Protesters in the United States Shape Media Coverage of Porfirio Lobo

Activists protested outside a May 7 event held by the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute to celebrate illegitimate Honduran leader Porfirio Lobo. As a result, EFE, a major Spanish news agency, filed a story on the gala with the headline (translated from Spanish): “Lobo seeks greater backing in the U.S., while activists organize protest.”
KeaneBhatt 6/4/2012

According to its recent press release, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) “is the premier organization founded by Members of Congress to advance the Hispanic Community's Economic Progress with a focus on Social Responsibility and Global Competitiveness.”

This entity’s board of directors includes Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). To illustrate the group’s shared priorities, it’s worth mentioning that these legislators, along with CHLI’s current chairman—former Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart—“paid a joint visit to Tegucigalpa in 2009 to reaffirm the democratic nature of the military coup” that overthrew the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, according to author Belén Fernandez.

After its most prominent directors applauded the coup d’etat in Honduras for years, CHLI naturally bestowed “His Excellency Porfirio Lobo”—the illegitimate president of Honduras who came to power as a result of that coup—with its Leadership in International Relations Award last month. Lobo received the award in person at CHLI’s $250-a-ticket D.C. gala on May 7. Also present were representatives of the event's corporate sponsors, which include some of the most powerful companies in the United States: Comcast, NBC Universal, and Telemundo; Altria, Heineken, Univision, AT&T, Dell, Ford, General Electric, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Google, News Corporation, Verizon, Walmart, and Western Union.

CHLI also fêted Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), who received the Leadership in Public Service Award at the same event. If the organization’s praise for Lobo’s undemocratic regime were not enough, last week McCotter ended his congressional career in disgrace, which further discredited CHLI's ability to be a judge of leadership. Less than a month after receiving his CHLI award, McCotter terminated his write-in primary campaign on Saturday in the midst of a scandal over “fradulent, duplicated and otherwise invalid signatures” of support for his candidacy, according to the Detroit Free Press. Many of the 2,000 signatures that his office gathered were simply photocopied and placed later in the list; around 87% of them were invalid. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has launched a criminal investigation into the issue.

Considering that one of CHLI’s purported aims is “advancing democracy and strengthening the rule of law in the Americas,” the task of publicizing CHLI’s hypocrisy requires activism. The nexus between politicians, ex-officials, large corporations, and media outlets in the United States—and their firm support for the illegitimate Honduran government responsible for grave human rights abuses—is an obscure, underreported phenomenon.

Demonstrators at the May 7 event provide an instructive and hopeful example for building greater awareness: around two dozen activists assembled outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington D.C., and provided information on Lobo’s brutal track record to the public. As a result, EFE, a major Spanish news agency, filed a widely-syndicated news story on CHLI’s gala, whose headline (translated from Spanish) read: “Lobo seeks greater backing in the U.S., while activists organize protest.”

The article went on to quote the activists, who declared their intention to expose “the money and power behind the extreme right-wing organizations of the Latino 1%,” which represent a “serious threat” to broad social and economic concerns within the United States and Latin America. To my knowledge, EFE distributed the only news article covering CHLI’s function in either English or Spanish; this despite CHLI’s own press releases and powerful media connections. Equally important, EFE’s coverage, which prominently featured the protesters’ criticisms of CHLI and Lobo, appeared in Univision, an enormous U.S.-based Spanish-language news corporation that co-sponsored the gala.

Developments like this underscore the role of organizing and activism in helping to generate a more prominent profile for often-neglected issues of foreign policy within the media. Such small but important achievements should galvanize others concerned with human rights and democracy in the Americas to participate in future efforts. For further information, see The Nation’s valuable action guide for ways to become more involved on the issue of justice for Honduras.


