Monday, 29 June 2009

Iran and Honduras

It is hard not to be impressed by the outpouring of international online support for the people who have been braving massive state violence to protest against – now admitted – electoral fraud in Iran. The sincerity of the international supporters of the reform movement in Iran appears to me beyond doubt in most cases. Equally beyond doubt is the sheer cynicism of politicians in the US, Europe, and Israel, who now express their solidarity for the Iranian protestors despite the fact that, had they already been successful in their efforts to drum up support for another war of aggression against Iran, many of those protestors would be dead now. It also bears mentioning that these same governments not only uttered not one word of protest when the Shah’s army started opening fire on Iranian demonstrators in the 1970s – they continued to send money and weapons to their chosen dictator.

What the supporters of the Iranian demonstrators do not seem to realize, however, is that they have not one iota of influence over the actions of the Iranian government. Whatever else one can say about Iran’s current government, it is not beholden to the West (which, from the point of view of the US government, is precisely the problem). Even if the entire population of the United States and Europe took to the streets in their respective countries calling for an end to the violence against the demonstrators in Iran, the only likely reaction on the part of the Iranian government would be to increase the repression in order to get the flow of information back under control.

This stands in remarkable contrast to the case of Honduras. Two days ago, the elected president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, was awakened by armed soldiers in his presidential residence and abducted, and flown to Costa Rica. In blatant violation of the Honduran constitution, which prescribes a specific order of succession, Zelaya’s political rival, president of the Honduran legislature Roberto Micheletti usurped Zelaya’s office and was sworn in as president. The notorious Honduran military has declared a curfew, prohibited the transmission of international cable TV stations, and has abducted several foreign diplomats in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This coup d’état has been almost unanimously condemned in the hemisphere, with only the US seeking refuge in ambiguity.

There are some key similarities between the cases of Honduras and Iran. In Honduras, as in Iran, an election is at the centre; the coup appears primarily intended to prevent a non-binding consultative referendum on the convocation of a new constitutional convention (asamblea constituyente). In Honduras, as in Iran, the immunity of foreign diplomats has been flagrantly violated. In Honduras, as in Iran, those in power have imposed censorship on all independent media (some of the more powerful media outlets, as in 2002 in Venezuela, have been actively involved in the coup). In Honduras, as in Iran, people have taken to the streets and are, even now, facing off with an army that has been dispatched to shoot at its own people. The Honduran coup, like the Iranian electoral fraud and repression, has been internationally condemned.

That is where the similarity ends. Honduras, unlike Iran, was virtually a US dependency until very recently. Throughout the 1980s, the de facto ruler of Honduras was US ambassador John Negroponte, referred to in Honduras as “Proconsul” (Negroponte later went on to assume the same function in occupied Iraq). It is during this period that the current Honduran constitution, which Zelaya ultimately seeks to amend, was adopted. A minuscule domestic oligarchy, together with the US business interests that control Honduras’ natural resources, has long ruled over a crushingly poor majority. The Honduran army, which is notorious for its brutal repression of the Honduran poor, is dependent on US military aid for its weapons and a substantial part of its budget.

The events in Honduras follow a pattern that is quite familiar in Latin America. A reformist government seeking to end oligarchic rule and dependence on the United States is elected with the support of the poor majority. The US cuts off all aid apart from military aid and funding for political front organisations (e.g., the pro-coup NGO Paz y Democracia in Honduras). The military, using whatever pretext happens to be available, overthrows the elected government and restores the oligarchy and US corporations to power. The US either avoids making any direct pronouncement on the coup or rhetorically condemns it without cutting off, or even reducing, the flow of US weapons that made the coup possible. We have seen variations on this theme in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and, most recently, Venezuela (where the US-backed coup was defeated by a popular uprising within 48 hours). The list would be much longer if we were to include the Asian and African countries that have experienced similar US “democracy promotion” efforts.

Thus, the evidence is overwhelming that the US is behind the coup in Honduras. This means that, unlike in the case of Iran, there is some possibility that domestic and international protest could be effective. The coup would collapse almost immediately without the weapons and money provided by the United States. As a matter of consistency and of the elementary moral principle that protest should be directed toward places where it is likely to do some good, it would seem that the outcry against the coup in Honduras should be equal, if not greater, than the international protests against electoral fraud and repression in Iran. Why, then, is Iran a “trending topic” on Twitter, while Honduras is not?

Iran is an official enemy in the US and Europe. Accordingly, there is no difficulty getting negative portrayals of the country and its government through the filters of the dominant media outlets. Indeed, as the impassioned op-eds about the grave danger of Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program have demonstrated, one need not even bother with the facts as long as one is condemning the Great Satan. Thus, Western governments and mainstream media have done an impressive job of getting the word out and keeping their populations focused on the events in Iran, just as they would if the same thing were happening in any other official enemy state. In the case of Honduras, on the other hand, sustained reporting and exposure are not in the interest of either the US and allied governments or the corporate media. Indeed, it would cost US business interests millions, if not more, if the coup in Honduras were to fail and the elected government restored to power.

This is not to say that the international online supporters of the reform movement in Iran are as hypocritical and cynical as the governments of the US and Western Europe. It appears clear that their concern for democracy and their outrage at the repressive tactics of the Iranian government are sincere. However, it will be up to them to prove that this is the case by directing at least some of their energies toward stopping an affront to democracy that they can actually influence.

For a detailed discussion of the Honduran coup and its background, see:

In Spanish:

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