Publication of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA
On June 28, 2009, the Honduran military, led by men trained at the infamous “School of the Americas” in the USA, seized the elected President and forcibly removed him, still in his pajamas, to Costa Rica. This was not at all a departure from the long and tragic history of Central America, and, indeed, all of Latin America, since U.S. imperialism became the dominant force in the Western hemisphere more than one hundred years ago. What was new and different at the time of the coup was the growing political and economic independence of much of Latin America from U.S. imperialism.
With Bush-led wars in far-off Afghanistan and Iraq pre-occupying
“yankee” imperialism, and with European imperialists, China, Brazil and
others providing a challenge to U.S. hegemony in Latin America, leftist
and left-leaning governments had arisen, many on the basis of popular
and, in some cases, protracted mass uprisings – in Bolivia, Ecuador,
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador,
Belize and more, with the Venezuela-Cuba alliance at its core.*
* In Martinique and Guadeloupe, in this period, workers in their trade union organizations led victorious island-wide mass general strikes against French imperialism and its local oligarchs, as well.
In all of these countries, to one extent or another, the old oligarchy aligned with U.S. imperialism was threatened with extinction, while the Latin American masses, including the long suffering indigenous peoples, began to experience some material and social advances in their living conditions.
It was this continent-wide progressive wind of change that had influenced Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, a rancher from the ranks of the Honduran oligarchy himself, to carry out significant pro-people policies that improved the lives of the Honduran masses at the expense of his fellow Liberal Party oligarchs. Zelaya had signed a Petrocaribe agreement with the Hugo Chavez-led Venezuelan government which provided low-cost gasoline, upsetting Texaco and Shell, among others. He affiliated Honduras with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Venezuela-Cuba led regional economic cooperation organization, a direct challenge to U.S. economic hegemony. Most importantly, in early 2009, Zelaya implemented a measure increasing the Honduran minimum wage by 60%! This measure directly improved the lives of the Honduran masses and just as directly cut into the super-profits of the massive U.S.-based agricultural conglomerates, Chiquita and Dole, as well as the power of the Honduran oligarchy.
The day he was deposed, Zelaya was scheduled to lead the people in a country-wide advisory referendum on the question of holding a constituent assembly. Such an assembly would lay the basis for placing more power in popular hands and taking more power away from the oligarchy and its U.S. imperialist patrons. Within days after the coup, five hundred thousand people (in a country of seven million) massed at the Tegucigalpa Airport to clear the way for and welcome back Zelaya. But the military blocked the airport.
It was in this context that the other new and different ingredient was
introduced into the crisis of Honduran sovereignty. In a radical
departure from the conduct of previous heads of the U.S. state, the
still new President of the USA, Barack Obama, condemned the coup!
* Outstanding Filipino revolutionary leader, Jose Maria Sison, Chairman of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), pointed out in a statement “On the Coup d’État in Honduras” issued July 8, 2009, “The Honduran army is virtually an appendage of the US Pentagon. General Romeo Vasquez, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who led the putsch and General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, commander of the Air Force, are both graduates of the notorious School of the Americas … The US Southern Command conducts more than 50 joint operations with the Honduran Army every year. The US has sent over US$18.41 million worth of weapons and defense articles to this country of 7.3 million over the last ten years through its foreign military sales program.”
According to the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations, 800 U.S. troops, based on Honduran soil, participated with the Honduran military in the show of force, meant to help intimidate the Honduran masses into participation in the election farce. Furthermore, government workers, for example, were threatened with immediate firing if they failed to vote.
The National Party and the Liberal Party (the party of Zelaya and Micheletti!), the two parties that participated in the election, both represent the Honduran oligarchy. Nevertheless, 20 candidates of the initial 62 candidates of the Liberal Party heeded the call of Zelaya to withdraw from the election and joined the boycott movement in defense of Honduran democracy and national sovereignty. Even the generally pro-U.S. imperialist United Nations (UNO) and the Organization of American States (OAS) both refused to send election observers to Honduras. They refused to give their blessings to this blatant travesty of justice. Prominent centrist and even rightist Latin American leaders, including Brazilian President Lula, Argentinean President Kirchner and Mexican President Calderon, had all staked out a position unequivocally opposed to any recognition of such an election.
At the November OAS meeting only the U.S. government and the Panamanian government, installed by U.S. military invasion in 1989, voted to recognize the upcoming election.
Another positive sign is that Richard Trumka, the new President of the AFL-CIO, representing more than eleven million workers in the USA, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating the U.S. labor federation’s unequivocal opposition to the November 29th election in Honduras “unless President Zelaya is reinstated and free and fair electoral conditions are guaranteed.” As President Trumka pointed out, “our position on the crisis has been developed in consultation with the Honduran labor movement, which is unequivocally opposed to the June 28 coup, to the continuation of the de facto government, as well as to any future elections conducted by the Micheletti regime.” This stand represents, at least to some extent, a positive break from the traditional AFL-CIO foreign policy that has been in lockstep with U.S. imperialism and has justly earned the U.S. labor federation the ignominious title, “AFL-CIA!” And, though Trumka did not openly oppose Obama-Clinton and the Democratic Party, this new policy placed the AFL-CIO, at least for the moment, at odds with the Obama Regime and in solidarity with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), representing 45 million workers in this hemisphere.
