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writing for godot

Silence of Six Thousand Four Hundred & One Lambs

Written by ennisprof   
Thursday, 10 March 2016 16:14
I like to begin every morning, cup of coffee in hand, by reading an entry from one of Thomas Merton's journals. I consider Merton a spiritual friend. I never know where one of his entries will take me. This is what I read this morning:

"On March 21, 1968, the New York Times reported that ‘about 5,000 sheep have been struck down by some mysterious killing agent. . . . Suspicion was pointed tonight at nerve gas being tested at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground, Utah.’ The Army refused to comment on the incident. Two days later Dr. D. A. Osguthorpe, head of a special investigating team, said, ‘We are as positive as medical science can ever be’ that nerve gas from tests conducted by the Army had killed 6,400 sheep in western Utah's Skull Valley." (n. 6, p. 94)

The reading put me in mind of recent armed standoffs in the Western desert involving, 1) Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch where, from behind the barrels of their rifles, locals stood down federal authorities, and 2) the more recent occupation, by some of the same “well-armed” individuals, of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It seems to me that these incidents provide a “bird's eye” view of why we are regarded by many around the world as underhanded, greedy, and by the nature of power itself, prone to violence.

Whether wrong or right, the Rancher Standoffs are a reactionary, anger-fueled effort to combat perceived abuses of American power. As a nation, it seems, we are bent, both locally and globally, on dominance. We use money to widen the reach of embedded power in Washington D.C. And we manipulate scientific discovery to intensify and extend the destructive capacity of the military. Just ask the 6,400 sheep mentioned above. This deep state aggression has been in play a long, long time.

The Rancher standoffs offer a study in why we are despised by many people around the world. For, we can observe in the ranchers’ armed responses the ways our monolithic self-interest and our actions help create and foster reactionary motives--in the ranchers, in lone-wolf crazies like Timothy McVeigh and the Unibomber, and in the global terrorists that seek our destruction. Are they crazy? In a way yes. But in another way, no.

Just this past week a Honduran woman, last year's Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Berta Cáceres, was assassinated in her La Esperanza home. Human Rights Watch reports that: “In the early hours of March 3, 2016, gunmen broke into Cáceres’s home in La Esperanza, Intibuca, and shot her dead.”

In Honduras, one of the poorest of Central America’s seven countries, violence is no stranger. Back in 2009, a coup d'état deposed then Honduran President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya. On the following day, President Obama told the press that, the coup was illegal and that the democratically elected Zelaya remained the President of Honduras. In fact, most of the international community condemned the coup. A month after the coup (in a document recently made public by Wikileaks) the U.S. Embassy in Honduras confirmed beyond doubt—“the [Honduran] military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch.”

On the same day that Obama had unofficially declared the coup illegal, “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most U.S. aid to Honduras.

“Under U.S. law, no aid -- other than for the promotion of democracy -- may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup.

“Asked if the United States was currently considering cutting off aid, Clinton shook her head no.”

In fact, instead of cutting aid, Clinton’s State Department had requested “$68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010, up from $43.2 million. This covers funds for development, Honduran purchases of U.S. arms, military training, counter-narcotics and health care but does not include Defense Department aid.” (Reuters)

“Though some U.S. assistance was temporarily put on hold, other critical assistance, like a $205 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Honduras grant, continued to flow (while in other countries that experienced coups in 2009, namely Madagascar and Mauritania, MCC funds were suspended within 1-3 days, and MCC compacts were terminated).”

A small contingency, 30 members of Congress, signed a letter denouncing the coup as illegal and urging suspension of Honduran aid until such time that Human Rights violations—atrocities—might be addressed. The letter emphasizes the point that: “Tragically, since the August 4, 2010 visit of Undersecretary of State Maria Otero, Honduras has not advanced human rights or political freedoms.”

How serious were the abuses in question? Here’s a small part of the Table of Contents from a 283 page report entitled, Report of the Commision of Truth (2013):

1.1 Repression of demonstrators in Toncontín airport, July 5, 2009

1.2 Repression in El Paraíso. Arrests, torture, killing of a protester

1.3 Repression of protesters in El Durazno, July 30, 2009

1.4 Repression of a demonstration, July 30, 2009 in El Pajonal, Comayagua

1.5 Repression of the demonstration on August 12, 2009 in the vicinity of the National Congress, in Tegucigalpa

1.6 Repression in Choloma. Sexual violence against a protester, August 14, 2009

1.7 Repression of protesters outside the Brazilian Embassy, September 22, 2009

1.8 Repression of protesters in San Pedro Sula, September 15, 2010

1.9 Repression of the teaching profession. Killing of teacher Ilse Ivania Velásquez Rodríguez, March 18, 2011


Berta Cáceres is only the latest in a series of violent murders perpetrated by right-wing conservative and big money business interests that remained unchecked by the Honduran government and officially unrecognized by ours. Leading up to the time of her assassination, Cáceres had led a successful campaign against construction of the Agua Zarca Dam on the Gualcarque River. Human Rights Watch reports that in 2013, “The Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam builder, pulled out of the construction.” Their reason for doing so was “ongoing community resistance and outrage.”

At least the Chinese pulled out. The United States not only continues to take no political stand against anti-democratic right-wing factions in Honduras, we increasingly court business interests and give them financial support.

The way we have presently refused to deal head-on with Honduras’ repressive violence indicates to me that we have learned much from Ronald Reagan who, while testifying in 1990, stated that he could remember nothing about 1980s “profits from Iran weapons sales being diverted to the right-wing Nicaraguan contras” and their death squads. According to a February 23, 1990 article in the Chicago Tribune, Reagan repeated the words, “I don’t recall” or “I can’t remember” a total of 88 times.

