Ozarkers think of themselves as the real people, the salt of the earth, practical, not putting on airs, skeptical but tolerant, willing to help those in need. Our first impulse in meeting someone new is to figure out whether that person is from around here. My guess is that these characteristics are a universal part of human nature in which the question “friend or foe?” is the first issue at the first encounter.
If our first impulse is to stand our own ground, why should we be interested or concerned about what happens in one of the many countries of Central America, especially one as poor as Honduras, whose military just removed the president and sent him into exile in Costa Rica?
Honduras has been an independent republic for as long as Missouri has been a state (since 1821). Honduras is about the size of Tennessee, with a long northern coastline on the Caribbean and a small Pacific coast on the Gulf of Fonseca in the south. The population of Honduras is just under 8 million (like Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas combined), with a per capita annual income of about $4,400 (compared to around $20,000 in the Ozarks).
I don’t have a good feel for Honduran politics, so I’ll let Max Carranza tell his version (shortened by me) of recent events:
Yesterday was a historical day in my country. Honduras will no longer be the same. President Manuel Zelaya Rosales was arrested and taken from his house in the middle of the night by over 100 military men and was forced out of the country and sent to exile in Costa Rica. Many of his cabinet members are either in jail or captive in military bases.
Let me attempt to explain the circumstances that led to the coup. Zelaya was elected three and half years ago and appeared to have, at least on paper, a respectable agenda. Over the years it became clear that his agenda, “a crusade to fight for the poor,” was nothing but a mockery of the 70% of our Honduran brothers and sisters who live in poverty. He became best friends with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro (Cuba), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) and Evo Morales (Bolivia). These men, so called left-wing leaders, are a disgrace to the true meaning of the political left and use their populist agendas to promote themselves and keep control of the government for years. They claim to fight for the people and use shallow rhetoric to enrich themselves and change their constitutions to be endlessly reelected for generations to come. They are, ironically, the mirror replica of the horrendous right-wing leaders that use their power and military force to suppress the will of the people during most of the last century.
So in an attempt to stay in power, Zelaya called a referendum to establish a constitutional assembly that would rewrite the constitution. The act was declared illegal by the Supreme Court as only Congress can call for a constitutional assembly. Congress and the Attorney General agreed with the court. Social, religious and business leaders feared he wanted to change the constitution to allow reelection and continue in power. His followers were nothing more than paid activists who were trying to make a living from protesting. Even though the courts and every other branch of government had declared the referendum unconstitutional, he vowed to move forward.
Peaceful protests gathering thousands occurred across the country in defense of democracy and our constitution. Zelaya ignored them. The military refused to support the referendum as it could not obey an illegal order, so Zelaya fired the top ranking military leaders. The Supreme Court reinstated them because they were fired without cause. As tensions escalated, the Supreme Court ordered the military to arrest Zelaya the day of the referendum because he was carrying out an illegal action that violated the constitution and threatened democracy .
So now Obama, Hillary Clinton, the American Ambassador in Honduras, the European Union, the Organization of American States and many nations have condemned the actions that took place that glorious day of June 28th. They claim constitutional order needs to be reestablished and Zelaya must be reinstated. They demand that the man who had broken our own constitution and many other laws be reinstated to save democracy. They ask that the man who has no respect for our democracy and our government institutions have his position back for the good of the nation? Obama can be a great president of the US and be a scholar in American constitutional law, but he knows nothing about Honduran law to comment on the legality of the events.
These leaders do not comprehend our country. They do not see poverty day in and day out. They have not been around to hear what this disgraceful “leader” has been doing for the past three and half years. He has ruled the country based on a personal agenda that is not in sync with national interest. Crimes rates are through the roof, drug trafficking has escalated, poverty is on the rise, thousands are unemployed, education is lacking and the list of problems seems unending. Instead of focusing on national threats, he is worried about befriending Chavez and changing the constitution to continue in power.
I have never been as proud of my country. The military did not throw the president out, they simply followed a Court Order. Congress, in its constitutionally-given power, unanimously voted to remove him from office and appointed his successor based on the lawful chain of succession. Our democratic institutions have never adhered so closely to the law as they did last Sunday. Finally our leaders grew enough balls to respect our own laws and said: “No more, not this time.”
This is not a military takeover as the world media is trying to portray it. Believe me, I have never been a fan of military involvement in my country, but I have gained a deep respect for them.
It was a turning point in which hopefully we will show the world that maybe a small eight million people third world country can solve its own political problems and they must respect our will. How will it all unfold? Nobody knows. What I do know is that Hondurans woke up full of hope this morning.
Max Carranza is a thoughtful young man who lives in Little Rock. His parents live in Honduras, where they are physicians. In a few weeks, Max will marry my niece, and we’re very proud to have him in the Styron family.
Every major political and economic development affects families. The downturn in the United States economy has been especially hard on Central America, where the money earned by their nationals working in the United States and sent home (called “remittances”) provides as much as 25% of the money in circulation in those countries. With the remittances waning due to reduced earnings and unemployment in the United States, the vise of poverty in poor countries of Central America tightens and the economic elites of those countries who own the businesses that profit from the remittances also face sharply reduced earnings. Just as within a family, tempers fray when money is short.
In times of crisis, leaders such as Chavez and Zelaya seek to extend their terms of office by asking for a constitutional amendment (didn’t FDR do the same thing?). Many Central American cities, especially Mexican cities along the U. S. border, are wracked by murder and kidnappings. Without the remittances from legitimate labor in the U. S., the economic significance of the drug trade grows, fueled by constant demand for the products in the U. S. The organizations in the drug business wage war against one another and against law enforcement agencies, some of which are funded by the U. S.
Max reacts to the official statements of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton by taking them at face value as supporting Zelaya. My sense is that the official statements have little to do with actual U. S. policy, given the long manipulative and sometimes covert role of the U. S. government in internal affairs in Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Perhaps Zelaya is a U. S. puppet who strayed from his script. The military coup may have been supported or encouraged by the State Department, while the official U. S. position was to condemn the coup. Somebody knows, but not me.
In the Ozarks, Central Americans from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico have filled thousands of jobs in the poultry, construction and hospitality industries. Sadly, Ozarkers have been consumers of illegal drugs that are grown, manufactured or processed in these countries. Like it or not, the Ozarks economy and the economies of the countries of Central America are closely linked, and what happens there or here doesn’t stay.
Neither Honduras or the Ozarks is an economic island. Our trade–legal and illegal–is a two-way street. Where there is trade, families form links. Max came to the Ozarks to attend the University of Central Arkansas and met my niece. I’m glad he did. One result is that my family will always be interested in Honduras. Because we know Max, when we meet another Honduran, we’ll think that that person is likely to be a friend.