Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, considered by some to be the only real threat to Hillary Clinton, has joined Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the only two challengers to the former secretary of state. Republicans, whose seemingly limitless field seems poised for a “Hunger Games”-esque cage match, worry that a Clinton cakewalk through the primaries will leave her relatively unscathed in the general election against a beaten and beleaguered GOP nominee whose every foible will have been exposed.
And yet for some reason, GOP candidates lob tired Benghazi charges at the presumptive Democratic nominee during the short breaks in infighting. The issue only really excites the GOP base, and it’s highly unlikely that after almost three years of pounding the issue the tactic will work. Plus, House Republicans’ own two-year investigation into the attack absolved Clinton’s State Department of the worst GOP allegations, giving her something of her own “please proceed, Governor” arrow in the quiver if she is attacked from that angle.
It’s the SCUD missile of political attacks when there are laser-guided Tomahawks in the arsenal.
Republicans really hit on something when they started making noise about the Clintons’ relationship with foreign governments, CEOs and corporations, following the lead set by Peter Schweizer’s bestselling “Clinton Cash.” Cross-ideological ears perked up to rumored quid pro quos arranged while Hillary was atop State and Bill was out glad-handing global elites. Even liberals and progressives paid attention when the discussion turned to the Clintons and international elites making backroom, under-the-table deals at what Schweizer calls “the ‘wild west’ fringe of the global economy.”
Though it’s less sexy than Benghazi, the crisis following a coup in Honduras in 2009 has Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints all over it, and her alleged cooperation with oligarchic elites during the affair does much to expose Clinton’s newfound, campaign-season progressive rhetoric as hollow. Moreover, the Honduran coup is something of a radioactive issue with fallout that touches many on Team Clinton, including husband Bill, once put into a full context.
In the 5 a.m. darkness of June 28, 2009, more than two hundred armed, masked soldiers stormed the house of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. Within minutes Zelaya, still in his pajamas, was thrown into a van and taken to a military base used by the U.S., where he was flown out of the country.
It was a military coup, said the UN General Assembly and the Organization of American States (OAS). The entire EU recalled its countries’ ambassadors, as did Latin American nations. The United States did not, making it virtually the only nation of note to maintain diplomatic relations with the coup government. Though the White House and the Clinton State Department denounced only the second such coup in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War, Washington hedged in a way that other governments did not. It began to feel like lip service being paid, not real concern.
Washington was dragging its feet, but even within the Obama administration a distinction was seen very early seen between the White House and Secretary Clinton’s State Department. Obama called Zelaya’s removal an illegal “coup” the next day, while Secretary Clinton’s response was described as “holding off on formally branding it a coup.” President Obama carefully avoided calling it a military coup, despite that being the international consensus, because the “military” modifier would have abruptly suspended US military aid to Honduras, an integral site for the US Southern Command, but Obama called for the reinstatementof the elected president of Honduras removed from his country by the military.
Clinton was far more circumspect, suspiciously so. In an evasive press corps appearance, Secretary Clinton responded with tortured answers on the situation in Honduras and said that State was “withholding any formal legal determination.” She did offer that the situation had “evolved into a coup,” as if an elected president removed in his pajamas at gunpoint and exiled to another country was not the subject of a coup at the moment armed soldiers enter his home.
It’s hard to see those early evasions by Clinton, though, as a Benghazi-like confusion in the fog of the moment. Nearly a month later, Secretary Clinton would call President Zelaya’s defiance of the coup government and return to Honduras “reckless” and damaging to “the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.” Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know from a cable from the Honduran embassy sent just the day prior how certain the State Department was that Zelaya’s removal was a cut-and-dried military coup: “The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch,” wrote Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reporting from on the ground in Tegucigalpa.
And even months later, with the increasingly violent and basic rights-denying coup government still in place, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley would incredulously maintain, “We aren’t taking sides against the de facto regime versus Zelaya.”
It was becoming widely believed that the Clinton State Department, along with the right-wing in Washington, was working behind the scenes to make sure that President Zelaya would not return to office. This U.S. cabal was coordinating with those behind the coup, it was being rumored, to bring new elections to Honduras, conducted by an illegal coup government, which would effectively terminate the term of Zelaya, who was illegally deposed in the final year of his constitutionally mandated single term. All this as Honduras was “descending deeper into a human rights and security abyss,” as the coup government was seen to be actually committing crimes worthy of removal from power. Professor Dana Frank, an expert in recent Honduran history at UC Santa Cruz, would charge in the New York Times that the resulting “abyss” in Honduras was “in good part the State Department’s making.”
