On July 25, Florida Republican Connie Mack led a congressional delegation (CODEL, in officialese) to Honduras. The trip was remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, it was a slap in the face to President Obama, whose administration has refused to recognize the de facto regime installed after a military coup on June 28. Second, Mack and his delegation were the first representatives from any government in the world to visit the coup regime. Last week, he released the official report about his trip and I would like to share a few of the highlights.
To avoid pricking the fussy balloon of Connie Mack’s ego, I shall forthwith refer to him, as his report does, as Ranking Member Mack, and to his delegation as the CODEL MACK. One might think of the CODEL MACK as a very large airplane on a very short runway, too short, in fact, to get a good run at lift-off, and the airplane becoming rather quickly mired in the weeds off to one end. The ranking member was determined to lead a fact-finding tour to Honduras and set the Obama administration and our embassy there straight about the coup. The problem was, nobody wanted to go with him.
Ranking Member Mack requested permission to travel to Honduras during the weekend of July 25, 2009. As required by Congressional rules, Ranking Member Mack asked that Democratic colleagues join him; in fact, Mr. Mack called more than a dozen of his Democratic colleagues to join him on his trip to Honduras, but none agreed.
(It would be much easier to understand our congress if we would just accept that it is one huge, dysfunctional junior high school and that a certain ranking member is such a tattletale.) Were there no Republicans he could have called? Surely colleagues from his own party would defer to his rank and accompany him on this vital foray into the international arena. The CODEL report is strangely silent on the matter of how many Republican colleagues he telephoned. In the end, I am sorry to report that CODEL MACK revved up its engines and taxied for take-off with just two passengers aboard:
The CODEL was led by Ranking Member Connie Mack (R-FL), and was joined by Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA).
Fine, so it was less an aircraft than a ranking penguin waddling down the runway with a congress-chick in tow. Brian Bilbray might seem an unlikely partner in this madcap adventure, tending, as he does, to dislike the babies of brown people, to dislike them so much, in fact, that he has sponsored legislation to deny U.S. citizenship to any baby born to undocumented immigrants on U.S. soil. Perhaps he was unaware that one million Hondurans live, work and have babies in the United States, or perhaps CODEL MACK sent advance word to the embassy that Congressman Brian Bilbray was not to be exposed to any brown babies during his trip. We can’t know for certain what might have prompted him to overcome his abhorrence and join the delegation (of two), but it helps to know the de facto regime had hired a lobbyist, Bennett Ratcliff, from his district, who might be assumed to have sweetened his deal with the golpistas by throwing in a congressman.
Now, it is important to understand that the de facto regime in Honduras was awaiting the arrival of these important northern dignitaries with tremendous excitement. It had been a month since a military coup installed the regime, and nobody, and I do mean nobody, in the world had given it the time of day. The world refused to recognize it. The United Nations General Assembly, acting on a resolution co-sponsored by the United States, refused to recognize it. The Organization of American States wouldn’t accept it. The European Union didn’t recognize it and had withdrawn its ambassadors. The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank didn’t recognize it and had frozen aid payments. And, of course, the United States didn’t recognize it. The coup regime had been sitting there in the Casa Presidencial all by itself and it was lonely. It needed a friend. And Ranking Member Mack was going to defy U.S. foreign policy, fly to Honduras and give it a hug.
Oh, expectations were running high in the lonelier barrios of Tegucigalpa that day. Rumors ran wild in the leading right-wing newspapers, owned by Honduran businessman and coup architect Jorge Canahuati. A delegation of senators was coming! A senator named Tom Demin was coming! Jeb Bush would join the delegation later! No, it would be Charlie Crist!
The CODEL report records the delegation’s arrival and Ranking Member Mack’s keen observations from the ground in terse detail:
12:30 p.m. Arrival in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
The CODEL departed Washington, D.C. at 7:00 a.m., flying on Delta Airlines to Tegucigalpa. Mr. Mack was met at the Toncontin International Airport by U.S. Ambassador Llorens, his staff, and a security detail.
The CODEL and Ambassador Llorens departed the airport and drove through the streets of Tegucigalpa toward the Ambassador's residence. During the drive, Congressman Mack was able to observe Hondurans participating in their daily activities. He noticed that businesses were open and that people were able to travel throughout the streets without any trouble. On the route toward the Ambassador's residence, the CODEL did notice some graffiti on the walls of residences that ranged from "apoyamos Presidente Micheletti" ("we support President Micheletti") to "no apoyamos el golpe" ("we do not support the coup").
All quiet on the southern front.
Now, the graffiti I’ve seen about Micheletti has been considerably more colorful and would have enlivened the CODEL report tremendously, but I’ll happily trade all that for the neutered reality presented by Ranking Member Mack, where Hondurans dutifully trudge into their streets to write:
We support the coup.
We do not support the coup.
We support the coup.
We do not support the coup.
But, were things as quiet as they seemed? Let us pause for a brief excursion beyond Tegucigalpa to the Honduran department of El Paraíso which was, at the very moment of CODEL MACK’s arrival, under a state of siege, occupied by an estimated 5,000 army troops with 14 roadblocks in place to prevent Hondurans from marching to the Nicaraguan border to receive their legitimate president, Manuel Zelaya. Since noon of the previous day, the department had been under military lockdown. Nobody could leave their homes. Constitutional guarantees, including the right of habeas corpus, were suspended. Thousands of Hondurans were trapped between roadblocks, without food and water, and were unable to leave. A humanitarian crisis was brewing.
In fact, just a few hours before Ranking Member Mack was receiving his remedial Spanish lesson and admiring Tegucigalpa’s quiet streets through the tinted windows of an armored suburban accompanied by a security detail, a body had been discovered in a field just a few meters from one of those El Paraíso roadblocks. The deceased, 23 year-old Pedro Muñoz, had last been seen in the company of the Honduran police, who detained him after he burned a tire to protest the army roadblocks, where police and soldiers had fired teargas and bullets into a crowd of protestors. His body showed multiple bruises, stab wounds and cuts around the wrists, inflicted as the young man tried to escape from handcuffs as he was being tortured. Here’s a detail from an AP photo of the body, not shown in the ranking member’s report. The people who discovered the body that morning had placed a red rose on his chest.
To be continued . . .
This diary ran longer than I expected, so I’ve decided to make it into a series. I will conclude this first part with a lovely song written in response to the coup by Honduran folksinger José "Yeco" Hernández, and a video with images of the first few days of protests. Since the time this video was made, protests have grown and army and police repression has become more brutal. Beatings and detention of protestors are now a daily occurrence, and media repression and assassinations by the coup regime are well-documented.
La hora del traidor, la hora del espejo, la hora del farsante, la hora del invierno . . . la hora de la patria mordida por un perro, la hora de sus llantos y medidas sin remedio, la hora del gusano, del cura y del veneno . . . la hora de la patria que solloza a lo lejos.
The time of the traitor, the time of the mirror, the time of the imposter, the time of winter . . . the time of the homeland bitten by a dog, the time of its weeping and remedies without hope, the time of the worm, the priest and the poison . . . the time of the homeland sobbing far away.