By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.
I’ve been looking for a way to tell this story, the story of Hillary Clinton and the murder of Berta Cáceres, for a while. The core of the story involves yet another victim of Honduran right-wing violence.
For example, there’s this, from The Nation:
The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime Is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders
The names of Berta Cáceres’s murderers are yet unknown. But we know who killed her.
By Greg Grandin
March 3, 2016
Hillary Clinton will be good for women. Ask Berta Cáceres. But you can’t. She’s dead. Gunned down yesterday, March 2, at midnight, in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca, in Honduras.
Cáceres was a vocal and brave indigenous leader, an opponent of the 2009 Honduran coup that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, made possible. In The Nation, Dana Frank and I covered that coup as it unfolded. Later, as Clinton’s emails were released, others, such as Robert Naiman, Mark Weisbrot, and Alex Main, revealed the central role she played in undercutting Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, and undercutting the opposition movement demanding his restoration. In so doing, Clinton allied with the worst sectors of Honduran society.
More about Cáceres:
Last year, Cáceres – who is a member of the Lenca indigenous group, the largest in Honduras – was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin.
The campaign has held up the project, which is being built by local firm DESA with the backing of international engineering and finance companies, and prompted the withdrawal of China’s Sinohydro and the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.
Honduras lives under a bloody right-wing dictatorship. The bigs wanted the dam, including the international bigs. She organized the opposition. Someone found a way to clear that hurdle by shooting her in her home.
Hillary Clinton, the Coup in Honduras & the Call to Feminism
But I don’t want to tell this story as a policy piece. I want to tell it through the eyes and soul of a woman struggling with what many women are struggling with — should I, as a woman, support Hillary Clinton? If so, why?
This comes via email from writer Deborah Newell (@litbrit, for those who know her that way, and proprietor of litbrit.blogspot.com). It’s a classic cri de coeur. Newell is also a former resident of Honduras, as you will read, and until recently not a U.S. citizen (she became a citizen to vote in this election). In addition, she’s a strong feminist and has been her whole life.
This account, I think, perfectly sorts through the conflicting pulls and thoughts of people like Newell. It’s also the clearest account of what happened in Honduras I’ve encountered, told through the eyes (I know, mixed metaphor) of a former resident.
Why does murder in Honduras matter? Because I think if Clinton is commander-in-chief, we’ll see much more of this. Hyperbolic? I don’t think so. Please read and decide for yourself.
“Only a woman could truly know what all that shit feels like, how it talks to us”
Newell begins her note by talking about how much it mattered to her, a British citizen, to be knowledgeable about American politics:
In the days and years before January 22, 2016, when I became a US citizen, the question of whom to vote for was always a hypothetical one for me.
Oh, that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about, write about, and discuss endlessly at our dinner table all the good, bad, and ugly features of every candidate vying for the votes of my husband and two of my three sons, US citizens by birth. The Huz is our main breadwinner, without a doubt, and we live where his business lives–as opposed to where I would prefer to live–making him the de facto head of the family. But as the saying goes (certainly as it goes in the so-called traditionally “patriarchal” countries I’ve lived in), the man may be the head, but the woman is the neck that turns the head.
So it would be dishonest of me to say that my interest in presidential politics was just academic. It would be disingenuous of me to say that in researching, analyzing, and discussing the candidates’ records and policy proposals; their personal histories and present-day characters; and their values (insofar as it is ever possible to assess those with 100% accuracy when the person one is evaluating only exists in the electronic boxes in one’s home), that I was merely indulging a hobby. A rather masochistic hobby.
I was amassing the data, evaluating it, and applying it to the progressive values we’ve taught our kids, the values that my family and I strive to uphold in all areas of life, not just politics. I was doing my job as “the neck”.