In the face of all this, in spite of all this, the Obama Regime was still in a position to embrace the Honduran election and its rotten fruit, Porfirio Lobo!
Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had never removed from Honduras the U.S. ambassador, Hugo Llorens, a holdover from the Bush Regime – not earlier, when President Zelaya originally had appealed to Obama, nor, after the coup, when all other ambassadors were withdrawn in protest against the coup. Zelaya had good reason to want Llorens removed, since before George W. Bush had appointed him to the Honduran post, he had been the U.S. National Security Advisor on Venezuela during the 2002 coup attempt there. This was when Bush exposed himself and U.S. imperialism by being the first and only head of government in the world to recognize the coup government that overthrew Hugo Chavez; it lasted just two days! It was Ambassador Llorens who now enunciated the cynical U.S. policy on Honduras upholding the November 29th election, weeks before it occurred, in the name of not depriving Hondurans of “their right to vote.”
In truth, despite the substantial military presence in the streets, the violent suppression of demonstrations in the chief industrial city of San Pedro Sula and elsewhere, and the threats of firing for those not voting, a substantial majority of the Honduran people boycotted the election in opposition to the coup government of the oligarchy and in defense of ousted President Zelaya and Honduran democracy. Reliable sources cite 62% of eligible voters boycotting the election, with 38% participating. Nevertheless, immediately after the election, the U.S. imperialist global media, Obama-Clinton government operatives, et al. promoted the illusion that there was a large majority turn-out. These imperialist stooges attempted to portray the Honduran election as a legitimate expression of the people’s will; and they are hoping that the Honduran people, exhausted and frustrated by the five month struggle, will now submit to the coup’s fait accompli.
Following the lead of the Obama Regime, the openly reactionary U.S. puppet governments of Panama, Colombia and Peru gave their blessings to the sham election. Ominously, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias also approved the election farce in the face of the popular will of the Honduran people. Arias had been the supposed “neutral” negotiator, recommended by Hillary Clinton and accepted by both Micheletti and Zelaya in the protracted negotiations that helped keep Zelaya from waging a determined fight for his return demanded by the Honduran masses and paid for with their blood, sweat and tears.
In the five months since the coup, the Obama-Clinton Regime has skillfully played their unfavorable hand into a winning one! Using both the carrot and the stick, shifting ever so slowly and deceptively all the way from Obama’s “condemnation” of the coup to blessing its illegitimate offspring, Porfirio Lobo, U.S. imperialism has managed to back one more successful coup in its long, criminal history in Central and South America.
Winds of Progressive Change Have Swept Throughout Latin America
One constant going back over the past hundred years and more, has been the oppression of the Latin American people, principally by U.S. imperialism and its comprador and oligarchic allies within each country on the one hand; and, on the other, the burning desire of the peoples of Latin America for national and social liberation, a desire expressed in heroic struggles that have broken out here and there throughout the period.
The past decade, however, has featured powerful winds of progressive change that have spread throughout Latin America. This massive motion has been spurred on by several outstanding factors. These include the arrogance, ignorance, chauvinism, strategic military overreach, and growing economic indebtedness of the U.S. imperialist superpower, the hegemonic power in the imperialist camp as it attempted to establish an unassailable U.S. Empire. The Bush-Cheney Regime, at the helm of this Empire, helped educate a new generation of patriotic and anti-imperialist peasants, intellectuals, and proletarians in Latin America, as elsewhere, on the need to struggle against the main enemy of humanity, imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism.
Secondly, the growing economic and political challenge to U.S. hegemony, even in the Americas, by its imperialist partner-rivals from the European Union, as well as from rising China, India, oil-rich Russia and the Middle East, etc. has provided leverage for bourgeois forces throughout Latin America to assert some level of economic and political national independence from U.S. imperialism. The assertion of economic power by the Brazilian government and the creation of Mercosur are an expression of this. Likewise, the establishment of a strategic political-economic alliance between the long-standing heroic Cuban government and the Venezuelan government, featuring the exchange of Cuban doctors and teachers for Venezuelan fuel, has created a formidable anti-U.S. imperialist pole around which all the countries of Latin America could rally.*
* Barack Obama, not surprisingly, demonized both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez during his campaign for U.S. President. He thus signaled the continuity of his future administration with previous U.S. imperialist policy, in line with the 200 year old Monroe Doctrine, regarding “the American’s” Americas, the Western Hemisphere. However, a few short months after taking office, Obama was compelled to adopt a conciliatory line with regard to both Cuba and Venezuela. He modified the U.S. embargo of Cuba, socially and economically, and was party to the invitation to Cuba to join the OAS, an organization which for years had been used by U.S. imperialism as a means of isolating the heroic Cuban nation. Obama then had highly publicized friendly personal interaction with Hugo Chavez.
