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Jun. 29 2009 - 6:14 pm | 10 views | 4 recommendations | 23 comments

Patiently awaiting the US media’s Honduran solidarity movement

(Image from www.soaw.org)

Honduras protesters (Image from www.soaw.org)

The contested election in Iran received widespread attention from both the traditional US media and new media sources including blogs and micro-blogs such as Twitter. Americans wishing to show solidarity with the Iranian people tinted their Twitter avatars green and also wore the trademark color of resistance. The media told us this was all part of a new digital form of solidarity.

And yet this solidarity movement starts and stops with this specific Iranian election. There was no such media-led solidarity movement during the 2003 contested election in Azerbaijan or Egypt’s contested 2006 election.

Likewise, there is no solidarity movement in the US media for the people of Honduras where President Manuel Zelaya has just been ousted during a military coup. The media has not aggressively pursued this story despite the fact that the US is highly influential in Honduras, and the coup was led by General Romeo Vasquez, who is himself a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas. Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill reports that the School of America graduates “maintain ties to the US military as they climb the military career ladders in their respective countries.”

There is little media interest in the Honduras story even though it seems the US government had advance knowledge of the coup. The New York Times reports that “[US government] officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup,” but stopped short of closing the US-funded Joint Task Force-Bravo base where Honduran military forces are trained.

There is little media interest in the Honduras story even though it seems Zelaya fell out of favor because he failed to dance to the United State’s favorite tune: Free Trade, Counterpunch’s Nikolas Kozloff writes

Officially, the military removed Zelaya from power on the grounds that the Honduran President had abused his authority.  On Sunday Zelaya hoped to hold a constitutional referendum which could have allowed him to run for reelection for another four year term, a move which Honduras’ Supreme Court and Congress declared illegal. But while the controversy over Zelaya’s constitutional referendum certainly provided the excuse for military intervention, it’s no secret that the President was at odds politically with the Honduran elite for the past few years and had become one of Washington’s fiercest critics in the region.

Zelaya committed his first sin when he began to criticize the media and owners of sweatshops which “produced goods for export in industrial free zones.” Kozloff reports that Zelaya began to adopt some socially progressive policies that included a minimum wage, drug legalization, and bilateral relations with Cuba. Zelaya sealed his fate when he  joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an alliance of leftist Latin American and Caribbean nations headed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

The Hondurans have reacted to this coup with as much gusto as the Iranians did during their supposed election fraud.The military has shut down public transportation and put up roadblocks to prevent protesters from reaching the capital. ¡Presente!’s Kristin Bricker writes that unknown numbers of citizens have taken to the streets, and she even includes photos in her report that are available for the taking by any network (CNN, MSNBC, FOX).

Somehow, the US media isn’t picking up on these details. A democratically elected president has been ousted by a military strongly supported and trained by the US government as apparent punishment for his adoption of progressive ideals. Where is the outrage, or at the least, the intrigue? Where are the solidarity movements?

The hashtag #Honduras quickly disappeared from Twitter’s Trending Topics. It was replaced by Wimbledon, Michael Jackson, and Iran. Since Twitter syphons news from traditional media sources, it’s only logical to assume that the focus on Honduras has diminished in the micro-blogging world because it has vanished from the US media.

The media is highly selective in its pursuit of solidarity movements. Iran: good, Honduras: bad. Surely, the media can take five minutes off from obsessively reporting every macabre detail of Michael Jackson’s death to cover a military coup.


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  1. collapse expand

    Uh, Allison, what’s “progressive” about a president who tries to rewrite his nation’s constitution to give himself another term in office? If it was okay for Zelaya, would it have been okay for Bush?

    Instead of a sinister conspiracy, perhaps the media is indifferent simply because there aren’t any good guys here. On one side, you have Chavez Jr. angling to be president-for-life. On the other, you have death squads in camouflage uniforms.
    Kind of like asking whether you prefer Hitler or Stalin.

    As you acknowledge, the U.S. apparently tried to stop the coup. If we sent in troops to stop the coup, we would have been imperialists. If we do nothing, it’s because we’re imperialists. Seems like we can’t win for losing.

  2. collapse expand

    My first reaction to this story was exactly the same as yours. But after considering a bit, I think I can see the rational for why this isn’t as big a story.

    For one thing, the Honduran situation is complicated and most people don’t know the players. Most American news consumers have probably never heard of Manuel Zelaya.

