In a victory for the Organization of American States and Venezuelan-Colombian diplomacy, ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya is returning home after the June 2009 coup against his elected government.
The agreement allows Zelaya and his followers the right to return to politics and form a political party. Hondurans outraged by the coup are demanding a national constituent assembly and an end to impunity for thousands of human rights violations under the coup regime.
The Obama administration, which first denounced the Honduras coup but soon recognized the regime imposed by the coup plotters, is showing new signs of recognition of its deep isolation in the region. In 2008-2009, Barack Obama promised a new era of diplomacy and democracy towards Latin America, at a time when independent national leaderships were being swept into elective offices. But nothing changed significantly in U.S. policy.
Dependent on a huge Latino voting bloc in 2012, and under fire from extreme right-wing Republicans in the House, the Obama administration is struggling to repair relations in a hurry with a flurry of dialogues and the search for an envoy to replace the administration’s chief diplomat, Arturo Valenzuela. It remains to be seen, however, whether the diplomacy will contain any substance. Secretary Clinton’s most recent dialogue effort was a dinner with six former Latin American presidents.
U.S. efforts at reconciliation with Cuba are frozen. Haiti is in collapse. The Obama administration doesn’t even have ambassadors in Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans are protesting in the streets against their government’s U.S.-backed drug war, in which some 40,000 citizens have been killed since 2006.
Instead of diplomacy, the U.S. emphasis remains on militarizing the drug war combined with the war on gangs, plus support of NAFTA-style economic approaches which undermine regional employment and spur immigration to the U.S. – a policy writhing in its own contradictions, and resulting in an ever-heavier emphasis on security above all. For Mexico alone, the U.S. has spent $2.3 billion on enforcement under Plan Merida. Under Obama, the Merida model is being expanded into the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), requesting $200 million for FY2011-12.
The folly of overall U.S. regional policy is shown by the “skyrocketing” of drug flights into Honduras after the ouster of Zelaya. (see Bosworth, James. “Honduras: Organized Crime Gaining Amid Political Crisis.” Woodrow Wilson Center. February, 2011) Nonetheless, the Obama administration has designated every Central American country as a drug transit zone, with the current exceptions of Belize and El Salvador. CARSI is designed to create a single security belt around Central America, with funds and drug enforcement agents pouring in from the United States.
A rational alternative, including legalization of marijuana and domestic demand controls, has been proposed by the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and many other Latin American leaders, to no avail. (Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, 2009) Instead, all of Central America, the Caribbean basin, Mexico and Colombia have fallen under a new form of North American military dominance through the wars on drugs and gangs. And, as an authoritative Congressional report concludes, “Although U.S.-led efforts have contributed to temporary successes in particular countries or sub-regions, they have done little to change the overall availability of illicit drugs in the U.S., as traffickers have altered their cultivation patterns, production techniques, and trafficking routes and methods in order to avoid detection.” (“Central American Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. March 30, 2011. P. 18)
In Mexico, a vast civil society movement has arisen from the pain of those like the poet-novelist Javier Sicilia, whose son was killed in the crossfire of the drug war this March. The marches and outcry led by Sicilia, a celebrated poet who is outside Mexico’s politics, have disturbed President Felipe Calderon. The new movement demands a de-escalation of the military drug war, negotiations with the cartels to leave civilians out of the violence, greater emphasis on fighting corruption and impunity, and more investment in youth services. Instead of reforming the nation’s institutions, Calderon chose a full-scale assault using security forces of questionable character.
After his son’s death, bound and shot in a mass grave in Cuernavaca, Sicilia proclaimed, “Poetry doesn’t exist in me anymore.”