Third, in a number of countries, popular mass uprisings have provided a solid basis for the assertion of bourgeois national independence in opposition to U.S.-led imperialism. The struggles around water and mineral rights in Bolivia, for example, led to the December 2005 election of Evo Morales, a militant mass leader and the first indigenous Latin American president, as President of Bolivia.
This month, just a few days after the election farce in Honduras, much to the consternation of U.S. imperialism and Latin American reaction, Morales was overwhelmingly elected to a second term, mainly based on the strength of the country’s impoverished indigenous majority. As The Economist (12/12-12/18/09) pointed out, “The turnout was around 90%. This pointed to a thumping endorsement for the social revolution led by Mr. Morales, a coca workers’ leader of Aymara Indian descent …” [ROL Emphasis] And his leftist Movement Toward Socialism Party secured majorities in both the Senate and the lower house, clearing the way for his party to institute much needed domestic reforms and to strengthen hemispheric anti-imperialist alliances.
On the same day as the Honduran election travesty, the run-off election in Uruguay gave “the center-left Broad Front (Frente Amplio) coalition five more years in power.” Jose Mujica, the new President is a former Tupamaro guerrilla, “a plain talking socialist who once led an armed revolutionary movement and now scorns ‘stupid ideologies,’” according to the Boston Globe (11-30-09). In reality, Mujica’s victory owed much to the fact that the Broad Front incumbent President, Tabare Vasquez, a Marxist oncologist, still enjoyed an impressive 71% approval rating this month as his one term, limited by the Uruguayan Constitution, was coming to an end. Among the accomplishments of President Vazquez’ tenure were the imposition of “a progressive income tax, using the additional revenue to lower unemployment and poverty, [and] provide equal access to health care to everyone under 18 …” (ibid.) As the Globe pointed out, “the National Party traded power with the right-wing Colorado Party for 150 years until the Broad Front pulled enough leftist factions together five years ago to give Vasquez a presidential victory.”
In Paraguay, in his one and one-half years in office, President Fernando Lugo, a former bishop and liberation theologian, has represented a “refreshing change in a country that had endured 60 years of misrule, under the Colorado party.” (The Economist, 12/12-12/18/09) His government has produced modest reforms of education and health care, and has started paying a benefit to more than 200,000 poor families. He has also signed a deal with Brazil, increasing Paraguay’s revenue from the giant Itaipu hydroelectric power plant that the two countries share. These small improvements have been too much of a threat for the old guard to tolerate. Led by the Colorado Party, the Congress now blocks every attempt at reform. In this climate, President Lugo recently sacked the armed forces’ chiefs, pointing to “pockets of coup-mongers in the military.” And he is attempting to arouse the country’s poor for militant struggle against the oligarchy.
In some of the pivotal countries in Latin America, such as Brazil, where the Workers Party leader, Lula da Silva, is the President, and Chile, where outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, is the first victim of the U.S. CIA-Pinochet Regime to lead the country, their tenure has been marked by moderate left “progressive” policies. While Lula and Bachelet have rendered their regimes somewhat “toothless” in relation to the imperialists, and Lula has even betrayed the Haitian masses by sending Brazilian troops to lead the United Nations occupation army, keeping the post Aristide “peace” on behalf of U.S. and French imperialism, nevertheless, they are not mere puppets of U.S. imperialism as were the leaders of the Brazilian and Chilean regimes they replaced.
In Venezuela, last February, despite fluctuations in the global price of oil which strongly impact government revenues, after ten years in office, Hugo Chavez won the referendum eliminating term limits that he had long sought. Since then, President Correa in Ecuador as well as President Morales in Bolivia have followed suit, strengthening the stability of their alliance, at least for now. Daniel Ortega initially came into power in Nicaragua in 1985 through revolutionary armed struggle and was returned to the Presidency twenty years later through the ballot box, and with a much more moderate program. He is another Chavez ally who is attempting to eliminate or extend term limits, promoting even more left of center stability.
The Venezuelan referendum and the popular support it reflects provide Chavez a more stable foundation upon which to erect the independent regional economic association of ALBA and to contemplate regional political and military organization as well. But this progressive “stability” has no guarantee of a long life in the Americas, while U.S. imperialism still rides high. The Honduran coup makes this fact abundantly clear.
Nevertheless, all these developments, and especially the tenure of Hugo Chavez in oil rich Venezuela have helped give the Fidel Castro-led fifty year old Cuban Revolution a new lease on life, after anti-imperialist Cuba heroically survived the demise of the Socialist Camp, ninety miles from the belly of the beast. All these accomplishments represent a tremendous continent-wide mass momentum that threatens the very existence of the Latin America oligarchies and their master, U.S. imperialism. It is this momentum that the Honduran coup is aimed to help bring to a halt.