    Also Honduras, while regionally important, isn’t nearly the powerhouse that Iran is. Iran is a wealthy country that may soon have The Bomb. Its sphere of influence is immense when compared to Honduras. As far as US interests go, there’s no comparison between the two.

    More important than any of this is the fact that Americans have been following the crazy of Ahmadinejad since the “Axis of Evil” speech. We know the guy, or think we do. And we just can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

    While it is hard to get Americans to care about ANY foreign news, when they feel they have something at stake, people will pay attention. I’ll say this: if this Honduras thing had gone down in Venezuela, it would be wall-to-wall on every network.

    • collapse expand

      For one thing, the Honduran situation is complicated and most people don’t know the players. Most American news consumers have probably never heard of Manuel Zelaya.

      That’s a fair point, except you have to ask yourself why media consumers have never heard of Zelaya. The answer is cyclical: media consumers have never heard of him because the media fails to talk about him.

      Saying Honduras isn’t in the news because Honduras isn’t as “important” as Iran is really an indictment of the media and its priorities. The job of a journalist is — to paraphrase Amy Goodman — to go where the silence is and give those, who can’t speak, a voice. By focusing exclusively on Iran, the media has become an extension of the US government, which tells the American people that Iran is the new, great threat.

      Now, having said that, Iran is a major story, and the media should be covering it, but surely it should also cover a coup in Central America. The fact that it hasn’t been enthusiastically doing so really reveals the highly selective nature of the US media, and how the US gov’t largely sets its agenda.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    So if I understand this, Zelaya put forth a referendum despite the rulings of the Honduran electoral congress, Supreme Court, attorney general, Congress and his own party (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/opinion/30Vargasllosa.html). But that’s okay as long as he backs minimum wage laws.

    So let’s try this another way. As long as Zelaya backs “progressive” policies, is there anything he could do that would convince you NOT to support him? If he suspended elections or arrested the opposition, would that be an acceptable price for drug legalization and relations with Cuba?

    • collapse expand

      A referendum isn’t the same thing as a law. The people of Honduras would have had a chance to reject the measure, and even if they did think Zelaya was overstepping his authority, the government could have impeached him. A coup was an illegal reaction to an extremely manageable problem. Unfortunately, now the region could become destabilized and many people could die.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    The fact is Zelaya was deeply unpopular. Reuters reported his approval rating had dipped to something like 30 percent, and on Sunday, the first day of the coup, the majority of the Spanish-language blogs and Twitter feeds I was reading expressed relief that he was out. Hondurans felt betrayed that he made a dramatic leftward shift and thought of him as a Chavez-lite.

    That doesn’t change the fact that a coup d’etat in 2009 in Central America is insane and terrible news for the entire region. And whether or not what he did was illegal is still unclear, which you, Allison and Michael, both hit on. I spent a couple of hours last night trying (and failing) to find evidence of Zelaya ever admitting that he wanted to scrap the Constitution expressly to lift presidential term limits. I’m not saying he didn’t, but he never admitted it publicly. And, yeah, Sunday’s vote wasn’t a legally binding referendum on rewriting the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that illegal, so Zelaya reclassified it as a a non-binding, informal poll to gage public reaction to a possible future referendum on rewriting the Constitution. This is the poll question:

    Do you agree that in the general election in November 2009 that there should be a fourth ballot to decide on the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly to approve a new political Constitution?

    There’s no mention of term limits anywhere. The other thing that confuses me about this is the timing. If reelection was Zelaya’s goal, why in the hell would he schedule the referendum on rewriting the Constitution that would allow such a thing for the same day as the presidential elections in November? That just makes no sense. A good friend of mine who just went to Tegucigalpa yesterday is the person who pointed out this weird discrepancy to me, so I’m hoping he’ll clear it up in the next couple of days.

    That brings to me last point: international coup coverage, and why no one gives a shit about Honduras. P.J. is right, Honduras is a tiny, poor country, the second poorest in the region, with not a lot to offer the world as far as strategic political alliances or even goods or services. That said, the coup threatens the whole region and says a lot about the Americas and the socialist, populist leanings of a growing number of countries here, most prominently Venezuela. It’s also important because, as I just posted, the U.S. basically owns the place. Its entire economy is based on U.S. trade and remittances, not to mention the fact that the School of the Americas trained military leaders there. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s up to the foreign press to explain why Honduras matters, but in the end, it’s just never gonna matter like Iran does.

