July 9, 2009

The Canadian Government on Honduras: Lessons for Today and Tomorrow


* By Arnold August, July 7, 2009

On June 28 Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas) in the Canadian Stephen Harper Government of the Conservative Party issued a statement in preparation for the Organisation of American States (OAS) emergency meeting to be held later that same day at 3 P.M.

Kent declared that “Canada condemns the coup d’√©tat that took place [on June 28] in Honduras, and calls on all parties to show restraint and to seek a peaceful resolution to the present political situation, which respects democratic norms and the rule of law, including the Honduran Constitution.” The next day, June 29, the important right-wing Canadian national newspaper, National Post, approvingly analyzed the government’s statement indicating that it “...echoed the mushrooming opposition to the coup, but didn’t mention Mr. Zelaya by name or directly call for his return to power.”

On June 29, in a White House joint press conference with visiting Columbian President Uribe, President Obama stated that “...the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there.”

This statement represents a verbal shift in US policy.

Reflecting this change in wording, the next day, June 30, the 192-member United Nation General Assembly met on Honduras and unanimously adopted a resolution which “demands the immediate and unconditional restoration of the legitimate and Constitutional Government of the President of the Republic, Mr. Jos√© Manuel Zelaya Rosales.” The Canadian delegation of course voted with the other 191 UN members.

Once again the National Post expressed in its June 30 edition what seems to be their approval, indicating that:

“The decision by Canada to join the measure’s sponsors marked an evolution of [Canada’s] position on Mr. Zelaya’s removal Sunday by the Honduran armed forces...Until Tuesday [June30], Canada had called for resumption of the democratic process in Honduras, but stopped short of calling for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement. The United States appeared to hold a similar position, until U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday [June 29] that Washington believes Mr. Zelaya ‘remains the democratically elected president... ’ ”

On July 1, the Organization of American states (OAS) including Canada resolved unanimously to “condemn the coup” and “to reaffirm that President Zelaya is the constitutional President of Honduras and to demand the immediate, safe and unconditional return of the president to his constitutional functions.”

On July 2 the National Post wrote that “though Canada has followed the lead of Venezuela and other leftist Latin American countries in demanding Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement, Peter Kent, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the America’s, said Ottawa’s support is focused on efforts led by the OAS....There is reason to believe that responsible individuals in the [current] government will recognize that an unacceptable line was crossed and that they must return to the democratic side....While Mr. Kent said there could be no compromise on whether Mr. Zelaya is reinstated, he signalled that Mr. Zelaya’s action ahead of his ousting had not gone unnoticed either.”

The newspaper went on to quote Mr Kent:

“ ‘The [provisional government – parenthesis by National Post] must first restore the democratic order of rule of law. Once there, the people of Honduras and those of the [provisional - parenthesis by National Post] government have every reason to believe that the OAS is paying attention and is well aware of transgressions made by all parties.’ ”

This statement represents a further departure from the UN and OAS resolutions, in favour of which the Canadian Government voted and whose essence in both instances demanded the immediate, safe and unconditional return of President Zelaya.

On July 4, the day before the stand-off on the Honduran airport runway between on the one hand President Zelaya and the people of Honduras and on the other hand the military government, according to a Reuters cable, Peter Kent declared to the OAS session: “ ‘It is far from clear that current conditions could guaranty his safety upon return.’ ” This policy was confirmed by CNN on July 4 when it was reported that “the Canadian delegate to the OAS meeting recommended Saturday night [July 4] that Zelaya not return immediately because of the danger in which he could find himself.”

There is no doubt that President Zelaya’s landing in Honduran capital’s international airport, under the conditions of July 5, presented a danger for him, his entourage and the tens of thousands of his supporters awaiting him in the face of the full armed force and repression of the military.

But what did the Canadian government do to add its voice and prestige to force the military de facto government to give way? Did it join with the countries of Central and Latin America and insist that the OAS and UN resolutions be applied in spirit and in letter? By recommending that Zelaya not return consists of an indirect or virtually direct signal of encouragement to the military regime to blame President Zelaya for any violence or bloodshed resulting from the application of the international resolutions.

On July 6, US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly held a press briefing on Honduras and other issues. Regarding Honduras, in his opening statement, Mr. Kelley stated that “our goal remains the restoration of the democratic order in Honduras.”

A reporter could not help but notice that there was something very unclear and ambiguous. Taking into consideration the nebulous and double-standard US definition of democracy, a question by a reporter was quite significant.

A reporter asked: “Have you figured out ... when you see say you seek the restoration of democratic order, have you guys yet figured out what that means?”

