Honduras Elections – Bananas, Cocaine, and Corporate Profits

 

Honduras
Scenes like this one where the last memories connected with presidential events. The upcoming elections are coming on the heels of a military coup in 2009.

Honduras is set to take to the polls Sunday, Novermber 24, in an attempt to decide the direction that the Central American nation will take as continues to chart its course through the 21st century. Voters in Honduras are braving tough conditions of crime and violence as they courageously head to ballot boxes in attempt to have their voices heard. These will be the first free and open elections since the military coup that removed the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya back in 2009. Of all the elements being discussed regarding the upcoming election and its residual effects, a few key areas are finding rare mention. When considering the upcoming Honduras elections, perhaps some of the most integral but undiscussed topics are bananas, cocaine, and corporate profits.

There are two candidates locked neck and neck, each struggling to edge out a victory during voting. Juan Orlando Hernandez, representative of the conservative right-wing, is running against Xiomara Castro, wife of former president Manual Zelaya.

The scenes towards the end of the previous administration under Zelaya were of violence, riots, and instability as the military carried out a coup and removed the democratically elected President of Honduras.

These scenes are just the outwards evidence of a deep wound that has yet to heal in Honduras. A wound stemming from the forced reorganizing of the nations government by outside elements using the medium of assassination or military coup. Nearly the whole of Central America has suffered such actions, but Honduras may have some characteristics that make it somewhat unique to its neighbors which have suffered under a similar political history. Some of the more unfortunate connections of the instability have been alleged to be stemming from profits of bananas, cocaine, and big corporations.

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The two candidate for Honduras’ Presidency, Xiomara Castro (left) and Juan Hernandez.

The depth of the situation becomes more apparent when taking a closer look at the candidates themselves. Juan Orlando Hernandes represents the National Party, one of two parties who have ruled the country since the early 1900’s. Although he was born into the middle class, he has since studied his way through to multiple degrees and now has become somewhat of a business tycoon in Honduras. He played an active role in the ousting of Manuel Zelaya in 2009, and is accused by recent critics of exhibiting characteristics. He represents an established political system and way of life that has dominated Honduran politics for more than a century.

Xiomara, the other one of the candidates is the wife of the formerly ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. Xiomara, who ran under the slogan of “democratic socialism,” is attempting to set a significant precedent. She is seeking to become the first woman to lead Honduras. In addition to that she is seeking to bring political change to a place which has been under dictatorial rule for more than a century.

The elections, the candidates, and the clash of ideas cannot be fully appreciated without taking a look into both recent and less-recent history. Xiomara, has been alleged as simply being a way for Manuel to resume his post as president. The claim is not totally groundless when one examines the conditions surrounding the expulsion of Zelaya from his post as Honduran President.

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Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. He was ousted from leadership in 2009 by a military coup.

Zelaya did a number of things during his tenure that contributed to his ousting. During his time as president, Honduras joined ALBA, a proposal made by Hugo Chavez of Venezuala, and named in honor of Simon bolivar, which was to function as a viable alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a proposal by the United States which had met with heavy resistance from a number of countries. Perhaps the most important characteristic of the agreement was that the member nations were to execute trade with each other using a virtual regional currency which would be known as the SUCRE. The founding of the currency is to reduce and eventually replace the US dollar as the primary medium of exchange in an effort to limit US control of Latin American countries. Many of Zelaya’s political opponents, especially elements of big business, were less than thrilled with the direction he took Honduras, specifically regarding ALBA and the SUCRE.

Zelaya stated that mass media, which he believed to be funded and operated by large multi-national business interests, was engaged in an effort of censorship and demonization of him and his policies. During his term, in the wake of powerful opposition, the former president did manage to achieve significant changes. “He provided free education for the nations children, introduced subsidies for small farmers, reduced the banking interest rates, and raised the minimum wage by 60-80%.” Of all these changes, perhaps the most disliked by opponents, as highlighted by individuals like author John Perkins, was his raising of the minimum wage.

