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February 11, 2012

Santorum, Obama both got it wrong on Honduras


Daily Star

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In one of the recent GOP presidential debates in Florida, candidate Rick Santorum ripped President Barack Obama for his policies on Latin and Central America in general and Honduras in particular.

Honduras? I guess what's been happening there the past few years has been under our war-focused radar, because I don't think too many people knew what the former Pennsylvania senator was talking about.

And I don't believe Santorum knew what he was talking about, either.

At first, I thought the candidate, whose chances for gaining the GOP nomination were rejuvenated with victories this week, was talking about President Ronald Reagan, who spent much of his presidency backing brutal right-wing regimes in Central America, including Honduras.

But, no, he was blasting Obama for, according to Santorum's superficial reasoning, supporting "a would-be dictator" who allegedly was a puppet of President Chavez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba. Obama, according to Santorum, "sided against the people of Honduras."

With closer inspection, it appears the Republican conservative might be right about Obama not supporting a Honduran leader who had popular backing, but the rest of his analysis is off the mark.

In June 2009, Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected president in Honduras, was ousted in a military coup and put on a plane for the Dominican Republic. The parliamentary leader, Roberto Micheletti, was installed as interim president until the next election later that year.

Zelaya had the support of most of the poor in Honduras, and the poor make up at least 60 percent of the nation's populace. So, naturally, civil strife erupted at the elected leader's ouster, and the military and police reacted harshly as civil liberties were curtailed.

Rural areas in the nation are especially poor, and after a major hurricane strike in 1998, much of rural housing and infrastructure was devastated. Numerous foreign aid groups responded to help rebuild. One of my daughters went on one those missions in 2002 and said she was shocked by the rural poverty and lack of residential water and sewage facilities.

So it was no surprise that the liberal Zelaya would be elected president in 2005 with promises to nationalize some economic sectors to better respond to popular needs. But there is no evidence he was seeking to ally himself with Chavez or Castro and become a left-wing dictator.

While some congressional Republicans in the U.S. supported the 2009 coup and urged Obama to recognize the authoritarian interim government, the White House declined, seeking instead to campaign for Zelaya's return for the new election. But the Honduran authorities would have nothing to do with that, so the U.S. reneged and went along with a no-Zelaya election, in effect supporting the conservative candidate and eventual winner, Porfirio Lobo.

So where does Santorum come up with his criticism that Obama sided with the leftists and against the people? Sure, the president initially wanted Zelaya, who, after all, was democratically elected, to be allowed to seek re-election. And that was the correct position for the U.S. to take.

To listen to Santorum, you would think Obama supported a left-wing coup that ousted an elected conservative.

Where Obama went wrong was when the U.S. backed down and agreed to support the new election without Zelaya's participation. That action alienated other Latin American nations and the Organization of American States, which refused to recognize the election because it resulted from the coup of an elected leader and was thus illegal.

Dana Frank, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, writing in The New York Times, said the fact that the U.S. didn't halt the coup and supported the bogus election "has now allowed corruption to mushroom."

"The judicial system," she continues, "hardly functions. Impunity reigns. At least 34 members of the opposition have disappeared or been killed, and more than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the coup, according to the leading human rights organization Cofadeh. At least 13 journalists have been killed since Mr. Lobo took office, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists."

Congressional Republicans, in fact, cheered the ultimate Obama position, the one ripped by Santorum as shaking hands with Chavez and Castro, because it supported the election of a conservative as new president.

What it comes down to is that Santorum was right about Obama but for the wrong reasons, or wrong about him for the right reasons. In reality, Obama was just plain wrong and took the wrong side in Honduras.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.