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Honduras: The Ham in the Sandwich

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Wentworth     Permalink
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In April 2002, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, was kidnapped from the presidential palace and in due course flown to Orchid Island, off the coast of Venezuela. An announcement was made that he had resigned. Within days those who had engineered this US-backed coup were forced by huge demonstrations and by divisions in the military to restore him to office.

In February 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, president of Haiti, was kidnapped, forced onto a plane and flown to Africa. It was announced to the media that he had resigned. Unfortunately, the people of Haiti have not been able to undo this US coup against their national sovereignty.

In June 2009, Mel Zelaya, president of Honduras, was kidnapped from the presidential residence in Tegucigalpa and flown to Costa Rica. An announcement has been made that he signed a letter of resignation. It remains to be seen whether international condemnation and internal protests will be enough to restore him to his post as the rightful president of his country.

Why Honduras? Why now?

In 1983 I was part of a Fellowship for Reconciliation delegation that had been sent on a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua and Honduras to ascertain what was going on in these two countries and to report back to the American people.

After flying into Tegucigalpa from Nicaragua one morning, our trip from the airport to our hotel convinced us that Honduras was, indeed, one of those countries where "the rich don't sleep and the poor don't eat."

A monster pickup truck, outfitted as a police/military vehicle, had followed us from the airport, staying three or four cars behind us. Once in the city, a voice over a loudspeaker commanded the driver to stop. Several officers came forward to inspect us, our driver's papers, and give us a warning.

As we continued on our way, we observed men in camouflage, carrying machine guns, at every major intersection. They stood ready to block the street at a moment's notice. Nearer our hotel I caught a glimpse of a man being arrested at rifle point on a crowded street.

We discovered that there was a police station catty-corner from our hotel. Men went in and out or stood around on the street with their guns. In Nicaragua we had seen men with guns slung over their shoulders, guarding official buildings or waiting for transportation to the border to fight the "contras," Reagan's mercenaries who were out to topple the Nicaraguan government. They mingled casually with the general population, chatting with adults or playing with children. We had talked with several one day in a cafe where we were having lunch. But here in Honduras, we noticed that people who came along the sidewalk toward the station immediately crossed to the other side to avoid walking past the men and their guns. 
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Viewing this armed camp, it was hard to believe that President Reagan had had the gall to hold up Honduras as a model of democracy.

Our first appointment for the day was at the US Embassy.
We had considered ourselves fortunate that rather than Ambassador John Negroponte we would be meeting with Chris Arcos, the American Consul for Public Affairs for Honduras. He was a Chicano from Texas, a former campus radical married to a Honduran citizen. Rumor had it that he, a holdover from the Carter administration, would be a straight shooter.

Ambassador Negroponte, always willing to serve wherever the US Empire has problems, had flown over to Guatemala to attend to any fallout from a coup d'etat that had resulted in an army general replacing the Guatemalan president, a born-again Christian who took his orders from God rather than the CIA. Negroponte had cut his diplomatic teeth in Vietnam alongside Richard Holbrooke, who is now US Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both men have successfully worked their way up the foreign policy food chain.

Arcos began by explaining that Honduras by virtue of its geographical location had become the focal point for US operations in Central America. With Nicaragua along its southern border, Guatemala sprawled across its long northern one, tiny El Salvador nestled alongside both in the west, Arcos's description of Honduras as "the ham in the sandwich" was apt.

To our consternation, Arcos suddenly switched gears, proceeding to detail the usual false claims: Nicaragua was shipping arms to the rebels in El Salvador, Nicaragua was the aggressor in the conflict with Honduras (Reagan employed the old bugaboo that with help from the Soviets, we Americans were about to be attacked by Nicaraguan tanks rolling into Harlingen, Texas), and that Cuba was training Hondurans to launch an internal revolt. 
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Reagan's policy, Arcos explained, was aimed at helping the Hondurans consolidate their new democracy by providing them with the minimum security that they needed to protect and develop their economy, referred to as a "dessert economy" because it was based on coffee, bananas and sugar. Four of the five largest corporations in the country were American-owned - Texaco, Amex, Standard Brands, and United Fruit.

Testimony to the reality that few Hondurans benefited from these export crops are the following facts: In 1983, the 4.1 million people of Honduras had a life expectancy of fifty-seven years, forty-three percent were illiterate, ninety percent of the children under five were malnourished, and eighty-three percent of the homes had no electricity.

At the end of the session we followed Arcos out into the hall and demanded to know why he had given us such a bunch of baloney. Away from his colleagues, he replied that two men had come into the room and standing at the back, had monitored our questions of him and his answers. One had been sent from the White House, he said, just to keep an eye on him. 

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Author of Discovering America: A Political Journey and of a free booklet on Patriarchy; a feminist and political activist.

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