By Daniel Luban
Jim DeMint picked a hell of a time to travel to Honduras. The right-wing South Carolina senator embarked on a “fact-finding trip” to Honduras last Friday — leading a congressional delegation that included fellow Republicans Peter Roskam, Doug Lamborn, and Aaron Schock — after overriding the objections of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry. The delegation met with leaders of the de facto government that deposed President Manuel Zelaya in a June coup, including acting President Roberto Micheletti.
The Republican delegation’s trip is indicative of the strong support that the post-coup regime enjoys from the American right. While the coup and its aftermath have been condemned by Latin American leaders across the political spectrum — including rightists like Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Felipe Calderon of Mexico — their counterparts in the U.S. have demonstrated no such qualms, offering unqualified support for the Micheletti government.
To be sure, some of this is simply reflexive anti-Obama animus: the right wants to give the new administration a black eye, and sniping at his anti-coup stance (which has in fact been quite restrained compared to other leaders in the region) is an easy way to cause headaches for the president. But right-wing support for the coup has also reflected a sort of residual Cold War hangover — recalling the days when neoconservatives and other avid Cold Warriors in the Reagan administration threw their support behind brutal military juntas and death squads throughout Latin America. Just as the Communist threat was thought to justify any measures taken against it, no matter how unsavory, today the rise of left-wing populist leaders led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez occupies a similar place in the right’s Manichean framework.
But the task of producing apologetics for the Micheletti government has gotten harder in recent weeks. While neoconservative publications like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Weekly Standard have been producing an unending string of glowing odes to the vitality of “Honduran democracy,” the Honduran government itself has engaged in an increasingly brutal crackdown on its political opponents. Soon after Zelaya snuck back into the country and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy last month, Micheletti shut down opposition media outlets, restricted free speech, and instituted a decree granting the police free rein to arrest any suspected troublemakers regardless of evidence. While he claimed to back down after international outcry, the government was in no hurry to restore civil liberties; Micheletti finally relented on Monday. Of course, his American apologists — who cry “totalitarianism” whenever left-of-center Latin American leaders make similar moves — were silent throughout.
Now, reports are beginning to reach the American media concerning the Honduran security forces’ brutal repression of pro-Zelaya forces. On Monday, the New York Times finally took note, in a must-read story that highlighted fairly shocking violence against peaceful protesters and described “an atmosphere of growing impunity, one in which security forces act unhindered by legal constraints.” The story also notes the problems inherent in the upcoming November elections, which the Micheletti regime has claimed will wipe the slate clean. As human rights lawyer Javier Acevedo told the Times, “Elections are a risk because people won’t vote…The soldiers and police at the polls will be the same ones as those who have been carrying out the repression.”
The Honduras debacle is providing still more evidence (as if any more were needed) that the neocons’ newfound love of “democracy promotion” is primarily rhetorical. The right’s treatment of Honduras is reminiscent of nothing so much as its revolting Cold War-era human rights policies in Latin America. (And in many cases the principal players remain the same — that means you, Elliott Abrams.) It remains to be seen whether any of the self-proclaimed champions of “Honduran democracy” will see fit to denounce Micheletti’s increasingly bloody crackdown.
Regardless, it seems that Jim DeMint’s “fact-finding” mission has a plethora of facts to find, should he choose to take notice of them.
[Cross-posted at The Faster Times.]