in Honduras.

On the other hand, according to a 2009 column written by Noel Brinkerhoff for AllGov, many of the accusations of past U.S. complicity with the military moves in Honduras are based on the fact that, at that moment, and still today, a large segment of the Honduran military receives U.S. training and supplies.[5] This suggests that the military coup that overthrew President Zelaya would not have succeeded if Washington had not conferred the adequate training. However, what is most disquieting about this situation is that, despite knowing how extensively U.S. military training affects the behavior of Honduran troops, the United States agreed to continue providing strategic help to the Honduran armed forces. Washington thus continues to be targeted with accusations regarding the 2009 coup that overthrew President Zelaya. Most notably, the plane carrying Zelaya out of the country stopped and was refueled at the U.S. military base at Palmerola. U.S. authorities, however, insist that they had no knowledge of Zelaya being on the plane.[6]

The allegations of U.S. involvement in the coup are not the only reason for the regional skepticism regarding the recent military deployment in Honduras. According to a LatinNews article on Honduras, the fact that the United States is considering a military expansion to attack regional drug cartels could not only worsen the U.S. reputation in Latin America but also at the international level, because the failure of this mission would be disconcerting for its regional efforts. [7]

According to Heather Gies, it is not the recent military expansion that is most concerning to Hondurans, but rather the fact that neither the United States nor Honduran police have been particularly effective in combating the high index of criminality in the region.[8] In fact, some analysts find that the reason why the Honduran public views the recent U.S. military expansion as ominous is because they do not understand how the deployment of 180 Marines for six months will improve what thousands of police and military have failed to bring about in six years of fighting impunity and crime in the Central American country. [9]

Others take issue with the justification behind the military expansion, arguing that the geographic distance between Honduras and the United States is short enough that the deployment is not necessary, and that, if a natural disaster does occur, immediate collaboration and rapid deployment can be provided. Gies asserts, however, that hurricane protection is simply an excuse used by the United States to justify deploying its troops and thus expanding its military penetration through Latin America.[10]

What is central in this debate is not whether or not the United States should collaborate with Honduras, but rather why the United States is willing to collaborate with Honduras today, despite the fact that the Honduran government’s policy fundamentally contradicts the United States’ stance, specifically in regards to human rights. This controversy, according to Gies, will only result in growing scrutiny and criticism of the hypocrisy of U.S. policy toward Honduras and elsewhere in Latin America. [11]    

In fact, according to Gies, what is most surprising about this situation is seeing how the United States applies its international policy selectively, isolating some nations like Venezuela, while supporting other countries such as Honduras, where levels of crime are exorbitant and there is very limited freedom of expression. What is most unnerving about the situation, according to recent declarations of former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, is that there is no exact science determining what the United States is looking for in Honduras, nor is there a way to tell whether it is supporting the rule of law or rather the dictatorship. [12] The U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report published this week condemns the cycle of impunity, human trafficking, and domestic violence that pervade Honduras, concluding that, “The [Honduran] government took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but corruption, intimidation, and the poor functioning of the justice system were serious impediments to the protection of human rights.”[13] Contrary to this stance, it is the government’s ardent militarization of Honduras that has proved to be a most detrimental impediment to promoting human rights.

Although it is stipulated that the U.S military expansion in Honduras will solely be allowed during the strict period corresponding to the hurricane season, there is growing uneasiness among the Honduran population. Recent political and social events in the region give credence to the idea that the U.S. troops will prolong their stay in Honduras. In fact, logic indicates that if the troops are meant to battle drug cartels in addition to possibly providing hurricane relief, then they will need much longer than six months.

Under these circumstances, it would also be important for the U.S. government to issue statements that explain its military support for the Honduran government, given the passage of the “Leahy Law” in 1997, which prohibits U.S. military support to countries with records of human rights violations and with continued impunity. It is therefore unclear as to why the United States is providing military support to Honduras. It is also not clear what characteristics a regime must have to receive such acquiescent treatment from the U.S. government.

It is also of crucial relevance to define the time frame that the U.S. troops will be deployed in order to determine their success in countering the drug cartels and other factors contributing to elevated levels of crime and violence in Honduras. Finally, it would also be interesting to know what the repercussions of the next U.S. presidential elections will have in this process due to the fact that many of the top contenders are running on interventionist ideals, and, if elected, they could cause the military expansion in Honduras to be prolonged or even intensified.

