I had the ambivalent pleasure on Friday of witnessing a U.S. House of Representatives public hearing, an experience that would turn any thinking person into an anarchist.
Two hours after hearing about it, I sped down to Capitol Hill on my loaner bike. On arrival, the first thing I noticed (I have to admit this) is that there wasn't military security everywhere. I have been living in Egypt too long. The next thing I noticed is that I was dressed like an anthropologist. I consoled myself with the observation that D.C. people--at least the ones in government and related industries--have the blandest fashion sense I've ever seen.
In order to get in to any U.S. government building, you have to go through airport security screening. I was surprised that this one didn't ask for ID (others do). The hall wasn't too hard to find, and being a few minutes early, I was surprised to see that it was packed. I don't know what I was expecting. I'd just never met so many people in this country who gave a shit about Honduras. I found an empty seat in the second row, and managed to knock off a "reserved" sign on the seat in front of me on my way in. Seeing her material, I asked the young blond woman next to me if there were handouts available. She pointed back to the media table, so I got up and knocked over the "reserved" sign again. On the media table were scattered piles of photocopies. As I picked one up titled simply:
I noticed a clean-cut middle-aged lefty holding a copy of the same folder and talking about how 'he's back, and you wouldn't believe what he's up to now." He was talking to a Code Pink woman, looking, well, Code Pinkish. I have to say, after being forced to listen to endless reports about Code Pink's Gaza trip (in which they distributed pink charity boxes to women who had just had their lives destroyed) with their sycophantic fawning over Suzanne Mubarak whose husband's security forces were busy detaining and in some cases torturing peaceful pro-Gaza activists, I have little patience for their disaster tourism. Being there and visible today was more complex, however, I suppose...all this to say that there's a look, and if you've seen it, you know what I mean. In this case I described it in my notes as "contented smile, ratty hair and [Code Pink] tee-shirt, and slightly too-tight business pants" on her already small frame. So Code Pink lady was being told about a certain Lanny Davis, a Liebermanite who was there representing the CEAL-Honduras, a Latin American business association. Why he was called as an expert, I'm not sure, except to note that the U.S. oligarchy is more stable and unproblematically entrenched in national politics than that of Honduras. I am creeped out by all the Zionist connections of the golpistas/Honduran oligarchy. These include the former Mossad agents building private security prisons, private security trainings, and who knows what else. But moving on.
I went back to my seat, knocking the "reserved" sign over for a third time, and making the young woman next to me laugh. I smiled at her and asked if that was the Honduran ambassador (Flores Bermudez, who opposed the coup for two days, then suddenly supported it) sitting in the audience in front of us. She said he was. I'd only seen a picture once, but he has a pretty distinctive look--much of it well-described by the terms "nervous" and "jittery." As I watched, a suit came up to him and said in a congratulatory tone "I understand you've taken a higher position!" (in reference to reports that he was replacing the loose-cannon de facto foreign minister Ortez Colindres). "No, that's not true," Flores Bermudez responded. I asked the woman next to me who she was representing, and she said her father was in Honduras right now (in Puerto Cortés) and has investments there that he has to protect. She said she was his envoy.
Behind me sat a pasty, pudgy little young republican type in an ill-fitting suit. Kind of a smarmy little Karl Rove. Most of the people around me had their notebooks out for reporting back to someone else. I noticed their handwriting was neater than mine.
Just before 11, Rodolfo Pastor walked in. I said hello. As second-in-command at the Honduran embassy, he has been faced with the unpleasant situation of the defection of his prevaricating boss, and is awaiting a new ambassador. I started saying in Spanish, "tienen su..." and nodded over toward Flores Bermúdez. "Sí," he responded with a sigh. "We found out about this event just like you," he told me, "de la nada." He, Honduran OAS ambassador and prominent Zelaya defender Carlos Sosa Coello, and another very nice young man from the embassy sat in front of me, five seats away from Flores (I counted), who avoided eye contact. In my notebook I scribbled that they seemed perilously close. Flores was whispering to H.E. [His Excellency] Guillermo Perez-Cadalso, the former Honduran foreign minister and supreme court justice who is being trotted around the capitol by Lanny Davis and the Zionist Cormac group to correct "misperceptions" about the constitutionality of the coup.
As the representatives began to take their seats at the slightly rounded long table high above and facing us at the back of the hall, I noticed a much more crowded row behind them of what looked like teenagers and twenty-somethings. "Who are those kids?" I asked the woman next to me. She said they were either interns or staff.
