Varieties of imperial decline – Honduras and Miranda


Maybe it was always unfair, comparing President George W. Bush to Captain Queeg, Herman Wouk’s fictional crackpot destroyer captain.. Bush’s condition in fact reflects a truly royal, breakneck-speed dementia. In less than a decade, his reign has re-enacted over a hundred years of Spain’s colonial decline and mutation from despotism to dictatorship, though the determination of King Carlos Alfonso Bush to destroy the Republic has not yet provoked civil war. To judge the accuracy of the comparison, consider the undeniable collapse of US influence in its former Latin American colonial backyard, its catastrophic foreign colonial wars, its funny-money economy and the wholesale executive tyranny now effective in the United States itself.

Despite the neat independence dates, fixing the precise moment at which Spain lost its colonial grip on Latin America is almost impossible. The same is true now of the United States. Was it the electoral Dien Bien Phu of the 2004 Venezuelan recall vote? Or the 2005-2006 election round that saw Evo Morales take power in Bolivia, Rafael Correa win in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega  get elected again in Nicaragua? Or was it when Venezuela made two mega-refinery deals with Nicaragua and Ecuador respectively, worth a total of nearly US$10bn just this July? Or was it when President Manuel Zelaya signed up to ALBA?

Real-world history : make-believe corporate media mirror

That last event has yet to happen, more on that later; first, those refineries. On July 17th, Ecuadoran energy Minister Jorge Alban announced agreement with the Venezuelan government to build a refinery in Ecuador worth US$5.5bn, capable of processing up to 300,000 barrels of oil a day. The project will put an end to Ecuador‘s humiliating neo-colonial status as a major petroleum exporting country incapable of refining its own crude oil. Minister Alban said, “The Ecuadoran-Venezuelan commitment is solid, all that’s missing is to work out procedures.”(1)

On July 20th Presidents Hugo Chavez Frias of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega Saavedra of  Nicaragua laid the foundation stone for a US$4 billion oil refinery called “El Sueño Supremo de Bolívar” – the Supreme Dream of Bolívar. The refinery, located on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, near the university city of Leon, will be capable of processing 150,000 barrels of oil a day. All told, the project will create over 3000 local jobs and is projected to generate profits of US$700 million a year. A joint venture company – ALBANISA – formed by the two State oil companies of Venezuela and Nicaragua, with 55% and 45% holdings respectively, will run the project. (2)

This epoch-making event in Latin America’s history puts the mean, self-serving, debt-plus-aid development cooperation model of the United States and its allies into perspective. Like so much real-world news, it was ignored by much of the international corporate media. Where it was reported, by Fox News or CBS for example, the usual anti-Chavez spin obscured its real meaning. Media like the UK‘s Guardian newspaper and the BBC ignored the historic inauguration of the refinery.  They chose instead to squeeze yet more sour Americanist we’ve-heard-it-all-before shock horror out of the living-dead RCTV media saga.

Their reports isolated remarks from one of Chavez’s six-hour Alo Presidente television programmes, warning visiting foreign politicians like Mexico’s PAN party President Manuel Espino not to exploit Venezuela’s democracy to make interventionist political attacks on the Venezuelan government. (3)  Neither the Guardian nor the BBC mentioned that, in Mexico, Espino’s PAN party functionaries are applying official advertising boycotts to media they dislike, for example  the “A.M” newspaper in Guanajuato and the widely respected “Monitor” radio current affairs programme, which has been forced to close. (4)

ALBA marches on

Regardless of the robotic Americanist auto-pilot propaganda marketed by corporate media perception managers, the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) integration initiative, led by Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, continues to develop momentum. The latest sign of its potential reach was the presence of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and Panama‘s President Martin Torrijos of Panama at the July 19th celebration in Nicaragua of the 28th anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship and the victory of the Sandinista Revolution. They shared the platform with Daniel Ortega and with Hugo Chavez.