[1] Telesur. “280 US Marines to be Deployed to Central America”. 280 US Marines to be Deployed to Central America”. Telesur news on Latin America. May 2015. Accesed on the 4th of June 2015. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/280-US-Marines-to-be-Deployed-to-Central-America-20150526-0030.html

[2] Parenti, M. “The Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent?”. Michael Parenti Political Archieves. May 2009. Accesed on June 24th 2015. http://www.michaelparenti.org/Honduras.html

[3] http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/9/hillary-clinton-honduraslatinamericaforeignpolicy.html

[4] http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/15/honduras

[5] Brinkerhoff, N. “U.S. Still Training Honduras Military after Military Coup”. AllGov. June 2009. Accessed on June 10th 2015. http://www.allgov.com/news/us-and-the-world/us-still-training-honduras-military-after-military-coup?news=839254

[6] http://www.metro.us/news/troops-in-honduras-didn-t-know-about-plane-that-took-zelaya-to-exile-after-coup/tmWihp—34SZFUliI3Jw2/

[7] LatinNews. “Honduras-US: Special Marine task force will be based in Palermona”. June 2015. Accessed on June 11th 2015. http://www.latinnews.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=65097&period=2015&archive=798173&Itemid=6&cat_id=798173:honduras-usspecial-marine-task-force-will-be-based-in-palmerola

[8] Gies, H. “Dangerous Diplomacy: US Praises Mexico and Honduras, Targets Venezuela”. Telesur News Analisis. March 2015. Accessed on June 10th 2015. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29689-dangerous-diplomacy-us-praises-mexico-and-honduras-targets-venezuela

[9] LatinNews. “Honduras-US: Special Marine task force will be based in Palermona”. June 2015. Accessed on June 11th 2015. http://www.latinnews.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=65097&period=2015&archive=798173&Itemid=6&cat_id=798173:honduras-usspecial-marine-task-force-will-be-based-in-palmerola

[10] Gies, H. “Dangerous Diplomacy: US Praises Mexico and Honduras, Targets Venezuela”. Telesur News Analisis. March 2015. Accessed on June 10th 2015. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29689-dangerous-diplomacy-us-praises-mexico-and-honduras-targets-venezuela

[11] Ibid.

[12] Funes , M (2015) cited in Telesur. “280 US Marines to be Deployed to Central America”. 280 US Marines to be Deployed to Central America”. Telesur news on Latin America. May 2015. Accesed on the 4th of June 2015. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/280-US-Marines-to-be-Deployed-to-Central-America-20150526-0030.html

[13] http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper

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July 3, 2015 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honduras and Mexico: Open Season for Journalists

By Nick Alexandrov | CounterPunch | February 7, 2014

Last December, the New York Times’ David Carr reported on Vice President Biden’s trip to China, where he “spoke plainly about the role of a free press in a democratic society.”  The benighted audience was surely keen to learn about this Western institution, and “it was heartening to see the White House at the forefront of the effort to ensure an unfettered press,” Carr affirmed.  No doubt.  Down here on Earth, meanwhile, Washington has long been at the forefront of an effort to promote cultural devastation, targeting journalists, artists, and independent thinkers more generally. This cultural ruin is a predictable consequence of U.S. support for repressive regimes—a tradition Obama has worked hard to uphold.

Consider the June 2009 coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, which four School of the Americas graduates helped orchestrate. Even the attorney responsible for giving it a legal veneer admitted the ouster was “a crime,” and in its aftermath Obama recognized Porfirio Lobo, winner of a fraudulent election marred by political violence and ballot irregularities, as the country’s new leader. Now, Honduran journalists are weathering a “deluge of threats, attacks and targeted killings,” PEN International reported recently. Honduran “economic elites have established unwritten limits as to what can be investigated by major news agencies,” and independent journalists face similar restrictions.  Whoever ignores these limits pays the ultimate price.

Nahúm Palacios “opposed the 2009 coup and turned his TV station into an openly pro-opposition channel,” PEN notes. The military threatened him, but he persisted, and he and his girlfriend were murdered in March 2010. Israel Zelaya Díaz covered politics and crime, and managed a program aired on San Pedro Sula’s Radio Internacional. Assailants torched his home in May 2010, and then shot him to death three months later. A group of men stopped television producer Adán Benítez, who had put out a story on gang activity, in July 2011; they demanded his valuables, and then killed him. Medardo Flores Hernández was a volunteer reporter and finance minister for a pro-Zelaya organization when he was gunned down in September 2011. Early the following month, Obama received Honduran President Lobo at the White House, commending his “strong commitment to democracy.” Radio journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos, a coup critic, was murdered on December 6, 2011.