“In defense of his sporadic recollections, Reagan said that he had been told by statisticians that he met on the average with about 80 people a day for eight years and that 50 million pieces of paper accumulated during his presidency.” In a curious side note we may recall that “During the 1980s, Honduras supported U.S. policy opposing a revolutionary Marxist government in Nicaragua and an active leftist insurgency in El Salvador.” Our relations with Honduras stem backward over time and offer American power a strategic entry point into Central America.

The Obama Administration’s excuse for not condemning the Honduran coup d'état is that they were waiting to see if a diplomatic solution might not be effected. In the meantime, between 2009 and 2016 there have been many changes both here at home and in Honduras. One change is that Hillary Clinton is no longer Secretary of State and as everyone knows, is now running for President.

In Honduras, in 2013, Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, also ran for President. The organization, Rights Action, reports that “more than 30 members of her new left-wing party, Libre, were murdered or suffered violent attacks in the run up to the election,” which she did not win.

It does seem like business as usual in Honduras. And of course, here in America, we like business as usual too. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that tarnishes the Obama Administration which, along with former President Bill Clinton’s Administration, has given rise to the term “neo-liberalism,” embracing corporate deregulation, a strong tendency toward militarization, and a view toward global trade that historically adds to the coffers of the world’s elite. This neoliberal ideology is what Reaganism, despite his memory lapses, bequeathed the world he left behind. Sadly, only this week Nancy Reagan joined her husband in death. She enjoyed reading horoscopes. She was 94.

But, back to the living. Alexandra Early has written about her own memory, what she recalls of the coup in 2009 and what has transpired since:

“President Obama initially criticized Zelaya’s ouster and forced exile as a threat to democracy throughout the region. But the Obama administration, led by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, refused to formally recognize that a military coup had taken place and never cut U.S. military aid to Honduras. Clinton’s State Department even lobbied the Organization of American States, which strongly condemned the coup, to readmit Honduras after its suspension from the OAS. In November 2009, the Administration recognized the election of Porfirio Lobo, even though most opposition parties and major international observers boycotted the election. Since the coup, the U.S. has built two new military bases in Honduras and increased its support and funding for the Honduran military and police.” (Counterpunch)

The Obama Administration continues to lobby OAS to readmit Honduras to its ranks. This, is business as usual. “Bilateral trade between the two nations totaled $7.4 billion in 2006, up from $7 billion in 2005. Exports of goods and services from the U.S. increased from $3.24 billion in 2005 to $3.69 billion in 2006, while Honduran exports to the U.S. fell slightly from $3.75 billion in 2005 to $3.72 billion in 2006 More than 150 American companies operated in Honduras; U.S. franchises are present in increasing numbers.” A principle item that Honduras exports to the United States is, gold, $199 million worth of the stuff in 2013. And, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Honduras (stock) was $881 million in 2012 (latest data available), up 7.3% from 2011.”

We’re jilted. A century of violence and political manipulation has cowed us into behaving cruelly, like tyrants, or irresponsibly, like disengaged bohemians. In this country those who, like the ranchers out west, act publicly sometimes take up arms in their anger. We have caved into cynicism and greed. While statistics show that we may be growing less violent, we have grown more deadly over time. In part this may have something to do with the development of and access to technology that tests the limits of our imaginations.

Presently, the United States is in the midst of an election cycle. The Republican Party presents us with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz even as the Democratic Party holds forth Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a predictable candidate, as is Trump and Cruz. Only Sanders stands as his own man, as something other than business as usual, something new, someone who frightens some of us and inspires others.

I don’t know how you’re feeling, but I am tired, fatigued by the volley of irrepressible bullshit that flies out at us from campaign ads and political pundits, politicians and the corporate news. I can’t vote for an administration that wants to continue business as usual. Business as usual ain’t good enough. In fact, business as usual is bad, as in bad for people, bad for you, bad for me.

As I think about Berta Cáceres, I understad why some people feel hopeless in the face of power. But I am also inspired by her. I am inspired by the person Berta Cáceres chose to be. A woman of vision and dignity who was willing to mix things all up in an already upside-down world. She wasn’t on anyone’s “team.” She merely wanted good things for people, and considered corporate development and power elites as certainly less than ideal when it came to the basic needs of children and people she cared about, again, just like you and me. So she resisted; she fought and they killed her.

Deep States. Structure and institutions. Money and power. Things that we’ve been taught, since we were born, to accept. These are the enemies of freedom. They breed apathy and hedonism and they are entrenched in our way of life.

Business as usual. A woman fighting construction of a dam. A president taken forcibly by 100 soldiers in the middle of the night and flown, still in his pajamas, into exile. A president and secretary of state who do what I’m sure they think is best on any given day about any of a hundred vital issues. Money. Rulers. Trade. Six thousand four hundred sheep. Add one more.

The following statement was made by Hillary Clinton around the same period when the whole Honduras affair was unfolding. It surprised me when I read it. The statement didn’t have to do with Honduras. It was a statement Clinton made about war-torn Iraq:

“Iraq has one of the largest customer bases in the entire Arab world. It has one of the world’s largest supplies of oil. And so it’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity. Iraq is projected to grow faster than China in the next two years. I am very excited about what’s possible, and I’m very hopeful about the future.” (2010)

Should I be surprised, really? Her statement seems to me dystopian somehow, as if it came right out of a Margaret Atwood novel. But should I really be surprised? After all that’s grown out of the world we create on a day to day basis, looking at the potential for profit in Iraq might be the best we can do.

So, this is where this morning’s Thomas Merton reading has taken me. From my kitchen, to Kentucky and Nevada and Oregon, to Honduras and Washington, D.C. and eventually I find myself right back here in my kitchen with Clinton’s statement on Iraq and her non-position on Honduras. And all of this leaves me asking one final question.

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