Which brings her to consider her reaction to the 2008 primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Newell tells it this way:
In 2008, I was genuinely torn. To my mind, there was not that much difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. All things being equal, I told myself, my feminist self, I would have to support the woman candidate because she would bring to the nation’s highest office a range of experiential qualities that a man never could. In the same way that, prior to giving birth to my first child, I always thought I knew what agonizing physical pain was (I had, after all, broken long bones while riding horses, and I’d suffered through a few tropical viruses) but in reality could not possibly know what it was really like until I’d gone through it myself. Likewise, then, a man–even a man who was the most empathetic creature on the planet–could nonetheless never truly understand what it was like to go through life as a woman in our culture.
That mattered a great deal to me. (It still does.)
In short, no man can know what it means to “go through life as a woman in our culture,” much less give birth. These considerations are not nothing; they are, in fact, very much “something” and explain the connection that a great many women feel with Hillary Clinton and what she has endured, not just as a woman, but as, well, Hillary Clinton. No man should dismiss this.
I connected with Hillary Clinton on a number of levels, just as the data tells us that women in my demographic tend to. We’ve experienced sexism and harassment; we’ve been underestimated and underpaid; we’ve seen our perceived worth reduced to our fuckability and outward appearance, even as we are simultaneously told to cover up those attributes lest we cause a helpless male superior at work (or else some rando dude in the parking lot) to accidentally rape us. (Ah yes, rape. That vile and violent power-display thing.)
Only a woman could truly know, at the experiential level, what all that shit feels like. How it talks to us, deep inside our brains, telling us we are not as good, not as smart, not pretty enough, not thin enough, too thin, too pretty, too loud, too quiet, and now, for me anyway, too old.
“How it talks to us, deep inside our brains…” And yet Newell notes:
At the same time, though, and despite the powerful impetus to link arms with Hillary Clinton and support her in her quest to become the country’s first woman president, I could not ignore her Iraq vote.
Thus it began, back in 2008, for Newell. Which brings her to this day, this election, this season of hoped-for change.
The Foreign Policy of Hillary Clinton
This is the long part, but a part I hope you take time to read carefully. It’s well written and moves quickly. Newell brings her close knowledge of Honduran politics to her understand of what a Clinton foreign policy would look like.
It’s the war/foreign policy thing again. The foreign policy history that Secretary Clinton forged between 2008 and now. It’s about Libya. And, for me, Honduras. The later received such scant coverage in this country, it broke (and continues to break) my heart. But it matters a great deal. You see, I lived in Honduras as a young teen–lived through the 1974 Coup–and another part of my heart is with the people of that country, too. Last week, an activist for the indigenous people and campesinos (small farmers) and women of Honduras, a brave and beloved woman named Berta Cáceres, was shot dead in her home.
What does this have to do with Hillary Clinton? In 2009, as Secretary of State, Clinton shepherded in the new, hard-right, School-of-the-Americas trained military junta who ousted a democratically-elected president, Manuel Zelaya. “Ousted” is not quite the right word: after a contentious back-and-forth between Zelaya and the (far) more rightwing factions of the government, soldiers broke into the president’s house, beat him up, held him at gunpoint, and dragged him onto a plane–still in his pajamas–and flew him out of the country.
I hope you didn’t skip over the phrase “School of the Americas.”
School of the Americas, Where the U.S. Teaches “Counter-Insurgency” to Right-Wing Militaries
One of the most destabilizing forces in the Western Hemisphere is the U.S. Army-run “School of the Americas.” Wikipedia:
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the US Army School of the Americas, is a United States Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, that provides military training to government personnel in US-allied Latin American nations.
The school was founded in 1946 and from 1961 was assigned the specific goal of teaching “anti-communist counterinsurgency training,” a role which it would fulfill for the rest of the Cold War. In this period, it educated several Latin American dictators, generations of their military and, during the 1980s, included the uses of torture in its curriculum. In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.:233
The School of the Americas (SOA) is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 2001 renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
It was initially established in Panama in 1946 however it was expelled from Panama in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty (article iv) and reinforced under the Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal (article v).
Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA have left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. For this reason the School of the Americas has been historically dubbed the “School of Assassins”.
Since 1946, the SOA has trained over 64,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.