Mexican reporters are also at risk, as theirs “has become the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists,” Emily Edmonds-Poli wrote in a Wilson Center report last April, reviewing the situation in this “drug war” ally. In the state of Veracruz, for instance, there was a series, in the spring of 2012, of high-profile killings: a group of men invaded investigative reporter Regina Martínez’s home in Xalapa, and murdered her there. The dismembered bodies of three photojournalists pursuing stories on organized crime were discovered on the side of a highway four days later. “The fear is terrible and well founded,” an ex-reporter told the Guardian’s Jo Tuckman. “The heroes are in the cemetery.”  This woman is hardly the only one to have abandoned the profession. A university official in Veracruz, quoted by Edmonds-Poli, surveyed the corpse-strewn landscape: “It’s not that they’re just killing reporters, they’re killing the drive to become one.” The destructive effects are equally far-reaching in Honduras. PEN quotes Honduran activists who “stressed that the neglect, marginalization and underfunding of cultural spaces” have gutted the nation’s creative sector, sharply delimiting the range of questions to which artists and independent researchers can safely respond.

The Honduran and Mexican governments restrict inquiry with generous U.S. assistance. Both states have strong ties to organized crime: efforts to distinguish legitimate from outlaw Honduran institutions, for example, are often meaningless, given the government’s illicit origins in the June 2009 coup. “A representative from a leading NGO in Honduras says at least four high-ranking police officials head drug trafficking organizations,” InSight Crime’s Charles Parkinson wrote on January 29, and Honduran history reveals that such activity is no obstacle to continued U.S. funding. When a Reagan-era DEA agent amassed evidence implicating the country’s top military officials in prohibited activities, for instance, the organization responded by shutting down its Honduran office in 1983. At the time, Washington’s core concern was the vital role Honduras played in the anti-Sandinista crusade. Their ally’s involvement in drug-smuggling was a non-issue, as irrelevant then as today, when the projected 2014 U.S. governmental military and police aid is over 1.75 times the 2009 figure.

Mexican institutions resemble their Honduran counterparts: ties between political elites and organized crime can be traced back at least a century, and this connection was blatantly obvious by the 1970s. That was the decade the national intelligence arm—the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS)—aided by “the attorney general’s office and Federal Judicial Police,” established itself as “the country’s major criminal mafia,” Paul Kenny and Mónica Serrano point out.  U.S. officials knew DFS facilitated drug trafficking’s expansion, and “continued to defend and protect the agency” because it “played a central part in Mexico’s fight against left-wing subversion, both directly and through a death squad organized under [DFS head Miguel] Nazar’s supervision, the ‘White Brigade,’” Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall write. Years later, Mexican law enforcement committed “one out of every three crimes against journalists” from 2009-2011, Edmonds-Poli reports in her Wilson Center study. That three-year span overlaps with the period—between 2008 and 2010—when Washington “allocated over $1.5 billion to Mexico” via the Mérida Initiative, and “U.S. military and police aid in each of these years marked nearly a 10-fold increase over 2007 levels,” according to Witness for Peace. Obama then extended the program—a true Nobel Peace Laureate, reminiscent of luminaries like Henry Kissinger.

In June 1976, for example, Kissinger proclaimed his support for Argentina’s military dictatorship: “We have followed events in Argentina closely,” he stated.  “We wish the new government well. We wish it will succeed.” These remarks came six weeks after “military officers organized an exemplary event to combat immorality and communism,” Fernando Báez—author of A Universal History of the Destruction of Books—notes, when they burned volumes “confiscated from bookshops and libraries in the city of Córdoba,” loudly condemning Freud, Marx, Sartre and others. In August 1980, “trucks dumped 1.5 million books and pamphlets… on some vacant lots in the Sarandí neighborhood in Buenos Aires.” After a federal judge gave the command, “police agents doused the books with gasoline and set them on fire.  Photos were taken because the judge was afraid people might think the books were stolen and not burned.” The situation was much the same in neighboring Chile, under Pinochet, when “thousands of books were seized and destroyed” during his dictatorship.  In 1976, Kissinger met with Pinochet in Santiago, assuring him Washington was “sympathetic with what you are trying to do here.”

