It’s now been just over six months since the new US Administration took office, enough time for the underlying ruse to have become crystal clear. In place of the old Bush-era bellicose vocabulary has been substituted the soothing rhetoric of conciliation, this whilst the actual substance of America’s foreign and domestic policies have been altered not one iota. Not one atom.
Rhetoric vs. Reality
On the domestic front, for instance, the infiltration of literally scores of Goldman Sachs alumni into the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and into the ranks of Obama’s closest economic advisors has virtually guaranteed the continuation of the bald-faced thieving, crony-capitalist policies that have triggered the greatest global economic crisis in the last 60 years. Moreover, the ascendance of the foxes to formal power within the henhouse threatens the consolidation of a new, and significantly more totalitarian if that’s imaginable - financial oligarchy in the US.
As for health care ‘reform’, the only lobby group which failed to find the ear of - indeed, was barred from - Obama’s review process was the one that represented the majority of Americans and that spoke for a universal, publicly funded, single-payer, not-for-profit system. Just another shining example of the vast gulf that exists between the democratic façade and the plutocratic reality of present-day American society.
Still, it is in the foreign policy sphere where the radical disjuncture between rhetoric and reality presents itself most forcefully.
In Cairo on June 4th, Obama delivered his famous speech wherein he defended as “necessary” the ongoing US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and his new war in Pakistan. America, let it be known, was not “a self-interested empir”². These lugubrious statements were then covered in a gooey, sugary coating in the form of sundry odes to ‘democracy and human rights’, Islamic culture, the ‘equal rights of nations’ etc.
In fact, of course, since Obama took over the reigns of government America’s imperial policies have not only continued to be ‘self-interested’, but have escalated. Thus, though in Iraq a few troops have been withdrawn, these have quickly been reassigned to the ‘war’ in Central Asia. More to the point, this small drawing down of forces within Iraq completely ignores one incontestable fact. To wit, the US is in the process of consolidating its bases there and has no intention of leaving ever.
Furthermore, Obama has continued his ‘missile defence’ encirclement of Russia, has nixed the Arab League’s call for a two-state solution in Palestine, has maintained the illegal 47 year economic embargo on Cuba and, in a particularly vicious personal act, Obama has obviously directed the US Supreme Court (on June 15th) to deny the appeal of the ‘Cuban Five’, thus condemning these five brave anti-terrorist investigators to ‘life’ (more or less) in the living hell of a US prison. [An act which, by the by, pretty well encapsulates the Western establishment’s true position on the ‘war on terror’.]
But no where has the escalation of the Empire’s ‘self-interest’ been more apparent than in the renewed attention that the Obama regime has directed towards Latin America, Washington’s erstwhile ‘sphere of influence’.
Turning the Tide
Though primarily preoccupied with their conquests in the Middle East and Central Asia, the Bush-Cheney regime did take some time out to play in the sandbox of their imperial ‘backyard’. In April of 2002, for instance, the CIA, in cahoots with various affiliated ‘civil society’ institutions including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID, helped engineer a brief coup in Venezuela. Then, in February of 2004, the US, in conjunction with Canada and France, not only engineered but participated directly in the coup that overthrew Haitian democracy.
In addition, Washington poured some five billion dollars over the past nine years into Plan Colombia, a plan whose ostensible target is the ‘war on drugs’, but whose real aim has been to prop up the United States’ last fully-fledged death-squad democracy in the region and turn the country into the ‘Israel of South America’, i.e. a base for the unabashed projection of US military power and subversive influence. The latter has assumed ever greater significance now that the people of Latin America have, over the past decade, elected a string of left-leaning governments. The latter development has issued largely from the disastrous ‘neo-liberal’ (read: pillage and plunder) economic policies foisted upon them by the ‘Washington Consensus’, an experience that has led to the dramatic rejection of IMF and World Bank connections on the one hand, and to the formation of purely regional trade agreements (e.g. ALBA) and independent media networks (e.g. Telesur) on the other.
Still, tension runs high throughout the region as the usual suspects, i.e. the ‘elites’, are in the constant process of machinating with Uncle Sam in the desperate attempt to stave off the grim prospect of social and economic justice in their traditionally despotic societies.
Nevertheless, all things considered and despite the fact that its various economies are no where near as unhitched from Washington’s wagon as many pundits assume Latin America has moved dangerously close to the precipice of, well, independence. What, then, is an empire to do?
Enter stage right, one Barack Obama. It is noteworthy that one of the first actions taken by the Obama Administration was to request an additional $320 million in ‘democracy promotion’ funds (for use by the likes of the NED and USAID etc) in the upcoming 2010 budget for deployment in, you guessed it, Latin America. As journalist Eva Golinger points out this one year figure is considerably greater than the Bush regime doled out for ‘democracy promotion’ during its entire eight years in office. This manoeuvre also melded nicely with the prior assignation, in 2008, of a slew of new ambassadors to Central America; emissaries who, to a man, were all experts in propaganda and counter-revolutionary operations. One in particular, a rabid anti-Castro Cuban by the name of Hugo Llorens, comes in for special attention, for it was he who was the principle advisor on Venezuelan affairs to President Bush when the 2002 coup d’etat in Venezuela went down. And, dang it, wouldn’t you just know it was he who was Ambassador to Honduras when the government of Manuel Zelaya was hit by a coup d’etat this past June 28th.
