Sunday, May 29, 2011

On Honduras, American Media Fails

Graffiti in Tegucigalpa, 2010. Photo: Allison Kielhold

   On Saturday, ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya returned to his country after signing a conditional agreement with current President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo. The agreement will allow Zelaya free political participation and Honduras reentry into the Organization of American States.    
   In late June, 2009, Zelaya awoke to soldiers baring guns, handcuffs, and an order to arrest him by the nation's then-military leader, Lobo. He was pulled out of bed in his pajamas and forced onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. On that very same morning was the vote on a national referendum to hold a constitutional convention, a ballot measure that had outstanding public support.
   A year after the military coup, in July, 2010, I arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras's capital, with the United Methodist organization Sierra Service Project. There, we helped construct two homes for families in the slum of Fuerzas Unidas, which sits on a hillside overlooking the city. We also met with local religious groups, economists, human rights groups, and peasant farmers to learn about the country and its people, of which 68.9% live in crippling poverty and seemingly endless exploitation.
   If they report it at all online (New York Times has nothing after the 23rd, Huffington Post has one whole sentence and Fox News has six), media publications paint the coup as a misguided attempt at corralling an out-of-control head of state. This perspective is correct in a dark, sinister way.
   The coup was misguided in that it overthrew a democratically elected representative who had widespread popular support. Zelaya was out of control in that he sought to reform both domestic and foreign policy to better reflect the humble needs and aspirations of his people, and secure his position as elected leader.
   But the biggest, most egregious oversight is the fact that no news outlet has yet mentioned the true root of the coup, as told by those who witnessed it: CAFTA. The Central American Free Trade Agreement, along with various treaties and loan agreements with the U.S., essentially forbids the Honduran government from subsidizing anything produced inside its nation and erases tariffs and taxes on American goods. The result is communities of campesinos, or poor, peasant farmers who work for foreign corporations, primarily the Dole company, for less than the equivalent of three American cents for a fifteen-hour day of manual labor. They can neither compete with the price of subsidized American foods nor afford to purchase the food grown by their neighbors. In the end, American executives win, and Central American peasants work themselves to death. A large part of the reforms Zelaya was pushing was Honduras's removal from CAFTA, which angered both American companies who profit from poverty and Honduran aristocrats who cut a little off the top.
   When I was there, there was public consensus that the CIA, which is proven to have trained, equipped, and facilitated the infamous Battalion 316 during the Ronald Reagan Administration, was the machine behind the coup. The Battalion, which kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds, if not thousands (the number is unknown) of Honduran socialists, communists, and dissidents, was supported by the CIA and Reagan, who awarded the secret battalion's leader, Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the Legion of Merit in 1983.
   The organization COFADEH is a Honduran group for families and friends of "los desaparecidos", or "the disappeared", victims of the Battalion. Since the 2009 coup, though, they have focused on the murdered demonstrators who came out on the streets to protest Zelaya's ouster and were met with deadly force. When we visited their headquarters almost a year ago, they told us that military forces had tried several times to scare them into silence, throwing tear gas through their windows or simply firing rounds into the building's facade.
   It is unclear whether media outlets simply did not dig deep enough while reporting on this story or did not care to publish the details of America's role in Honduras's history, military, government, and economy. What is clear, though, is that the tides are turning, and Honduras has a new hope for economic improvement and governmental trust. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why I Can't Wait Till Next Year

   "Wait till next year."

   The mantra that kept Brooklyn Dodgers fans going for decades now rings truer than ever. Only these days, less people show up to the games. Back then, the enemies were traditional, they were fierce, and they were conquerable. The daunting, dynastic Yankees, always crushing the Dodgers' World Series dreams, have now been replaced by the mad dealings and embarrassing controversies of the machinating McCourts instead of the stacked and starry Phillies. The owners' very public divorce proceedings have distracted players from the game, and Frank's imminent inability to make payroll has forced the roster to focus on their livelihoods as opposed to the next home stand. In the standings, the Dodgers are hanging above the cellar by a thread, and the aspirations of both the 2008 and 2009 seasons feel farther away than 1988.
   It seems that we are entering a new Dark Age for the Dodgers, ushered in by the horrifying Opening Day attack on Giants fan Bryan Stow. Last weekend, the LAPD arrested a man they suspect of being one of the two attackers, but doubts remain as to the veracity of the allegation, especially as McCourt grasps frantically for any shred of legitimacy that remains. Attendance is sliding, in part because many are literally afraid to go near the stadium and its threatening fans. The "LA" symbol, "L" crossed over "A", has become synonymous with the many gangs that operate in and around Los Angeles, culturally associating the team with aggression, fear and violence. This gang mentality among a significant portion of Dodgers fans, many being actual gangsters, results in characteristically gang-like activity, like beating a rival half to death in a parking lot.
   In order for the Dodgers to avoid becoming more of a gang than a ball club, the organization must take unprecedented steps to revive its image. Next year, after the McCourts are out, MLB has left the front office and the team is sold, the Dodgers must reinvent themselves as a community force for good. A PR campaign against gang violence would be a good place to start, and even though it might alienate fans who belong to a gang, it will coax former attendees into purchasing tickets once again. It is time to acknowledge the fact that to many of us, the Dodgers are more than just a baseball team. They are an identity, and part of that identity must be a shared aversion to violence and vitriol.          