Mr. Kelley: “Well, I think it means – in the most immediate instance, it means the return of the democratically elected president to Tegucigalpa [Honduran capital].”

If the reporter did not raise the issue, this key demand of the world’s people would not have been made explicit, even if it be only in words. Another discussion between M. Kelly and other reporters centered on the issue of Washington’s links and aid to Honduras. It remained unclear as Mr. Kelley evasively responded under questioning that some aid continued while other assistance was cut off or in the process of being evaluated and/or eliminated.

Regarding the US military ties with the de facto government, Mr. Kelly said in response to reporters’ questions that the “Southern Command has minimized contact with Honduran military.” Notice that contact has continued but has only been “minimized”, without any specification. However, specifications—did—come into the picture when reporters asked about the Soto Cano US military base in Honduras.

Question by reporter: “Was there any talk of allowing Zelaya’s plane to land at the U.S. military base there?” Response by Mr. Kelly: “...That base is controlled by the Honduran authorities, so it is not up to us to allow landing rights or anything.” How convenient!

The United States has for several decades used the Two-Track foreign policy towards Latin America: on the one hand direct intervention including military force and on the other hand “soft” diplomacy and negotiations, the latter both openly and behind closed doors. The July 6 briefing as indicated above is an example of how the current Washington administration simultaneously uses both Track I and Track II.

It is very positive indeed the Mr. Kelly stated on July 6 that the State Department will meet with President Zelaya on July 7 and not the de facto government if a representative of the latter should later come to Washington. However, this commitment only emerged once again as a result of questioning by reporters. While there are of course contradictions amongst US institutions such as the White House, the State Department, CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, the South Florida extreme right-wing, etcetera, the US policy towards Honduras from June 28 up to an including July7 consists of this twin Two-Track policy: Track I: indirectly if not directly being involved in the military coup and the current thinly veiled support for the military. Track II: simultaneously using talks and diplomacy to “diffuse” the situation; but diffuse it is favour of whom?

On the one hand there are words of wisdom concerning restoring democracy and the elected president, while on the other hand placing the military coup leaders and the violently kidnapped President almost on the same footing.

The Canadian governments for its part have for many years been a spokesperson for Track II. (There have been exceptions for example the late Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s sincere outreaching to Cuba and Latin America during his 1976 visit to Cuba, thus reflecting the sentiment of the vast majority of Canadian people).

Engagement and diplomacy but for ulterior motives is supposed to predominate in Ottawa and in this way attempting to distinguish themselves from the US brutal policy of intervention which almost always held the upper hand over Track II. The people of Canada in its vast majority have a marked disdain for policies of intervention and aggression. The current Canadian government is part of the right-wing tendency.

There are really no hot beds of neo-cons in Canada flaming Track I policies as is done by such elements as the Cuban and Venezuelan exile communities in South Florida. The closest one can come to this is the establishment National Post and the section of the ruling circles which it represents. However, as we can see from the above, the Conservative Party and the conservative section of the ruling circles can easily accommodate itself to both Track I and Track II as the Honduran issue shows, even if the foreign policy changes like a chameleon from one day to the next.

The Obama government, in comparison to the Canadian Conservative government, is supposed to be on the center-left and opposed to the right-wing Bush era policies. The essence of all this is that Track I and Track II are two wings of the same policy consisting of domination and control, it is just a question of which one is more efficient and “works”. Both tracks are useful for “conservatives” as well as “liberals” and the two tracks can blend into each other from one moment to the next.

One of the lessons to be learned and on which action has to be taken immediately is to hold the Canadian government responsible for its violation of the OAS and UN resolutions. The Conservatives must change their position right now and distance itself from the US policy and instead ally itself with the vast movements in South America.

Already, some political parties in the Canadian Parliament have courageously and honourably raised objections to the Canadian government Honduras policy from June 28 to date. There can be no delays. The Honduran de facto government must be forced to step aside now and allow the President to return.

If the Canadian government is so concerned about the danger to the President if he returned to his country and people, the answer does not lie in keeping him away, but rather in forcing the abdication of the usurpers according the international resolutions and positions. I believe that the coup against Honduras is a blow directed against the movements for sovereignty and progress of all the peoples of Latin America.

The peoples of the world, especially now in Latin America, must be forever vigilant and oppose the Two Track policy of imperialism coming from the north. The peoples in the south of the Americas have been carving out their own concepts of sovereignty and democracy over the last 50 years through many sacrifices and struggles and thus deserve the full support of peoples in Canada and the USA.

* Arnold August, Montreal, Canada is an author and journalist specializing on Cuba.

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