Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama's New Style - Decently Covert

This past weekend in Buenos Aires, an American acquaintance presented me with page 9 of Saturday’s Buenos Aires Herald, the English-language daily, such that I might join the ranks of those who understood the approach of the US government to the current crisis in Honduras. Page 9 consisted of two Reuters articles, one on top of the other, with the essence of the US approach excerpted in a quote in orange print at the center of the top article: “This is part of Obama’s new style of doing things in Latin America.” How well my acquaintance had read the rest of the article was called into question by his reference to Costa Rican President Óscar Arias as Óscar Asturias.

The top article, entitled “US treads softly as region weighs in,” begins:

“Latin America was for decades seen as the United States’ ‘back yard’—a theatre where it imposed its will often at the barrel of a gun.

“But since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was snatched from his home in his pajamas and spirited out of the country by the military on June 28, Washington has played an uncharacteristically low-key role.”

It apparently does not occur to Reuters that there is no need for gun barrels when the US is content for Zelaya to remain in his pajamas and out of the country, or that covert support for right-wing Latin American death squads might also have been described as low-key.

...The Reuters article on Honduras continues in the tradition of imbalance by asserting that “[t]he last Democrat in the White House, former President Bill Clinton, sent troops to put ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide back in power in 1994,” without specifying that former Republican governments had frozen development aid to Haiti during Aristide’s subsequent presidential term—a low-key maneuver obligingly legitimated by the OAS—or addressing Aristide’s claims that he was kidnapped to Africa by the US and France in 2004.

Óscar Arias had confirmed that conservative Republicans in the US preferred Aristide’s departure to prospects of Haitian democracy and had responded negatively to Haitian rebel leader Guy Philippe’s March 2004 announcement that the country was in his hands, an announcement backed up by his supporters’ claims that they had executed opponents and by the fact that Philippe had received US military training in Ecuador. Arias’ negative response is recorded in Paul Farmer’s April 2004 article in the London Review of Books: “Nothing could more clearly prove why Haiti does not need an army than the boasting of… Philippe last week in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian army was abolished nine years ago during a period of democratic transition, precisely to prevent the country from falling back into the hands of military men.” Arias’ failure thus far to draw parallels between countries starting with H may be an effect of the fact that the current non-Republican State Department is still debating the definition of the word “military.”

The US has also still failed to freeze the bank accounts of Honduran coup instigators, which would presumably be more complicated than freezing drinking water loans to Haiti and would jeopardize American entrenchment “firmly in the background.” While not involving gun barrels, such economic maneuvers are nonetheless incompatible with antidemocratic objectives; the implication that the perceived inaction that characterizes “Obama’s new style” is somehow more benign than previous presidential styles is meanwhile offset by the fact that US government contact with Honduran coup plotters up until the day before the coup cannot be characterized as inactive.

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