Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Other Shoe Drops--Brazilian Interventionism in Honduras

I had suggested yesterday that the miraculous entry of Mr. Zelaya into Honduras and his equally fortuitous admission into a Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital just when coincidentally enough the bulk of the Brazilian staff was elsewhere suggested that these events were being orchestrated by Brazil to topple the Honduran state and replace it with a person more to Mr. Lula da Silva's taste. Today, Brazil moved one step closer to realizing its aims in Honduras. See Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XVIII-- Constitutional Caudillismo: End Games in Honduras, Law at the End of the Day, Sept. 22, 2009.

Mr. Lula da Silva used his time at the United Nations to significantly raise the profile of Brazil as the new master of Latin America. "Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says the international community demands the reinstatement of ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya. Addressing the United Nations, Mr Lula used the situation in Honduras as an example of where greater global political will was needed." Brazil Urges Action on Honduras, BBC News Online, Sept. 23, 2009. Mr. Lula da Silva's intentions could not have been more clearly stated: "'The international community demands that Mr Zelaya immediately return to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil's diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras,' Mr Lula told the UN General Assembly in New York." Id. Brazil, of course, remains indifferent to Honduran requests to return Mr. Zelaya for trial--something the Honduran legislature should have done at the start of this mess in July. It appears that as far as Brazil is concerned, it ought to be the legislature and the judiciary that ought to be tried and condemned for the temerity to cause offense to the Presidential office.

Beneath the splendid rhetoric is a new reality of power relations in the region. What is now clear os that Brazil is moving rapidly to project its political power as close as possible to what had been an American sphere of influence. The object is also plain enough--to wrest from the United States effective control fo the political life of small Latin American states to as close to the Mexican boder as he dares to approach. This is not so much a new form of Latin American interventionism in defense of democracy as it is a test run for Brazilian power politics in the region. It appears that the retreat of the United States from the region will not provide a breathing space for small Central American states as it will provide an opening for the substitution of Brazil for the United States as the dominant power in the region. The face of Brazilian power will appear cloaked in the internationalist language now in vogue, but the fist will will be national all the same. Indeed, the subordinate and obediant role fo the OAS is quite apparent. "Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said he would go to Honduras when the airports re-open and "if there is a meaningful contribution that we can make"." Brazil Urges Action on Honduras, BBC News Online, Sept. 23, 2009.

Lost in the process of transition of domination from an English to a Portuguese voice, is the development of transnational constitutionalist principles as a bulwark of protection for small states. And indeed, in what might become a great cynical maneuver, I would predict that, having reinstalled Mr. Zelaya as "president" of Honduras, both Brazil and the OAS will turn a blind eye to the extention of his presidential term and the canceling of the November 2009 elections. While the matter of Mr. Zelaya's removal was orchestrated as a test of international imposition of interpretation of the Honduran constitutional order for the greater glory of "democracy", it would be ironic indeed if thereafter Mr. Zelaya's efforts to overturn that very constitutional order and refashion it to his liking--using the power of the office for that effort, will be deemed a matter of internal Honduran affairs and no interference with those activities will be tolerated.

I do not mean to suggest that this is necessarily a bad thing. But it does suggest that the region is quite amenable to acceptance of continued domination by a great power. It seems that Latin America remains in need of masters willing to extract obedience and impose hierarchy. It seems to matter little whether that power speaks English or Portuguese. What does seem to matter is the national will of the dominant state to project itys power for its own ends. In this case, the ends are also clear--the construciton of a client state with a dependent leader. The Americans were once well versed in this sort of "international relations" in the region. Only time will tell if the Brazilians learned their lessons well enough to completely wrest this crown from the inept hands of the Americans.

What will be more interesting still will be the ways in which the language of internationalism will be deployed, and perhaps subverted, in the service of the reconstitution of international client state systems in Latin America. Mr. Lula da Silva has been clear about using a modified form fo the royal "we" to cloak Brazil's singular role in these events. He speaks for the international community in ways reminiscent of American uses of that phrase in times past for its purposes. And he is able to use the notions of transnational constitutionalism to subvert the Honduran constitutional order in the reconstitution of the Honduran political order. But one ought to be careful about what one creates. Just as the internaitonal community can be turned on the Honduran constitutional order to remake it in its own image, the day may come when Brazil may find itself in the same position. But that is unlikely--transnational constitutionalism appears ready to be remade as a method for imposing order on weak states, leaving the more powerful states the freedom to resist internationalization of their own constitutional orders. Who would dare apply the same measure to Mr. Lula da Silva's Brazil? Certainly no one thought to do so after the American presidential elections of 2000.

