Crooked Hillary and the Rape of Honduras

Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Micheletti salutes a soldier during a military ceremony in Tegucigalpa December 10, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido (HONDURAS POLITICS) - RTXRPKV

The roots of the immigration crisis

Tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them unaccompanied children and teenagers, have flooded into the US illegally in recent years: they are a growing part of a human tsunami that has hit the southern border and caused what many refer to as a humanitarian crisis, overwhelming the local and federal authorities – and becoming a major political issue.

On the one hand, we have immigration restrictionists like Donald Trump, who say that “we cannot be a country and have no borders,” and who vow to build a Wall – “and make Mexico pay for it.” On the other hand, we have Hillary Clinton, who says we should be “knocking down barriers, not building walls,” and claims that Trump and his supporters are motivated by “bigotry.”

Like most partisan political debates, this one gives off plenty of heat without shedding much light. Because the real question is: why are hundreds of thousands of people suddenly abandoning their homes, their families, and their countries to make the long and dangerous trek through Mexico and into the United States? And where are these people coming from?

Contrary to what the Trumpistas seem to believe, the influx of Mexican illegal immigrants has tapered off. Increasingly, the floodtide consists of Central Americans, who are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And while the circumstances surrounding the Great Migration have particular causes in each of these countries, in general the causes are the same: a wave of criminality and chaos, which has its origins in decades of misgovernment and repression. Grinding poverty, the rule of a landed oligarchy, and the de facto dominance of brutal militaries – supported by the US – have stunted and deformed these resource-rich countries, forcing their citizens into what is surely one of the largest population transfers in recent history.

The history of US-Honduran relations is the story of endless meddling by Washington on behalf of crony capitalists, notably United Fruit, now known as Chiquita. A series of invasions and military occupations in the early part of the twentieth century – seven between 1903 and 1925 – ensured that American investors would get good returns on their investments, while keeping the restless natives under the boot of local oligarchs. During the cold war era, the Jeanne Kirkpatrick doctrine of preferring “pro-American” dictators to left-wing democrats prevailed, and the Reagan administration used the country as a base for undermining the leftist Sandinista regime: the contras, funded by Washington, were based in the country, from which they regularly launched terrorist raids targeting civilians.

Ruled by a series of military dictators and juntas since 1955, Honduras returned to civilian rule in 1981, but the military – trained in the US and superbly equipped due to generous aid from Washington – retained its dominance over the political landscape and much of the economy. “Recruiting” consisted of forays into the slum areas and countryside by military patrols, who would then kidnap young men and forcibly conscript them. In this way, the Honduran military resembled a criminal gang, engaging in wholesale extortion, as well as murder and torture of political dissidents. Whatever party occupied the presidency and controlled the legislative branch, the same landed oligarchy, backed by the military, called the shots.

In 2006, however, change was in the air. Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the scion of a wealthy family and head of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise, was elected President. Although he campaigned on a conservative platform, Zelaya soon turned to social reform, including the institution of free public education, free meals for poor students, government aid to small farmers, and other measures aimed at reducing poverty, with some 80% of the population living on a subsistence level.

This turn to the left enraged the oligarchs and the final straw was the entry of Honduras into the ALBA alliance, founded by Venezuela’s leftist caudillo Hugo Chavez. When Zelaya put a constitutional reform measure on the ballot, which would have overturned articles of that document deemed unchangeable, the military used this as a pretext to make their move: they invaded the presidential palace, and bundled Zelaya into exile while he was still in his pajamas. (Coup leaders and their American cheerleaders accused Zelaya of wanting to extend his term in office, limited by the constitution to one term, and set up a dictatorship: today, however, their narrative has undergone a curious reversal: the same people who supported the coup have changed the constitution to allow their candidate to extend his term.)

The role of the US State Department, with Hillary Clinton in charge, was to lurk in the background, quietly supporting the coup leaders while making ambiguous noises in public about the need for “reconciliation.” Meanwhile, behind the scenes, longtime Clinton confidante Lanny Davis, who served as Bill Clinton’s lawyer during the impeachment proceedings against him, was hired by the coup leaders to curry favor in Washington. Mrs. Clinton’s emails, released by the State Department as part of the investigation into her private server, reveal that Davis succeeded.

Instead of cutting off all aid to the Honduran government, as required by law, Clinton’s State Department continued it, albeit at a slightly reduced rate. And while publicly deploring the coup, behind the scenes the Secretary of State utilized her old friend Lanny to open up a back channel to the coup leaders, a process that culminated in a proposed “deal” that would keep Zelaya out of office, while supposedly allowing for his return. The coup leaders, however, broke their part of the bargain, pressuring the legislature to keep Zelaya out of the country. They then held “free” elections characterized by widespread violence, the shutdown of opposition media outlets, kidnappings, and intimidation. Unsurprisingly, the coup leaders won the “election,” and have retained control to this day.