Panama already has an agreement with Venezuela for a gas pipeline planned to run from Venezuela‘s Maracaibo gas lakes to the Panama Canal. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s rapprochement with ALBA results directly from Ortega’s election to a second presidential term, in 2006. Nicaragua‘s immediate integration into ALBA following Ortega’s presidential inauguration opened up Central America to ALBA’s 21st Century Socialism after the US State Department and then-US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick – now President of the World Bank – thought they had sewn up the region with the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) at the end of 2005.

One self-evident reason Manuel Zelaya is interested in better relations with Venezuela is clear if one asks who will resolve urgently pressing Central American energy problems, not just in terms of high oil prices, but  in terms of electricity generating capacity. Is the US government offering solidarity-based, preferential oil deals and help with electricity generation? No. But Venezuela is. Here’s a press release on a meeting President Bush held with Manuel Zelaya back in September 2006.

“Zelaya and Bush also discussed the energy situation in HondurasHonduras is one of the Western Hemisphere nations most dependent on imported oil, including oil to generate electricity, (Dan) Fisk said. “This is something of great concern to President Zelaya and Hondurans,” he explained, “President Zelaya wanted to give the President a brief on his thinking on how to proceed on this and to offer (President Zelaya’s) proposal to create a mechanism to try to lower energy costs.” The White House official said that Bush’s response to the Honduran leader stressed the importance of relying on market mechanisms and of limits on government interference.  Bush also reaffirmed his strong interest in considering alternative sources of fuel and energy, discussed ethanol and other fuel alternatives, and encouraged Central Americans to explore how sugar cane can be converted into ethanol.” (5)

Translation: “Bush said to Zelaya, “Forget US help with your energy difficulties. Turn your maize and sugar into fuel. Let the people eat cake (baked from genetically modified US grain).”

No wonder, then, that in January this year Zelaya’s government took temporary control of oil terminals belonging to Chevron and Esso.(6) The move broke up a service station cartel that was costing Honduras over US$60 million a year courtesy of the deregulated “free market”.   In March this year, Honduras renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba. (7) President Zelaya is likely to visit Cuba in August, the first Honduran president to do so in decades. (8) Against Bush regime wishes, Zelaya has also appointed Jorge Arturo Reina, a leading centre-left Liberal Party politician, as Honduran ambassador to the UN.

Tegucigalpa tantrums

The pro-Bush regime Honduran ex-ambassador to the UN, Enrique Ortez Colindres, declared that by going to Managua, Zelaya “is installing an anti-yankee government and provoking division in Central America”. Charles Ford, current US ambassador-proconsul in Honduras, condemned President Zelaya’s presence in Managua accompanying Hugo Chavez for the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution , saying: “I think the (Honduran) government in a very clear way has defined its interests and has defined the people with whom it wants to be.” (9)

Not just energy difficulties are making President Zelaya drift into the ALBA camp. The same report cites President Zelaya claiming the US has deported 40,000 Hondurans just this year – women and men desperately seeking a better life in the US so as to be able to support their families back home. Zelaya and Chavez face other criticism, apart from that of the US ambassador. Influential Honduran Catholic Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga opined recently that, “Chávez thinks he is a God with the right to trample on everyone’s rights, with an arrogance that one has seen in history already in other dictators”.

Rodriguez Maradiaga received a typically caustic response from President Chavez who called the Cardinal an “imperialist parrot”. Still, Manuel Zelaya managed to persuade Hugo Chavez to offer Rodriguez Maradiaga an apology – though Chavez insisted on inviting the Cardinal to Venezuela so he can have learn some facts before voicing his jaundiced opinions. (10) Manuel  Zelaya announced the Cardinal’s acquiescence to Chavez’s apology at the airport where he was seeing off over 100 Hondurans heading for Caracas to receive free medical treatment as part of Venezuela’s cooperation programme with the Honduran government.

