Comparing the Haitian and Honduran Coups

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

Anyone who has closely watched Washington’s mischief and dirty wars around the globe over the past few decades cannot have missed the uncanny similarity between the June 28, 2009 coup d’état against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and that of February 29, 2004 against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Both men were abducted by an armed commando unit in the dark early morning hours, placed on a waiting plane, and then flown to a destination they had no choice in or foreknowledge of. Both were facing Washington-backed oppositions and pursuing, or at least flirting with, anti-neoliberal policies and anti-imperialist alliances. Both had large followings among their nations’ poor majority.

Several journalists and bloggers have compared the coups, but two pieces stand out. The first is entitled “Haiti and Honduras: Considering Two Coups d’État” by David Holmes Morris, first published July 2 on The Rag Blog.

The same United Nations that now condemns the coup in Honduras and demands Zelaya’s return occupied Haiti militarily during the coup government of Gérard Latortue, often attacking Haitians demonstrating for Aristide’s return, and occupies it still,” Morris notes in his introduction.

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Here are a few more excerpts from the piece:

The two countries, despite important ethnic, historical and linguistic differences, are similar as well. They are of about the same size, with populations of around 7.5 million, and they are both among the poorest three or four countries in the hemisphere. Seventy percent of Hondurans live in poverty. The average annual income is $1600. Honduras and Haiti both have historically powerful military forces that have often shown a disposition for brutality. And they have both long been controlled by small wealthy elites.

“But the two men are quite different. Aristide, a priest and practitioner of liberation theology, had a long history of direct involvement with the poor before becoming president and had shown great personal courage in their defense on more than one occasion. He received over 70% of the vote in one presidential election, 90% in another. Zelaya, in contrast, is the wealthy landowning son of wealthy landowners. He came to power in 2005 by a narrow margin through the politically centrist Partido Liberal, whose policies he initially supported, favoring CAFTA, for example, the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

“It was only later in his presidency that Zelaya turned leftward, raising the minimum wage by 60% and forming alliances with the leftist and left-leaning Pink Tide governments of Latin America, in particular with that of [Venezuela’s] Hugo Chávez. He agreed to join the Alternativa Bolivariana de las Américas, or ALBA, a regional fair-trade alliance, and somehow persuaded the unicameral legislature, dominated by his own Partido Liberal and the rightist Partido Nacional, to ratify his country’s membership in it. He became openly critical of the Honduran elite and of U.S. business interests in the region. He suggested, scandalously, that legalization of drug use was a saner approach than the U.S. drug wars.

“Whatever his personal motives might have been, Zelaya, once in office, won the support of the poor of Honduras, who saw promise of improvement in their lives not only through an increase in wages but through membership in ALBA, which offered lower fuel prices through PetroCaribe, for example, and other benefits from an alliance with Venezuela, like the grant of several hundred tractors for Honduran farmers.

“The wealthy of Honduras were not impressed, however, and neither were their armed and uniformed representatives in the military.

In Haiti a few years earlier Aristide had also sought to raise the minimum wage and had resisted the imposition by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund of the privatization of public enterprises. He had tried to protect Haitian farmers and other producers against subsidized imports from the United States.

After noting these similarities, Morris concludes by noting that “there are some puzzling differences in the reaction to the coup in Haiti five years ago and to the coup in Honduras days ago. Many news accounts in [the U.S.] gave the impression that Aristide had somehow deserved what he got by alienating his own people, who had rebelled against him and run him out of the country or, alternately, that he had resigned of his own volition and fled for his own safety. The United States soldiers were in Haiti merely to keep the peace, as was the United Nations force that replaced them. But the UN forces are seen in Haiti as an army of occupation and there are frequent large demonstrations against them and for the return of Aristide. United Nations troops have been involved in countless acts of violence against Haitians, most recently in the shooting death of one of the thousands of Haitians at the funeral services for Father Gérard Jean Juste, a close associate of Aristide.

coups in Haiti and Honduras show how U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democrat, are growing ever more sophisticated in their subversion of Latin American and Caribbean states

The other noteworthy piece is entitled “Otto Reich and the Honduran Coup D’Etat: The Provocateur, his Protégé, and the Toppling of a Presidentby Machetera, a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity.

As the title denotes, Machetera traces the role played by Otto Reich, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs for George W. Bush, in both the Haitian and Honduran coups. In particular, the author lays out “similarities in the use of telecom as a propaganda tool to turn public opinion against [Aristide and Zelaya] and set the groundwork for them to be prematurely removed from office, and once out, kept out.” The Arcadia Foundation, linked to Reich, also is playing a key role in the Honduran coup.

Here are some excerpts from Machetera’s analysis:

From a neoliberal political point of view there are two advantages to a propaganda offensive centered upon telecom corruption.  The first is obvious. If telecom corruption can be tied directly to a leader who is not following Washington’s agenda, it promotes public support for the leader’s removal.  The second is a little less obvious, but equally as important.  It promotes the argument that telecom companies under state control really ought not to be, especially in underdeveloped countries, and would be better off privatized.

“To make that argument, one must of course ignore the abundant evidence of telecom corruption in the United States, where men like Bernie Ebbers and Joseph Nacchio, who became telecom kingpins thanks to privatization (called “deregulation” in the U.S.) are serving federal prison terms for accounting fraud and insider trading.  The fact is that telecom, as an essential service in the modern world, has always been a kind of money printing press, and the fight over state control vs. private control is all about who gets to control the switch, and what will be done with the profits.

