A Case of Imperial Misconduct

Poor, Abused Honduras; Groped Again

Mr. Hernández and his allies control the much-protested ballot-counting process, the election oversight commission, the army — which under Honduran law moves the ballots — and all appeals processes.
                                             - U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D) Illinois

Poor Honduras.

The word honduras means depth or profundity in Spanish. It’s also the name of one of the most abused nations in the Western Hemisphere. Its citizens are largely poor and overwhelmed by a state of corruption historically linked with the much more sophisticated and wealthy network of corruption that overwhelms the citizenry of the United States. The November 26 election for president of Honduras was the latest chapter in this sad historic reality.

Honduras is now embroiled in street protests following an election count that stinks like three-day old fish in the sun. President Juan Orlando Hernandez was running for a second term, despite an apparently un-amendable Constitutional provision that precludes a second term. Former sportscaster and TV game-show host Salvador Nasralla ran against Hernandez, who was favored to win. The Organization of American States says the election count was seriously flawed and it’s pushing for a new vote. Here’s how the count went: The day after the election, it was announced Nasralla led the vote count by five percentage points, which suggested a real upset. A third candidate for president conceded Nasralla was the winner. At that point, the election tribunal suddenly stopped communicating with the public. After a hiatus, the next communication was to declare Hernandez the winner by one-and-a-half percentage points. Immediately, the nation erupted in protests that led to fatalities. Knowing how important the United States is to Honduras, Nasralla flew to the US to consult with friends and the OAS. The OAS publicly called for a new election.

Removed President Manuel Zelaya, the incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez and Salvador NasrallaRemoved President Manuel Zelaya, the incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez and Salvador Nasralla

The Rex Tillerson State Department responded this way: “The United States notes that Honduras’ Supreme Election Tribunal has declared incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner.” The United States notes . . .    Such tentative language suggests the Trump administration can’t deny the smell of rotten fish in Honduras, so it’s being coy in its support for Hernandez’s spurious re-election count. Based on past actions, Hernandez is said to harbor a strong authoritarian ambition. Many members of the police and army, however, are reportedly reluctant to be harsh with protesters; they seem to know what’s going down. How far they’re willing to go is a looming question. If Hernandez can’t put down the rioting and make the citizens of Honduras accept his corrupt election, then the US will have no choice but to assume another posture. The State Department said if Mr. Nasralla is unhappy with the count, well, he should submit an appeal. Of course, they know, as Rep. Schakowsky points out above, Hernandez controls the appeal process.

Cut to Gringolandia and our current gender struggle, which is a very 21st century story that may relate to the Honduras story. I look at the Trump ascendancy as a masculinist backlash rooted the white, male heartland of God, guns and big macho trucks. In the same sense, the current wildfire raging against sexual misconduct can be seen as a feminist backlash against the Trump masculinist backlash. As a grotesquely polarized nation of self-indulgent people full of ourselves, we’ve painted ourselves into a struggle of gender identity backlashes. Sexual misconduct is a vague term that includes the abuse of minors and outright rape, as well as cases of unwelcome bumptious kissing. It ranges from the dead serious to the comical. Every day now, from the mainstream media we get new accounts — usually from women, but not always — reporting on incidents of sexual misconduct by powerful, celebrity males. (There’s Kevin Spacey’s male accuser and a case in Kansas that involves a male charging a woman executive running for Congress with firing him after he refused to have sex with her; she quit the race.) Sexual misconduct is hardly new. What is new, however, is the credibility these accounts are suddenly receiving. So far, the accusatory cycle has not moved very far down the class scale into the working and poor classes, where arguably the most abuse occurs. At that point, it could run head-on into the working class, masculinist backlash among men who see what feminists call “sexual misconduct” as an honorable manly thing, as in: Hey, males are designed to be assertive; sometimes that assertiveness can be awkward. The Times recently did a large, front-page story on the sexual harassment and abuse received by women over decades at two Ford plants in Chicago. It remains an open question whether the newfound credibility will get traction at the bottom of our free-market, union-busting, money-focused culture.

On a deeper level, there’s a question whether, in the highly structured, industrialized, social-media saturated culture we live in, masculinity is more and more becoming superfluous; that is, has the masculinity that once made sense in a rugged survival mode evolved into a narcissistic, self-congratulatory posture conducive to bullying, greed and crime — not 21st century civilization. We know real tough guys don’t recognize or discuss gender issues. As “race” is an issue only for minority African Americans, “gender” is a woman’s issue. Men don’t talk about it; they just act on it. And they never apologize. (Though sometimes they pay lots of money.) Of course, such a view is controversial; but it may have something to do with the current gender struggles.