The Miranda motif

Signs are that the Honduran government at the very least will sign up to a preferential energy deal with Venezuela, even if it does not immediately join Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua in ALBA. This has been on the cards ever since CAFTA was railroaded through the “Finlandized” Central American parliaments by their respective US puppet regimes. Only Costa Rica has yet to ratify CAFTA,  a sell-out investment treaty dressed up as a trade deal. It overwhelmingly favours US corporations. The benefits for Central American businesses and agriculture have so far turned out to be minimal or negative, offering zero solutions to the region’s fundamental energy problems, hence the relevance of ALBA’s integrated trade, energy and social investment model.

King Carlos-Alfonso-Bush and his Ministro de Indias, Thomas Shannon, known more prosaically as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, seem dumbly to play out the self-same roles as their Carlist predecessors in Spain. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias reincarnates and surpasses the role Francisco de Miranda lived out for the Spanish kings, Carlos the Third and Carlos the Fourth. Those monarchs dogged Miranda’s efforts to mount a republican revolution in Latin America against their empire. Attacks from Catholic Church hierarchs in Venezuela and foreign prelates like Rodriguez Maradiaga echo Miranda’s persecution by the Holy Inquisition.

In November 1785, Spain’s ambassador to Paris, the Count of Aranda wrote about Miranda to the Spanish Prime Minister of the time, “He is getting the world into such a state and in America there may well be so many sparks that, if care is not taken, a man like this on his own could cause more damage than a very great number.” (11) Little has changed after over two hundred and twenty years. Once-loyal imperial satrapy, Honduras – John Negroponte’s former death-squad terror stomping ground – is feeling its way out of the imperial dark and into ALBA’s new dawn. Another downward ratchet  in the US empire’s decline.

toni solo is an activist based in Central America – toni.tortillaconsal.com

Notes
1. “Ecuador y Venezuela acuerdan construir refinería”, Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias,17/07/07
2. “Un megaproyecto para salir de la megamiseria en que nos dejó el neoliberalismo” Radio La Primerisima, Managua 21/7/2007
3. “Criticise me and you’re out, Chávez warns foreigners”  Rory Carroll, Guardian, 24/7/2007  – and – “Chavez to expel foreign critics”, bbc.co.uk, 23/7/2007
4. “Periódico mexicano, víctima de boicot publicitario”,  CERIGUA, Argenpress.info, 20/07/2007 – and – “Se cierra ‘Monitor’, otro golpe a la libertad” Julio Pomar, Argenpress.info, 01/07/2007
5. “Bush Meets with Salvadoran, Honduran Presidents in New York” Scott Miller, Washington File Staff Writer, September 19th 2006,  http://useu.usmission.gov  Brussels, Belgium
6. “Honduras temporarily grabs Exxon, Chevron terminals”, Reuters, January 14th 2007
7. “Honduras sends first ambassador to Cuba in decades” Caribbean Net News, March 02, 2007
8. “Presidente Honduras irá a Cuba por primera vez en casi 50 años”, www.cubaverdad.net, July 20th, 2007
9. “Bush molesto con Zelaya” El Nuevo Diario, Managua, 22/7/2007
10. “Honduran church protests against Chavez insult to cardinal” http://english.eluniversal.com/2007/07/24/en_pol_art_honduran-church-prot_24A905039.shtml – and  – “Cardenal acepta disculpas de Hugo Chávez”, http://www.laprensahn.com/ediciones/2007/07/27/cardenal_acepta_disculpas_de_hugo_chavez_dice_presidente_zelaya – and – “Chávez ofrece disculpas a Card. Rodríguez Maradiaga pero pide que se rectifique” http://www.aciprensa.com/noticia.php?n=17787
11. Note to p.131of “Francisco de Miranda : precursor de las independencias de America Latina” by Carmen L. Bohórquez Morán. Fundación Editorial El Perro y la Rana. Caracas. 2006. ISBN 980-396-238-8 taken from A. Grisanti, “Miranda juzgado por los funcionarios españoles de su tiempo.  Grisanti Editores. Caracas. 1954

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