Indeed, the Honduran coup has already exerted some substantial negative impact on Latin America’s winds of progressive change. In El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate, was elected to the presidency in March 2009. Despite his party’s revolutionary pedigree, Funes, obviously intimidated by the Honduran coup, has announced, in the past few days, that his government will not seek to join ALBA in his first term in office.
Of even greater strategic importance, just hours after Zelaya signed the Tegucigalpa-San Jose agreement, giving his blessing to the upcoming Honduran election and unwittingly signing away his restoration to the Honduran presidency, reactionary Colombian President Uribe was able to announce that he had signed an agreement with the Obama Regime providing seven military bases to U.S. imperialism for use against the peoples of Latin America!* After the fact, at a recent gathering of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), South American presidents strongly criticized the deal and expressed concern that “the Obama administration has taken one step further than the Bush administration in isolating several South American nations, sending a message with a military muscle.” (School of the Americas Watch, 10-30-09) This joint statement notwithstanding, in response to the immediate prospect of seven new U.S. military bases in neighboring Colombia, whose military has invaded Ecuador in the recent past, leftist Ecuadorian President Correa has now announced the resumption of bilateral relations with the criminal Uribe Regime!
* In this connection it is noteworthy to remember: on the day after the Honduran coup, Obama had met face to face with Uribe in Washington, DC!
The Crucial Role of Opportunism in the Coup Victory
With all these positive developments, with the tremendous mass leftward shift of Latin America in the past decade, and with U.S. imperialism’s long bloody history in Latin America, how could the Obama Regime and U.S. imperialism get away with the coup in Honduras?! How could they get away with the establishment of such an ominous new U.S. imperialist beachhead in Colombia?!
The key reason is that the proletarian revolutionary movement within each country, as well as continent-wide and internationally, has not kept pace with the popular advances. The revolutionary working class movement does not exert leadership in the mass movement in even the most consistently anti-imperialist countries in Latin America. Thus, the entire Latin America-wide progressive motion is vulnerable to narrow and selfish bourgeois aspirations and bourgeois democratic illusions in relation to imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism. With the election of a seemingly dignified and accomplished man of color from humble origins, Barack Obama, as President of the USA, there was a new opportunity for U.S. imperialism to seize the initiative in relation to the bourgeois and petty bourgeois opportunist leadership of the anti-imperialist movement in Latin America and to begin to take back “its” hemisphere! Honduras provided just such an opportunity.
Manuel Zelaya is himself from the reactionary oligarchy that has ruled Honduras in alliance with U.S. imperialism for the past hundred years. Moreover, unlike the situation in a number of other Latin American countries, his election had not been based on a mass movement or even a mass electoral mobilization. It is to his credit that, when given the opportunity, Zelaya introduced such positive popular changes as the drastic increase in the minimum wage, though it excluded workers in Maquiladora factories. And, while keeping Honduras affiliated with DR-CAFTA, the U.S.-led Central American and Dominican Republic trade agreement, he affiliated Honduras with ALBA, the Venezuela-Cuba led trade agreement. This latter act is something that some Latin American governments with a leftist mass electoral mandate had not dared to do.
Given Zelaya’s privileged background and his national bourgeois strivings, it is not surprising, therefore, that, after he was kidnapped and removed from Honduras, he responded in a vacillating and conciliatory fashion. Despite the favorable situation that he was in, in the relationship between Latin America and U.S. imperialism, Zelaya immediately promised that, if he were returned to power, he would not pursue the pro-people constitutional changes that had precipitated the coup. This undermined the mass demand for a constituent assembly, a demand which, nevertheless, continued to energize his supporters. Zelaya kept hoping that Obama-Clinton and their designated Central American mediator, Oscar Arias, would “pull his chestnuts out of the fire” without him having to lead or even help the Honduran mass movement that formed in defense of his Presidency and of the fledgling Honduran democracy.
An Arias Plan called for Zelaya to be restored to the Presidency and for him to establish a government of national reconciliation. When the Micheletti led coup government reneged on the deal, Zelaya vacillated between calling for insurrection one day and calling for a government of national “reconciliation” with the Micheletti forces the next. In this setting, there was a powerful mass motion building around support for his re-entry to the country. Once again, Zelaya seriously undermined the mass movement by “re-entering” Honduras by meekly walking a few feet across the border from Nicaragua and then, after speaking amiably with the Honduran military personnel stationed there, just as quickly beating his retreat.
To their credit, despite Zelaya’s bourgeois weakness and vacillation, the leadership of the mass struggle, including the three Honduran trade union federations, representing the working class, teachers, etc., and the peasant and student organizations as well, have continued to fight for the constituent assembly and for Honduran democracy throughout the entire five month struggle. And they have persisted despite massive military repression, including mass arrests and selective assassinations. The Honduran masses have kept their eye on the national democratic prize.
