Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Faces of Liberty.

Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, the President of Honduras.
"I believe freedom is the future of all humanity." - George W Bush

The ideological trajectory in the US could be characterised as leaning towards negative liberty, specifically the freedom from constraint, and individualism. For this reason it makes sense that the US government led the "war" against communism since the end of the war against fascism and up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. As there are aspects of communism are in direct opposition to the ideological ideals of the United States. The methods of which the US government utilised to contain communism abroad included the backing of extreme right-wing dictatorships, that would prevent the spread of communism through repression and violence, like that of Suharto in Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. In doing so, the US government infringed upon individual freedom on a massive scale to stamp out the "threat" of communism and spread freedom around the world. What should be noted is that the military budget of the US has increased considerably and consistently since the Truman administration. At first, politicians sought justification for the rampant military expenditure in anti-communism and then counter-terrorism.

Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the spending on the military continued to increase which may indicate that "fighting" communism was just an excuse to increase spending. Today the excuse is the "War on Terrorism". The American government spent over $700 billion in 2008 on the military, making up almost 50% of all military spending in the world. Since the level of military spending seems to be unrelated to any threats of communism or terrorism, it seems rational to assume that realpolitik was not merely about securing freedom and the containment of communism. Interestingly, the kind of economic policies pursued by US-backed dictators, like Suharto and Ferdinand Marcos, consisted of mass-privatisation, deregulation and the repression of unions. These policies may have generated a great deal of economic growth in some countries, but they were largely destructive of the societies in which they were implemented. The World Bank and the IMF were instrumental in economic policy in Indonesia and the Philippines, but it was multinational corporations that benefited most from these policies.

It was in 2009, only months into Obama's first term in office, that the President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by members of the Honduran military, who had been trained at the School of the Americas, and was succeeded briefly by Roberto Micheletti. In January of 2010, Pepe Lobo was elected the President of Honduras and Micheletti has since been made a congressman for life. Lobo is a wealthy land owner and is a member of the National Party, a thoroughly conservative political party, he had lost the 2005 election to Manuel Zelaya. Though, Lobo is now has the Presidency due to a questionable election, it has been said that 60% of the votes were "inaccurate". At the time of the coup in 2009, President Zelaya was unpopular with the Honduran upper class, who feared he may be attempting to impose the kind of left-wing reforms on a populist platform as Chavez had done in Venezuela. Within the Liberal Party, Zelaya also became increasingly unpopular in the run up to the coup d'├ętat. Though, at the same time Manuel Zelaya was popular among the poor and the labour movement.

If we look at the history of Latin America coup d'├ętats are nothing new to the region sometimes referred to as the "back yard" in the US. So it is vital that we place the recent events in Honduras in a historical context. Notably, it was when Manuel Zelaya attempted, as he put it, "modernise" the Honduran Constitution through the use of a referendum that he was overthrown and exiled. The opponents to these constitutional amendments argued that Zelaya was attempting to remove the limits on presidential terms, as Chavez had done in Venezuela. In Chile, it was during a constitutional crisis, that Salvador Allende and his left-wing regime were overthrown by the military. Allende's political rivals in the National Party and the Christian Democrats, as well as on the Supreme Court, accused him of attempting to create a totalitarian state, in which political and economic freedom are not respected. Allende refused to leave the Presidential Palace as it was surrounded by the military, as they began bombing Allende delivered his final speech to the nation in the moments before his death.

 "America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling." - George W Bush

The regime that seized power following the fall of Allende was a barbaric military junta led by Augusto Pinochet, the labour movement that had flourished under Allende was viciously repressed. Over 130,000 people were imprisoned without charge, thousands were systematically tortured and killed - a favourite method being throwing people into the Atlantic from helicopters. It is ironic that the Supreme Court, that accused Allende of authoritarianism, called on the military to "restore" order to Chile, which led to the rise of the junta. Pinochet was supported by Nixon, under Pinochet the economy followed plans laid out by neoliberal economists from the University of Chicago. These economic reforms reversed the work of Allende, privatising the national industries and removing the regulations which hindered the market. It was not long until public spending in Chile was cut by 50%. This led to the now famous economic miracle in Chile, while Pinochet kept thousands of people incarcerated in concentration camps and may have slaughtered over 80,000 people. Pinochet was no different than Suharto and Marcos, his regime was also highly beneficial to multinationals.

Since Pepe Lobo was inaugurated on January 27th 2010 the US government has been a vocal supporter of the Honduran government and have been urging other countries of that region to restore relations with Honduras. Hillary Clinton said on March 4th "We think that Honduras has taken important and necessary steps that deserve the recognition and normalisation of relations. Other countries in the region say that they want to wait a while, I don't know what they're waiting for, but that's their right to wait." In the month of February alone, the inter-American Commission on Human Rights documented over 50 illegal detentions, eight cases of torture, two kidnappings and two rapes committed against dissidents involved in resistance to the coup. Since Lobo came to power over 10 people have been killed, including children. Sadly, it would appear that "change" has not come from the Obama administration. For the people of Latin America, the events in Honduras and Haiti, are a sad reminder that they are not yet free from the hegemon of the North. The IMF and the World Bank have also been quick to normalise relations with Honduras, which may be a sign of the kind of economic reforms soon to hit Honduras.

The last 35 years have been marked by neoliberal economic reforms across Latin America. Reforms which have led to a sharp decline in the rate of growth and productivity. The policies themselves were so unpopular in most Latin American countries that they had to be imposed by dictatorial regimes. The US government has a history of backing such regimes across the region, the IMF and the World Bank have been instrumental in spreading neoliberalism throughout the developing world through "structural adjustments" in many of these states. The kind of countries that have been subjected to these kinds of regimes and economic restructuring are typically rich in resources and desperately poor. The mass-privatisation of industry can allow corporations to seize up entire sectors of society, while the deregulation of the markets and repression of unions allows these corporations to drive down wages and increase work hours. This is merely one aspect of the kind of exploitation that has resulted in many countries from the kind of policies advocated by the Washington consensus.

We'd all like to believe that the wars fought in the name of liberty and democracy against communism and terrorism were noble causes. In the 1990s military spending increased long after the fall of Soviet communism in the East. So it seems feasible that defeating communism was not the goal of the US government, that increasing the size of the military budget is of primary importance. The ideological reasons for promoting democracy and spreading freedom abroad amounted to the rise of neoliberalism in countries like Honduras, Chile, Indonesia and the Philippines. But this rise could be seen, as something far more insidious, the continuation of imperialism in the world. As the economic interests of the state converge with the profit-motive of corporations, and the "conditions" prescribed by the IMF, the bloated military budget may be about defending and maintaining an empire. In this sense, the role of ideology plays in America is to enable these forces to act in the never ending "fight" against tyranny and evil in the world.

Significant Links:
US covering up reality in Honduras
Solutions for Latin America
Noam Chomsky CBC Interview
The War on Democracy

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