Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Rightwing Coup in Honduras and the Need for a New Good Neighbor Policy

by Norman Markowitz

On the surface, the coup in Honduras might be seen as the same old same old. The military, supported by the provincial exploiting classes, ousted a President pursuing policies clearly in the interest of workers and farmers, a president whose policies have aligned him with Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and others who have gained leadership in a number of Latin American countries on explicitly or implicitly socialist programs.

In the past, meaning the entire 20th century up to the present administration, U.S. governments either aided and abetted or, in a number of important cases, directly created such coups throughout central America and the Carri bean, including Honduras, which along with Guatemala and Nicaragua, was long referred to derisively as a "banana republic."

The Obama administration has condemned this coup, which is a large step forward, compared to other postwar U.S. presidents--remember the CIA created coup in Guatemala in 1954; the CIA failed invasion of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs in 1961; The U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent the ousting of a junta which had ousted a democratically elected president two years earlier; the U.S. government's full political, economic and military support for those who overthrew the socialist Peoples Unity Government in Chile in 1973 and established what most scholars of Latin America regard as the most brutal regime in the region's history; the U.S.-CIA support for the contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and for the reactionary oligarchy and its political henchmen in El Salvador against revolutionary insurgents which together claimed tens of thousands of lives. And this is just the tip of a big iceberg in post WWII U.S. Latin American policy. The role of U.S. corporations and the government over the generations in sustaining and profiting from "underdevelopment" has stunted the lives of tens of millions of people in Latin America.

In the 1930s the Roosevelt administration withdrew marines from a number of Latin American countries, proclaimed a "good neighbor policy" for the region, and significantly improved relations with the government of Mexico during the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas, whose administration advanced the rights of workers and peasants, nationalizing Mexican oil to the howls of U.S. oil companies and investors. The Roosevelt administration's "good neighbor" policy was in reality limited, as its representatives often worked behind the scenes to thwart peoples movements and continued to support reactionary dictatorships in a number
of the countries where U.S. marines had previously been stationed---Roosevelt famously, in response to criticisms from the left, said of these tyrants (Somoza in Nicaragua, Batista in Cuba Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, they were virtually interchangeable) that "he's a son of bitch but he's our son of a bitch."

Much of what was positive in the "good neighbor policy," the emphasis on pan-Americanism, the U.S. government support for reforms which would raise Latin American living standards, were buried in the cold war era. The Obama administration has now opposed a coup which virtually every post WWII U.S. president would have supported, directly or indirectly. But in forging a new foreign policy that rejects the long history of gunboat-dollar diplomacy in the region, it can and should do much more.

First it can join directly with the nations, including Venezuela and Bolivia, which have condemned the coup, and use its influence to end it and restore Zelaya to power. It can make the institutions which previous governments have hypocritically proclaimed as defending "democracy and peace" in the region actually work for democracy and peace. It can use this crisis positively to side with the people and begin to establish with Chavez, Morales and others the sort of relationship that Roosevelt had with Cardenas of Mexico in the 1930s. In the process, it can win the respect and admiration of the peoples of Latin America as Roosevelt (with all of the limitations and distortions of the "good neighbor" policy) did in the 1930s and 1940s. And it can go well beyond that policy by making it clear to everyone in the hemisphere that those who overthrew Zelaya and for that matter hold power in Mexico through a fraudulent election and in other countries in the interests of reactionary upper classes are no longer "our sons of