Representative Eliot Engel, Chair of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, called the meeting to order. He began by thanking his colleagues for agreeing to hold the hearing on a Friday, which they don't usually do, but due to the urgency of the situation... He thanked his colleague Mr. Mack for organizing it so quickly. He then added "We'd asked the State Department to participate and I want to express my dismay that they did not come...We are a coequal branch of government...This better not be a pattern of any kind. They could have come and we would have understood that there were things that could not be said. We expect them to appear when we invite them in the future." Fighting words.
By the way, as a corrective to my possible misquotes (someone teach me shorthand, please!) and bad typing, here is the transcript of what I'm about to discuss.
He then continued, stating that first of all, the military should not have deposed Zelaya and whisked him out of the country, that essentially our hemisphere cannot tolerate military coups and shouldn't return to the bad old days...but on the other hand, he was messing with the Constitution. "Not only were the supreme court, congress and Zelaya's own attorney general against him. I'm told even members of his own political party and the influential Catholic Church were hostile to Zelaya's efforts to change the constitution."
I note: "constitutionalism=democracy."
This line of argument becomes one of three Democrat mantras throughout the meeting:
He continued, "If the de facto government wants to live up to its assertion that it was defending democracy, there's no better way to do so than to respect the views of those with whom you disagree, end the clamp-down on fundamental freedoms, and protect all peaceful dissenters."
I understand the argument, but there's an assumption that the coup government could erase the fact of the coup by not killing protesters. That's your starting position, Representative Engel? He said that he liked "diplomatic" solutions (i.e., brokered by the U.S. and its right-wing allies)...
"However, as much as I defend the OAS...I must question the expelling of Honduras from the OAS...I think you have to be consistent in what you do. And at a time when we drop the suspension of Cuba and we suspend Honduras, I think it sends an inconsistent message to the region and the world. I think consistency is important. With consistency you have credibility."
Again here I can see the inconsistency in terms of Cuba not being a Democracy [i.e., not being a U.S. ally]. But get real. Neither are we. Perhaps we should just expel everyone. Seriously, though. I won't argue Cuba's been a bastion of individual freedoms over the years, but it has been non-violently coming more and more into the capitalist-"democratic" fold, whereas the Honduran oligarchy has just carried out a coup, killing citizens, destroying civil liberties, shutting down the media, and providing cover for the huge drug trade controlled by the same oligarchy that engineered it. These are not parallel constructs. But there's no place for grey in a black and white world.
After Engel's introduction, he handed the floor over to one Rep. Connie Mack, a square-jawed, hair-gelled, overconfident Floridian. "Now let me just start," he said, "by saying this. This was not a military coup." Laughter erupted from the Code Pink and CISPES corners of the room. "How did we get here? And who is meddling from the outside?" For a moment I thought- wow- this guy is admitting the coup leaders' consultant/mercenary connections (Billy Joya's international ties, perhaps?). Silly me. Who could the meddler be but Hugo Chavez, Lord of Darkness?
And how could what happened in Honduras not be a coup, you ask? Simple. The military is not in charge! Micheletti, a law-abiding citizen, is. Since the military is not in charge, it was not a coup! The logic of the Republicans left me speechless (Democrats too, but the Republicans were really in a parallel universe). Connie Mack then claimed that "there are reports that" Zelaya was involved in drug smuggling tied to Venezuela. There may be such reports- in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote one out on his breakfast napkin- but what we do know without a doubt is that the biggest drug smugglers, who are in the de facto government supported (and in some cases operated) by powerful U.S. government interests, have benefited from the coup and most likely financed it.
Even after Engels had ragged on the OAS for expelling the coup government, Mack took a firmer stance. "I have a different opinion," he said. "I believe the OAS is a dangerous organization that is not fighting for freedom or democracy, but instead standing in the way and giving an opportunity for people like Hugo Chavez and others to use the OAS to undermine democracy in the Western Hemisphere." I really feel like it's time to retire democracy from our political vocabulary. Along with rule of law, security, and development, best practices, and a slew of other dangerously misleading terms. Perhaps enforcing the use of pig latin on meaningless phrases, to emphasize their double-plus-ungood nature, if ya know what I mean. "The OAS is undermining emocracy-day in the Western Hemisphere."