Zelaya’s “wishful thinking” about the intentions of Obama-Clinton and U.S. imperialism, was also evident in his agreement to the October 30th Plan, just a month before the scheduled election. The Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord was patterned on the Arias initiatives, but it was directly negotiated by Clinton’s State Department stooges without the middle man. It was agreed to by Zelaya, even though it placed his “restoration” as President in the hands of the very same Congress which had approved his ouster and the Coup Regime!! Once it was signed by Zelaya, U.S. imperialism was able to state that the USA would give its blessing to the November 29th election; and the imperialists hope this will complete the successful coup.
For revolutionaries, while Zelaya’s opportunism is easy to understand, the opportunism of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, two heroes of the epic struggle of the Latin American masses against U.S. imperialism, is more difficult to accept.
Hugo Chavez is from humble origins and rose through the ranks of the Venezuelan military. Today he is a patriotic petty bourgeois nationalist leader, a genuine anti-imperialist, who is seeking to lead his nation in rising up as a more powerful and positive force in Latin America and the world. From his petty bourgeois perspective, Chavez views U.S. imperialism as a problem of personalities, rather than a systemic problem, failing to appreciate the fact that the system is driven by maximum private profit no matter the human cost. He does not understand that U.S. imperialism would not allow its helmsman to be chosen “democratically.” Nor does he see that the Democratic Party which spawned the Obama candidacy and presidency is just one wing of the monolithic imperialist war party with the Republican Party as its other wing.
Chavez had characterized George W. Bush as “Mr. Danger” and, in a United Nations speech, referred to the smell of sulfur when Bush was around, a clear reference to “the Devil.”* By contrast, at the Summit of the Americas last April, Chavez, a formidable man in his own right and quite personable, engaged Obama in warm and friendly conversation and gave the new U.S. President, as a gift, a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America,” a volume documenting the tragic history of Latin America under U.S. imperialist domination. Chavez apparently believed that Obama could be won to be sympathetic to the position of Latin American countries and peoples by learning the truth about the past. Chavez did not understand that Obama is the U.S. Empire’s more clever and competent replacement for “Mr. Danger” and is therefore “Mr. Greater Danger.” Chavez’ illusions about Obama are right opportunist in character.
* At the World Social Forum hosted by his government, President Chavez had not only referred to “Mr. Danger” but he had referred to U.S. anti-war heroine, Cindy Sheehan, as “Mrs. Hope.” Unlike President Chavez, “Mrs. Hope,” with her courageous, principled and clear-eyed stand against imperialist war, has recognized that Obama represents the same “Military Industrial Robber Class Complex [that] is the reason we are in this current crisis … Our demands must be the same with the Obama regime as with the Bush regime.” (Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, 3-19-09)
Right after the Honduran coup, however, Chavez swung to the “left” opportunist position of threatening to send in the Venezuelan military to reinstate Zelaya as President. This threat reflected the bourgeois conception that “great men,” rather than the working class and toiling masses, make history. And it underestimated the national question among the Honduran masses, who were coming to the defense of their elected President, but were not prepared to have “an outsider” save their situation. As a result of this “left” error, the Honduran people’s efforts to defend their national sovereignty and nascent democracy were somewhat diffused, as Chavez, who had been a target of the Honduran oligarchy and U.S. corporations there around Zelaya’s affiliation with ALBA, now made himself an easy target toward whom the Honduran oligarchy could direct some of the people’s anger and frustration.
Fidel Castro, as the principal revolutionary leader of the Cuban Revolution, and the principal leader of the successful defense of Cuban sovereignty against U.S. imperialism for fifty years, is the elder statesman of the Latin American revolutionary struggle today. Fidel is a heroic but petty bourgeois national democratic leader, who has steered Cuba through very difficult circumstances and led a successful defense of Cuban sovereignty against U.S. imperialism, located only ninety miles from Cuba, even with the collapse of the Socialist Camp. Now, with the advent of the Obama Regime, Fidel has seen Obama make some thaw in U.S.-Cuban economic and cultural relations and sees the prospect of the lifting of U.S. imperialism’s decades-old criminal embargo against Cuba. As Stalin observed about his own Soviet Union, many years ago:
“... the danger of nationalism must be regarded as springing from the growth of bourgeois influence on the Party in the sphere of foreign policy, in the sphere of the struggle that the capitalist states are waging against the state of the proletarian dictatorship. There can scarcely be any doubt that the pressure of the capitalist states on our state is enormous, that the people who are handling our foreign policy do not always succeed in resisting this pressure, that the danger of complications often gives rise to the temptation to take the path of least resistance, the path of nationalism.
