By Diana Bohn (Bohn is a member of the AFGJ board. The following is a based in part on the LASC workshop she attended.)
The workshop entitled “When Threats and Economic Blackmail Fail, US Sponsored Coups Follow” at the LASC Militarization Conference focused on Haiti, Honduras & Venezuela with speakers representing each of those countries, but with emphasis on US policy that is common to all three of these countries as well as its potential to lead to similar events in other countries in Latin America. Phoebe Jones of Global Women’s Strike told about the strong resistance in the countries; especially among women with whom we in the US can form alliances.
Haiti: Pierre Labossiere, co-founder of the Haiti Action Committee
Venezuela: Lisa Sullivan, Latin America Coordinator, School of the Americas Watch
The speakers described the Coups in their respective countries showing common threads in US policy and the resistance of the people to the repression instigated by the US.
The main point emphasized especially by Pierre Labossiere at this workshop as well as at the opening plenary is that solidarity with the people in all countries (throughout the entire region-including Haiti in the Caribbean) is of the utmost importance. Labossiere challenged attendees at the conference with the idea that if we had all been working to support Haitians during the time of Jean Bertrand Aristide’s Presidency, and working together to prevent the coup of 2004, the more recent Coup in Honduras might also have been prevented.
Brief Description of the Coups
Haiti: has had a total of 37 coups and occupations beginning with the occupation of Haiti from 1915 through 1937 and culminating with the current occupation by MINUSTAH, the UN “Peacekeeping” forces since 2004.
Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was elected by a huge majority in 1990 and again in 2000 has been demonized by the US government and US Corporate media as mentally ill, corrupt and inept. His supporters were accused of drug trafficking.
Since President Aristide was first elected in 1990, the US refused to send funds directly to the his government, blocked it from receiving signed international loans, economically destabilized it and orchestrated his overthrow twice; in 1991 and 2004 coups. In February, 2004, US Marines kidnapped Aristide and flew him to Africa. Through the UN Security Council, the US arranged to have MINUSTAH (UN “peace keeping force”) installed to “stabilize” the country i.e.: enforce the coup government. The US claimed it was saving Aristide from insurrection and Voice of America recently said that Aristide “fled” Haiti because of a “popular” uprising. Since the coup, 10,000 Lavalas (majority party in Haiti, that brought Aristide into power) supporters were killed (These killings were attributed to crime.); several thousand Lavalas supporters were imprisoned; and 3000 Lavalas supporters removed from various offices in Haiti, including mayors of various cities. Other supporters were bought off for betrayal of Lavalas. Washington has prevented the Fanmi Lavalas Party from participating in post-2004 coup elections. As a result, Fanmi Lavalas boycotted Senatorial elections in 2009 resulting in a 2% voter turnout. The US considered this a fair election and followed up by financing Presidential elections in November.
As the UN’s special envoy for Haiti, Bill Clinton has been promoting neo-liberal model for Haiti’s recovery from the January, 2010 earthquake: new sweatshop contracts with a minimum wage well below what workers can live on, a wage that was vigorously opposed by Haitians as well as in the Haitian Parliament.
Honduras serves as a testing ground for expanded US domination of the hemisphere. That’s why the presidents of almost every country in Latin America closed ranks immediately to condemn the coup, aware that they could easily be the next domino to fall and why Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela and many other countries have opposed Honduras’s readmission to the Organization of American States (OAS). Below are some of the effects of and causes for US interference in Honduras:
• Financial support for oligarchy through USAID/IRI, business ties
• SOA training of Coup leaders
• Air Force Base in country: 3 new bases have been build since the Coup.
• Demonization of Zelaya: He was said to be a puppet of Hugo Chavez, that he was intent on seeking a second consecutive term as President, and that he violated the Honduran Constitution by asking for a referendum on the possibility of a Constitutional Assembly.
• Killing of Resistance leaders and journalists is attributed to common crime
All examples show efforts at destabilization and support for coup leaders and opposition groups from the US government/State Department through National Endowment for Democracy, the IRI and USAID. Corporate media in the home country as well as in the US spread lies and distortions.
Haiti: Former dictator Duvalier returned to Haiti in January, and then, in defiance of the US, including a personal phone call to South Africa from Obama, Jean Bertrand Aristide returned just before what the Haitian majority called “selections” held on March 20., which were “won” (with 16.7 per cent of the electorate) by Michel Martelly, former member of Tonton Macoute and FRAPH death squads. He was immediately invited to Washington to meet officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the US Chamber of Commerce and the State Department.
Honduras: Repression of the popular movement continues. Human rights abuses include murders of campesinos and members of the LGBT community. A number of these murders; especially those of campesinos in the Aguan Valley, can be attributed to private security guards. President Zelaya returned to Honduras on May 28, which prompted the OAS to re-admit Honduras, with President Correa of Ecuador opposing and publicly stating his opposition to the re-admission on the grounds of the impunity for the Coup leaders and post-coup repression.
Venezuela: Hillary Clinton recently announced sanctions on Venezuela’s Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), for “cooperating with Iran’s energy industry”, a move that has been denounced by ALBA nations and some members of Chile’s Parliament as well as Venezuela itself. These sanctions ignore the fact that PDVSA, through its US subsidiary, CITGO has helped over 250,000 US citizens by giving, or greatly reducing prices, on heating oil to poor people in the US.
In order to combat US policy, sectors must unite to respond:
1. Country specific solidarity organizations can work with the strong grassroots leadership within the countries to generate responses to repression and get people into the streets, to Consulates, Federal Buildings, etc.
2. LASC can generate alerts and Congressional Visits
3. Issue, and sector groups such as the Grey Panthers, LGBT organizations can confront abuses of the coup regimes. Example: The current coup regime in Honduras is proud to be anti-gay.
4. Unions – support grass roots unions in the countries – truckers, teachers, etc.