After Mack, who passionately yet idiotically argued for respecting the constitution of a country whose name he couldn't pronounce (in English), Senator Gregory Meeks was up. He was on the left side with the Democrats, and the format was alternating, D, R, D, R, outwards. He pointed out that whatever Zelaya may have done, what happened to him would have been the equivalent to the U.S. Army taking Nixon from the White House by force and sending him to a different country. Meeks was one of two or three representative (including my old rep, Barbara Lee) who actually made some sense. He defended the OAS against the previous two tirades.
Meeks was followed by a Mr. McCaul, a Republican from Texas. He agreed that this was not a military coup. Republican talking points:
McCaul was particularly concerned that the poll ballots may have had cooties: "what's most disturbing to me is that these ballots that Zelaya ordered, printed, at least from the information I have, came from Venezuela. This is the same type of thing that Hugo Chavez pulled off in his country." Sentence one: completely made up; sentence two: if I am not mistaken, Hugo Chavez didn't pull that off in his own country. But perhaps Mr. McCaul exists in the parallel universe in which 2007 was a Chavez victory, a parallel universe so exceptional that within it, parallel universes meet. I should note that the quote copied and pasted from the official transcript above is inaccurate. What he in fact said was: "what's most disturbing to me is that these ballots that Zeyala ordered, printed, at least from the information I have, came from Venezuela. This is the same type of thing that Hugo Chavez pulled off in his country." I would be honestly shocked if this man could pick Honduras or Venezuela out on a map. A map with country names on it.
Mr Albio Sires was next, a beet-red-faced Democrat from Jersey who self-righteously joined many of his colleagues in condemning the OAS over the Cuba-Honduras coup government "discrepancy."
A Mr. Smith, also from Jersey, followed. In the official minutes it appears that he said was "Mr. Chairman, the world is slowly waking to the reality that what at first might have looked like a military usurpation of democracy, courtesy of very sloppy news reporting, was actually the culmination of a democratic process, a process that began months before." In fact, what he really said was: "Mr. Chairman, the world is slowly waking to the reality that what at first might have looked like a military usurpication of democracy, courtesy of very sloppy news reporting, was actually the culmination of a democratic process, a process that began months before." He used this invented word several times, and also shared Macks' passion for defending the "Hondurians." People make fun of Don King, and he isn't even running a country. This must be hilarious! Only, I fail to see the humor in decisions putting my dear friends at risk of losing their lives being made by illiterate morons who have no idea what they're talking about, and aren't even ashamed of that fact. "The military" -he stated- "performed just as [it was] intended to by the wise writers of the Honduras constitution." He ended with the happy proclamation that "democracy and the rule of law triumphed over Mr. Zelaya's lawlessness."
A Mr. Green from Texas (D) was next. He said one of the few intelligent things I heard all day: "I would hope that we would see our country providing the leadership for democracy and not necessarily just for whoever happens to have the strong power at that time." Things had already deteriorated to the point that when someone said something not idiotic, it seemed brilliant.
Mr. Burton from Indiana followed. He tried to get the others to cut the State Department a little slack, since he had information that Arias and SICA were "getting all the facts" first. He agreed with all the Republicans so far who denied it being a coup. "And so when everybody talks about this being a military coup, I just don't get it. There was an arrest warrant issued by the supreme court. The president had violated the constitution and had not paid any attention to anybody that was giving him the proper advice. And so I don't see that this was a military coup." It seems folks have as much trouble understanding the definition of an oup-cay as they do emocracy-day.
Ms. Giffords, D from AZ had absolutely nothing to say: "I'm going to be really brief, because I know we're going to have votes soon, and we have a distinguished panel here that I think it's important to hear from." That was it.
Really? These are the people who run the government?
Mr Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, told us to "take a deep breath here and just simply look at the facts, understand the objective truth about Honduras's civil democratic institutions, as well as the scale and scope of abuses of power attributed to Mr. Zelaya." He later had his way with the acts-fay. I was watching the creation of a literary monster out of thin air. Thin air and a lot of money channeled through neoliberal D.C. lobbying firms.
Mr. Payne admitted that "it's a bad trend when we have people try to alter the constitution of countries -- I mean, to extend terms of office." Why is this the starting point?? Why is it bad to alter a constitution when it's utter crap?? We've amended the U.S. constitution...27 times (had to look that up). And where is there any evidence that Zelaya was trying to extend his term of office? His term was over in November. Nobody on the ground disputes that. Constitutional changes could have occurred to allow reelection of other presidents in the future, if the hypothetical national constitutional assembly were voted on in November and subsequently convened, but Zelaya would have had no say in that process (and these are a lot of ifs, given that neither of the coup-backing presidential candidates would have permitted the assembly to go forward). And I say all this as someone who rather likes Mr. Payne. Democrat, why must you bargain against yourself?
