How Hillary Clinton and “American Power” Paved the Way for Shocking Violence in Honduras

A recent op-ed fails to acknowledge the relationship between U.S. support for a coup and the Honduran murder rate.

Jim Naureckas

A man protests during the 2009 Honduran coup. (Yamil Gonzales / Flickr)

This arti­cle was first post­ed at Fair​.org

"The piece never really got around to explaining, though, how Honduras became the most dangerous place on Earth. That’s American power, too."

How the Most Dan­ger­ous Place on Earth Got Safer” was the head­line over the lead arti­cle in the New York Times’ Week in Review” (8/11/16), with the teas­er read­ing, Pro­grams fund­ed by the Unit­ed States are help­ing trans­form Hon­duras. Who says Amer­i­can pow­er is dead?”

The piece nev­er real­ly got around to explain­ing, though, how Hon­duras became the most dan­ger­ous place on Earth. That’s Amer­i­can pow­er, too.

Reporter Sonia Nazario returned to Hon­duras after a three-year absence to find

a remark­able reduc­tion in vio­lence, much of it thanks to pro­grams fund­ed by the Unit­ed States that have helped com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers tack­le crime…. The Unit­ed States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.

Nazario described U.S.-funded anti-vio­lence pro­grams in a high-crime neigh­bor­hood in the Hon­duran city San Pedro Sula:

The Unit­ed States has pro­vid­ed local lead­ers with audio speak­ers for events, tools to clear 10 aban­doned soc­cer fields that had become dump­ing grounds for bod­ies, note­books and school uni­forms, and fund­ing to install street­lights and trash cans.

She offered the results of this and sim­i­lar pro­grams as evi­dence that smart invest­ments in Hon­duras are suc­ceed­ing” and a strik­ing rebuke to the ris­ing iso­la­tion­ists in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics,” who seem to have lost their faith in Amer­i­can power.”

But Nazario failed to explain how Amer­i­can pow­er paved the way for the shock­ing rise in vio­lence in Hon­duras. In the ear­ly 2000s, the mur­der rate in Hon­duras fluc­tu­at­ed between 44.3 and 61.4 per 100,000 — very high by glob­al stan­dards, but sim­i­lar to rates in neigh­bor­ing El Sal­vador and Guatemala. (It’s not coin­ci­den­tal that all three coun­tries were dom­i­nat­ed by vio­lent, U.S.-backed right-wing gov­ern­ments in the 1980s — his­tor­i­cal con­text that the op-ed entire­ly omit­ted.) Then, in June 2009, Hon­duras’ left-lean­ing Pres­i­dent Manuel Zelaya was over­thrown in a mil­i­tary coup, kid­napped and flown out of the coun­try via the joint U.S./Honduran mil­i­tary base at Palmerola.

The U.S. is sup­posed to cut off aid to a coun­try that has a mil­i­tary coup — and there is no doubt” that Zelaya’s ouster con­sti­tut­ed an ille­gal and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al coup,” accord­ing to a secret report sent by the U.S. ambas­sador to Hon­duras on July 24, 2009, and lat­er exposed by Wik­iLeaks. But the U.S. con­tin­ued most aid to Hon­duras, care­ful­ly avoid­ing the mag­ic words mil­i­tary coup” that would have neces­si­tat­ed with­draw­ing sup­port from the coup régime.

Inter­nal emails reveal that the State Depart­ment pres­sured the OAS not to sup­port the country’s con­sti­tu­tion­al gov­ern­ment. In her mem­oir Hard Choic­es, Hillary Clin­ton recalled how as sec­re­tary of State she worked behind the scenes to legit­i­mate the new régime:

In the sub­se­quent days (fol­low­ing the coup) I spoke with my coun­ter­parts around the hemi­sphere, includ­ing Sec­re­tary Espinosa in Mex­i­co. 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.

With a cor­rupt, drug-linked régime in place, thanks in large part to U.S. inter­ven­tion, mur­der in Hon­duras soared, ris­ing to 70.7 per 100,000 in 2009, 81.8 in 2010 and 91.4 in 2011 — ful­ly 50 per­cent above the pre-coup lev­el. While many of the mur­ders involved crim­i­nal gangs, much of the post-coup vio­lence was polit­i­cal, with resus­ci­tat­ed death squads tar­get­ing jour­nal­ists, oppo­si­tion fig­ures, labor activists and envi­ron­men­tal­ists — of whom indige­nous leader Berta Cáceres was only the most famous.

At one point, it seemed like Nazario was going to acknowl­edge the U.S. role in cre­at­ing the prob­lems she gives Amer­i­can pow­er” cred­it for ame­lio­rat­ing. We are also repair­ing harms the Unit­ed States inflict­ed,” she wrote — but the expla­na­tion she gives for that was strange­ly circumscribed:

first by deport­ing tens of thou­sands of gang­sters to Hon­duras over the past two decades, a deci­sion that fueled much of the recent may­hem, and sec­ond by our con­tin­u­ing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colom­bia and Venezuela through Honduras.

No men­tion of the U.S. sup­port­ing Hon­duras’ coup, or the polit­i­cal mur­ders of the U.S.-backed régime.

At one point, three-quar­ters of the way through the lengthy piece, Nazario did acknowl­edge in pass­ing the sin­is­ter role the U.S. plays in Latin America:

It will take much more than this project to change the rep­u­ta­tion of the Unit­ed States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploit­ing work­ers and resources and help­ing to keep despots in power.

Sure­ly it’s rel­e­vant that some of the despots the U.S. helped keep in pow­er were in the coun­try she’s report­ing from, and that this led direct­ly to the prob­lem she’s writ­ing about? But she dropped the idea there, mov­ing on imme­di­ate­ly to talk about the U.S.’s inter­est in reduc­ing the flow of child refugees.

The most trou­bling part of the op-ed is that it didn’t feel the need to acknowl­edge or even dis­pute the rela­tion­ship between U.S. sup­port for the coup and Hon­duras’ shock­ing mur­der rate. The New York Times cov­ered much of this ground, after all, in an op-ed by Dana Frank four years ago (1/26/12). Now, how­ev­er, that infor­ma­tion is down the mem­o­ry hole — leav­ing the Times free to tout dona­tions of trash­cans and school uni­forms as an adver­tise­ment for Amer­i­can power.

Jim Nau­reckas is the edi­tor of FAIR​.org, the media crit­i­cism web­site, and has edit­ed FAIR’s print pub­li­ca­tion Extra! since 1990. James Wein­stein gave him his first job in jour­nal­ism, when he hired him in 1987 to write about the Iran/​Contra Scan­dal for In These Times. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error, and co-edi­tor of The FAIR Read­er. He was an inves­tiga­tive reporter for In These Times and man­ag­ing edi­tor of the Wash­ing­ton Report on the Hemi­sphere. Born in Lib­er­tyville, Illi­nois, he has a poli sci degree from Stan­ford. Since 1997 he has been mar­ried to Janine Jack­son, FAIR’s pro­gram director.
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