Washington also sympathized with South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, who in the late 1950s “banned works of fiction that presented the government in an unflattering light,” Joint Chiefs of Staff historian Willard J. Webb wrote. Diem thus proved himself a worthy heir to Pope John XXII, who in 1328 “ordered a book burned because it cast doubt on his omnipotence,” Báez observes, arguing that we have to look further back in time, to 1258, to comprehend the effects of the recent U.S. assault on Iraq. It was in the mid-13th century that “the troops of Hulagu, a descendant of Genghis Khan, invaded Baghdad and destroyed all its books by throwing them into the Tigris.” Hulagu’s particular form of savagery was unsurpassed until the U.S. occupation—“nation-building,” liberal commentators insist, but in reality just one case of Washington-supported cultural destruction.

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.

February 8, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reporting on Romer’s Charter Cities: How the Media Sanitize Honduras’s Brutal Regime

By Keane Bhatt | NACLA | February 19, 2013

On the evening of Saturday, September 22, human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo stepped outside a wedding ceremony to take a phone call. Standing in the church parking lot of a suburb of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, he was shot six times by unknown assailants. Despite his requests, he had been granted no police protection in the face of death threats; Trejo had believed he would be targeted by wealthy landowners over his outspoken advocacy on behalf of small farmers seeking to reclaim seized territories.1 In his death, Trejo joined dozens of fallen peasant leaders whom he had defended, as well as murdered opposition candidates, LGBT activists, journalists, and indigenous residents. All were victims of the violence and impunity that has reigned in Honduras since the 2009 coup d’état against its democratically elected and left-leaning president, Manuel Zelaya.

Earlier that day, Trejo had appeared on television, denouncing the powerful interests behind the government’s push for ciudades modelos—swaths of land to be ceded to international investors and developed into autonomous cities, replete with their own police forces, taxes, labor codes, trade rules, and legal systems. He had helped prepare motions declaring the proposal unconstitutional.

This concept of “charter cities” has been promoted for a couple of years by Paul Romer, a University of Chicago–trained economist teaching at New York University. He described his brainchild in a co-authored op-ed as “an effort to build on the success of existing special zones based around the export-processing maquila industry.” A “new city on an undeveloped site, free of vested interests” could bypass the “inefficient rules” that hinder “peace, growth and development” worldwide, he argued. With new and stable institutions, the charter city could become an “attractive place for would-be residents and investors.”2

The international press swooned over Romer’s revolutionary idea: Foreign Policy magazine named him one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010 for “developing the world’s quickest shortcut to economic development”;3 that same year, The Atlantic dedicated a 5,400-word paean to Romer and his “urban oases of technocratic sanity,” which held the promise that “struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed.”

But the applicability of Romer’s radical vision in Honduras always depended on the enthusiasm of the authoritarian, post-coup government of Porfirio Lobo. Lobo owes his presidency to the sham elections of 2009, which took place under the U.S.-backed de facto military government that overthrew Zelaya and were marred by violent repression and media censorship. With the exceptions of the U.S.-financed International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, international observers boycotted the electoral charade that foisted Lobo into power.

Romer’s lofty theories also remained utterly detached from the brutal nature of the collaborating government. “Setting up the rule of law” from scratch in a new city, he contended, would be an antidote to “weak governance” (weak in no small part due to Lobo’s appointment of coup perpetrators to high-level government positions).4 In a co-authored paper, Romer also mischaracterized his allies, the “elected leaders in Honduras,” as earnest in their intent to end a “cycle of insecurity and instability that stokes fear and erodes trust.”5 (Romer offered no comment when Lobo designated Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, accused of past ties to death squads, as the national chief of police.)6

Even on its own terms, Romer’s development theory is disconnected from reality. He has repeatedly invoked Hong Kong as the sunny inspiration for the remaking of Honduras: “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” he claimed.7 Romer neglected to add that the city developed as a hub for the largest narcotrafficking operation in world history, through which Britain inflicted untold misery on the Chinese mainland. Britain dealt a humiliating military defeat to China (which had attempted to prohibit illegal British opium from entering its borders), took over Hong Kong, and forced China to abandon its tariff controls in 1842. Given that Hong Kong was one of the spoils of a drug war, and that its inhabitants were permitted democratic elections only 152 years after its incorporation into an empire, Romer’s dream for Honduras could just as easily be considered a nightmare.