That was his setup (I agree Zelaya was doing wrong, but...). He then made the very reasonable point that: "because Venezuela was supportive of the president there doesn't mean that we should therefore condemn that country. If we start doing that, we'll have to look at every country in the world and who they associate with, and that certainly wouldn't make any sense."
Again, given the dearth of people inhabiting my universe in the room, this observation seemed like sheer brilliance to me. I got a cramp in my hand writing the whole thing down.
Gus Bilirakis, another batshit-crazy Republican from Florida, noted with indignation that his Hondurian [yep, another one--I wish the official typists would transcribe accurately, so people could see how ignorant their representatives really are, and this one a Floridian!! For shame.] constituents "fear that Honduras was going to turn away from its democratically elected and constitutionally based institutions and evolve into a Hugo Chavez type of autocratic state." But...but? I give up. Parallel universe. "Why," he asked, "does the Obama administration ignore the will of the Hondurian people and refuse to speak to the current president?"
Add another word to that list: eople-pay. Someone's confusing oligarquía with multitud.
Barbara Lee followed, and though she's cut off of the official transcript ( "(Audio break.)" ), she said: "A coup is a coup is a coup." She added that just as she had been opposed to the coup in Haiti which the U.S. supported and "that is what happened," (apparently this didn't happen in the other side's parallel universe) she was opposed to the coup in Honduras, regardless of the justifications given. Back home everyone has "Barbara Lee speaks for me" bumper stickers. It takes so little to become a people's hero. It's too bad more politicians don't try, but I would never expect them to, especially after sitting through this. I actually don't think that Oaklanders are that different from Peorians.
Dana Rohrabacher, an Orange County Republican who really liked the word "caudillo," immediately corrected Barbara Lee. "A coup," he lectured, "is when a military government replaces a democratically elected leader with a military leader." ...oup-kay. According to Rep. Rohr (may I call you that, sir), Zelaya "was leading a street mob to give himself...unlimited power...We all know that...We should be happy and applauding that he was stopped from that horrible power grab, which would have ended real democracy in his country."
Wow. Keeping up with the Cormac group talking points. Military coup protects democracy. Of course, that's what they're all saying. It still beggars belief.
Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) was particularly clever, getting the first laugh by noting his amazement at how many Honduran constitutional scholars were in the room. I haven't sufficiently noted it here, but each of the Republicans had cited at least one article of the constitution proving the coup was not a coup. He also tried to pull it away from the Chavez-fear-mongering, urging his colleagues to stand with right-wing and "center-left" (i.e., right wing) presidents Felipe Calderon, Alvaro Uribe, Michelle Bachelet (whose he referred to simply as "the president of Chile"), and "all of the other democratically elected presidents in Latin America who have condemned this."
Delahunt also brought up the interesting fact that in 1985 Micheletti did exactly the same thing he is now using as a justification for forcibly removing a democratically-elected president from power. He ended with the quote from the just-resigned foreign minister Enrique Ortez Colindres, which he had received translated as "I like the little black sugar plantation worker."
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa from Texas, who didn't seem to actually be on the subcommittee, waived his right to pontificate.
We were then introduced to the "experts." Just copying and pasting here, from Rep Engel:
"Michael Shifter is vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue. Welcome.
Guillermo Perez-Cadalso is a former Honduran foreign minister and supreme court justice and currently serves as professor of international law at Honduras' National University. Welcome.
Joy Olson is executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA. Welcome.
Cynthia Arnson is director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. We welcome you.
Lanny Davis is a personal friend of mine but a partner with Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe and is here today representing the Honduras chapter of the Latin American Business Council. Welcome.
And Sarah Stephens is the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. We welcome you.
And last, but not least, Otto Reich. He's president of Otto Reich Associates and a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Welcome."
Amazing. Otto Reich, who should be on trial for war crimes and who certainly himself had a hand in this coup, testifying as an "expert." And Lanny Davis? What on earth could possibly qualify him as an "expert?" Because he has been hired to represent some Honduran oligarchs?
As I listened to them I was shocked to realize that even with my limited engagement in Honduras over the past year, I probably knew more about what was going on than at least...let's see...five of them. Perez-Cadalso and Reich know damn well what's going on, but being pure evil, had no interest in telling it straight.
