This column was first published in Spanish by Chile’s Prensa Irreverente.
In spite of the chaos unleashed by Juan Orlando Hernández’s recent attempt to illegally and fraudulently retain the Honduran presidency, the people of Honduras can at least feel grateful for one fact: that Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election last year, and not Hillary Clinton. Because had Hillary won, the protesters flooding the streets from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa would’ve been crushed in the first week. Had Hillary won, President-elect Salvador Nasralla and the Alliance Against the Dictatorship wouldn’t be demanding a full recount, conducted by a neutral international party. Make no mistake–if Hillary Clinton were president of the United States today, it would be business as usual in Honduras.
It was Hillary, first and foremost, who insisted on propping up the current coup regime after it seized power in 2009. When soldiers stormed the Palacio José Cecilio del Valle one early morning in June of that year, carrying President Manuel Zelaya away to the nearest U.S. protectorate (Costa Rica), nearly all of Latin America, as well as the world, called for Zelaya’s immediate and unconditional reinstatement as president, even making it a prerequisite for the upcoming elections in November. The European Union joined nearly all of the Western Hemisphere in recalling its ambassadors. The United States, however–specifically its senior foreign policy official, State Secretary Clinton–equivocated. While the UN General Assembly and the Organization of American States both condemned what they termed a “military coup,” Clinton refused to officially label the events as such, which under the Leahy Law would’ve forced the U.S. government to freeze all military aid to the Central American nation.
For decades the U.S. government has maintained a firm grip on Honduras, viewing control of its little “banana republic” as key to first the economic and then especially the geopolitical (military) dominance of the United States over the region. Toward this end, U.S. Southern Command uses José Enrique Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras (also known as Palmerola) as a forward operating base for its Joint Task Force-Bravo, the United States’s main security force in Central America. Built in the early eighties, the air base also conveniently houses the Honduran air force academy. It was from Soto Cano that the U.S.-backed Contras flew their fighter jets and bombers into neighboring Nicaragua, with Soto Cano becoming known as the United States’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the region. And it was at Soto Cano where the soldiers holding President Zelaya stopped to refuel before flying him off into exile, though the 600 or so U.S. troops stationed there later claimed to have had no knowledge of the deposed president’s presence.
Given the international community’s nearly unanimous condemnation of the military coup, and considering that her labeling it as such would risk weakening U.S. military capabilities in the region, Secretary Clinton faced what she later described as a “hard choice”: she could either do everything in her power to restore and uphold democratic principles in Honduras, or she could do everything in her power to destroy democracy in Honduras for the sake of U.S. military and economic interests.
Clinton made her decision.
“[In the days following the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary Espinosa in Mexico,” Clinton writes in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot” [emphasis mine].
Rather than reach out to the deposed president, Mrs. Clinton instead contacted Lanny Davis, a lawyer who had defended her husband Bill during his impeachment proceedings and was at the time representing the Business Council of Latin America’s Honduras chapter. Clinton wanted to know if her old friend could put her in contact with Zelaya’s interim replacement, Roberto Micheletti. Davis’s clients in the Business Council included Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati, two of the richest and most powerful men in Honduras. Atala is president of the largest bank in Honduras, Grupo Financiero FICOHSA, and sits on the board of directors for F.C. Motagua, one of two Honduran soccer clubs which FIFA includes as one of the “classic” clubs of the world. Canahuati, for his part, owns two of Honduras’s major newspapers, La Prensa and El Heraldo. Both men are major backers of the ruling National Party and were vocal supporters of the coup. In 2014 the CEAL bestowed the Founders Award on its founder and former president, the late Miguel Facussé Barjum–the richest man in Honduras, its undisputed palm-oil king and, as the U.S. State Department was well aware as early as 2004, one of its biggest drug traffickers.
Despite widespread calls for Zelaya’s immediate restoration to the Honduran presidency, Secretary Clinton worked behind the scenes with a cabal of Honduran business elites to ensure that the coup regime would remain in power through the presidential election of 2009. At first the U.S. government parroted the rest of the world in pledging to ignore the results of the November election unless Zelaya was first restored as president. But then, only a few weeks before the vote, the United States and its firmest allies made known they would accept the results either way. The election was held on the 29th of November, with the coup regime’s security forces out in the streets, and the deposed president, who had snuck back into the country in September, holed up in the Brazilian Embassy. The National Party, main authors of the coup, won handily, with Porfirio Lobo elected president of the republic and a 41-year-old businessman turned legislator named Juan Orlando Hernández elected president of the National Congress.
By backing the coup regime and its main party, the Nationalists, Hillary Clinton helped bring to power the current usurper-in-chief, referred to by most Hondurans as JOH. Under the Honduran constitution, the judges on the Supreme Court are elected by the National Congress, and so, as president of the Congress, Hernández had enormous influence over the judiciary, influence which he exercised to devastating effect. When the court deemed President Lobo’s police cleanup law unconstitutional in November 2012, JOH maneuvered to have the four dissenting justices removed for “administrative cause,” with the Congress explaining that their ruling was “not in line with the the security plans of the Executive and Legislative Branches.”
Hernández replaced the independent jurists with ones who supported the coup regime and its agenda. Those same judges would later deem the Honduran constitution’s presidential term limit as unconstitutional, clearing the way for JOH’s reelection bid this year. This bears repeating: the five-member Constitutional Branch of the Honduran Supreme Court, four of whose members were handpicked by Hernández when he was president of the Congress in December 2012, later decided, in 2015, that the Honduran Constitution’s own presidential term limit was itself unconstitutional and that their former elector, now president of the republic, could run for reelection.
In case you have already forgotten (as the Nationalists themselves seem to), illegally seeking reelection was the exact same reason the putschists gave for removing President Zelaya in June 2009. (To be clear, in no way was Zelaya seeking immediate reelection for himself.) So it would seem that, according to Hernández’s logic and that of the National Party, when a left-leaning president seeks reelection, it is unconstitutional and a threat to Honduran democracy, but when a authoritarian dictator seeks reelection, it’s his right — not only to run, but to win.
Thus the current crisis was born.
Featured image: La Prensa