“On the other hand, it is obvious that the first country to be victorious can retain the role of standard-bearer of the world revolutionary movement only on the basis of consistent internationalism, only on the basis of the foreign policy of the October Revolution, and that the path of least resistance and of nationalism in foreign policy is the path of the isolation and decay of the first country to be victorious.” (Stalin, Selected Works, Vol. 7, pages 170-171)
It is from this petty bourgeois nationalist perspective that Fidel views Obama. This was reflected recently in Fidel’s praise of the Nobel Committee’s selection of Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The fact that the two most outstanding and admired anti-imperialist statesmen in Latin America have promoted bourgeois democratic illusions about Obama, and therefore about U.S. imperialism, no doubt helped set up Zelaya and the Honduran people for delay and ultimate denial of Zelaya’s restoration to the Honduran Presidency, and the ultimate success of the coup.*
* It is encouraging that Fidel has evidently learned from this bitter experience. In mid-December, “In a letter to Hugo Chavez that the Venezuelan president read at the close of a summit of leftist Latin American nations Monday, Castro said the U.S. ‘empire is on the offensive again’ in the region. He blamed Washington for a military coup that toppled leftist President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in June and criticized a U.S. agreement with Colombia that allows U.S. troops greater access to seven of that country’s military bases. ‘They are obviously the real intentions of the empire, this time under the friendly smile and African-American face of Barack Obama,’ Castro said.” (Will Weissert, AP, 12/14/09)
But, beyond Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, even among Marxist-Leninist Parties and Groups in Latin America, petty bourgeois democratic illusions about Obama and U.S. imperialism are promoted, mostly on the basis of narrow petty bourgeois nationalism. For the international communist movement is today dominated by narrow bourgeois nationalism in opposition to proletarian internationalism. “If U.S. imperialism is not occupying our country or leading a coup d’etat here, our party will focus on our local reactionary classes and build our revolutionary movement within our own country, and let others take care of their own situation.” So goes the practice if not the articulated theory of most so-called Marxist-Leninist parties and groups.
Last July, about two weeks after the coup in Honduras, the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA participated in the 13th International Seminar – “Problems of the Revolution in Latin America” in Ecuador, co-hosted by the Communist Party of Ecuador (M-L) and the electoral party the CPE(ML) supports, the Popular Democratic Movement (MPD in Spanish). General Secretary Ray Light of our organization, recommended to the hosts and the other guest parties and groups, almost all of them from Latin America, that a special session be held to address the urgent crisis in Honduras that had just arisen and was becoming acute. As comrade Ray pointed out, “Every day that the restoration of Zelaya to the Honduran Presidency is delayed makes it more likely that he will never be reinstated.” Disturbingly, there was very little interest in having such a session, and few parties and organizations there raised in this Seminar on Problems of the Revolution in Latin America the issue of the latest reactionary coup in Latin America!! With our active involvement and the active cooperation of a few of the Latin American parties, however, a positive and timely resolution was adopted condemning the Honduran coup and the role of U.S. imperialism in the coup. But the fact that most of those assembled view the struggle through a narrow nationalist prism was unmistakable.
Comrade Stalin taught us eighty-five years ago, as follows: “Formerly, it was the accepted thing to speak of the proletarian revolution in one or another developed country as of a separate and self-sufficient entity opposing a separate national front of capital as its antipode. Now, this point of view is no longer adequate. Now we must speak of the world proletarian revolution; for the separate national fronts of capital have become links in a single chain called the world front of imperialism, which must be opposed by a common front of the revolutionary movements in all countries.” (Foundations of Leninism, chapter III)
What the Honduran crisis and the threat it poses to all the peoples of Latin America requires is proletarian revolutionary leadership, leadership based on the strength of the international proletariat. This includes its scientific understanding of the nature of the global class enemy, the global scope of the struggle, i.e. an understanding of the objective character of the class struggle between the international working class and the international capitalist class, and, flowing from this, a global strategy that isolates our enemy to the maximum while mobilizing the broadest front of temporary as well as long term allies of the international working class for the necessary battles ahead.
The Economic Motives of Chiquita Banana in the Overthrow of Zelaya
Scientific Socialism teaches that there is a dialectical relationship between politics and economics. One of the fundamental means by which the opportunists of all stripes – from bourgeois liberals to revisionists of both the right and the “left” – underestimate the necessity for the working class and the toiling masses to make world history by smashing the state machine, by seizing and holding power by any means necessary, is that the opportunists deny the necessary interconnection between politics and economics. On the basis of this separation of politics from economics, the opportunists can promote the idea that Obama or this or that individual representative of international capital can operate in some way outside the laws of bourgeois political economy, that Obama can “choose” to do the right thing without being compelled to do so by the militant movement of the people. On the other side of the coin, the opportunists can thus put forward the idea that “great individuals” (usually great men), rather than the working class and the masses themselves, make history.