Shifter spoke, saying "expert" things like "what happened on June 28th in Honduras was a rupture in the democratic order," and advocating for "calm." He seemed to be saying that the coup government was like a wild animal, and we shouldn't scare it too much. He didn't think the "aggressive stance" he claimed the U.S. had had was the best idea. "It is crucial," he said, "that conditions in Honduras permit fair and credible elections that are now scheduled for the end of November."
I've got to stop here and point something out. As I've said before, you can't vote away a coup. Any government put in place by a coup government whose policies it supports is a coup government. Air-fay and redible-cay, my ass.
Shifter advocated "combining principle with pragmatism." Pragmatism is one of the most darkly cynical euphemisms I've heard for supporting repression and bloodshed. He continued, blaming the OAS for not being more flexible and for not preventing this from happening [as if they could have--there's only one external power that could have, and we know what that is]. He also lambasted the OAS for being too slow to critique other "ruptures in democratic order" in Latin America. Perhaps he focused Latin America to specifically exclude the U.S. from his analysis of American States--no rupture in democratic order here. I mean, really. We've never had it to begin with. He finished by calling for "regional partners" to "seek solutions that reflect common sense and pragmatism but are anchored in the rule of law."
Note here that no one yet has really acknowledged the massive protests against the coup, except one or two Dems who'd expressed concerns about civil liberties. The taken-for-granted understanding that Zelaya was engaged in a power grab, itself is a coup. No one has asked- if everything we've been repeating like broken records is true, and if the Honduran people are so unanimously against Zelaya and relieved to have "democracy"/"rule of law" back, why then have hundreds of thousands of people risked their lives to march against the coup? Why has the de facto government instituted curfews, shot at unarmed civilians, shut down the media? [Lanny Davis, lying through his teeth, denies this when later asked--or maybe just pulls a Bill Clinton by mentioning that the frequencies are back on the air, but neglecting to note that what once was news is now 24-7 crappy pop music] The inconsistencies, the shared fallacies that "experts" ought to be correcting stayed safely untouched.
Perez-Cadalso began humbly: "My name is Guillermo Perez-Cadalso. In the past I have served my country as the minister of foreign affairs, as a supreme court justice, and as the president of the National University of Honduras. Today, however, I come before you with the title of 'concerned Honduran citizen' and not as a government representative."
And I was there as a teakettle.
I am aware, dear reader, that this diatribe is not fit for publication. What can I tell you. I am astounded. The Code Pink guy groaned from behind me, openly expressing what I could only manage to scribble and roll my eyes about. Even so, I was embarrassed by his theatrics. I am concerned by my embodied classed and gendered sense of propriety and how it makes me cringe at certain very sincere forms of radical action. But that's an introspection to dwell on another day.
Some more lowlights of Perez-Cadalso's speech: "I can only speculate as to what the military did and why. Taking Mr. Zelaya out of the country could have been the result of a terrible dilemma. It is possible that the military, which was properly ordered to arrest Mr. Zelaya by the Honduran supreme court to uphold the constitution, thought it would be more prudent to take him out of the country, rather than hold him in custody in Honduras and risk greater civil unrest and violence."
my translation: "What is to be done? [Throw hands up in air] The military, we try to civilize them, but they have a mind of their own. Who knows what goes on in their heads really? In any case, how Zelaya was removed was just a minor detail. Did I mention how he led the angry mobs?"
He then claims that there was a "grave misunderstanding" about Zelaya's level of support, and proceeds to reiterate that the supreme court, national congress, attorney general, human rights commissioner, the "private sector" (i.e., business owners) and Catholic and Protestant churches hate him. Funny thing is, poor people--the vast majority of Hondurans--are nowhere represented in that group. Grave misunderstanding indeed.
He ended by stating there could be a resolution if "both sides refrain from personal, emotional reactions and stick to constructive discussions about the issues." Kind of like saying to someone who has just been raped (which in effect is what has happened to Hondurans, at least in the sense of the Spanish term violar), "be reasonable, sit down and work out your differences like grownups."
The Code Pink folks continued embarrassing me (why did I care?), holding up their signs and interjecting continuously. Perhaps it bothered me because I myself wanted to, as my students say, "call bullshit" on just about everything I heard. And I was restraining myself, goddamn it. And if I restrained myself then by jove, they should too. Or maybe I was just worried that it made the anti-coup side look like a bunch of wingnuts. I also noticed around this time that almost all the representatives who had supposedly come to be testified to, had left the room. Lucky for them, the primary record is a transcript. As long as they get their inane speech recorded, they have no need to stick around and try to learn anything. Although perhaps that was fine in this case, as precious little of any worth was said anyway.