Though the case has been made, it’s impossible to accuse Clinton of foreknowledge of the coup. Likewise, no smoking gun exists to definitively conclude that Clinton and her associates actively and willfully acted to maintain the coup government in league with the elite and corporate interests, but an abundance of evidence, combined with what we know about Clintonite ideals in foreign policy and global trade, makes a case deserving of a response from one of two or three people expected to become the most powerful person on earth.
Clinton herself even gets dangerously close to confessing a role in keeping Zelaya out of office in her book “Hard Choices,” in which she discussed the hard choice to ignore the most basic tenets of democracy and international norms:
“In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere…We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
One of those strategic partners appears to have been Clinton family legal pitbull, Lanny Davis, deployed as an auxiliary weapon against the rightful, legal, democratically elected president of Honduras. Davis famously defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, and he’s been on Team Clinton for decades, most recently serving as a booster for Hillary’s campaign in its early days.
Davis, along with another close Clinton associate Bennett Ratcliff, launched a Washington lobbying offensive in support of the coup government and its oligarchic backers, penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed, testifying before a Congressional committee, and undoubtedly knocking on office doors on Capitol Hill, where he enjoys bipartisan connections, which valuable asset he demonstrated during his committee hearing.
“If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is, you need to find out who’s paying Lanny Davis,” said Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador, just a month after the coup. Speaking to Roberto Lovato for the American Prospect, Davis revealed who that was: “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America.” In other words, the oligarchs who preside over a country with a 65 percent poverty rate. The emerging understanding, that the powerful oligarchs were behind the coup, began to solidify, and the Clinton clique’s allegiances were becoming pretty clear. If you can believe it, Clinton’s team sided with the wealthy elite.
NYU history professor Greg Grandin, author of a number of books about Central and South America, boiled the coup down to a simple economic calculation by the Honduran elite: “Zelaya was overthrown because the business community didn’t like that he increased the minimum wage. We’re talking about an elite that treats Honduras as if it was its own private plantation.”
Grandin was echoed by a Honduran Catholic bishop, Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan, who told the Catholic News Service, “Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That’s what they understand.”
One doesn’t have to believe professors and bishops, though; one of the central members of the oligarchic elite, Adolfo Facussé, admitted to Al Jazeera’s Avi Lewis two months after the coup that Zelaya’s reforms for the poor had angered the ruling economic cabal: “Zelaya wanted to do some changes, and to do that, instead of convincing us that what he was trying to do was good, he tried to force us to accept his changes.”
Facussé was, of course, describing democracy. The so-called “Diez Familias” of Honduras, the country’s 1 percent, were unhappy that the Honduran people—the families’ subjects, essentially—backed a leader who worked on behalf of the vast majority of Hondurans. Also known as, how representative democracy works.
Facussé’s family is one of, if not the, most powerful families in Honduras, with the family patriarch Miguel Facussé being described in a Wikileaked State Department cable as “the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country.” The elder Facussé was even vice president of the infamous Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH) in the early 1980s, a time during which the right-wing, pro-Washington, ultra-capitalist business group had strong ties with the infamous US-trained death squads of Battalion 3-16.
The School of the Americas-trained death squads no longer terrorize Honduras and Central America at the behest of business interests, but the legacy and power remains in a more refined, technocratic, you might say “Clintonite,” means of effecting a good climate for the oligarchs and corporations who remain in control in the region. The coup leader, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, is a two-time graduate of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas (SOA, now called WHINSEC), and he was able to enact a coup without the widespread ’80s-era bloodshed brought by the death squads.
Another SOA-trained Honduran military lawyer, Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, confessed to the Miami Herald just days after the coup that the Honduran military broke the law in kidnapping and exiling the president. But Inestroza still bore the ideological training he’d received under President Reagan’s pro-capitalist crusades in the region: “It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.”