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Polycarpo Paz Garcia. The man who was integral in establishing Honduras as a key cocaine transportation thoroughfare.

It is well known that Honduras has served as a major transportation avenue, with regards to the logistics of cocaine trafficking into the United States. Honduras has been wrapped up in the “drugs drama” since back in 1978 when Polycarpo Paz Garcia overthrew Juan Alberto Melgar Castro in what become known as the “cocaine coup.”

The coup was finance by Juan Matta-Ballesteros, a drug lord with links to the Colombian Medillin drug cartel. In stark contrast to Melgar, Paz was an active supporter of the Nicaraguan Anastasia Somoza.
The support shown by Paz to Somoza drew the attention of foreign intelligence agencis like the CIA due to the nature of their relationship. During Paz’ leadership, the Nicaraguan political and intelligence hierarchy created a money-for-protection agreement with Matta-Ballesteros which eventually established Honduras as a key transportation route for South American cocaine headed into the US.

Matta-Ballesteros was eventually kidnapped and brought to the US for the killing of a US DEA agent.

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Juan Matta-Ballesteros.

According to an old Senate Committee,¬†which was chaired by John Kerry, that covered drugs, law enforcement, and foreign policy, “the Honduran airline SETCO, was the principal company used by the Contras in Honduras to transport supplies and personnel for the FDN carrying at least a million rounds of ammunition, food, and other military supplies for the Contras from 1983 to 1985. SETCO received funds for Contra supply operations from the Contra accounts established by Oliver North.”

 

The drug war has been raging on, still very active in Honduras today. Gangs and violent organized crime still exert significant influence over the events which take place within everyday life. In fact, many Hondurans are familiar with the common “gang tax” to operate day to day activities of commerce in certain places. In fact according to security expert Leticia Salomon, the mixing of guns, gangs, drugs, and lawlessnes has made for a “very violent element” that is willing to “kill anyone for any reason.” So as the Honduras elections are underway, it seems that mixed into the destiny of the nation are, as will become evident, bananas, cocaine, and corporate profits.

John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” adds important social and political history to the plot with his insight into historical events of the Central American situaiton, and specifically Honduras’ tattered history. The self titled ex-economic-hitman speaks of a visit he took to Central America where he spoke with individuals who were “convinced that the military coup that had overthrown the democratically-elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, had been engineered by two US companies, with CIA support.” He further states, “earlier in the year [2009] Chiquita Brands International Inc. (formerly United Fruit) and Dole Food Co had severely criticized Zelaya for advocating an increase of 60% in Honduras’s minimum wage, claiming it would cut into corporate profits. They were joined by a coalition of textile manufacturers and exporters, companies that rely on cheap labor to work in their sweatshops.”

Perkins goes on to say, “I was told by a Panamanian bank vice president, ‘Every multinational knows that if Honduras raises its hourly rate, the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean will have to follow. Haiti and honduras have always set the bottom line for minimum wages. The big companies are determined to stop what they call a ‘leftist revolt’ in this hemisphere. In throwing out Zelaya they are sending frightening messages to all the other presidents who are trying to raise the living standards of their people.'”

This information provides invaluable perspective to the military ousting of Zelaya in 2009, along with his alleged “proxy-return” through the Xiomara in his recent political advent to Honduras’ center stage. Apart from his raising of the nations minimum wage, which according to Perkins research was one of his most opposed actions, Zelaya also received bitter resistance from the powerful upper-crust when he underwent the act of proposing a national poll to gauge the nations interest in constitutional change. His pursuit of this poll, and his openness to discuss constitutional change with the people of Honduras contributed to the series of events which led to his ousting.

Considering the fact that Xiomara has discussed her interest in similar action regarding the 1982 Honduran Constitution, along with the fact that she is Manuel Zelaya’s wife, the results of the ballots will be deciding a myriad number of issues. Also, if the perspective of John Perkins, along with the volatile drug and gang culture are any indication, then the Honduras elections will not just be about freedom and social reform, but also about bananas, cocaine, and corporate profits.

By Daniel Worku

NY Times

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Global Post

LA Times

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