About School of the Americas Watch, from Wikipedia:
Main article: School of the Americas Watch
Since 1990, Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit human rights organization School of the Americas Watch has worked to monitor graduates of the institution and to close the former SOA, now WHINSEC, through legislative action, grassroots organizing and nonviolent direct action. It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity. In regard to the renaming of the institution, SOA Watch claims that the approach taken by the Department of Defense is not grounded in any critical assessment of the training, procedures, performance, or results (consequences) of the training programs of the SOA. According to critics of the SOA, the name change ignores congressional concern and public outcry over the SOA’s past and present link to human rights atrocities.
The “school” says it now includes human rights in its curriculum, and even it didn’t, no school is responsible for what people do after they “graduate.” On the other hand, by their fruit you shall know them. Fruit like this:
Keep the above image in mind. Unending violence like this are the reason families put their children on buses to the U.S. They don’t send them away to “send a message” to U.S. policy makers, but to save their little lives. President Zelaya was also trying to save lives. That ended badly as well.
Enter Honduran President Zelaya
Newell on how President Zelaya was helping Honduran society, and why he had to go:
A bit of background: Manuel Zelaya was himself a member of oligarchic society in Honduras. As you are probably aware, Honduras is practically a case study in what goes wrong when income equality gets too out-of-hand. You have a tiny few owning everything, and you have multinational corporations linking arms with them to seize every resource there is, and you have a vast many who have virtually nothing.
“Nothing” often means: no electricity, no running water, no shelter, no food. You have fifteen-year-olds with AKs strapped to them stopping you in the street at gunpoint to ask for your ID, and when you hand them your passport, they look at it upside down because they don’t know how to read. (True story.) You have indigenous people being abused at every turn, having their waterways seized for dam projects, their land and mountains destroyed by mining interests, their fields taken over by corporate fruit industries. You have a population kept in line by all the traditional fascistic means: sexism, hard-line religion (in the case of Honduras, the Catholic church), and militarized police forces who beat and kill. Who make people disappear.
But Zelaya, despite his upbringing, had the heart of a leftist. Once elected, he set about making birth control available to poor women. Even Plan B. He stood up and apologized for the country’s history of persecuting LGBT individuals, and told them they were okay, they would be safe now. He constantly advocated for the poor, for the indigenous communities, for the campesinos. He worked alongside Berta Cáceres, and other activists like her. He was in the process of pushing for a significant raise in the country’s minimum wage when he was “ousted”.
And now, the U.S. role, so far as we know it. Newell:
When the coup happened, in 2009, President Obama at first condemned it. As did the UN, as did the OAS. Many Latin American leaders were calling for the US to do something–to demand that Zelaya be allowed to return to his country, where tens of thousands of people were marching in the street, peacefully protesting and calling for their president’s safe return (and getting beaten and shot for their trouble). In a few days, the press moved on. Suddenly, our US president was saying nothing.
Why was Obama suddenly saying nothing? What was driving the change in U.S. policy?
Hillary Clinton & the Destruction in Honduras
It turns out the answer to the question “What was driving U.S. policy?” is in the Clinton State Department emails. It was Clinton herself who strongly advocated the change in policy. (An excellent close read of those emails and policies is here.)
Newell on Clinton and the consequences of this change:
Hillary Clinton’s emails, released last summer, tell us why. She was very actively involved in supporting the installation of the new, right-wing government. This has been covered by Democracy Now, TeleSur, and other “alternative” media. This piece in The Nation, written by noted Latin American scholar Greg Grandin, is a good one to start with [see the article linked at the top of this piece].
Why is this important to me, and why should it be important to every feminist who is voting in the presidential election? Because of what happened in the aftermath of Zelaya’s violent removal from office in 2009–in the years between then, and 2016.
Draconian abortion laws were put into place. Birth control became unaffordable once again and Plan B was banned.
LGBT individuals were beaten and killed, after they had just begun to feel as though this was their country too, they were free. Now it was, Oh, sorry, you’re actually NOT safe. You will be beaten if you’re lucky; murdered and mutilated if you’re not.