Romer’s focus on good rule making is similarly fanciful; his effort to change the rules that engender poverty conspicuously excludes the international legal privileges that allow undemocratic leaders to sell a country’s resources and borrow in its name (he wrote positively of a trade agreement that Lobo struck with Canada this summer).8 Romer also approved of the legal architecture that “gives the United States administrative control in perpetuity over a piece of sovereign Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay,” through a 1901 treaty that he failed to mention was ratified by a militarily occupied Cuba. Whether Romer knows it or not, his endorsement of power politics is clear: Investor-owned cities would be safe from future efforts by governments to repossess sovereign territory, because “Cuba respects the treaty with the United States, even as they complain bitterly about it.”9

Romer rebutted criticisms that his idea smacks of neocolonialism: “There are some things that it shares with the previous colonial enterprises,” he admitted, “but there’s this fundamental difference: at every stage, there’s an absolute commitment to freedom of choice on the part of the societies and the individuals that are involved.”10 Which choices are available to individuals living under a coercive, illegitimate government is a question left unanswered, and the adulating press could not be bothered to probe further.

After all, it would be impolite to reveal Romer’s close cooperation with a government whose security forces—many of whom are personally vetted, armed, and trained by the United States—killed unarmed students Rafael Vargas, 22, and Carlos Pineda, 24, as well as pregnant indigenous Miskitu women Juana Jackson Ambrosia and Candelaria Trapp Nelson, among others.11 Indeed, the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras observed that more than 10,000 official complaints have been filed against Honduras’s military and police since the coup. Such unsavory details might have chastened The Atlantic’s ebullient portrait of the “elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious” professor, and would have tarnished President Obama, who praised Lobo for his “strong commitment to democracy” while providing his brutal security apparatus with $50 million in aid last year.12

In their coverage of Romer’s charter cities, the media have almost entirely excised the innumerable human rights violations occurring under the undemocratic Honduran regime. The New York Times is a case in point. About a week after Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and even the U.S. State Department were compelled to release statements of condemnation over Antonio Trejo’s assassination, Times reporter Elisabeth Malkin fawned over Romer’s idea while ignoring the killing of one of its most prominent critics. (Romer himself offered no public statement in the wake of Trejo’s death-squad-style killing.) Charter cities promised to “simply sweep aside the corruption, the self-interested elites, and the distorted economic rules that stifle growth in many poor countries,” asserted the imperturbable Malkin. She added with uncommon journalistic authority, “Nobody disputes that impoverished, violent Honduras needs some kind of shock therapy.”13

This is not the first instance in which the Times has glossed over inconvenient facts to laud shock therapy, a doctrine of massive privatization and investor-friendly deregulation developed at the University of Chicago.14 Many years after Chile’s coup government pushed through a rash of measures designed by economist Milton Friedman and his acolytes, the Chicago Boys, the Times reported that “Chile has built the most successful economy in Latin America, and one of the vital underpinnings of that growth was the open economic environment created by the former military dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet.”15 Leaving aside Pinochet’s torture and murder of tens of thousands of dissidents, Chile’s per capita gross domestic product was practically unchanged 13 years after the coup; Pinochet’s “free-market” experiment also ended with re-nationalizations in banking and copper extraction, the institution of capital controls, and continuous state support for Chile’s exports.16

Following in this dubious tradition of portraying a reactionary societal experiment as a formula for prosperity, the Times’ first piece on Honduran charter cities appeared in its Sunday magazine in May 2012. Author Adam Davidson, co-creator and host of National Public Radio’s Planet Money program, considered charter cities a “ridiculously big idea” for fixing an “economic system that kept nearly two-thirds of [Honduras’s] people in grim poverty.” Davidson related the story of Octavio Sánchez, Lobo’s chief of staff, who met with Romer to develop a “secure place to do business—somewhere that money is safe from corrupt political cronyism or the occasional coup.”17 Davidson, however, scrupulously avoided Sánchez’s own role as an apologist for the 2009 military overthrow of Zelaya. Days after Zelaya’s ouster, Sánchez advised Christian Science Monitor readers not to “believe the coup myth,” and in an Orwellian flourish, the Harvard Law graduate declared that “the arrest of President Zelaya represents the triumph of the rule of law.”18

In November, Planet Money provided an obsequious follow-up on Romer and Sánchez’s collaboration, scrubbing any mention of the 2009 coup and Lobo’s emergence from it, and portraying Sánchez as an idealistic dreamer. “Instead of fighting to do two, three or four reforms during the life of a government,” Sánchez asked, “why don’t you just do all of those reforms at once in a really small space? And that’s why this idea was appealing. It’s really the possibility of turning everything around.”19

Planet Money’s co-hosts unwittingly conveyed the fundamental obstacle to shock therapy: “Paul Romer has this killer idea and no real country to try it in; Octavio has the same idea, but no way to sell it to his people.” They acknowledged that even with “a government that’s ready to go,” the “people in Honduras” viewed Romer’s plan as “basically Yankee imperialism.” The episode concluded by explaining the apparent collapse of the charter cities initiative, resulting partly from the post-coup government’s lack of transparency (Romer was “stunned”), as well as a Honduran Supreme Court ruling in October that found charter cities unconstitutional. Romer remains unfazed, the hosts said. He has a promising lead in North Africa—another opportunity to answer “one of the oldest problems in economics: how to make poor countries less poor.”