Hillary Clinton is the nexus between these two stories — the abuse of Honduras and the raging backlash against celebrity sexual misconduct. Ms. Clinton is deeply implicated in both. Besides her loss being a significant impetus for the current sexual misconduct movement, as US secretary of state, she was the lead voice in the Obama administration that endorsed the 2009 coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the point of origin for the current electoral debacle. Zelaya, a left-leaning businessman before he was elected president, was awoken at 6AM in his pajamas by armed men who had broken into his Presidential Palace, and he was flown out of the country. The reason given for the coup was that Zelaya was maneuvering to change the Constitution so he could run for re-election. Boogie man fears were raised of Honduras becoming like Sandinista Nicaragua or Chavez Venezuela. Clinton and her boss Barack Obama made a clear choice not to employ the power of the United States in opposition to the coup; they made no demand that it be overturned. Instead, with Clinton in the lead, they worked to finesse the aftermath. They acted as if nothing significant had happened; it was treated as a snag to be worked out. They seemed confident no one but successfully marginalized leftists gave a damn. Honduran democracy was not worth pissing away any of the administration’s political capital. They knew very well the history: That during Ronald Reagan’s Contra War against Nicaragua, Honduras was overseen by US Ambassador John Negroponte, who acted as an imperial proconsul ruling Honduras. The poor nation was known sarcastically then as “Aircraft Carrier Honduras,” from which lethal Contra attacks were launched into Nicaragua. Following the 2009 coup, violence and murder rose significantly in Honduras. Since President Zelaya had been wary of US strongarm tactics, thanks to the coup, the US was granted a host of new basing rights for its military under the auspices of the Drug War. All this spawned the rotten dead fish now in the news.

There’s a metaphor lurking in all this. If a heretofore unheard of critical mass has materialized and women who feel abused in the US are suddenly given credence and listened to, what would it take for poor citizens in a place like Honduras to obtain the same kind of credibility for the many decades of flagrant human rights and democratic abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of a male-dominated corrupt system in Honduras that’s in bed with a serial imperial abuser?

Post election-count rioting in HondurasPost election-count rioting in Honduras

How and when such critical masses form is a great question. When does out of sight, out of mind turn into empathy and political action? Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have refused to give credence to poor Hondurans by ignoring their charges of anti-democratic corruption and violence. Those in Honduras abused by this disrespect include people like the high-profile environmental activist Berta Cáceres who was murdered last year for her activism, one of the many murders in Honduras ghat began to grow in numbers following the 2009 coup.

The point is, when it comes to the corrupt governments of tiny Honduras and the massive United States, the granting of credence to charges of human rights violations and sexual abuse, respectively, seems to depend significantly on the class of the accuser and the experience of those granting the credibility. It boils down to this: Is your tale of oppression and abuse deemed culturally worthy? And does giving your narrative credibility entail some kind of diminishment of my power?

Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, is a classic liberal Democrat. What makes him interesting in this context is that he spent nearly a year of his young, pre-politico life back in the 1980s working in Honduras with Jesuits steeped in Liberation Theology, the spiritual discipline among the poor that follows the human teachings of Jesus Christ, that is, the antithesis of right-wing Christian fundamentalism. Kaine has publicly spoken out in favor of the OAS call for a new election in Honduras. I see this as a matter of the human heart. Thanks to his personal experiences on the ground there, Kaine intimately knows something about the suffering of the Honduran people. I share this kind of empathy-inducing experience. In my case, in 1984 I was deported from Honduras with five other Americans for speaking publicly in Tegucigalpa against the Contra War. Our arrest was overseen by Proconsul Negroponte and his staff, and to this day, I’m a persona-non-grata in Honduras. Why? Because, like Kaine, I was a young witness and learned something important about abusive power that gives me great sympathy for the Honduran people. Given his political status, Kaine (who emphasizes his facility with Spanish) may not wish to emphasize the reported fact that as a young man he met with Father James Carney, a radical American priest who worked with the poor who was presumably killed by Honduran forces, possibly with US complicity. His body was never found. I met brave people like this as well, so I know enough to discount the standard, glib label of “communist” that so effectively intimidates many Americans from a true understanding of the Honduran reality. One thing I learned in Honduras is that Hondurans who live in Central America are just as much “Americans” as any citizen of the United States. Our great, self-congratulatory myth of American Exceptionalism functions as a blinder for too many North Americans. My experiences in the 1980s in Honduras and Central America were insignificant but personally profound, which, of course, is the English meaning of the word honduras. These experiences led me to a commitment to what is a perennial, complex human struggle for peace and justice that will end for me only when I pass into oblivion.

The Trump administration works the other side, the side that sees war as profitable and peace as domination, the side Dick Cheyney referred to as “the dark side.” I don’t believe in absolutes or anything permanent; but I do believe in good and evil as forces in contention within us all, which means they’re also contending inside nation states and inside all institutions, including religion institutions. In a move that reeks of this kind of mundane evil, President Trump publicly threatened every nation in the UN General Assembly that if you vote against us (in this case, against moving our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem) we’ll retaliate by withdrawing any aid we’ve promised you. The vote was so lopsided, it read like the world giving the Trump administration the finger. Noteworthy, the lapdog government of President Hernandez in Honduras was one of nine tiny nations voting with the United States.

More North Americans need to wake up and get mad. But we need to do it smartly, without relinquishing an open mind that’s eager to listen to many voices and perspectives, because the awareness and respect for a plurality of voices is where truth resides — not with my way or the highway. Arrogance can never see its own fall, because that’s what arrogance is, the inability to see oneself as powerless or unimportant. It’s the fertile soil for classic tragedy where protagonists are blind to the inevitable downfall they’ve guaranteed by their own actions.

As for Honduras, everyone with a conscience should join Senator Tim Kaine and the OAS in calling for a new, adequately observed presidential election. As for Gringolandia, a serious, respectful dialogue on how gender works in our dangerous, hi-tech world would seem in order. Sex is too important — too potentially joyful — to let arguments rooted in Fantasy and Power further turn us into a nation at war with itself.

Ain’t no greatness in that.

CODA: While we’re on the subject of backlashing, here’s the great Nina Simone singing “Backlash Blues.”