An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Post-Modern Coup




My admiration for Barack Obama continues to grow as he emerges as the master of the post-modern power grab. For the first time in U.S. history, America has orchestrated a Latin American coup with the smooth efficiency of an executive's well-managed image makeover. The term Eva Gollinger uses for the new imperial strategy is "smart power" and she describes it as follows: "The Obama administration has opted for a mutation of these two concepts, fusioning military power with diplomacy, political and economic influence with cultural penetration and legal manuvering. They call this “Smart Power”. Its first application is the coup d’etat in Honduras, and as of today, it’s worked to perfection." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

Before getting into the details of her cogent analysis, we should first step back and examine the type of power we are speaking about. This was well-described by Peter Hallward in an article last year, "As several generations of emancipatory thinkers have now argued, modern forms of power do not primarily exclude or prohibit but rather modulate, guide or enhance the behavior norms conducive to the status quo..." New Left Review, Sept. - Oct., 2008.

This is the essence of the Obama strategy - to modulate, guide and enhance the behavior that they wish to enforce, in this case in order to counter the popular movements that threaten U.S. hegemony in Latin America. Golinger describes the calculated ambiguity which informed U.S. policy over the past four months, "On one hand, President Obama condemned the coup against President Zelaya while his ambassador in Tegucigalpa held regular meetings with the coup leaders. Secretary of State Clinton repeated over and over again during the past four months that Washington didn’t want to 'influence' the situation in Honduras – that Hondurans needed to resolve their crisis, without outside interference. But it was Washington that imposed the mediation process 'led' by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Washington that kept funding the coup regime and its supporters via USAID, and Washington that controlled and commanded the Honduran armed forces, involved in repressing the people and imposing a brutal regime, through its massive military presence in the Soto Cano military base." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

Notice the distinction made by this "smart power" strategy: the rhetoric was constantly on the side of the legitimate President, Zelaya, but the concrete action was always supportive of the coup regime. She sums up the success of this strategy as follows, "Washington lobbyists also wrote the San José 'agreement', and in the end, it was the high level State Department and White House delegation that 'persuaded' the Hondurans to accept the agreement. Despite the constant US interference in the coup d’etat in Honduras – funding, design, and political and military support – Washington’s 'smart power'approach was able to distort public opinion and make the Obama administration come out as the grand victor of 'multilateralism'" - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

The genius of this strategy is it emerges with a clear victory for U.S. imperial control while retaining its progressive credentials. In the end, what is the result of the agreement? "Upon signature of the 'agreement' this past October 30th, Washington immediately lifted the few restrictions it had imposed on the coup regime as a pressure tactic. Now they can get visas again and travel north, they don’t have to worry about the millions of dollars from USAID, which hadn’t even been suspended in the first place. The US military in presence in Soto Cano can reinitiate all their activities – oh wait, they never stopped in the first place. The Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) of the Pentagon affirmed just days after the coup that 'everything is normal with our armed forces in Honduras, they are engaging in their usual activities with their Honduran counterparts.' And Washington is already preparing its delegation of elections observors for the November 29th presidential elections – they are already on their way." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

"Everything is normal," says the Pentagon. Indeed it is - "The people were left out, excluded. Months of repression, violence, persecution, human rights violations, curfews, media closures, tortures and political assasinations have been forgotten. What a relief, as Subsecretary of State Thomas Shannon remarked upon achieving the signature of Micheletti and Zelaya on the final “agreement”, that the situation in Honduras was resolved 'without violence'." Precisely, violence only exists against those in power. Repression of those below is elided with the smooth turn of a jazz solo.

The success of this first post-modern coup will doubtless inspire many other ruling elites in Central and South America to hatch their own plots. And the Obama administration will smile benevolently, modulating, guiding and enhancing the process until victory is achieved. Bravo, Barack!

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