Following the overthrow of Honduran democracy a host of organizations including the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations General Assembly, ten Latin American countries and several European nations (including Spain, France and Italy) all condemned the coup and called for the immediate restoration of the legitimate government. This caught the Obama Administration a tad off guard, and as such they were more or less forced, and then seen, to join the chorus of wagging fingers.
But not for long. Washington soon refused, for instance, to label the takeover a coup d’etat. Instead, it began referring to “both parties” and the necessity for “dialogue”. In short, Obama & Co. deftly legitimized the coup through the use of ostensibly ‘diplomatic’ language. It didn’t stop there. Though the US could have easily broken the back of the new regime by stopping all trade (70% of Honduran exports go to the US) and withdrawing all monetary assistance (amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid per year) it refused to do so.
The corporate media, of course, didn’t take two micro-seconds to pick up which way the wind was blowing, and after a few tepid denunciations began their sure retreat from that little item democracy that they’re always baying about.
First, they brought in a piece of pure propaganda, a piece of doubt i.e. that Zelaya was seeking to reform the constitution so that he could diabolically conjure himself a second, successive term in office. Totally untrue. What Zelaya had proposed was merely to hold a non-binding referendum seeking, down the road, i.e. after a formal vote in November (when he would have had to leave office) to form a national constituent assembly charged with re-writing the constitution. Now, of course, what the ‘free press’ also conspicuously leaves out at this point is that the present Honduran constitution is a piece of work hailing from the US-backed death-squad days of the early 1980s. It was then that the military and the oligarchy were able to craft, just prior to ‘democratization’, a constitution totally in their favour. A parting gift to themselves, so to speak. The assembly, then, would have involved the presently powerless majority and given them the opportunity to address this transparently inequitable situation.
Second, the media began their usual consummate campaign of propaganda by omission.
They failed, for instance, to report, or at least make any issue of, the thousand or so people arbitrarily arrested, the hundreds of protestors wounded, the handful of outright assassinations of prominent civic leaders, and the suppression of all opposition media, as well as the expulsion of all foreign media. Nothing, for example, to compare with the grand hullabaloo generated in regard to Iran’s ‘contested’ election.
They then failed to note that the US military base at Soto Cano has been central to America’s counterinsurgency wars against neighbouring countries for decades and that the US and the Honduran militaries, as such, are joined at the hip. The latter could hardly have made a move without the former knowing, approving, and abetting the putsch. Indeed, most of the coup leaders are graduates of the US counterinsurgency ‘School of the Americas’ based at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Also omitted has been any mention of the fact that Zelaya was bent on turning Palmerola, the airbase at Soto Cano with the only decent, the only safe runway for commercial air flights in the country into a civilian airport, a move that would have dramatically threatened US military operations in the whole hemisphere.
It has also apparently escaped the media’s attention that the US State Department confirmed that two of its high level representatives, Thomas Shannon and Craig Kelley were actually in Honduras a week prior to the coup and held meetings with all of the key personnel associated with the takeover. Hmm.
Similarly overlooked is the fact that the coup leaders have hired a bewildering array of top-notch Democratic lobbyists (including Lanny Davis, a prominent shill and advisor to both Clintons) who have seen to it that the new regime’s US delegation has been received with open arms throughout the corridors of power in Washington. Not to be outdone, the Republicans are front and center as well. Thus, John McCain, who among other things is the chairman of the International Republican Institute (which has spent over a million dollars so far in 2009 to work with right-wing political ‘think tanks’ and ‘pressure groups’ in Honduras) has been instrumental, amongst many others, in garnering support for the putschists.
All in all, then, another bang-up job by the ‘free press’. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Obama has played the classic dodge and delay tactic by ignoring OAS demands for the immediate restoration of Honduran democracy and has, instead, insisted that Zelaya ‘negotiate’ with those who deposed him. Zelaya, for his part, has already indicated he is prepared to accede to the core of Washington’s demands which include, unsurprisingly, that he form some sort of power sharing arrangement with, you know, the un-elected guys, and that Honduras renounce its ties with Cuba and Venezuela. Just the usual ‘rights of nations’ sort of stuff. [Nevertheless, a deal brokered by long-time US double-dealer Oscar Arias of Costa Rica which included these ugly little items, has been roundly rejected by coup leader Roberto Micheletti. No worries apparently.]
And in a final period on the end of this sorry story, Obama, after having hosted Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe only one day after the Honduran coup, announced just recently that the Pentagon plans to deploy troops to five military bases throughout Colombia. Which more or less drives home what the Honduran coup is really all about, i.e. killing socialism and regional independence in Latin America.
The United States, a self-interested empire? Pssh.