ITT, which owned the Cuban phone company at the time of the revolution in 1959, was the first foreign owned property to be nationalized in Cuba, in 1961.  In 1973, ITT was so fearful of repeating the experience in Chile that John McCone, a board member and former CIA man promised Henry Kissinger a million dollars to prevent Salvador Allende’s election.  According to the U.S. Ambassador to Chile at the time, Edward Korry, ITT did pay $500,000 to a member of the compensation committee for expropriated properties in Chile, until Allende found out about the payments and nixed the compensation entirely.

In Venezuela in 2007, privatization was also reversed, and Verizon was paid $572 million for its share in the Venezuelan phone company, Cantv. This sent chills down the spine of every U.S. politician and telecom executive or consultant (like Reich) invested in expanding telecom privatization extra-territorially.  And the chill was bipartisan. Democrats as well as Republicans had benefitted equally from global privatization of the telecom mint.

As someone who counted AT&T and Bell Atlantic (Verizon) among his former (acknowledged) clients and a proven antipathy for leftist governments, Reich had plenty of motive.  A front group disguised as a foundation would provide the opportunity. (…)

“The one thing this type of front group must be certain to do is file for non-profit status in the U.S. They therefore must make at least a passing effort to put together a plausible board of directors and a credible mission statement, and comply with tax and other public disclosure requirements. The Arcadia Foundation has the mission statement – a rambling treatise on democracy and civil society, but little else. [Reich protégé Robert] Carmona-Borjas shares billing at the group with Betty Bigombe, a Ugandan World Bank consultant who appears to have lent Arcadia nothing beyond her name. Although Carmona-Borjas has insisted the group’s activities are entirely legal, he has concealed the documents he is required to make available to any member of the public upon request and is reportedly hostile to those who ask to see them. (…)

“In the fall of 2007, the El Universal newspaper in Mexico printed a story based on a report it had received from the Arcadia Foundation. Interestingly, the report itself is not available at the Arcadia website, but there are clues to its contents and objectives in the newspaper stories which followed.

“The report evidently contained allegations about corruption in the Honduran phone company, peppered with innuendo, a Reich trademark. It claimed that income to Honduras’s phone company, Hondutel, had declined by nearly 50% between 2005 and 2006.  (…)

“It was an old horse that had seen service once before, in Haiti, against Aristide.

“All international telecom traffic is subject to interconnection fees with the phone company in the country where the call is terminated.  These interconnection fees are split 50/50 between the company sending the call and the company receiving the call so that they are only paid if there is an excess of traffic in one direction or another.

“With underdeveloped countries such as Honduras or Haiti, there is an overwhelming excess of one-way traffic as a result of emigrants to the U.S. or other Western countries calling their families back home.  It is precisely in these extremely poor countries, where the telephone company has not been privatized, that interconnection settlements represent a vital source of revenue to the state.  Until recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intervened on behalf of the multiple carriers who’d emerged as a result of privatization (deregulation) in the United States, to negotiate interconnection rates with other countries that would apply equally to all carriers.  In 2004 the FCC’s intervention began to be phased out, and since 2006 it has vanished entirely except for a short list of countries that does not include Haiti or Honduras.

“During the fixed-rate years, some U.S. companies still tried to get a better deal regardless, and while state-owned companies such as Haiti’s Teleco and Honduras’s Hondutel were free to offer lower interconnection rates than those set by the FCC, they were supposed to be offering them equally to all carriers, not just a privileged few, so as not to make a mockery of the FCC’s system. If payments from the U.S. carrier were involved in securing the discount it would also be a violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

“This appears to be what occurred with IDT, a New Jersey telecom company that negotiated a special rate to interconnect with Haiti’s Teleco.  The FCC’s rate at the time was supposed to be 23 cents per minute for connections to Haiti, but IDT negotiated and received a contract for 9 cents a minute.  When a former IDT employee claimed that part of that fee was a kickback to Aristide, the anti-Aristide lobby went crazy.

“The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, followed by Lucy Komisar writing for another non-profit front group sponsored by a Haitian oligarch, the Haiti Democracy Project, claimed that Aristide knew of and personally benefitted from the kickback.  Before, corruption allegations against Aristide had tended to be confined to equally unproven insinuations about profiting from drug trafficking, such as those Reich provided to O’Grady when he sat down with her for an interview in 2002.

“None of the defamatory allegations about Aristide’s involvement in any of the schemes could be proven, and a much publicized court case brought against Aristide by the Haitian (U.S.) puppet government was quietly shelved.  But proving the case was secondary to floating the allegations, both as a propaganda tactic against Aristide, and political intimidation of his supporters in the U.S. Congress.”

Marchetera’s analysis is particularly relevant given the current efforts of President René Préval to privatize Teleco.

In short, the hemisphere’s two latest coups in Haiti and Honduras show how U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democrat, are growing ever more sophisticated in their subversion of Latin American and Caribbean states working towards democracy and sovereignty. However, popular resistance has risen to the challenge in both cases and threatens to turn back the coups, even in Haiti, five and a half years later.


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