Olson, who had some good points (if lacking in analysis), had an unfortunate delivery- very gendered. Lots of caveats, somewhat apologetic, meandering and riddled with ums and ahs. Like the antics of Code Pink, this kind of presentation makes me squirm, because although much of what she said was quite perceptive, I know she will not be taken seriously, and that empathy is painful. I resolve to practice speaking on a tape recorder (or digital equivalent).
Arnson was the inverse of Olson. She sounded really smart but was dangerous in her analysis, which was mostly the standard line of "protecting democracy" without any thought given to what that means, really. The assumption in talking about others' lack of democracy is always that we have it.
Lanny Davis started out by listing all of the representatives present with whom he was close friends. Stop. Shouldn't there be a law against that or something? Conflict of interest? I'm no lawyer or anything, and I've never played one on t.v., but how on earth does that qualify this guy to speak for Honduras, and why does it not disqualify him?
"Like Justice Perez," Davis asserted, "I'm here to talk about solutions, as our great president reminds us, looking forward, rather than looking backward."
Obama (my translation): "America, you must sacrifice justice for expediency." Very democratic, pres. Never mind torture, indefinite detention, wiretapping..."I've turned a new leaf, America, and so should you! Embrace your rapists. Now we all get along. And look, here's the Honduran oligarchy, come to lick my boot."
Bored with the inanity, I write notes on Davis's solemn testimony: "Law, law, law...above the law...every institution found this president put himself above the law."
A reminder here, for those of you who haven't thought about it recently:
Law ≠ Democracy.
In fact, the two are fundamentally opposed. Davis finishes up stressing that it has to be a Honduran solution (i.e., no U.S. or OAS supporting Zelaya) and that right now everyone supports this civilian government. [talking point: if "civilians" are in power, it can't have been a military coup!]
Ms Stephens made the bold statement that "coups are wrong," and then asserted that "When violence becomes a substitute for politics, everything falls apart." I chuckled at this, and thought about Arendt. I thought about how weird it was that so many people don't see politics as a form of violence, about how the understanding of violence that most people have encompasses such a tiny part of the continuum of violence in which we are all entangled and which we all embody to the extent that we think politics is separate from it. How is obscene wealth (made possible by massive poverty) not just as violent as a coup carried out to ensure the survival of such a structure? To be fair, Stephens had one of the best presentations, bringing up the hypocrisy of the power-grab rhetoric when U.S. right-wing ally Uribe really is doing exactly the same thing they're accusing Zelaya of, and actually (gasp) acknowledging that changing the constitution might be a good thing. She quoted Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center asking "does democracy allow for its own renewal, living within the rules of the game?" Again, this common-sense observation seemed like the words of a genius to me. Kind of like being given a sip of clean water while trapped in the sewer.
And then, Otto Reich. He was younger than I expected. Probably from drinking the blood of his victims. His testimony was masterful, actually. I quote a long section below:
In my opinion, what took place in Honduras on June 28, when the military removed Zelaya on an order of the supreme court, should have been handled differently. As an American, I would have liked to have seen Zelaya's charges better publicized in advance of the arrest; to have seen civilian authorities, not military forces, arrest Zelaya; I would not have expelled him from the country, but would have detained him and given him the opportunity to defend his actions like any other accused felon.
But, I'm not a Honduran. I did not feel threatened by Zelaya's increasing authoritarianism, as did the Honduran congress, for example. I did not fear the undermining of my country's democratic institutions by Zelaya, as did the Honduran supreme court. I did not know the extent of interference by Venezuelan, Cuban and other foreigners in the internal affairs of my country, as did the Honduran armed forces.
Had I been a Honduran -- not living peacefully in the United States, as most of us in this room do, I would have heard the exceptional denunciations of the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches protesting Zelaya's abuses of power. At the same time, however, one does not have to be a Honduran to understand the anger of the average citizen at the documented and repeated instances of gross dishonesty by Mel Zelaya, his family and members of his cabinet.
I cannot excuse the zeal with which the military broke into Zelaya's house. But, it may be explained by Zelaya's illegal misuse of the police and military to take over private properties, deny access to rightful owners, and thus benefit his extended family. To use the forces of the law to commit unlawful acts is immoral. That may also explain the church's condemnation of Zelaya.
