10 March 2016 — Media Lens
Death In Honduras – The Coup, Hillary Clinton And The Killing Of Berta Cáceres
On February 28, Hillary Clinton told an audience from the pulpit of a Memphis church: ‘we need more love and kindness in America’. This was something she felt ‘from the bottom of my heart’.
These benevolent sentiments recalled the national ‘purpose’ identified by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, shortly before he flattened Iraq. It was, he said, ‘to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world’.
Clinton, of course, meant North America, specifically the United States. But other places in America are short on love and kindness, too. Consider Honduras, for example.
On June 28, 2009, the Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped at gunpoint by masked soldiers and forced into exile. Since the ousting, the country ‘has been descending deeper into a human rights and security abyss’ as the military coup ‘threw open the doors to a huge increase in drug trafficking and violence, and… unleashed a continuing wave of state-sponsored repression’. In 2012, Honduras had a murder rate of 90.4 per 100,000 population, then the highest rate in the world. In 2006, three years before the coup, the murder rate had stood at 46.2 per 100,000.
The years since 2009 have seen ‘an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities.’ In 2015, Global Witness reported that Honduras was ‘the most dangerous country to be an environmental defender’.
Berta Cáceres, a mother of four children, was co-founder and general coordinator of the COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras) group opposing this state-corporate exploitation. Last year, Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading award recognising grassroots environmental activists, for her work opposing a major dam project. Many of COPINH’s leaders have been murdered in recent years. In 2013, Cáceres said:
‘The army has an assassination list of 18 wanted human rights fighters with my name at the top. I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world. I take precautions, but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable. When they want to kill me, they will do it.’
Last week, on the night of March 3, armed men burst through the back door of Cáceres’s house and shot her four times, killing her in her bed. US media watch site Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) commented:
‘There was widespread outcry and grief over her death, and the story was covered by major media in the United States. But there was a glaring problem with the coverage: Almost none of it mentioned that the brutal regime that likely killed Cáceres came to power in a 2009 coup d’état supported by the United States, under President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary.’
Confidential – The Embassy Perspective
Following the 2009 coup, the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union all condemned Zelaya’s removal as a military coup. A confidential US Embassy cable, later leaked by Wikileaks, commented:
‘The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch… There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.’
That was behind closed doors. In public, fifteen US House Democrats urged the US regime to ‘fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place and… follow through with the total suspension of non-humanitarian aid, as required by law’. Writing for the Common Dreams website, Alexander Main supplied some detail:
‘Ann-Marie Slaughter, then director of Policy Planning at the State Department, sent an email to [Secretary of State] Clinton on August 16  strongly urging her to “take bold action” and to “find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a move that would have immediately triggered the suspension of all non-humanitarian U.S. assistance to Honduras.’
This, Hillary Clinton’s State Department refused to do, thus implicitly recognising the military takeover. As FAIR noted, Clinton makes clear in her memoirs that she had no intention of restoring President Zelaya to power:
‘In the subsequent days [after 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.’
In September 2009, US State Department officials blocked the OAS from adopting a resolution that would have rejected the legitimacy of Honduran elections carried out under the dictatorship, thus giving the coup the final US seal of approval.
Ousted former president, Manuel Zelaya, said last year:
‘Secretary Clinton had many contacts with us. She is a very capable woman, intelligent, but she is very weak in the face of pressures from groups that hold power in the United States, the most extremist right-wing sectors of the U.S. government, known as the hawks of Washington. She bowed to those pressures. And that led U.S. policy to Honduras to be ambiguous and mistaken.’
‘President Obama has not wanted to hear our peoples. He has turned a deaf ear on the cry of the people. First we protested in the opposition. A few months ago, they physically removed me from the Congress, the National Congress, because our party mounted a peaceful protest. The military removed us, using tear gas in the Congress. They expelled us, beating us with batons, beating us into the street. This is the government that President Obama supports, a government that is repressive, a government that violates human rights, as has been shown by the very Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. It has shown this to be the case.’
Alexander Main concluded:
‘A careful reading of the Clinton emails and Wikileaked U.S. diplomatic cables from the beginning of her tenure, expose a Latin America policy that is often guided by efforts to isolate and remove left-wing governments in the region.’
An assertion supported by the increase in US military assistance to Honduras even as state-corporate violence has massively escalated. Noam Chomsky explained the logic:
‘Zelaya was moving somewhat tentatively towards the kinds of social reforms that the United States has always opposed and will try to stop if it can.’
A Local Matter – The Media Response
Corporate politics and media of course never tire of proclaiming the West’s ‘responsibility to protect’ in places like Iraq, Libya and Syria. So how did these same humanitarians respond to the murder of a compassionate, respected and awesomely courageous activist in Honduras? FAIR commented on the overwhelming evidence of US support for the coup:
‘One wouldn’t know any of this reading US reports of Cáceres’ death. The coup, and its subsequent purging of environmental, LGBT and indigenous activists, is treated as an entirely local matter… The Washington Post, Guardian, NBC, CNN and NPR didn’t mention the 2009 coup that brought to power Cáceres’ likely murderers, let alone the US’s tacit involvement in the coup.’
On the same day FAIR’s report was published, the first and only reference to these hidden truths in the UK press recorded by the Nexis media database was supplied by Jonathan Watts in the Guardian:
‘But Washington’s role is also controversial because the US backed the current government, which took power after a 2009 coup that ousted the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. The US is now providing fund [sic] for the Honduran police force.’
Watts quoted International Rivers, an NGO that worked with Cáceres:
‘We must note that during the 2009 military coup in Honduras, the US government, with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, worked behind the scenes to keep Honduras’ elected government from being reinstated. Additionally, the US government continues to fund the Honduran military, despite the sharp rise in the homicide rate, political repression, and the murders of political opposition and peasant activists.’
While hardly exhaustive, this is the only mention of these issues we have found in the UK corporate press. A more recent piece by the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, David Smith, mentioned the coup but not US involvement. With touching naivety, Smith observed that ‘the US, determined to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Central America, has been pouring money into Honduras’s security aparatus’.
The Times – so vocal in promoting Western ‘intervention’ to ‘protect’ human rights from Official Enemies – printed 68 words on the killing penned by the Associated Press. The Telegraph gave the story a single mention. In the Independent, Phil Davison wrote of Cáceres:
‘As if anyone needed reminding, her murder brought back to Honduras the dark days of the 1980s Central American guerrilla wars, in which they and their neighbours fought to rid themselves of dictators backed by the US.’
But in stark contrast to the courage of Cáceres and so many others in Honduras, Davison was not able to bring himself to mention that the tyranny in Honduras is today being backed by the region’s great superpower. Also in the Independent, Caroline Mortimer made no mention of US complicity in the coup. Nor, unsurprisingly, did the BBC in two pieces here and here on the killing.
As ever, ‘mainstream’ ‘compassion’ turns out to be rooted in rather more ‘pragmatic’ concerns. If an Official Enemy had been responsible for Cáceres’s death, the cries of outrage, horror and denunciation would have blazed from our corporate front pages and TV screens. Action would have been demanded, perhaps even ‘intervention’. But when the horror is committed by a faithfully corrupt and brutal servant of Empire aided and abetted by the ‘Leader of the Free World’, none of the buttons on the vast, high-tech propaganda machine are pressed and the story is quickly buried along with the victim.
Needless to say, awareness of the kind offered here threatens to jam a spanner in the conditionally ‘compassionate’ propaganda waterworks and must be scrupulously ignored or, at best, ridiculed.
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Death In Honduras – The Coup, Hillary Clinton And The Killing Of Berta Cáceres
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