Regardless of what Romer and his media sycophants think of the charter city’s (questionable) efficacy, their deafening silence on its antidemocratic implications and Honduras’s human rights abuses is unconscionable. In this insulated world, Honduran victims of economic hardship and state terror, and their own proposals to solve poverty, remain invisible. Pinochet, the original administrator of shock therapy, distilled the insouciance of today’s intellectual and media culture when, in 1979, he remarked, “I trust the people all right; but they’re not yet ready.”20

Keane Bhatt is a regular contributor to the MALA section of NACLA Report and the creator of the Manufacturing Contempt blog on the NACLA Website.

1. Alberto Arce, “Slain Honduran lawyer Complained of Death Threats,” Associated Press, September 25, 2012.

2. Paul Romer and Octavio Sánchez, “Urban Prosperity in the RED,” The Globe and Mail: April 25, 2012.

3. “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers,” Foreign Policy, November 26, 2012. Sebastian Mallaby, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty,” The Atlantic, July/August 2012.

4. Romer and Sánchez, “Urban Prosperity.” Dana Frank, “Honduras: Which Side Is the US On?,” The Nation, May 22, 2012.

5. Brandon Fuller and Paul Romer, “Success and the City: How Charter Cities Could Transform the Developing World,” Macdonald-Laurier Institute, April 2012.

6. Katherine Corcoran and Martha Mendoza, “New Honduras Top Cop Once Investigated in Killings,” Associated Press, June 1, 2012.

7. Sebastian Mallaby, “Politically Incorrect Guide.”

8. Romer and Sánchez, “Urban Prosperity.”

9. Can “Charter Cities” Change the World? A Q&A With Paul Romer,” Freakonomics.com, September 29, 2009.

10. Jacob Goldstein and Chana Joffe-Walt, “Episode 415: Can a Poor Country Start Over?” NPR’s Planet Money, November 9, 2012.

11. Javier C. Hernandez, “An Academic Turns Grief Into a Crime-Fighting Tool,” The New York Times, February 24, 2012; Annie Bird and Alexander Main, “Collateral Damage of a Drug War,” Center for Economic and Policy Research and Rights Action, August 2012.

12. U.S. Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Obama and President Lobo of Honduras Before Bilateral Meeting,” whitehouse.gov, October 5, 2011; Dana Frank, “Honduras.”

13. Elisabeth Malkin, “Plan for Charter City to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Its Initiator,” The New York Times, September 30, 2012

14. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan Books, 2007).

15. Nathaniel C. Nash, “Terrorism Jolts a Prospering Chile,” The New York Times, April 9, 1991.

16. Paul Krugman, “Fantasies of the Chicago Boys,” The Conscience of a Liberal (blog), The New York Times, March 3, 2010.

17. Adam Davidson, “Who Wants to Buy Honduras?,” The New York Times Magazine, May 8, 2012.

18. Octavio Sánchez, “A ‘Coup’ in Honduras? Nonsense,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2009.

19. Goldstein and Joffe-Walt, “Can a Poor Country.”

20. John B. Oakes, “Pinochet in No Rush”, The New York Times, May 3, 1979.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Comments Off on Reporting on Romer’s Charter Cities: How the Media Sanitize Honduras’s Brutal Regime

NPR Examines One Side of Honduran “Model Cities” Debate

By Dan Beeton | CEPR The Americas Blog | January 15, 2013

Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reports that a plan for the creation of “model cities” was reintroduced in the Honduran congress yesterday, months after the Supreme Court declared earlier such plans to be unconstitutional. Congress President Juan Orlando Hernández said that he did not expect the plan to run into the same legal problems as last year because he had taken into account the Supreme Court’s arguments for its decision.

According to El Heraldo, the bill proposes the creation of the 12 special regimes of various kinds which “shall enjoy operational and administrative autonomy.” Among these are “ciudades autónomas.”