Commendably, the legal adviser of the Honduran armed forces, as has been mentioned here, admitted the law was broken in expelling Zelaya, an action they, the armed forces, justified as taken to prevent violence. When was the last time the legal adviser of Chavez or Castro's armed forces -- assuming they even have such a position, admitted a criminal error in handling a case?
So, in other words: you and I, we are civilized people. Like Justice Perez, you and I would have preferred for this necessary act to have been carried out in a civilized way. But you and I, we are not Hondurans. Hondurans have multiple reasons that we (as civilized people) cannot understand for being uncivilized. That wacky Honduran military- you may not be able to control them, but you sure can understand them. After all, Zelaya brought this upon himself! Even the Catholic Church says so. He's the real violent one. And anyway, the army apologized for their mistake. See? What's more democratic than that? We civilized people are benevolent enough to forgive a democracy that recognizes its own shortcomings. Maybe one day, just maybe, they too will become civilized like us and no longer have any.
"I'm an immigrant," he concluded, "a Cuban-American who lived under two dictatorships in his native country, then saw it enslaved by communism...I fervently exercise my civil rights because I once lost those rights and know how precious they are. I urge this Congress not to condemn Hondurans for defending theirs, even if we may not approve of the one mistake to which the military have already confessed."
He's a magician. Under Reich's spell, the coup government with its blocked and bombed media and beaten and murdered journalists is the protector of civil rights, and the "mistake" of the violent military coup only adds to its righteousness. "Remember Iran Contra!" shouts Code Pink guy.
All the experts having spoken, Engel started the questioning by proposing a solution: the reinstatement of Zelaya until the regularly-scheduled elections in November in which he would be barred from running [never mind that he already was barred from running and never in a million years would have been able to do so].
Davis began with the golpista argument: "The law needs to be upheld...." [i.e., the lawful coup cannot tolerate the lawbreaking constitutional president] but was cut off by Engel: "May I interrupt?" he asked [I'm noting discrepancies in the record, and I know I copied this down verbatim. Interesting]. "I notice in the audience there are some signs and I'd ask you [Code Pinkers] to put those down because I believe it is inappropriate."
Arnson suggested there could be a role for international observers, something that, interestingly, the protesters themselves have been demanding--"queremos cascos azules," they chant--"we want the blue (UN peacekeepers) helmets". We need to look forward, she repeated. Both sides need to be flexible (e.g., bend over, multitudes. stretch).
Mack was next. "You don't need to be an expert on the Hondurian constitution to understand it...it's not that hard to figure out. You don't have to be a scholar. You just have to read it," he said in triumphant rebuttal of Delahunt. "This idea that this is a coup is so disturbing to me. That you would -- could say with a straight face, after hearing the testimony from the panelists and the members that sit up here, the military is not in charge of Honduras. Therefore, you cannot have -- it cannot be a military coup. The military acted on the rule -- on the order of the supreme court."
His question, when he finally got to it (having answered it for himself), was "Does your client believe that this was a military coup?" The way it works is, like the speeches at the start, they take turns (R,D,R,D...), and they get to address the question to whomever they choose. So it was a series of softballs thrown by representatives to the "experts" who were then given extra time to make their case. Davis, Mack's friend and chosen one, responded happily, "My client wants me to answer that question based on the facts, and the facts are there is no military person in charge of this government. The government is now, de facto, being run by the successor, under the constitution, the president of the congress. So, the word "military" would be inappropriate as far as my clients are concerned."
Note: actually, the successor under the constitution would be the vice president. But details, shmetails.
His client, he generously admitted, was troubled by the way the coup was carried out [like Otto Reich, Honduran business elites are a civilized people]. "But, just remember the context: The president of Honduras led a mob -- the president himself, you can see it on YouTube, led the mob that overtook the army guards into the barracks to seize ballots that had been shipped in by Mr. Chavez. Now, that's just a fact."
It's an act-fay!
Mack helpfully added some advice for future coup leaders: "Hondurans could [figure] out the right course to go to make sure that that didn't happen again, that their constitution was followed, that the rule of law was followed, but to also make the statement that, in the future, they won't be flown out of the country." See? They've learned their lesson! Civilized coup!
Rep. Meeks wanted to know if the poor were going to be hurt by the sanctions, and Olson replied that only direct-to-government aid had been cut by the U.S. Truth is, the poor are desperately hurting because of the coup and the coup leaders' utter disregard for even their subsistence needs. Other truth is, the NGOs in charge of distributing the aid, on the whole, do a piss-poor job of it. Not because they are incompetent, but because they are designed to be agents of neoliberalism. And in that capacity, they work just fine.