The coup was cleaner, replacing Reagan-era death squads with high-priced PR and attorneys from Clinton’s world, but it still accomplished what the other, bloodier conflicts had aimed for in earlier decades: keeping Central America free of leftist leadership—or even progressive leadership, in Zelaya’s case—and keeping the region business-friendly. A post-coup government a couple years later would announce that Honduras is “open for business,” if not open for human rights and democracy. Foreign policy Clintonism may be more technocratic than the Republican model, but its goals are effectively the same. Clintonite mercenaries wear Brooks Brothers suits, not military fatigues.
Lanny Davis’ role as PR guerrilla is reminiscent of fellow Clinton team member James Carville, who worked in the 2002 campaign of multimillionaire Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”) in Bolivia, another pro-globalization, pro-Washington, hyper-capitalist candidate running against socialist Evo Morales.
Detailed in the documentary “Our Brand is Crisis,” Carville’s role in Bolivia, along with other Clintonite luminaries, was much the same as the coup defenders nearly a decade later in Honduras, in that the expertise of Clinton team members were put in service of business elites. In 2002, Bolivia was convulsing after hyper-capitalist, neoliberal reforms had sold off the country’s state-owned resources at the order of international financial institutions. Goni had been a central figure in the neoliberal reforms during his first term as president. Losing office after his first term, Goni was trying to grab the reins again four years later.
The effects of his privatization plan—called “capitalization” in Bolivia—had come to be felt in the intervening years, especially in Bolivia’s third-largest city, Cochabamba, where even water service was sold off to multinational corporations, principally San Francisco-based Bechtel. The country’s majority indigenous population, mostly poor (Goni, called “El Gringo,” is rich, fairer-skinned and grew up in the U.S.), began to revolt as water prices suddenly rose by 50 percent after the corporation took control. Due to the giveaway Goni had initiated, residents even had to obtain a permit to collect rainwater. “Even rainwater was privatized,” said one of the principal activists. “Water sources were converted into property that could be bought and sold by international corporations.” Campesinos began to charge that the dystopian Bechtel, one of the largest contractors in the world, was “leasing the rain.”
Moreover, Bolivia’s long-suffering and indigenous poor majority was calling for constitutional reform, the same sort of measure Zelaya was floating in Honduras. The insurgent indigenous candidate Evo Morales, a lowly coca farmer, nearly defeated the Washington-backed and -assisted Goni on a platform that demanded constitutional reform. Throughout the past few decades as Latin American governments have begun to shed the vestiges of colonialism and Monroe Doctrine-based U.S. control, countries have democratically written new constitutions to replace former national doctrines in which racism, sexism, and radical inequity were constitutionally permitted in many cases.
Finally, Clinton’s State Department’s role in attempting to block a minimum wage increase in Haiti allows us to triangulate (so to speak) and speculate with some confidence on Clinton’s wishes vis-à-vis poor nations under the rule of oligarchs and corporate elites. State Department cables exposed by Wikileaks reveal that, according to The Nation, “[c]ontractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere.”
(The Haitian assembly zones are free trade enclaves of the sort the Clintons advocate, where corporations are permitted to take advantage of the hemisphere’s cheapest labor without paying high tariffs—tiny versions of President Clinton’s NAFTA.)
Just weeks before the coup in Honduras, the State Department acted on behalf of a “tiny assembly zone elite” and intervened in the Haitian government’s plan to raise the wage. This was after President Clinton had already ravaged the island nation and enriched U.S. agricultural companies with a devastating trade deal that led to Haitians eating dirt cakes to survive.
This sort of engineering of regional politics in the service of the economic elite appears to be something of a hallmark of the Clinton camp. A case is being built that it’s the family business to cater to the global elite, despite the Clinton campaign’s salt-of-the-earth optics in Iowa and New Hampshire, which appears disingenuous in light of virtually everything else we know about Clinton. And with a growing list of Clinton associates being complicit, concerns about a President Clinton’s criteria for cabinet and agency appointments grow, as well.
Keeping wages down in places like Honduras and Haiti virtually ensure that those formerly decently paying, often unionized, jobs will never return to the U.S. Going to bat by proxy for Bechtel, a conglomerate with close ties to the GOP and the military industrial complex, doesn’t seem like the best use of the political talent of members of the Clintons’ braintrust. It becomes fair to ask, “Who do the Clintons work for?”