professor of Latin American history at NYU and author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.
The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras within the next few days in an attempt to reclaim power. Zelaya was forced out of office in a military coup d’etat on Sunday. He will reportedly return to Honduras accompanied by the OAS Secretary General, the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador, and the head of the UN General Assembly. But Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed interim leader by the Honduran congress, has given warning that Zelaya will be arrested should he return, regardless of who is traveling with him. We speak with Latin American historian Greg Grandin. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras within the next few days in an attempt to reclaim power. Zelaya’s statement came after the Organization of American States approved a resolution on Wednesday that gave Honduras a seventy-two-hour deadline to restore him to the presidency or face expulsion from that group. In a statement, the OAS said it vehemently condemns the coup, which has, quote, “produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.”
Earlier, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the "immediate and unconditional" return of Zelaya to the Honduran presidency.
Zelaya was forced out of office and exiled to Costa Rica in a military coup d’etat on Sunday. He is currently in Panama, where he’s attending the inauguration of the new Panamanian president. He will reportedly return to Honduras accompanied by the OAS Secretary General, the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador, and the head of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.
But Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed interim leader by the Honduran congress just hours after the coup, has given warning that Zelaya will be arrested, should he return, regardless of who is traveling with him.
AMY GOODMAN: The coup has been widely condemned by leaders around the world. The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have cut new loans, and some European countries have recalled their ambassadors. The US has not legally classified the removal of Zelaya as a coup, which would automatically lead to the suspension of aid to Honduras, but the Pentagon has suspended military cooperation until further notice.
Meanwhile in Honduras, an overnight curfew has been toughened to allow people to be held for twenty-four hours without charge as protests continue on the streets.
Greg Grandin is with us now, professor of Latin American history at New York University, author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.
Welcome to Democracy Now! The latest from Honduras, as we hear thousands of people are out in the streets, Professor Grandin?
GREG GRANDIN: And that thirty to forty people have been detained or missing, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. There’s a communiqué, was issued by the — by a popular front against the coup, saying that Battalion 3-16 is operating again. This is the famous battalion, a death squad, that in the 1980s was responsible for disappearing hundreds of people. Reports are troubling, and the coup leaders are holding fast. They’re being defiant against worldwide condemnation of the coup.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to 3-16, Battalion 3-16. This goes back to the Reagan years with John Negroponte, who was, what, the UN secretary — the former US secretary — US ambassador to the United Nations. You have John Negroponte, who was ambassador to Honduras at the time.
GREG GRANDIN: Right, the 1980s. And he was involved in organizing the Honduran branch of the Iran-Contra war. And the Baltimore Sun
ran a series of articles that were quite clear that he was involved in the cover-up of a number of death squad executions, over a hundred disappearances by Battalion 3-16.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I remember being in Honduras in the mid-1980s and being startled by the heavy, heavy military presence in the streets. They would patrol regularly in San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortes and the other major industrial towns, five and six at a time, with automatic weapons, as a normal part of the routine of everyday patrols. And so, Honduras has had a very difficult history in terms of being able to establish firm democratic processes, hasn’t it?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, it’s had the formalities of democracy since the early 1980s, you know, but a very narrow and restricted democracy. And in some ways, this is what peasant organizations and unions, that are now defending Zelaya, that are now demanding his restoration, are fighting to expand, are fighting to democratize and open up.
When Obama says, when President Barack Obama says — he does it very clearly and strongly and admirably — that he doesn’t want to return to the dark policies of the past, what he’s talking about is exactly what you’re talking about, when Honduras was effectively an outpost of the United States’s sort of the worst campaigns during the Cold War. I think the Council on Hemispheric Affairs called it the US battleship that couldn’t sink, because it had so many US troops and that were basically administering the area, and still is the only country in Central America that has a permanent military base, Soto Cano military base. And this is another element of a US concern.