    • collapse expand

      Mary – This is a fair point, and I by no means am defending Zelaya or calling him a “great man,” or any other such absurdity, but I agree with your other point: the coup is terrible news. Additionally, there were probably other legal paths that could have been taken here that would have preserved order in Honduras. Namely, if a majority of Hondurans did think Zelaya was overstepping his authority, the government could have impeached him.

      The question of timing is very intriguing, too.

      Those that call Honduras unimportant are, I agree, being very myopic in their thinking. Honduras plays an important role in the region, and in international trade.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Good analysis, Mary. I suspect we’ll end up offering (lukewarm) support for Zelaya as a matter of policy against encouraging coups.

    But as I said, I’m looking for the good guys here. It looks like a choice between what might be a left-wing authoritarian Chavez wannabe, and a right-wing military dictatorship. Neither looks particularly appealing.

  6. collapse expand

    I agree with Allison that we’d all be better served if the media dropped Michael Jackson to cover news such as this. However, as most media consumers seem to prefer the former topic, this is unlikely to happen. Thanks, Allison, for covering a topic I’d been unaware of—and I usually consider myself better read than the average American on international news.

    I have a totally unrelated gripe: I know blogs are time-sensitive and, unlike traditional print media, unedited, but some of the errors are grating. Allison writes that “the US government had advanced knowledge” (should be “advance knowledge”) and that “Twitter syphons news (that’s “siphons”). And Mary Cuddehe, one of the commenters but also a True/Slant blogger, mentioned “an informal poll to gage public reaction”; that should be “gauge public reaction.” If professional writers can’t get English right, what hope is there for the software programmers I edit for a living? :-)

  7. collapse expand

    “and on Sunday, the first day of the coup, the majority of the Spanish-language blogs and Twitter feeds I was reading expressed relief that he was out.”

    Cool story, bro.

  8. collapse expand

    But that’s what I’m trying to get you to see, Allison. You’re being the mirror image of what you hate. Twenty years ago, conservatives never met an anti-Communist regime they didn’t like, no matter how repressive. Nowadays the left never meets a Socialist regime they don’t like, no matter how authoritarian.

    Whether Zelaya backs minimum wage laws doesn’t matter. There’s at least some grounds for skepticism about his democratic commitment. It could be that he’s not much better than the coup plotters. But under the circumstances, he may be the lesser of two evils, at least compared to government-by-coup.

    There’s nothing wrong with looking for the good guys. As long as you accept that you won’t always find them.

    • collapse expand

      Actually, Michael, you’re now mischaracterizing what I wrote, as well.

      As I explained to Mary, I by no means am defending Zelaya or calling him a “great man,” or any other such absurdity, but I think the coup is terrible news. Additionally, there were probably other legal paths that could have been taken here that would have preserved order in Honduras. Namely, if a majority of Hondurans did think Zelaya was overstepping his authority, the government could have impeached him.

      I wanted to draw attention to the media’s lack of coverage on this issue, and the US government’s ties to the Honduran military. I’m not explicitly pro or anti-Zelaya, but I’m very pro-Hondurans, and I want to see their autonomy respected. A coup is not a popular revolution, so a coup is never democratic. A coup inherently means a small group seizes power, and the ensuing struggle usually results in many innocent civilians dying. It’s important the media covers events like this so that the group looking to seize power doesn’t think it has license to freely kill civilians without fear of consequence.

      Who are the “good guys” in your scenario? The men that are currently setting up road blocks to prevent protesters from reaching the capital? The coup regime, which has arrested media correspondents from TeleSur TV as well as those of Associated Press?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  9. collapse expand

    Allison, I don’t see any hint of disapproval of Zelaya in your original post or your subsequent comments. He’s portrayed as a martyr who was sacrificed because he “failed to dance to the U.S. tune on free trade.”

    Why must expressing solidarity with the Honduran people automatically translate into backing Zelaya? Perhaps the Hondurans are better off without a coup and without a president who tries a constitutional end-run. I think your posts have less to do with supporting democracy and the rule of law, and a lot more to do with supporting a leader who agrees with your ideology. Which is your right, and you’re hardly alone in doing so.

    • collapse expand

      My original piece was a criticism of the US media, not a biography of Zelaya. I disagree with your assessment that Zelaya violated the Constitution by asking Hondurans if they wanted to amend their Constitution. As Andrew Sullivan re-posted on his blog, calling what Zelaya did “un-Constitutional” is like

      temperance defenders arguing that Congress passing a bill in 1933 calling for state conventions to ratify a new amendment abolishing the 18th was un-Constitutional. Zelaya was explicitly working within the system to change the Constitution; the Supreme Court just didn’t like the changes he wanted to make, and tried to shut down the process before it even started.