British Lord Ashcroft and the Sovereign Nation of Belize
In Latin America today, one clear and dramatic example of the necessary interconnection between politics and economics and their global character can be seen in Belize, the former British Honduras. Reflecting the progressive winds of change in Latin America, this fall, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow, “though no Hugo Chavez,” pushed through the nationalization of the dominant telecom company, Belize Telemedia. Twenty-eight of the thirty-one members in the lower house of Belize’s parliament voted for it. (This even included three of the six opposition party members.) According to The Economist, this nationalization was directed against British Lord Michael Ashcroft, whose interests also include Belize Bank, the nation’s largest! As The Economist put it, “Belize may be a country, but Lord Ashcroft’s reputed fortune is more than six times the total assets of its Central Bank.” (10-24-09)
It is noteworthy that Lord Ashcroft is a leader of the British Conservative Party. So Ashcroft is able to use the economic clout he possesses on the basis of the super-exploitation of the people of Belize to help prop up the capitalist rule over the British working class. And Ashcroft is able to use his political clout in England to help shape the conduct of Great Britain, a major world power, in its relations with the small oppressed nation of Belize. Will Ashcroft give up his fortune and his power without a fight? Will he not use every political and economic weapon at his disposal to defend his interests?! Because such extraordinary political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of one individual, Lord Ashcroft, the interpenetration of imperialist politics and economics in this instance is undeniable.
Bush and Obama and the United Fruit Company
Far more central to the whole history of U.S. imperialist oppression of Latin America, and Honduras, in particular, is the history of the infamous United Fruit Company. Largely because of its infamy, the company changed its name to United Brands and later to Chiquita Banana.
It got into the banana business around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. By 1904, the famous writer, O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to refer to the uncontrolled murders of workers and other criminal actions of the United Fruit Company in Honduras. The head of United Fruit once famously remarked, “In Honduras, a mule costs more than a member of parliament.”
By the 1920’s, United Fruit controlled 650,000 acres of the best land, almost one quarter of all the arable land in Honduras. In Colombia, in 1928, the United Fruit Company dealt with three thousand banana workers who had gone on strike for better wages and working conditions by getting the Colombian military to fire on the workers, killing many.
In 1954, in Guatemala, progressive President Jacobo Arbenz carried out land reform and planned to redistribute unused land owned by United Fruit to the Guatemalan peasants. United Fruit backed the CIA-engineered military coup that overthrew Arbenz. In 1961, United Fruit lent its ships to the CIA-backed Cuban exiles who sought to overthrow the Fidel Castro-led revolutionary government at the Bay of Pigs.
After this defeat, United Fruit became United Brands, and in 1972 promoted General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano to power in Honduras. He was ultimately forced to step down in a “bananagate” scandal involving a huge United Brands’ bribe of Arellano in exchange for his agreement to reduce fruit export taxes.
In the late 1990’s, the company, whose name had been changed to Chiquita, subsidized right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia. Chiquita became the first corporation in U.S. history to be convicted in the USA of financial dealings with a designated terrorist organization and paid a $25 million dollar fine to settle the Justice Department investigation. Meanwhile, in the same cause, Chiquita’s CEO, Charles Lindner, a big Republican Party donor, began to provide a lot of loot to U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Clinton, the U.S. Commander in Chief, now became a powerful promoter of Colombian President Andres Pastrana who presided over the proliferation of right-wing death squads in Colombia. A lawyer for the victims of the paramilitary violence said, in a lawsuit, that Chiquita’s relationship with the paramilitaries “was about acquiring every aspect of banana distribution and sale through a reign of terror.” (This quote is cited in the July 17-19, 2009 Counterpunch article by Nikolas Kozloff, entitled, “From Arbenz to Zelaya – Chiquita (United Fruit) in Latin America.” Much of the documentation in this section of the Newsletter is taken from Kozloff’s excellent article. – ROL)
The bipartisan support of Chiquita for Democratic as well as Republican Party administrations over the past decade and more has continued unabated – from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama! In this process, the powerful Washington, DC law firm of Covington and Burling has played a central role. Recently, as George W. Bush’s United Nations Ambassador, John Bolton has been an implacable foe of Latin American leftists, including Hugo Chavez. From 1974 until 1981, John Bolton had served as an associate at Covington.
John Negroponte, the former chief over all of U.S. Intelligence under Republican President George W. Bush, became Vice Chairman of Covington in the Spring of 2009 in the same period in which he played a pivotal role in the preparation for the June 28, 2009 coup against President Zelaya.*
* Negroponte was Reagan’s Ambassador to Honduras, during the 1981-1985 period, when the Reagan Regime carried on an unconstitutional war to overthrow the Sandinista Regime in Nicaragua. As we pointed out in 1982, “The cover story in Newsweek Magazine’s November 8, 1982 issue exposed ‘America’s Secret War’ against the Nicaraguan nation. … The Newsweek story revealed that Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, is actually ruling Honduras.” We quoted Newsweek, as follows:
“… the commander of the armed forces, General Gustavo Adolfo Alvarez, … is still the most powerful Honduran in the country despite the election in January of President Roberto Suazo Cordova, the first civilian president in nine years. ‘They discuss what should be done and then Alvarez does what Negroponte tells him to,’ a member of the military high command said matter-of-factly.”