Earlier this month, NPR’s This American Life profiled the “model cities” or “charter cities” concept for Honduras in a report that only presented one side of the debate. The report follows reporters Chana Joffe-Walt and Jacob Goldstein’s previous account of the Honduran “model cities” concept for NPR’s Planet Money, and an early examination of the plans in The New York Times Magazine by Planet Money co-creator Adam Davidson.

There is much important context that the This American Life “model cities” profile left out. First, the proposed “model cities” could impact the land rights of Garifuna (Afro-indigenous) communities in the area.  There was little mention of opposition to the “charter cities” idea inside Honduras, outside of lawyers and the Supreme Court decision. And crucially, Honduras has been in a state of relative chaos since the coup, with a breakdown of institutions and the rule of law leading to, among other things, Honduras having the highest murder rate in the world (now at 91 per 100,000 people, according to the UN) (a fact that the This American Life report does note).

As The Americas Blog readers know well, there is a strong political dimension to this violence. As human rights organizations from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International to the International Federation for Human Rights have described, there has been political repression since the coup, targeting opponents of the coup and of the current Lobo government with assassination, forced disappearance, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other abuses. Journalists, lawyers, opposition party candidates, the LGBT community, and women have also been targets, with attacks against each of these groups spiking since the coup. The Garifuna communities are another targeted group, with, e.g., land barons in the Zacate Grande region attacking community groups and radio stations. Honduras is now widely recognized as one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist, with some 23 journalists murdered since President Lobo took office in January 2010 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A prominent attorney, Antonio Trejo Cabrera, who opposed the “model cities” plan and who represented campesino groups in another conflict area – the Aguan Valley – was assassinated in September in a case that received international media attention and was widely denounced.

NPR listeners might also be interested to know that Honduras had made economic progress under the Zelaya government prior to the 2009 military coup d’etat (the This American Life report does not mention the coup). As we described in a November 2009 report, poverty and inequality decreased significantly during the Zelaya administration, with economic growth of more than 6 percent during the first two years. The Zelaya government also used expansionary monetary policy to counter-act the global downturn in 2008. It did not need to construct libertarian utopias in order to do these things; indeed, they would not have had this progress had they tried.

January 22, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Comments Off on NPR Examines One Side of Honduran “Model Cities” Debate

Honduras: Now Open for Political Murder

By NICK ALEXANDROV | CounterPunch | October 9, 2012

Last Wednesday’s presidential debate, and the flurry of fact-checking that followed, helped sustain the illusion that Republicans and Democrats are bitter rivals.  Reporters and analysts obsessed over the accuracy of each candidate’s claims, ignoring the two parties’ broadly similar goals, which mainstream political scientists now take for granted.  “Government”—both parties are implicated—“has had a huge hand in nurturing America’s winner-take-all economy,” Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson write in Winner-Take-All Politics, their study of the massive transfer of wealth to the richest Americans since the 1970s.  George Farah’s research has shown how cross-party collaboration extends from economic issues to the debate’s structure.  The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation both parties created, ensures independent candidates will be excluded, and more generally that the events will remain the sterile, predictable spectacles familiar to viewers.

No doubt the foreign policy debate in a few weeks will offer much of the same.  In the real world, meanwhile, Obama embraced and extended Bush’s foreign policy, as the case of Honduras illustrates especially well.  After the Honduran military staged a coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton backed the ensuing fraudulent elections the Organization of American States and European Union refused to observe.  Porfirio Lobo won the phony contest, and now holds power.  “The conclusion from the Honduras episode,” British scholar Julia Brixton wrote in Latin American Perspectives, “was that the Obama administration had as weak a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as the preceding U.S. presidency.”

The coup’s plotters, it should be emphasized, knew exactly what they were doing.  Colonel Bayardo Inestroza, a military lawyer who advised them on legal issues, was very open about it, informing the Salvadoran newspaper El Faro, “We committed a crime, but we had to do it.”  U.S. officials seem to have taken slightly longer to recognize the obvious, but Wikileaks documents indicate that, by late July, they understood that what had transpired was “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.”  Obama’s legal training, cosmopolitan background and cabinet stuffed with intellectuals were all irrelevant in this situation, like so many others.  A different set of factors drives U.S. foreign policy, which is precisely why, to cite just one example, Matt Bai’s analysis of “Obama’s Enthusiasm Gap” is featured prominently on the New York Times homepage as I write, below the Ralph Lauren ads and feature about a Pennsylvanian high school’s underdog football team.  In determining what’s “fit to print,” triviality seems to be one of the crucial considerations.