      It would be silly if I defended the Constitutionality of Zelaya’s proposal in one breath, and then attacked it in the next. That’s not balanced. It’s just contradictory.

      Again, I think what’s confusing to you is that you’re looking for a “good guy” and a “bad guy” like this is a video game. Life is considerably more complex than that. I’m sure Zelaya has done bad things (as most men who are in a position of power have,) but that doesn’t suddenly mean the coup is legal. It’s important to think critically about any “official story” as documented (or under-documented, in this case) by the US media.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    Ye gads, Allison is right and I am embarrassed! I don’t know which makes me feel worse, that I’m choking on my own foot or that “syphons” is actually considered a legitimate variant of anything. At least Allison granted me a smiley face, which is more than the developers have ever done.

    Re Honduras: is it a coup when the military follows the orders of the Supreme Court that ruled the referendum illegal? The military has not put one of its own in power, which is what one would expect in a true military coup; Honduras’ Congress appointed its leader de jure president, as mandated in that country’s constitution. Former President Zelaya, on the other hand, had a mob break into the warehouse where the ballots were stored to distribute them after the Supreme Court ruled against the referendum taking place; hardly following legal protocols himself. Truly, I can’t imagine a situation where we’d stand for any U. S. president behaving similarly. Although I can’t imagine living in a country where the military is in charge of distributing ballots and overseeing voting to begin with. This one is a little complex.

    • collapse expand

      Actually, Jeremy Scahill explains over at Rebel Reports that the coup was led by Gen. Romeo Vasquez, a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas. “As we know very well from history, these ‘graduates’ maintain ties to the US military as they climb the military career ladders in their respective countries. That is a major reason why the US trains these individuals.”

      There are legal ways to impeach a president, who may be overstepping his authority. However, ordering that he be kidnapped in the middle of the night and whisked from the country is a good way to guarantee total chaos. President Obama and the UN have both called the coup illegal, not because they’re necessarily strong supporters of Zelaya, but because the legal impeachment process was clearly discarded and replaced with an illegal coup.

      As for not being able to possibly imagine a situation where we’d stand for a US president behaving similarly, need I mention George W. Bush? There are a plethora of illegal acts committed by the US government every day (the stolen 2000 election, the illegal invasion of Iraq, wiretapping, torture, etc.)

      Plenty of stones we should not cast at our glass house.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  11. collapse expand

    P.J. Tobia wrote: “More important than any of this is the fact that Americans have been following the crazy of Ahmadinejad since the ‘Axis of Evil’ speech.”

    Can you name one American who has been following the career of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from his time as a faculty member at the Iran University of Science and Technology, where he was at the time of the 2002 speech? Or anyone who has followed him since his appointment as mayor of Tehran in 2003?

    Micheal Peck wrote: “Twenty years ago, conservatives never met an anti-Communist regime they didn’t like, no matter how repressive. Nowadays the left never meets a Socialist regime they don’t like, no matter how authoritarian.”

    That is a profoundly dishonest, ignorant, and dumb comparison. Millions died at the hands of “anti-communist” regimes and terrorist/insurgent groups, from the Shah and Suharto to the Taliban and the Contras, who received both direct and indirect political, military, and intelligence support, including funding, arms, and training, from the US government. “The left” has never really held political power in this country and, when the liberals/center-left has held power, when have they ever supported any repressive left-wing regimes or communist insurgents/coups? To compare Sean Penn and Harry Belafonte to John Negroponte and Jeane Kirkpatrick is incredibly stupid and invites the proper scorn and ridicule that I now heap upon you.

  12. collapse expand

    When has the left ever supported repressive leftist regimes? Is that a joke, Brendanm? Take a look at how long the American left supported Stalin despite the evidence of the gulags. Show me the denunciations of Cuba despite the torture and political prisons. Then there was “Ho-Ho-Ho-Chi-Minh”, who liquidated (nice word) the opposition and made Vietnam the model democracy it is today. Oh, and check out The Guardian’s comment page and see the kneejerk defense of Chavez, who would be blasted as a dictator if he was a conservative.

    And I wouldn’t get into body counts if I were you, considering Stalin (20 million dead) and Mao (30 million) were heroes of the left for years. There is no reason to believe that if the left had taken power in America, that they would have been any less partisan than conservatives in supporting murderous dictators – as long as those dictators agreed with their agenda.

    Enjoy the taste of proper scorn and ridicule, Brendanm. Refreshing on a hot day!

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