Chicago and Honduras: Laboratories for Neoliberalism

Photos from protests in Chicago & Honduras

Honduras and Chicago are both laboratories for the richest of the rich to test and refine their policies for domination and exploitation. Chicago throughout history has been a pioneer in policies ranging from racially restrictive covenants to demolition of public housing to land grabs and gentrification to privatization of education through the proliferation of charter schools. As a city at the cross-roads, a major transportation hub, and the home of the University of Chicago, whose economists literally wrote the book on neoliberalism, Chicago’s democratic machine and the white ruling class behind it have led the way in pioneering some of the policies that have most devastated communities of color and working-class communities in general, not just in the city’s south and west sides, but across the country. To enforce these policies, Chicago has also been a laboratory for policing, with its police force notoriously brutal, pioneering in shoot-to-kill orders a la Richard Daley, police torture a la John Burge and summary execution a la Jason Van Dyke, George Hernandez and Dante Servin.

Neoliberalism’s main tenants are:
1. The rule of the market.
2. Cutting public expenditure for social services
3. Deregulation
4. Privatization
5. Eliminating the concept of “the public good” or “community”

Honduras has played this same role for decades in Latin America as Chicago has for the United States, in serving as a testing ground for neo-liberal policies that will be replicated across the country, and as fas as Honduras is concerned, across the region. As one of the staunchest and most reliable allies of the U.S. government, Honduras served as a base of operation for the CIA’s counterinsurgency efforts against revolutionary movements in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua. It was a literal training ground for counterinsurgency operations in defense of U.S. empire. After years of being subjected to neoliberal policies, a populist President, Manuel Zelaya, began efforts to improve conditions for the poor, raising the minimum wage and helping resolve land claims by peasant organizations. The U.S. and its backers in the Honduran oligarchy took the opportunity to make Honduras a laboratory for how to carry out a coup d’etat in the 21st century, sending in a U.S.-trained general to kidnap Zelaya and exile him from his own country. In the years that followed, Honduras became a laboratory for all sorts of policies — from the creation of “charter cities” ruled by corporations and not by national law, to the imposition of extractive projects and dams across the country to sell energy to multinational corporations. It also became a laboratory for security policies, ironically, since it is still the most dangerous country in the world (security for whom, one might ask). Honduras’s president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, created a military police force with the armament and lethality of the army and the day-to-day reach of the police — directly responsive to him. A sort of imperial army, as one Honduran human rights activist describes it.

It is that military police who is now in the streets shooting live ammunition at unarmed protesters outraged at the electoral fraud being perpetrated on them. The Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship candidate Salvador Nasralla was ahead on the night of the election by 5% with 60% of votes counted. The President of the Electoral Tribunal, a party loyalist of the dictator, David Matamoros, refused to release results to the public, despite analysts and technicians from the electoral tribunal and the Organization of American States concurring it was a representative sample and an irreversible tendency. Under pressure from a magistrate who rebelled as well as international observers, Matamoros got on the phone with the dictator (his boss) and apologized that he had to release the results.

The country was jubilant. Though the votes stopped being counted with the system “going down” multiple times, for several days the country believed that the opposition alliance had actually unseated the dictator. Widespread evidence had shown that a huge number of the votes for the dictator had been bought, that many deceased people showed up to vote (we in Chicago know a thing or two about the dead voting), and the heavy militarization everywhere was a clear signal of intimidation towards opposition alliance supporters. Yet despite all of that, the popular rejection of the dictator was so strong that not even paid or deceased voters could defeat the opposition. But when the system came back on line, the votes broke overwhelmingly and implausibly for the dictator, and by Wednesday November 29th official results showed him victorious. Honduras again was made into a laboratory — this time for how to pull off an electoral fraud.

Hondurans took to the streets and have remained in the streets ever since. Millions have participated in mobilizations. Road blockades dot the landscape from North to South to East to West. Tires burn in the streets, teargas is thrown back at the police who launch it, some of the police even went on strike for a day, refusing to continue to repress protests that often included their own family members. But the military police have used live ammunition and the death toll is already at 14, with dozens more wounded and close to a thousand detained. The only thing sustaining the dictatorship is the only thing holding up the regime is US support.

What is at stake in Honduras is the same thing that is at stake in Chicago.

The proposals of the opposition alliance are paralleled in the demands from communities across Chicago. In their cries for the end of the dictatorship one hears echoes of Chicago communities’ cries against the tyranny of the machine. In their demands to reinvest the bloated military and police budget into health and education you can hear the voices of the #NoCopAcademy protesters clamoring for the same. In the struggle of indigenous and black Hondurans against mining and dams and tourist megaprojects being imposed upon their communities through environmental racism you can hear the echoes of Chicagoans on the southeast side fighting pet-coke being dumped in their neighborhood, or of the black communities around the Obama Presidential Library asking if they will still have somewhere to live when the hotels and amenities surrounding the library go up. In the fight against unaccountable corporate charter cities, you can’t help but think of the struggle against the proliferation of charter schools. In demands for land reform, one hears echoes of fights against the land grabs of unchecked gentrification, from Pilsen to Woodlawn to Logan Square to Bronzeville. In Honduras a ruling party scam stole millions from the public health system to fund campaigns, prompting 3,000 people to lose their lives and outcries to combat corruption. In Chicago, we too know a thing or two about corruption.

There are, of course, important differences. A key one is that Hondurans are being hunted down for fighting back. Things have not gotten that bad in Chicago yet. But then again, Honduras is a lab, and laboratories are experiments to see what you can get away with so that you can bring it elsewhere…

Will we let them get away with it?

Join us Thursday, December 14th for the National Call In Day in support of Honduran resistance.

Join us Sunday, December 17th to hear a report back from Honduras.


(This is a guest post by our friend, Matt Ginsburg-Jaeckle)