A more serious analysis of Obama might start, for example, by observing that his “enthusiasm gap” failed to materialize as he drafted lists of people to murder.  It also was mysteriously absent when he stood firmly behind the Honduran coup’s leaders, two of whom graduated from the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Renamed the Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, the name-change was, predictably, just a rebranding.  Nico Udu-Gama, one of the leading activists working to close the institution, emphasized recently on Al Jazeera that the school’s graduates have continued to violate human rights over the past decade.  This is the main reason why Udu-Gama and others organize for School of the Americas Watch, and currently are gearing up for its annual demonstrations at Fort Benning the weekend of November 16-18.

Returning to Honduras, we see that conditions there are beginning to call to mind those of, say, El Salvador in the ’80s—good news, perhaps, for aspiring financial executives eager to launch the next Bain Capital.  But as the business climate improves, everyday life for Hondurans working to secure basic rights has become nightmarish.  Dina Meza’s case is just one example.  A journalist and founder of the Committee of Families of Detainees and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Meza received two text messages from the Comando Álvarez Martinez (CAM) last February.  The group, named for an SOA graduate, threatened her: “We are going to burn your ‘pipa’ (vagina) with caustic lime until you scream and then the whole squad will have fun.”  The follow-up warning told her she would “end up dead like the Aguán people,” referring to the poor campesinos that are being slaughtered on land owned mainly by Miguel Facussé, one of the richest Hondurans.

Conflicts over land, to be sure, are nothing new in Central America.  The most recent government-led assault on Honduran farmworker rights can be traced back to the 1992 Law of Agricultural Modernization.  International finance lobbied aggressively for that decision, which reversed the limited land reform implemented in the preceding decades, and drove the desperately poor into city slums or out of the country, inspiring those who remained to form self-defense organizations.  The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) is one of these groups.  With the help of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a human rights lawyer, the campesinos recently won back legal rights to several plantations.  On September 23, Trejo took some time off to celebrate a friend’s wedding at a church in Tegucigalpa.  During the event he received a call, and stepped outside to take it.  The gunmen were waiting for him.  They shot him several times, and he died soon after arriving at the hospital.  “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts,” Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguán’s peasants, explained, “they killed him.”  They killed Eduardo Diaz Madariaga, a human rights lawyer, the following day, presumably for similar reasons.

It is in these conditions that Honduras has been opened for business.  The American economist Paul Romer proposed recently that several neoliberal “charter cities”—complete with their own police, laws, and government—be built there, and an NPR reporter recently reviewed this idea enthusiastically in a piece for the New York Times.  But despite much misleading discussion of what is considered Romer’s bold entrepreneurial vision, his plan is directly in line with longstanding US goals for the region, as the constitutional chamber of Honduras’ Supreme Court explained recently.  Voting 4-to-1 that the charter cities are unconstitutional, the judges concluded that Romer’s plan “implies transferring national territory, which is expressly prohibited in the constitution;” worth recalling is that Zelaya was thrown out for allegedly violating the same document.  But this fact and others are considered beyond debate this election season, an indication of how much change we can expect, regardless of November’s winner.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thousands hold demonstrations against journalist killings in Honduras

People protest violence against members of the media with signs that read in Spanish "United for peace and freedom," left, and "Stop corruption" in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday, May 25, 2012.
People protest violence against members of the media with signs that read in Spanish “United for peace and freedom,” left, and “Stop corruption” in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday, May 25, 2012.
Press TV – May 26, 2012

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of many cities across Honduras to protest the killings of journalists in the Central American republic.
The demonstrators, who were chanting “Killing journalists does not kill the truth,” marched past the offices of the president and the human rights commission in the capital Tegucigalpa on Friday, AFP reported.

According to organizers, some 5,000 people attended the demonstration in Tegucigalpa, but protests were also staged in San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Comayagua and Choluteca.

“No more impunity,” said one sign held by an activist. Another sign read, “United for peace and freedom.”

Since President Manuel Zelaya was toppled on June 28, 2009 in a military coup twenty journalists have been killed in Honduras.

Last week, the body of 47-year-old HRN Radio journalist Alfredo Villatoro Rivera was found blindfolded and with gunshot wounds to his head, a police spokesman said.

A week before Rivera had been kidnapped.

Honduras has been plagued by political turmoil following the 2009 military coup. Military rule, corruption, an enormous wealth gap, crime and natural disasters have turned Honduras into one of the poorest and least secure countries in Central America.

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 1 Comment