The Clinton State Department rushed to give their imprimatur to the fraudulent election, and Lanny Davis made a pot of money.

In her memoir, Hard Choices, Hillary wrote about her efforts to make the return of Zelaya “moot” by brokering a phony deal, openly admitting her key role in legitimizing the coup. This section was deleted from the paperback edition.

She defends her actions to this day, but the reality is that Honduras descended into chaos and criminality. The drug cartels – who have strong links to the military and the coup leaders (the son of the ex-president and coup leader Porfirio Lobo recently pled guilty to drug trafficking) – instituted a reign of terror, motivating tens of thousands to flee the country. They wound up in the US, where they are welcomed by a woman who shares a large part of the blame for their predicament.

Create a problem – and then pose as the great humanitarian with a solution. That’s the Clinton method, in all its hypocritical sleaziness. Maybe we should send the tens of thousands of Hondurans victimized by her ruthlessly cynical policy straight to Chappaqua, where they can stand outside the gates of her palatial estate chanting “Crooked Hillary!”

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NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Murder, death threats and violent thugs accompany ICTSI into Central America

Killed for belonging to a union family: Victor Manuel Crespo Puerto, elderly father of port worker union leader Victor Crespo, was assassinated on February 27 outside his home in Honduras. Crespo’s mother was injured in the attack that followed a series of death threats which arrived because Crespo was advocating for union workers at the container facility controlled by ICTSI.

International Container Terminal Services Incorporated (ICTSI) – the rogue employer responsible for flagrant contract violations at the Port of Portland – is now expanding operations in Central America where murder, military repression, death threats and anti-union attacks are accompanying the firm’s expansion.

Labor leader attacked

The family of Honduran dockworker union leader, Victor Crespo, became the latest assassination target on January 27 when an armed assailant murdered Crespo’s father and injured his mother by running them over with a stolen truck in an attack outside the family home. Other Crespo family members narrowly escaped death and injury. Victor Crespo and his family have faced death threats because of his efforts to help workers at Puerto Cortés, a newly privatized operation container terminal that was recently taken-over by ICTSI.

Thugs & threats

honduras-mapAn October 2013 article in The Dispatcher explained how members of the Honduran labor union (SGTM) encountered violent thugs, military forces and death threats after seeking union rights for workers. ICTSI secured a lucrative 30-year contract last February to operate the port through their OPC subsidiary. The company expects volumes could reach 600,000 containers, shipped to and from Honduras and neighboring countries.

Brush with death squads

By last September, SGTM General Secretary Victor Crespo had made no progress reaching a contract but he did begin receiving death threats. He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by armed thugs who broke into his home during the early morning hours. The attack was foiled at the last minute by concerned neighbors who sounded the alarm, allowing Crespo to slip away with his life. After the foiled attack, Crespo received critical help from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), who made arrangements to try and protect him from the death squads.

ICTSI’s privatization play

ICTSI is a player in the growing effort to privatize formerly-public ports in the developing world. Privatization efforts across the globe are being aided by the World Bank, wealthy investors, and “free trade” agreements that undermine public ownership and ease private takeovers. Countries wishing to invest and improve their public ports quickly discover that access to investment capital is difficult to secure – but easy to get if government officials agree to privatize.

When public assets are sold to private owners, workers and their unions are usually left behind. The new private employers promote “yellow” or “company” unions that don’t challenge the new owners and prevent workers from creating democratic trade unions.

Super profits for privatizers

Outside investors and terminal operators stand to make fortunes when ports and other public assets are privatized. Investors who make these deals spend time courting officials in countries they target – often with support and assistance from the U.S. State and Commerce Departments – and they are usually willing and expected to share some of their windfall profits with local politicians, business leaders, police and military officials who facilitate the privatization process.

Who wants to be a billionaire?

The privatization frenzy that took place in Mexico during the 1990’s serves as an example – and powerful motivator – for those wishing to make similar fortunes today in countries like Honduras. When Mexico’s public-owned telephone system and other public assets were sold to private investors as part of the “reforms” surrounding the NAFTA free trade agreement, it created new millionaires and billionaires, including one of the world’s richest men – Carlos Slim – who now commands a fortune worth $72 billion dollars, putting him on par with Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates.

Layoffs & lower pay for workers

When ICTSI was celebrating their new deal giving them 30-year control over Puerto Cortés, the Honduran state-owned port operator (Empresa Nacional Portuaria or “ENP”) began dismissing hundreds of public port workers without advance notice. Reaction to the terminations angered other port workers and union members across the country who responded with solidarity actions, marches and strikes. In December 2013, the government sent armed troops to threaten port workers who declared they would resist the intimidation until the nation’s president or officials agreed to help their union secure jobs at ICTSI.

