By Nicholas Hanlon “Let every nation know… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” – John F. Kennedy, from his Inaugural Address
Tegucigalpa, Honduras– These words do not describe the foreign policy of the United States today. They do describe a fundamental American principal that has defined us and makes us unique when we put them in to practice. We have fought for freedom many times throughout our history. Those were times when American leadership knew who we were. The battles for freedom in Latin America may be joined by the United States in word but not in deed. Today’s American leadership accepts the false label of ‘imperialist’ given to us by sworn enemies of democracy.
Yet, it is the imperialist behavior of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez that is forcing a pseudo- Bolivarian, neo- Communist wave across the region. And so, the value of improving our image has taken precedence over the principles of democracy by which we should define ourselves.
So, who are today’s modern Champions of Freedom and Democracy? What comes to mind when you hear that question? The first to come to my mind are the freedom fighters of the Iranian resistance. American leadership has been too silent while the Iranian government continues to imprison, persecute, and torture its own people because they have bravely and peacefully stood up to fight for the most basic freedoms.
This week is special for Democracy and Freedom for the world because this past Sunday a small nation of smart and brave people stood on the side of Democracy against more powerful and aggressive forces. They did it without the help of the United States. Hondurans, like the Iranian resistance, saw that they could not count on the U. S. for help. They would have to do it themselves, and they did.
The election of Porfirio Lobo of the Honduran National Party on Sunday, November 29 was both glorious and tragic. From what some may debate is due to a flawed American press, there is an alarming lack of awareness of the gravity of the threat posed to democracy and U.S. and regional security by Hugo Chavez and those who align themselves with him. With Venezuelan oil money, corruption, and the leverage of the drug cartels, democratic institutions of Latin America are being threatened. Legislators are bought and influenced, and constitutions changed while power shifts steadily towards totalitarianism. Venezuela is becoming Cuba. Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua follow in lock step. They are cheered on by leaders in Argentina and now Brazil. Panama is under pressure. As a result of Chavez’s ideological affinity with the Iranian regime, the presence and influence of Iran continues to grow.
And so the November 29 presidential and congressional election was glorious because the Honduran people saw the writing on the wall, stood up to anti-democratic forces, and stopped Chavez at the door.
The tragedy is that the Chavistas have been writing the narrative for the international press all along. This great victory for democracy may go unnoticed. While the world should be cheering the Honduran election as we did the fall of the Berlin wall, international opinion continues to turn against them. Chavez was so successful in leveraging U.S. foreign policy that the United States government, that was so carefully slow in judging the ‘elections’ in Iran, delegitimized the defenders of democracy in Honduras by labeling their actions as a ‘coup’ before they bothered to consult the State Department. (This forced the State Department to make an embarrassing post facto argument which would not with stand public debate and will never have to due to the current state of transparency in the U.S.) However, the Administration finally did do the right thing by supporting and recognizing the outcome of the elections.
There is a saying down here; “Chavez never loses because the fight is never over”. Honduras was, in a sense, an experiment for Chavez. He normally buys off a chunk of the legislature to change the constitution. This time he tried to use the executive branch to destroy the Honduran constitution. By personally leveraging Mel Zelaya, Chavez made a succession of attempts to subvert Honduran democracy throughout Zelaya’s term. Though traumatic for Hondurans, little of it registered in the international press until he was legally removed from the country to avert violence that was being provoked by Zelaya, himself. The attempts of Zelaya and Chavez did not work. However, Chavez will most likely change tactics and use the international political capital he has gained to try and make life hard for the new government.
Honduras has a long fight ahead but they have two things going for them. First, there is no bad blood in Honduras. Honduras cannot be understood through the American prism of political division. This country is united. The perception of Zelaya representing some populist movement comparable to the FMLN or the Sandinistas is a fantasy. This is a conservative country that rejects communism as a valid critique of capitalism. They are unique in Central America because they lack the history of a bloody civil war unlike so many of their neighbors. And so, Chavez has duly noted that he will not be able to divide this country ideologically.
Their second asset is their combination of bravery and peacefulness. In the months before the election foreign agents did their best to create a climate of fear. Many, amongst the poorest of Hondurans, were exploited and paid to march in contrived rallies. Many were promised money to protest but were not paid. One woman I spoke to told me that a few months ago she would have been afraid to vote because of threats.
Rumors of arms shipments coming in for the ‘Resistance’ were abounding. A low budget graffiti campaign sent signals to those who would dare to vote. Zelaya, himself, failed to instigate violence prior to his removal from office. Few outside tell the story of how he led an angry mob to seize the ballots he had illegally spent government money on to hold his referendum. Despite his best efforts, peace prevailed. And as time passed, something happened. The Honduran people moved on. People stopped caring about Mel. They stopped believing his rhetoric inside Honduras. He is no longer a political entity here even within his party. The resistance faded. The bravery and peacefulness of the Honduran people reigned on the 29th. I can best describe the elections that took place here as gloriously boring and highly organized.
The struggle for democracy will continue here. For the near future it is Hondurans who will champion democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, many Americans may never know about this important story.
Nicholas Hanlon is a foreign affairs writer at the Center for Security Policy and the producer of Secure Freedom Radio with Frank Gaffney.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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