And in this drama, the Americans are strangely disoriented. In the process they continue to be badly played. Mrs. Clinton, in particular, has shown herself to be both passive and aggressive in dissipating American power in the region. But she has followed the lead of others, playing the role of the clumsy ignorant giant; she has shown no sign of leadership. And Mr. Obama has made himself noticeably absent., preferring the comfort of vague but pleasant sounding generalities. "In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, he said global problems included nuclear proliferation, war, climate change and economic crisis." Obama Urges World to Stand United, BBC News Online, Sept. 23, 2009.

The Brazilians are leading now. And that is, in part, a good thing, if only for the preservation of a traditional sort of international order in the region. One can only hope that as the rising masters of the region they show a greater adeptness for that task than the Americans have evidenced for the last generation. Certainly, Mr. Chavez in Venezuela and Mr. Castro in Cuba will seek to see to that. Mr. Lula da Silva, however, will likely continue to pursue his own strategies, and the Cubans and Venezuelans may find themselves following rather than leading this charge, behind this emerging regional giant, now much more aware of its power and much more willing to assert its power prerogatives in the region.

POST SCRIPT--"¿¡It is All the Fault of the Jews"?!: It seems that modern international relations, as understood by a certain segment of Latin American society, continues to indulge the belief that if it is not the United States, then it is the Jews who control everything, and against whom they are apparently without much defense. The Miami Herald reported that
It's been 89 days since Manuel Zelaya was booted from power. He's sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and "Israeli mercenaries'' are torturing him with high-frequency radiation. "We are being threatened with death,'' he said in an interview with The Miami Herald, adding that mercenaries were likely to storm the embassy where he has been holed up since Monday and assassinate him.
Frances Robles, They're torturing me, Honduras' Manuel Zelaya claims, The Miami Herald, Sept. 24, 2009. But Mr. Zelaya is not alone. It seems that Mr. Chavez of Venezuela is also sensitive to the manipulative political utility of what are now also the conventional and ritualized allusions to the "global control" exerted by Israel on behalf of the "Jewish community." It was reported in the American media that "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez referred to Israeli complicity in the Honduran coup during his address to the General Assembly during the general assembly. At the press conference following the speech, a Herald reporter asked him if he could corroborate Zelaya's story. Chavez said he had no proof but had "no reason to doubt a serious man like Zelaya." Zelaya says he's being tortured by Israeli mercenaries, Foreign Policy, Passport, Sept. 24, 2009. This was suitably softened in print. "Turning to Honduras and allegations that Israeli-produced microwave generators were being used against the Brazilian Embassy, he said he could not confirm that claim but had no reason to doubt President Manuel Zelaya, who had told him in a telephone conversation that he had discovered electronic equipment used for sabotaging cell phones. According to the Honduran President, that equipment had been produced by Israel. Although the United Nations had condemned the coup in Honduras, the Government of Israel had recognized those who had carried out the coup." United Nations, Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York, Press Conference by President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias of Venezuela, Sept. 24, 2009.

And of course, Mr. Chavez retreated to the current conventional trope of political antisemitism--the distinction between the "nice" Jews, individuals, and the "government" of "Israel". "Clarifying that he was talking about the Government and not the people of Israel, he said he would not give in to its blackmail when it claimed he was anti-Semitic. Obama’s criticism of Israel had fallen short and the Israeli Government’s actions in Gaza had proven its “genocidal” nature." Id. All of this, of course, both plays well before a global community used to demonizing the institutional face of the Jewish community with something like a political blood libel mantra, and as a distraction from the role of other actors in the events unfolding within Honduras. Sadly it can also only serve to further erode the legitimacy of any international action imposed on Honduras based thereon. Perhaps, the Israeli State ought to take a lesson from Mr. Chavez and suggest that like Venezuelan weapons found in hte possession of FARC in Columbia, "Not only had those missiles been stolen from Venezuela before his assumption of office, but they had turned out to be completely useless." Press Conference by President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias of Venezuela, Sept. 24, 2009.

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