The Other McCain

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Which Gringos Are to Blame for the Ongoing Disaster in Central America?

Posted on | July 6, 2019 | 2 Comments

Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati (left) with Hillary Clinton (right) in 2010.

For decades, liberals have blamed the United States for everything wrong in Latin America. Now that we have an immigration crisis caused by bogus “refugees” making phony asylum claims, this “Blame the Gringo” game is being played with a vengeance. Left-wing journalist Alex Rubinstein noted on Twitter that “a US-backed coup 10yrs ago fueled the migrant crisis with skyrocketing poverty & repression by death squad.”


Oh, wait — 10 years ago, you say? Having paid little attention to U.S. policy in Honduras, this business of a U.S.-backed coup was news to me, so I started researching. An article by Vassar College professor Joseph Nevins, “How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration,” takes us back to the late 19th century, when American investors began developing banana plantations in Honduras. It was from the relationship between such investors and government officials that the phrase “banana republic” emerged to describe the typical Latin American “strong man” regime, where the sponsorship of U.S. businesses was crucial to suppressing radical opponents who appealed to anti-gringo sentiment.

During the Cold War, Communists sought to exploit this situation, which led to the Castro regime in Cuba and the Sandinista regime in Nicauragua, to say nothing of the various attempted Communist takeovers in other countries (e.g., Grenada). As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s impossible for anyone under 40 to understand what the Cold War was like, and the compromises and calculations necessary to defeating Soviet-backed aggression were always difficult. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, finding the right path in a post-Cold War environment has been a muddle in Latin America (as everywhere else). Looking at Bush’s misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what a botch the Obama administration made of Middle East policy (the 2011 “Arab Spring,” Benghazi, the mess in Syria, etc.), one feels a certain nostalgia for the stark moral clarity of Cold War-era policy.

The situation in Honduras took at bad turn about 10 years ago. Manuel Zelaya was elected president in 2006 as a liberal reformer, but in office began forming alliances with the Castro regime in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. When he proposed a referendum to change the Constitution in Honduras, the military resisted. Zelaya was overthrown and sent into exile, and the Obama administration shrugged:

The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in particular, sent conflicting messages, and worked to ensure that Zelaya did not return to power. This was contrary to the wishes of the Organization of American States, the leading hemispheric political forum composed of the 35 member-countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean. Several months after the coup, Clinton supported a highly questionable election aimed at legitimating the post-coup government.
Strong military ties between the U.S. and Honduras persist: Several hundred U.S. troops are stationed at Soto Cano Air Base, formerly Palmerola, in the name of fighting the drug war and providing humanitarian aid.
Since the coup, writes historian Dana Frank, “a series of corrupt administrations has unleashed open criminal control of Honduras, from top to bottom of the government.”

You see how the “Blame the Gringo” game is played. No matter what goes wrong in Latin America — where corrupt governments and widespread poverty are the norm — the U.S. always gets the blame, and it doesn’t matter whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House.

There is no magic formula that can cure the problems of Honduras. A rhetoric of “democracy” and “human rights” serves only to foster the delusion that there is something we, as Americans, can do to solve problems we did not actually cause, but for which we are unfairly blamed. Describing the ouster of Zendaya as a “U.S.-backed coup,” for example, is misleading, making it seem as if Obama did this through a CIA plot. As much as I hate to give any credit to Obama or Hillary Clinton, they were confronted with a difficult situation in Honduras and accepting the post-coup government as legitimate was probably the best thing to do. From a 2016 article in the Guardian:

Clinton [as Secretary of State in 2009] pushed for new elections, rather than the return of Zelaya, whom she considered a leftist troublemaker in the mould of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. . . .
In the hardback edition of her autobiography Hard Choices, Clinton wrote that the head of the Honduran congress, Roberto Micheletti, and the country’s supreme court “claimed to be protecting Honduran democracy against Zelaya’s unlawful power grab and warned that he wanted to become another Chavez or Castro.
“Certainly the region did not need another dictator, and many knew Zelaya well enough to believe the charges against him.” . . .
Clinton has claimed that calling the military coup a military coup would have increased the suffering of ordinary Hondurans as it would have triggered the suspension of US aid.
In the weeks following the coup, Zelaya made three attempts to re-enter the country, which Clinton described as reckless. She has said that her focus at the time was on electing a new leader in order to ensure an orderly transition.
In her memoir, she wrote: “In the subsequent days I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere … We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
Leaked emails from Clinton’s private server which were published by WikiLeaks show that during this period, the US pushed the OAS to support new elections and sideline Zelaya.

Liberals who praised Hillary’s qualifications to be president, and who automatically condemn as “racist” any criticism of the Obama administration, cannot have their cake and eat it, too. If it is true that Hillary opposed Zendaya’s restoration because of concerns that he might follow the path of Chavez in Venezuela, she deserves either credit for her wisdom or blame for her folly, but you can’t have it both ways. Personally, as a conservative, I’m inclined to say she did the right thing, and however bad things are in Hondura now, they would be much worse if Zendaya had gone in the direction of Chavez. But this still involves us in the “Blame the Gringo” game where U.S. policy is presumed to be the determining factor in the fate of Latin America, which has the effect of absolving the people of countries like Hondura of any blame for their own problems, treating them like irresponsible children who constantly need the assistance and supervision of a benevolent Uncle Sam.

Furthermore, conservatives have to resist the temptation of embracing liberals’ quasi-religious belief in “democracy” as a universal panacea that can cure all the problems of all people at all times. Given the recent results of “democracy” in, say, San Francisco or Chicago, do Americans really wish to impose such a system everywhere? Representative government works best where there is a large middle class and widespread economic prosperity; trying to force-feed “democracy” to the ignorant peasantry of Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t work out so well, and American conservatives ought to be hesitant to condemn “right-wing” elements in Latin America or other places who resist any “democracy” that would mean allowing radicals and revolutionaries to turn their countries into Marxist-Leninist hellholes. The rise of populist right-wingers like Viktor Orban in Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil suggests that it is possible for democracy to produce effective antidotes to leftism in countries where the social, economic and cultural conditions are favorable. We ought not despair for the possibility that such leaders might yet emerge in countries like Honduras, so that real democracy — the rule of law — can restore order, ending the migration crisis.

Finally, however, conservatives must reject the “Blame the Gringo” game every time we are invited to play it. While wise U.S. policy is beneficial to Latin America, it is insulting to the more intelligent and responsible citizens of those countries to depict them as helpless children, permanently dependent on our paternalistic assistance. While I would never pretend to be an expert on Honduras, the general case in such countries is that the responsible middle-class element of society must deal with the inevitable consequences of “democracy” where the majority of voters are poor and ignorant, and thus susceptible to left-wing demagoguery and the politics of envy. But you could say the same of Baltimore, Detroit or St. Louis. We have our own urban “banana republics” to deal with, and we cannot solve their problems by importing millions of impoverished “refugees” from Central America.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! You’ll find some fascinating discussion in the comments, and I hope you don’t mind if I remind you that the Five Most Important Words in the English Language are:




2 Responses to “Which Gringos Are to Blame for the Ongoing Disaster in Central America?”

  1. Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove
    July 7th, 2019 @ 8:42 am

    […] The Other McCain wonders which gringos are responsible for the Central American disaster […]

  2. Which Gringos Are to Blame for the Ongoing Disaster in Central America? – Wince and Nod
    July 15th, 2019 @ 12:34 am