Friday, May 20, 2011

Union Blues(?)

   On Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlined the union's future position in national politics, saying that "Our role is not to build the power of a political party or candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country." He warned Democrats that if they continue to stand beside "the wrecking ball" and fail to protect the rights and interests of working-class Americans and union members, unions will pull their support from Democratic candidates in 2012.
   This is a huge lapse in judgement by Trumka and union organizers supporting him. They are upset, justly, that certain rights and privileges of union members are being destroyed while corporate executives rake in more cash than ever and profits are on the rise. However, withdrawing money from Democratic candidates would only hasten this process, pushing the American economy toward something resembling serfdom.
   Democrats do not have the political power to improve conditions and benefits for workers.  Republicans gained sixty-three seats in the House of Representatives last election, and they got there in part by promising an attack on unions and bargaining powers. It is very clear, as it has been since the Great Depression era, on which side of the labor-management divide the Republican Party stands. So in order to secure rights for workers, unions must first work to secure seats for Democrats.
   The 2012 election is a golden opportunity for unions to try to undo some of the damage visited upon them in recent months. The Republican Party has yet to produce a viable presidential candidate, and whoever they end up choosing will likely have been in the race for a short time and will have limited experience and appeal. The candidate for president is almost always the face of the entire party during an election season, so without a strong and unifying voice, the Republican effort will likely be trumped in both the Executive and Legislative branches.
   It is a lose-lose situation for unions and their members if they choose to relinquish their support for the Democratic Party. In our two party system, people and organizations in pursuit of influence (whether that influence is good or bad) must pick a side. If they stop funding Democratic campaigns and the Democrats win a majority, those Democrats might not feel obligated to protect the interests of unions and workers. If they stop funding Democratic campaigns and Republicans take control of more votes in Congress and state governments, the unions that will help fund campaigns in 2016 might not exist.    


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gingrich Gets Glittered

   On Tuesday, Minnesota activist Nick Espinosa surprised Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and current wife Callista at a book signing, covering the pair with a box's worth of rainbow glitter ( The stunt was a tasteful, if inappropriate, lampooning of Newt, his homophobic platform, and the anti-gay conference that brought him to town. This type of comedic criticism can prove more effective than traditional rhetoric, which too often fails to turn heads.
   Such an embarrassing moment comes at an especially bad time for Gingrich. Last week, a Republican voter in Iowa greeted the candidate with a bold, in-your-face condemnation of his candidacy and Gingrich's recent criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed healthcare plan. The video ( ends with the anonymous man calling Newt "an embarrassment to our party" as Gingrich attempts to exit the uncomfortably one-sided handshake. Newt, in his attempt to come off as a moderate, has succeeded in alienating just about everyone that could help him win the GOP nomination.
   Gingrich's falling flat comes as welcome news to Democrats, who feel more secure than ever in Obama's ability to win reelection. Gingrich was seen as one of the few Republicans with the critical combination of name recognition, political experience, and fundraising ability. However, with donors falling by the way side and a lack of Tea Party support, the meteoric campaign Newt imagined for himself is quickly becoming a pathetic slide into oblivion, with voters on both sides glad to see him fade from the national spotlight.

My New Blog

No one is reading this yet, but I'm still really excited to start posting comments, articles, essays, opinions, quotes and news. I believe young voices (even those too young to vote, myself included) should be heard and I'm hoping this will become a popular spot for people to read and share their ideas and thoughts. I've started just in time for the primary season and will no doubt start writing about national politics and current events. Share it with your friends through facebook or email, and feel free to comment on any post.

Jeremy W. Arnold