AMY GOODMAN: I know human rights leaders in Honduras are making a link between Billy Joya, who was active in Battalion 3-16, who is now a key security aide to the de facto leader, to President Micheletti. I don’t know if we should be calling him “president.”
GREG GRANDIN: Right, pretender to the presidency. There are reports that repression has increased. They’ve suspended civil liberties. They’ve enacted — they’ve claimed the right to detain people indefinitely past twenty-four hours. As I mentioned, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that between thirty and forty people are detained or their whereabouts aren’t accounted for, so —-
JUAN GONZALEZ: Greg, could you comment about this -— the extraordinary nature of this coup is not so much in terms of the coup, but in terms of the response of the other Latin American countries. You’re having — I think it’s unprecedented that presidents of other countries would offer to escort a deposed leader back to the country to reassume power. Could you talk about how this — the changing nature of Latin America and how this is so unusual?
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, well, obviously, as many viewers of Democracy Now! will know, that over the last ten years there’s been this remarkable turn in Latin America, as one left or center-left government after another, different in policy and style, but broadly committed to sovereignty and multilateralism, have been elected, have come to power.
There was a precedent last year, when separatist attacks in Bolivia began to try to destabilize Evo Morales’s government, and the US stayed silent and may have been — may have had a hand in it. The Latin — South America was unanimous in condemnation, and Brazil taking the lead and saying that there will be no civil — what they were calling a civil coup in Bolivia. So there was precedent to this outcry that we’re seeing with Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Grandin, can you talk about the US response, suspending military cooperation but not calling it a coup, because that would mean they would have to cut off all aid, which is extremely significant for Honduras, because when we were on with Dr. Almendares, head of the Honduran Peace Committee, he called Honduras an occupied country, occupied already by the United States, how dependent it is on the United States.
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, between the trade remittances and foreign aid, Honduras is completely dependent on the United States. The US response has been schizophrenic, and the most generous reading of that is that the US is trying to retain some influence in order to negotiate a settlement without confrontation, without violence.
A more skeptical reading would understand the State Department’s reluctance to call it a coup legally, although Hillary Clinton hasn’t used the word in her pronouncements, but apparently there’s a legal definition of what a coup is, is that they’re trying to obtain leverage over Zelaya to back down of some of his populist policies. You could think of it as the “Haiti Option.” Back when Bill Clinton, president, restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994, he did so under the — when he was deposed by a coup, he did so under the condition that Aristide would back off — would support and not roll back IMF and World Bank structural adjustment policies.
AMY GOODMAN: And also, I mean, Juan and I were there then in Haiti at that time, and President Clinton pressured Aristide, when he was out for three years of a five-year term, to accept that those three years would still be as if they were served, so he would only serve for two years —-
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —- in case he didn’t follow through on all those promises —-
GREG GRANDIN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —- he was making to the US. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: I wanted to ask you, who is running Latin America policy for the Obama administration? Because, obviously, during the Bush administration, you had a group of extreme right-wing folks, like Otto Reich and others, who were actually defining or helping to do most of the legwork in terms of the policy. Who’s doing it now for the Obama administration?
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, I mean, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega and those people that were involved and implicated in the 2002 attempt to overthrow Chavez in Venezuela, they were largely discredited by the second Bush term, and then a more professionalized foreign policy service by Thomas Shannon, who was — Latin Americans felt was — whatever problems they may have had with him was a far cry from Otto Reich and Roger Noriega.
It’s largely the same with Obama. There’s a professionalized Foreign Service cadre. I think Thomas Shannon has a — Obama kept him on, but has just recently replaced him with Arturo Valenzuela, a kind of Foreign Service — Democratic Foreign Service diplomat who has served in the past in this post. So there are this level of careerists that —- what you see often in the Obama administration is Obama making very good pronouncements on any number of issues, whether it be at the Summit of the Americas or now around this coup, and then on-the-ground, second-level officials either hedging or being actually quite provocative, in the case of Venezuela. But that’s another -—