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PORTSIDE  March 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE March 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Why I'm Not Hailing the Chief in San Salvador

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Date:

Mon, 21 Mar 2011 20:47:09 -0400

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text/plain (221 lines)

Why I'm Not Hailing the Chief in San Salvador

By Alexandra Early

Resistance and Repression

CounterPunch March 18, 2011

http://www.counterpunch.org/early06302008.html

San Salvador.

President Obama's visit to El Salvador this week has
become a focal point for protest organizing by Central
American social movement organizations and their North
American allies, who are equally outraged about U.S.
trade policy and military meddling in the region.Local
environmental and community organizations have joined
together with allies like U.S. - El Salvador Sister
Cities and CISPES to help mobilize students and workers
for rallies in the U.S. and El Salvador on Tuesday,
March 22, when Obama arrives for a meeting with
Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, whose election two
years ago ended decades of right-wing rule.

Despite initial jubilation over the election of Obama
and Funes, both the Salvadoran left and members of the
international solidarity community are now deeply
disappointed and frustrated with Obama's stance toward
Central America. The purpose of Obama's visit is
ostensibly to support the eradication of poverty,
violence and governmental corruption. Yet the
president's own administration is perpetuating  these
problems (and their natural result, emigration) by
following in the footprints of Bill Clinton, both
George Bushes, and even Ronald Reagan, who spent
billions of dollars wreaking human rights havoc in El
Salvador and its neighbors.

Current U.S. policy on Central America reflects more
continuity than change, particularly with regard to the
Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the
2009 military coup in Honduras that forced then-
president Manual ("Mel") Zelaya out of office and into
exile.

It has been six years since the passage of CAFTA. As
predicted by its critics, free trade has not reduced
economic inequality or created many new jobs. Exports
from El Salvador and foreign investment in the country
have both decreased; meanwhile, the price of goods has
dramatically increased while the number of small
businesses able to sell products to the U.S. has not.
Thanks to CAFTA, which supersedes national law, North
American mining companies are now suing El Salvador for
$100 million because the new FMLN administration has
blocked environmentally dangerous resource extraction
schemes approved by the previous right-wing government.

Next door in Honduras, President Obama initially
opposed the army's overthrow of Zelaya as a threat to
democracy throughout the region. But now his
administration has become the leading ally and
cheerleader for Zelaya's conservative successor, de-
facto President Porfirio Lobo. Hillary Clinton's State
Department is campaigning for re-admission of Honduras
to the Organization of American States, which strongly
condemned the ouster of Zelaya.

Since the military coup 21 months ago, and Lobo's
tainted election in November, 2009, the U.S. has built
two new military bases in Honduras and increased its
training of local police. Meanwhile, nearly all sectors
of Honduran society-union organizers, farmers and
teachers, women and young people, gays,  journalists,
political activists,-have faced violent repression
under Lobo's corrupt regime. With its worsening record
of murders, disappearances and rabid resistance to land
reform, Honduras is beginning to look more and more
like El Salvador before it slipped into full-scale
civil warfare three decades ago, with the U.S. backing
the wrong side then and now.

In January, I witnessed first-hand what life is like
under the "golpistas" of Honduras as part of a fact-
finding delegation led by the Honduras Accompaniment
Project. We spent a week in the Honduran capitol and
countryside interviewing multiple victims of recent
political threats, beatings, jailings, and kidnappings.
Human rights groups estimate that more than 4,000
serious human rights violations and sixty-four
political assassinations have occurred in Honduras
since the coup. Many organizers have been forced to
leave the country as the threats against themselves and
their families increase.

Young people are now a frequent target of death threats
and actual violence, often from police or resurgent of
death squads seemingly bent on "social cleansing." Like
El Salvador, Honduras has very strong "anti-gang"
legislation that enables cops to arrest youth who
gather in groups or on the basis of their appearance.
Since the coup, it's not just suspicious tattoos that
draw police attention. Police drag-nets now target
anyone wearing t-shirts or hats with anti-government
messages, not to mention the threatening visages of Che
or Chavez. As youth organizer Victor Alejandro
explained, "many Honduran youth woke up politically
when the coup began, when they were beaten up or
arrested by the police at a march or just for walking
down the street. And now they are one of the driving
forces behind the resistance, and as a result they are
one of the main targets of state repression."

As always in Central America, organized campesinos are
a target of repression. During our stay, we visited
Zacate Grande, a sparsely populated peninsula in the
Gulf of Fonseca where small tenant farmers and
fisherman are fighting eviction by rich businessmen who
want to build luxury hotels and summer homes on their
land. One source of hope and optimism for Hondurans
like these was Decree 18-2008, the land reform measure
enacted under President Zelaya.  It created a mechanism
for the expropriation of unused private lands for
subsistence farming and a way for the poor to gain
title to land they had worked for years. Not
surprisingly, in January, the Supreme Court of Honduras
ruled that Zelaya's land reform decree was
unconstitutional.

This, combined with the rampant corruption of local
authorities since the coup, means that campesinos in
places like Zacate Grande and the embattled Bajo Aguan
region in Northern Honduras are in a constant fight for
their lives and land.

Because they are part of the opposition to Lobo's
regime, public school teachers have come under similar
attack. We saw an example of their repression during
our stay in Honduras. On January 25, four teachers were
arrested after a peaceful protest march in the capital.
During their detention, our delegation got a call from
a teachers' union leader requesting that we check on
the safety of his members. When three of us neared the
jail where they were being held we encountered a line
of riot police with night sticks blocking the street.
After cell phone negotiations with the police commander
in charge, we were finally admitted to the police
station and allowed to talk to the detainees in a
waiting area. Although none of the teachers had been
beaten or otherwise badly treated, they were all
clearly frightened. They were released later that same
afternoon, but only on the condition that they refrain
from participating in further protests.

Two days later, we joined another peaceful and
massively attended demonstration in Tegucigalpa held on
the first anniversary of Lobo's inauguration. The turn-
out reflected a resistance movement that draws from
diverse sectors of society and whose goals go far
beyond ending the exile of Manual Zelaya. There were
young people spray-painting the walls with slogans
against U.S. military intervention, teachers shielding
themselves from the sun under multi-colored umbrellas,
and embattled gay activists waiving rainbow flags. Some
people were holding banners and signs with the message
"Urge Mel!" ("We need Mel!"), but they were no more
prominent in the crowd than those demanding democracy
and human rights.

This is not reflected in mainstream media coverage in
the U.S., which makes Honduras seem like just another
case of caudillo politics, with the population blindly
following one populist leader after another. In typical
fashion, the Washington Post described the January 27
marches in the capital and two other cities simply as
"protests by supporters of ousted former leader Manuel
Zelaya." As one gay activist explained, however,
"Zelaya is part of the movement, but the movement
transcends Zelaya. He gave people hope and started a
process, but it is our goal to continue and finish that
process, the process of re-founding Honduras."

That's why we're greeting Obama on Tuesday with the
message that his regional track record so far includes
little change that Central Americans can believe in.
Salvadorans still labor under the burden of CAFTA and
its costly barrage of big business litigation aimed at
punishing even the smallest exercises of national
sovereignty. Meanwhile, Hondurans are experiencing a
rapid U.S.-assisted return to the past, in the form of
a country that is poor, militarized, and terrorized--
the same set of conditions that so many Central
Americans have long struggled to escape.
_________________

Alexandra Early is a 2007 graduate of Wesleyan
University. A former union staffer in California, she
now works for U.S.- El Salvador Sister Cities, an
organization that promotes cross-border solidarity
between communities in North and Central America. She
can be reached at [log in to unmask]

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