US opposition to Honduran coup is a break with the past

Guest post by Andrew Murphy

During the US presidential election last year, the word “change” was bandied about by the Obama camp. One got the feeling it was one of those Dick Morris-type words, intended to triangulate the electorate.

However in the past couple of weeks, an extraordinary event happened which may illustrate that Obama may indeed deliver on his promise of “change we can believe in.” For the first time in a while, the USA has not sided with a military coup against a civilian government in Latin America.

President Zelaya of Honduras was overthrown by a military coup on June 28, when the Army refused to endorse Zeleya’s call for a referendum for a new constitution. Attempts by Zelaya to come back from forced exile has been meet by refusal of his plane to land on Honduras soil.

The justification for this coup was that Zelaya is friendly with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and thus he was going to lead Honduras down the primrose path of 21st Century Socialism.

Despite the attempts by the Right to see Chavez in every left-wing bowl of soup in Latin America, Zelaya was not without his dark side. The Organization of American States (OAS) recently criticized the government for what it called “subtle censorship.” The Economist magazine reported that scandals, rising crime and 30 percent popularity plagued the Zelaya government recently.

President Obama has been firm from day one– along with the European Community and the OAS– that the coup will not be tolerated. Hugo Chavez has weighed in on this matter as well, but Castro Lite has no credibility on this matter since while he condemns the attack on democracy in Honduras, Chavez continues to undermine democracy in his own country and support the mullahs in Iran. With friends like Chavez, democrats don’t need enemies.

This is an extraordinary moment for the USA, considering the past support overtly and covertly of rightwing military coups.


Social democratic president Jacobo Guzman was overthrown by a CIA-sponsored coup which had been in the works since 1951 with Operation PBFORTUNE. Guzman’s land reform of simply taking unused and un-farmed land and giving it to the peasants was deemed a threat to American interests– in particular United Fruit Company, which had the fortune of having Allen Dulles, a shareholder in the company, as head of the CIA during this time. Dulles convinced Eisenhower that Guatemala was going to be a footstool for the Soviet Union in Latin America.

With only 150 armed men and excellent CIA disinformation fomented by E. Howard Hunt and others, exiled Guatemalan Colonel Carlos Armas was able to convince Guzman that a full-scale military invasion was underway. Guzman soon was forced out of the country and into exile in Mexico until he died under mysterious circumstances in 1971.

After the coup, the CIA captured Guzman government documents and found that there was no threat of Soviet control of Guzman’s government and any actions taken by Guatemala communists were done independent of any direction by Guzman’s government.

Guatemala had crossed its River Rubicon into rightwing death squads and repression. Armas immediately ended an land reform, purged “communists” from the government, established a one-party state and created the first modern Latin American death squad, the National Committee of Defense Against Communism. From 1954 to 1996, Guatemala would be the scene of one dictatorship after another and civil wars, which would cost the lives of over 200,000 Guatemalans.


This being the most notorious and most written about coup in the last 30 years, there is no need here to rehash the history of it other then to point out the American involvement.

According to declassified records released in 1998, the Nixon Administration was up to their neck in trying to overthrow the democratically-elected Salvador Allende. These include:

–Handwritten notes from CIA Director Dick Helms that President Nixon wanted to create a military coup in Chile.

–A report of a meeting between Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig and others on October 15, 1970 to set up Project FUBELT. Kissinger demanded, “Continue keeping the pressure on every Allende weak spot in sight.”

Memos from Deputy Director of Plans for the CIA Thomas Karamessines to the CIA station in Santiago, Chile that “it is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.”

And those who wish to explore Henry Kissinger’s involvement in Chile and the death of General Rene Schneider should consult Christopher Hitchens’s book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

After the ouster of Allende, came the Augusto Pinochet regime. Soon terms like Caravan of Death, Operation Columbo and Operation Condor would soon strike fear in the hearts of civilzed people in Chile and Latin America.

What Fidel Castro is to Michael Moore and Oliver Stone, Pinochet became to the political Right. The political murders, lack of civil rights and fascist dictatorship was always excused because after all, he did cut taxes and privatize parts of the Chilean economy. Even Friedrich Von Hayek was seduced by Pinochet’s charm.


Anastasio Somoza, whose family had governed Nicaragua since 1936 was overthrown by Soviet-friendly Sandinista rebels. Somoza was despised by all parts of Nicaraguan society, from the newspaper La Prensa to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Sandinistas have always been presented by many on the Left as agrarian reformers bent on social democracy, when in fact, they were autocratic and their human rights abuses and lack of civil rights during their reign in the 1980s left much top be desired. There were some honest Leftists who saw through the romantic notions of the Sandinistas, such as Paul Berman.

However, the USA made the mistake of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and decided to support the Contra resistance to Sandinista rule. President Ronald Reagan infamously stated that the Contras were the “moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers,” thus committing the USA to support a dubious group of ex-Somoza generals, drug runners and some legitimate freedom fighters. The Reagan Administration had been banned from Congress by the Boland Amendment from giving any military aid to the Contras. Instead it broke US law and with the help of Oliver North, John Poindexter and others, came the Iran-Contra Affair of selling arms to Iran to finance the Contra struggle in Nicaragua. The scandal would lead to 14 Reagan Administration officials charged with crimes and 11 convicted.

And one could also discuss the USA involvement in the Salvadoran civil war, where the anti-communist uber alles mentality led to the support of death squads and revolting figures like the late Roberto D’Aubusson, who while a hero to the Moral Majority, Young Americans for Freedom, Jesse Helms and members of the Reagan administration was the leader of the right wing death squads who among their victims included Archbishop Romero and American nuns.

Thus the USA’s strong condemnation of the military coup in Honduras last month is a change and change for the better not only for the USA but for Latin America.

We don’t have to speculate too hard that if Allen Dulles, Henry Kissinger or Oliver North were still in the government, where American sympathies would lie.

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