Multinationals got their footholds strengthened as militarized police forces beat and killed protesters.
Which brings us to the children of Honduras, and why they are sent to the U.S. unescorted by their parents:
And, well-documented at this point, the ensuing chaos and mind-bending levels of violence that beset the largest cities, particularly San Pedro Sula, led families who feared for their children’s lives (many families had already lost loved ones to drug gang violence) to send them on a long and frightening journey to the US border, where they hoped their kids would somehow find asylum and safety. Meaning these children would have to travel through Honduras, through the length of either El Salvador or Guatemala, and the entirety of Mexico (parents on this list, please imagine how desperate you would have to be, how dire your circumstances would have to be, for you to kiss your small kids goodbye and put them on a rickety bus and hope against hope they would make it to safety).
“Imagine how desperate you would have to be … for you to kiss your small kids goodbye and put them on a rickety bus and hope against hope they would make it to safety.”
I can imagine. These are parents, human beings like us; not monsters, not unfeeling animal others. Not people who just need a message sent. These are parents who watch first-hand what you just read about, who live in fear, not just for their own safety, but for the safety of their most precious ones, their children. Newell, a Clinton supporter, remember, feels this deeply.
And yet, this happened:
Secretary Clinton said they should be sent back, these kids. Said this would “send a message”. I actually watched the debate during which she said this, and shouted at my television: Send a message to WHOM?
Think back through what you’ve just read. Clinton advocated strongly for policies that created the right-wing-induced ongoing violence, then advocated for the return of the children fleeing it (because the journey here is “dangerous”). That puts Clinton at both ends of the problem, not just the one.
Do Foreign Lives Matter?
Which brings us back to the question of women urging women to support Hillary Clinton. For Newell it leads her to this:
I have been reading the discussions, everywhere, about people’s support for Secretary Clinton based on feminist principles, and always the discussion turns to the same questions: Why are you denying my experience as a woman? Why can’t you see how important it is to me, as a woman, to have a woman be able to rise above all the things we have all faced and be elected to the country’s highest office? Why aren’t you listening to me?
Meanwhile, I–a feminist, a mother, a target of sexual harassment and sexism–am asking, Why aren’t you listening to ME?
Thus the central conflict of this election, for Newell and for many many others. In light of all of this beyond-our-border destruction (and there is much more that could be cited), can one be a feminist and support Hillary Clinton?
As Newell puts it:
The world does not begin and end at the US border. Back-channeling deals to install right-wing military juntas that impose and enforce draconian reproductive laws is NOT FEMINIST. Back-channeling deals to install right-wing military juntas that silence–by bullet–more than a few women activists, is NOT FEMINIST. When LGBT people are beaten and killed; when women who are raped can’t get abortions; when women who live in a highly patriarchal culture cannot even access ways to plan their families, which in turn seals their fate as permanent members of the underclass so favored among multinationals who need cheap, motivated labor … these results are NOT FEMINIST GOALS.
Thanks for listening. Now you know why, when I say I “feel the Bern”, I really mean it.
I understand it’s troubling for many women to reject Hillary Clinton, and I hope through Newell’s explanation above, the reason it’s troubling makes sense. And yet, as she notes, a muscular foreign policy that imposes muscular, fascist, right-wing monsters on second- and third-world populations is no gift to women or to men — or even worse, to their children.
Imposing right-wing fascism on the developing world. Rings a bell. Without making this longer than it is, Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, by all accounts, would be muscular indeed — one could say “Kissinger strong.”
From The Nation again (link at the top):
In her book, Hard Choices, Clinton holds up her Honduran settlement as a proud example of her trademark clear-eyed, “pragmatic” foreign policy approach.
Berta Cáceres gave her life to fight that government.
Is it feminist to support Hillary Clinton? Not if foreign lives matter as much as our own.
(Blue America has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. If you’d like to help out, go here. If you’d like to “phone-bank for Bernie,” go here. You can volunteer in other ways by going here. And thanks!)