McCaul gave another softball, this one to Perez, again asking if this was a military coup after firmly stating that it wasn't [clearly a coordinated effort]. Perez complied, laying out the reasons why this was not a coup. He lived through the 60s and 70s, after all, and those were different:
One, the military seize power, and they take power or they do a civic military junta. Second, they abolish the other powers or the branches of government, certainly Congress and sometimes even the judiciary. Third, the Constitution is abolished or is subject to whatever the military regime wants. Fourth, usually there's a bloodbath that occurs with the takeover of the military."
Since the military is not (according to the constitutional scholar, here using an anecdotal rather than legal definition) in power, therefore it can't have been a coup.
Olson brought up the media repression, to which Davis objected. "Democracy is flourishing," Davis, who has been nowhere near Honduras since the coup, said with confidence.
Smith from Jersey brought up usurpication again. He noted (counterfactually) that "people in Honduras, in the United States and every other country want the rule of law to be upheld." Perez agreed, arguing that Zelaya could not return as president. "He has to be arrested if we respect the rule of law."
Mr. Payne, then, made perhaps the most important (genius!) observation of the hearing, noting that he had heard from the business people, the Catholic Church, and all the other institutions who have condemned Zelaya, but not anyone representing any actual people. But the minimum wage had been raised, and a lot of indigenous people and Afro-Caribbeans were supportive of the president...could anybody speak to them? Did anybody know their position on the coup?
Sadly, he did not direct his question properly and it was deftly circumvented by Davis, who went back to the institutional argument. Payne then expressed concern about the racist foreign minister reflecting on the group. "He was sacked!" Davis jumped in, damage control.
REP. PAYNE: Who appointed him? The same guys that took out the former president? They must have put him in.
MR. DAVIS: Well, he got sacked.
REP. PAYNE: Well, he got in.
It should be noted here that Ortez Colindres has just been given a new post as Minister of the Department of the Interior. A Honduran friend noted on facebook "rather than dealing with the darkies abroad, they put him to work on the darkies here."
Reich jumped in, saying that Chavez had said it too. Of course, the "it" in question is a word that has vastly different meanings in different contexts, which Reich of course knows full well, but try explaining the nuances of language to this group of troglodytes.
Barbara Lee tried to bring in some light, noting ulterior motives not having anything to do with the alleged constitutional offenses: the business community pissed off over the minimum wage, the Church pissed off over the morning-after pill, and now her concerns over the human rights report severely condemning the actions of the coup government. Reich responded gallantly that he would never justify the restrictions of rights by any government, but...(and a repeat of how Zelaya brought this all on by repeatedly violating the law). Let me just cut and paste the rest of this exchange. They are both really, really good at what they do, the difference being that Reich sucks the blood of children to stay young:
REP. LEE: Well, let me just say, we've had presidents who many of us believe have violated our own law in the Constitution and none of us have suggested any coup d'etat. We've always suggested moving --
MR. REICH: Well, I think that --
REP. LEE -- forward with the democratic process to make sure democracy prevails.
MR. REICH: Right, because our system works and the institutions work. And what I think we are failing to see here is that the institutions of Honduras also worked. And, you know, we are -- I think this is a dialogue of a death, frankly, on the question of the coup.
You've heard members of the -- former members of the Honduras supreme court tell you that by their law, the actions of the president constituted a self-activating rule by which he ceased to be the president of Honduras. I'm not a lawyer. As I've said in my testimony, I'm not qualified to judge, but I think that Mr. Perez- Cadalso -- Dr. Perez-Cadalso certainly is.
And he is saying to us, as did another former president of the Supreme Court, who I quote in my testimony, who said that that action was legal, Mrs. Lee -- Congresswoman Lee. I don't think that the Congress of the United States should sit in judgment of the supreme court of another country.
REP. LEE: Well, let me tell you, Cuba has its constitution, and there are those who were saying -- talking out of both sides of their mouth.
MR. REICH: That's right. Well, and there were also the Nuremburg laws in Germany, if you want to defend those kind of laws.
A few more questions later the hearing was adjourned and people milled about, hobnobbing and scheming, some of them in the hallways getting into the fights they were (like me) holding themselves back from in the brain-exploding previous two hours or so. I biked away from the Orwellian cave that is the U.S. Congress as quickly as I could.