Military confronts workers

As The Dispatcher was going to press in January, armed forces continued to occupy Puerto Cortés. ITF’s Honduran affiliate that represents public port workers, Sindicatos de Trabajadores de la Empresa Nacional Portuaria (SITRAENP) has been promised by the government to expect more productive negotiations with ENP, the nation’s public port agency. Victor Crespo and SGTM union members have also heard from Honduran government officials that ICTSI made a similar commitment to meaningful negotiations with their union. But neither union has been able to secure a fair contract and the sincerity of negotiations remains in doubt.

U.S. military involvement

Honduras has been heavily influenced during the past century by U.S. corporations, military forces, CIA operatives and State Department officials. Puerto Cortés, now run by ICTSI, was originally built to serve U.S. banana corporations, including the United Fruit Company (branded as “Chaquita”) that controlled Honduras for nearly a century, giving rise to the term “Banana Republic.” The U.S. installed several right-wing, anti-union governments and engaged in a massive military buildup during Ronald Reagan’s secret and illegal war during the 1980’s that was waged against pro-union rebels in neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Massacre feared possible

The ITF is concerned that the Honduran government’s latest military intervention at Puerto Cortés and their refusal to address worker concerns could result in a massacre, and has called for solidarity actions worldwide to protect workers in case negotiations fail. On December 4, 2013, the ITF sent a letter to Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, protesting the violation of port workers’ rights and urging him to help facilitate a prompt and fair settlement. Following the assassination of Crespo’s father, the ITF took other diplomatic and solidarity initiatives to help.

Similar conflicts in Costa Rica

Dispatcher readers may recall a similar struggle by dockworkers in Costa Rica that also involved privatization (see articles in March, June and August of 2010). Costa Rica’s public ports of Limón and Moin were privatization targets, following a $72 million loan from the World Bank to “modernize” both sites. When the SINTRAJAP dockworkers union refused to go along, the government ordered police to break into the union headquarters at 4:30 am on May 28, 2010, and take over the building.

When the union continued to resist, the government orchestrated a sham election in January 2011 to replace the democratically-elected union leadership with a new team of government puppets. Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court later reversed the government’s illegal ouster of SINTRAJAP union officials in August of 2011.

The ILWU supported SINTRAJAP with letters from International President McEllrath to President Obama and encouraged 25 members of Congress to express concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The ILWU hosted a SINTRAJAP delegation at the April, 2010 Longshore Caucus in Long Beach, and placed several full-page advertisements in major Costa Rican newspapers to educate citizens about the undemocratic actions taken by their government leaders.

Resistance by SINTRAJAP workers and international solidarity put government officials on the defensive; by mid-2011 press reports noted the government had “back-tracked” on the privatization scheme which had been put “on hold indefinitely.” However, as of 2014, the project appears to be moving forward after the government quickly granted a monopoly container concession to APM, which is slated to begin operations in three years, which will doom the public port.

Activist murdered

Port workers and their union leaders continue to receive threats – and worse – from those advocating Costa Rica’s privatization scheme. Last year, a former union leader was murdered after he actively opposed the new private terminal location because it would destroy a sea turtle sanctuary. Police have not arrested or charged anyone for the crime.

ICTSI moves into El Salvador

In December of 2013, El Salvador’s port authority (CEPA) announced they had pre-selected ICTSI and three other companies to submit bids in April, 2014 for a 30-year private concession agreement to manage the country’s newest port of La Unión on the Pacific coast.

The modern, multi-use container terminal was just completed in 2009. The public agency initially operated the port with four, second-hand rubber-tire gantry cranes that cost $4.4 million, and planned to purchase more equipment to boost capacity to 300,000 containers a year. The privatization plan asks ICTSI and other bidders to invest $30 million in the first ten years of operations, enabling the terminal to handle 1 million containers a year.

Bloody history

El Salvador is the smallest, most densely populated and a highly industrialized country in Central America. During the 1980’s, the nation was torn apart by a bitter civil war that killed 75,000 residents, sparked by inequality between a handful of wealthy elites (backed by the U.S. military) who controlled the government and business, while the vast majority of Salvadorians lived then and now, in poverty. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest murder rates, a distinction they share with Honduras.

“Corporations that privatize often act like modern-day pirates who attack workers and communities for profit,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe. “Companies like ICTSI have an agenda of plunder and profit that seems to spawn violence and repression. That has to be challenged in Central America, Portland or wherever they try to take advantage.”

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