We concluded: “In other words, the first civilian president of Honduras in nine years has less power than the military generals and the military generals take their orders from U.S. ambassador Negroponte!” (“U.S. Imperialism and its Drive Toward Reaction, Violence and War,” Ray O’Light Newsletter #14, November 1982)]
Today he serves as an unofficial but key advisor to Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the wife of the previous Democratic President with whom Chiquita had a close relationship. Immediately after the overthrow of Zelaya, while Obama “condemned” the event in words, Secretary of State Clinton made it very clear that the U.S. government would take no action placing pressure on the Micheletti Coup Regime to compel them to bring Zelaya back.
Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, was himself, until recently, a partner at Covington and Burling. In that capacity, Holder was the lead counsel in defense of Chiquita against the U.S. Justice Department investigation into Chiquita’s financial dealings with the right-wing terrorist organizations in Colombia cited above. Despite the fact that the company had to pay a $25 million dollar fine and was the first corporation convicted of financial dealings with a terrorist organization in U.S. history, Holder was able to broker a sweetheart deal in which none of the six company officials who approved payments to the terrorists received any jail time! Does anyone really believe that Holder has stopped defending Chiquita now that he is the head of the U.S. Department of Justice?
Earlier in 2009, Chiquita Banana had complained that, if President Zelaya’s government raised the Honduran minimum wage by 60%, as proposed, Chiquita would lose millions of dollars in profits. When the minimum wage law was passed, Chiquita joined with Dole and with the most important business group in Honduras, the Honduran National Business Council (COHEP) that encompasses 60 trade associations and chambers of commerce, to try to reverse the wage increase.
Hence, Chiquita had the bipartisan political clout in the USA and internationally to defend its economic interests in Honduras. It had a strong motive for the coup. It had the long history of taking comparable measures. What “democratic process” in the USA and in the world today could have been brought to bear to stop Chiquita and U.S. imperialism from carrying out one more Central American coup d’état, one more violent act to suppress the democratic will of the Honduran people?!
The Latin American Revolution in the Aftermath of the Honduran Coup
Only the international working class, including the Honduran working class, has the concrete experience in the class struggle between labor and capital to understand the overwhelming motivation that international capital possesses to defend its profits by any means necessary! The revolutionary proletariat understands that the monopoly capitalist and imperialist system, the modern capitalist system based on the exploitation of man by man, must be smashed and replaced by socialism, the economic-political system based on cooperation among all toiling humanity. Only the international working class has the relationship to production that gives it the strategic strength to organize the movement of the masses of humanity to overthrow the old and dying, parasitic and violent system of monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
In Latin America today, there are as many different levels of dependence on and independence of imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism, as there are Latin American countries. Accordingly, the proletarian revolutionary vanguard parties and organizations need to be mindful of Lenin’s teaching that “… finance capital … gives rise to a number of transitional forms of national dependence. The division of the world into two main groups – of colony-owning countries on the one hand and colonies on the other – is not the only typical feature of this period; there is also a variety of forms of dependent countries; countries which officially, are politically independent, but which are, in fact, enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence.” (Imperialism – The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter 6)
Hence, the proletarian vanguard movement must proceed on the basis of a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions in each country. The relative strength of the Marxist-Leninist vanguard, nationally and internationally, including the closeness of its connections to the working class movement and the mass movements and their strengths, all relative to the local ruling classes and the imperialist power(s) and their international connections, will determine a correct revolutionary strategy and tactics in each country.
Secondly, our revolutionary strategy and tactics should be developed from the perspective of the Leninist theory of the two-stage revolution: “The proletariat must carry out to the end the democratic revolution, and in this unite to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of the autocracy and to paralyze the instability of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution and in this unite with itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyze the instability of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie.” (Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Chapter 12)
Lenin advises us that the transition from the national democratic stage to the socialist stage of the revolution should be undertaken as swiftly as the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard allows. This is crucial so that the revolutionary momentum is not lost and so as not to give the forces of reaction the time to regroup and stage a come-back.
Finally, a new edition of the Third (Communist) International, needs to be built and work toward that end needs to be undertaken immediately. Every Marxist-Leninist Party worthy of the name needs to begin to understand and put into practice what Che Guevara understood forty years ago: To Che, we are all Vietnamese; we are all South Africans; we are all Bolivians. Today, we are all Iraqis; we are all Afghanis; we are all Hondurans! This proletarian internationalist outlook flows dialectically from the strategic vision of Karl Marx that the working class has no nationality!
Let us immediately revive in our Party practice the revolutionary slogan of the Third International:
WORKERS OF THE WORLD AND OPPRESSED PEOPLES UNITE!
“For the proletariat needs the truth
and there is nothing so harmful to
its cause as plausible, respectable
– V.I. Lenin,
Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 41
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