Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where In The World Is The Honduras? 

Back in the 1980s, it would have been hard not to have read or watched a story about the troubles of many Central American nations. Central America was considered one of the "front lines" of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union pumping money into Cuba, and then into Nicaragua, which at the time was run by the "dictator in designer glasses" Daniel Ortega, the head of the FSLN Movement/Party. Ortega left with the end of the Cold War and is now the Nicaragua's democratically-elected president (you may have recalled the news blurb back in April when he "lashed out" against the United States in a meeting attended by President Obama).

The United States pumped billions of dollars into Central America, propping up many right wing governments in an attempt to thwart a Western Hemisphere "domino-effect." One of those countries receiving US (military) aid was the Honduras. President Reagan even ordered National Guard troops from all over the US into the Honduras as part of a series of "military exercises." In fact, there was a high profile show down between Reagan and some Democratic Governors--including Ohio's own Dick Celeste (famous for the phrase from Republican critics: "Dick Celeste before he 'dick's' you")--where the Governors refused to send their national guard troops in protest to Reagan's foreign policy.

Then the Cold War ended, and with it the media's interest in Central America. And outside political science departments across the US, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could locate a country like Honduras on the map. I bring all of this up because trouble is once again brewing in Central America, and this time it is the Honduras that has experienced a military coup that used to be as common as the changing days. And yet the press in the United States could care less. First, some background.

The Honduras had a "democratically" elected President named Manuel Zelaya, elected in 2006 to a "constitutionally" limited four year term in office, had moved for a referendum to amend the Constitution in order to limit the presidency to two terms, enabling him to run for a second term. This move apparently was opposed by the Congress, the military, and the Court, yet Zelaya pushed forward anyway with a vote set to today, but in the dead of night, the military busted into Zelaya's residence, roughed him up, and exiled him to Costa Rica, with nothing more than the PJs he was wearing. The military was apparently acting on the request of Honduras Supreme Court (I can imagine our own Supreme Court would envy such power). In his absence the Honduran Congress named the Honduran vice-president the "interim" President until the next election.

There is a bit of irony at play here that doesn't seem to be overt in the coverage I have read--the military kidnaps and exiles the democratically elected president because it believes he is acting in contradiction to the democratic process! But then again President Reagan once referred to the US supported resistance military in Nicaragua--deemed a terrorist organization by the Nicraguan people--the "moral equivalence" of our Founding Fathers.

So despite all the goings on, wouldn't the US media be interested in it? It doesn't appear so. If you look at Google News, the first several media sites listed are all foreign news outlets--the BBC and Reuters (which has a reporter based in the Honduran capitol of Tegucigalpa, and even filed a story that reads as an "Honduran-coup FAQ page"), followed by the Xinhua news service out of China. And a look at the television media sites, they aren't much better. On CNN's frontpage, titled "Breaking News"--there is a giant photo of Papa Joe Jackson. On the side, under the banner "Latest News", three links down in little letters you find "Honduran Congress names new president." To the person who knows nothing of the events, they may not think much of a story that a congress names a new president.
ABC News does a little better, with a picture of Zelaya that makes him look like Cesar Chavez, and a link titled "illegal' Honduran Coup has Obama 'Deeply Concerned". CBS News has a giant photo of Michael Jackson, circa-1984, and like CNN has a side bar with a headline that reads "Top News" and five links down in litle letters it reads: "Coup' in Honduras: Army Expels President." So you might learn something if you can get past the blaring headlines to the "King of Pop". NBC News runs from Brazil's defeat of the US in soccer to Michael Jackson to the Madoff scam. Down at the bottom of the page under a small banner that reads "Explore Other Top Stories" there is a litle link titled "Honduran President Ousted in Coup." But right beside it in a bigger box it reads: "Reader Tributes, Michael Jackson: 1958-2009". And finally, Fox News has a giant artistic photo of a "Jackson 5" Michael Jackson and a title that reads "Artists Pay Tribute to Jackson". Other stories are about Governor Sanford of South Carolina, who has his own "Latin America" problem and a story about fallen pitchman Billy Mays. Like NBC, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, under a link titled "News Happening Now," you go two links and find "Honduran Military Ousts President During Siege." You could be forgiven for missing it because right next to it is a link that reads, in bold lettering, "Florida Mayor Arrested After Found Nude at Campsite." What is worse is that each of that 3/5 sites all point to the same source: AP, though CBS tries to distort the sourcing by crediting CBS/AP.

This is dismal. There is no mystery that foreign news has all but dried up in the US press, but this is not news that takes place in a remote place on the other side of the world, but instead right in our own backyard. And given the US commitment to supporting democratic regimes the world over, you would think that the US press would find it interesting that one is being threatened in our hemisphere. But if anything highlights the pitiful state of US media, it is the fact that Michael Jackson, who died days ago, continues to get above the fold, front page treatment, and not the exile of a country we call an ally (though given that Zelaya is cozy with Hugo Chavez and the military isn't, I doubt you will hear much protestation from the Obama administration--just check the White House frontpage to see what I mean, which could also be a reason why there is muted coverage in the US).

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