UPDATE (6-5-12):

In response to this post, one of the organizers of the protest against CHLI emailed me a revealing, personal account of the event. It reads in the classic, sardonic style of BoRev, the blog he once co-authored. -KB

Revolter here. Some of you NACLAites may remember me from the now-defunct blog that once chronicled the abusive relationship between the U.S. and Latin America – the BoRev. We had to shut it down after the editor was kidnapped and disappeared by Uribe loyalists (QEPD). Guess you can’t ride on the same person’s coattails forever. But new opportunities and coattails often present themselves, so when Keane wrote about CHLI’s sordid soiree and our protest of it, I just couldn’t resist throwing in my two cents regarding their crazy, just like I did three years ago.

We had decided to protest the CHLI gala due to Pepe Lobo’s presence. But in conducting research for the event, we found out that he was not the only laughable award recipient. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter was to be given the “Hispanic” organization’s public policy award. But according to his own presidential campaign literature, he is a rabid anti-immigrant. That’s right. On top of losing his Congressional seat and possibly incriminating himself, McCotter also conducted an ill-fated Presidential run. Good year! We learned from Numbers USA that McCotter was a co-sponsor of the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009. Numbers USA, which gave McCotter an A+ rating in 2009, is part of the nativist lobby, and according to Southern Poverty Law Center, has a lot of ties to, you know, white supremacists.  

Unsurprisingly, McCotter is also a huge sovereign citizens supporter. This proclivity even makes its way into his CHLI award speech, which he graciously chose to immortalize by posting it on Youtube.  So let's see what motivates McCotter: U.S. exceptionalism, sovereign citizens, red paranoia, God©, terrorist paranoia, granting asylum (to European-descended, conservative latin@s), and protecting the freedom of poor people everywhere to be exploited by U.S. corporations and local oligarchies. In other words, he’s perfect for CHLI.

The protest began well. (Pictures here). When we arrived, we were informed that the pre-event press conference had been canceled. Hmmm. Was it due to our presence, or the obvious awkwardness that would ensue if Pepe Lobo was asked a question? I’m going to go with both. We watched a mix of mostly white and “hispanic” guests in their black-tie best enter the hotel from our position directly across from the main entrance. Rep. Henry Cuellar, the Texas Democrat who is also on CHLI’s board, and whose foreign policy views align with the right-wing Miami Cuban-American contingency, was spotted entering. Gross. I mean, shouldn't he at least have the decency to represent as a Republican? And what does that say about the Democrats and the future of the latin@ voting block when the likes of Cuellar claim to represent the Mexican-American and greater latin@ community?

1032 quotha.netWe yelled “golpista” as the Honduran ambassadors to the U.S. and the OAS arrived. The few comments that we received from the attendees were sympathetic or were from those that claimed ignorance. It seems that many of the attendees simply heard “Hispanic” and assumed it was for a good cause, and not to honor death-squad government and internalized oppression. Some people knew what was going on. Others didn’t care, they were simply there to snuggle close to the teet of power. Either way, do your homework, gringos!

Although the protesters stayed outside, thanks to the Real News video [above] and McCotter’s speech on Youtube, we can all get a taste of the depravity and delusion on display that night. Drunk on arrogance, alcohol, and the blood of newborn Mexican anchor babies, the Diaz-Balarts, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Henry Cuellar, and Pepe Lobo pretended that everything is peaceful and safe in Honduras (or at least for your investments).

It is telling that CHLI's gala was sponsored by a murderer's row of exploiters of the latin@ community and/or disinformation peddlers, as Keane mentioned: Univision, Telemundo, NBCUniversal, News Corp. (Fox News Latino), Coca-Cola, Comcast (owner of ABC News, which just partnered with Univision to produce a 24-hour Spanish-language news channel), Verizon, Western Union, Google and Facebook. It's frightening yet unsurprising that these corporate behemoths would support such extremists, given their hold on the U.S. latin@ market. What is also telling, however, is that despite the sponsorship and presence of the entire cartel of U.S. Spanish language press masters, so little news coverage about the event can be found anywhere.

CHLI does not speak for Latin@s or Hispanics, or whatever they refer to us as. They speak for the 1%. They speak for corporations, militarization, and a bankrupt, violent ideology.

Below is a transcript of the last part of McCotter’s speech, including when he regales the Diaz-Balarts, Ros-Lehtinen and Henry Cuellar:

Domestically we have our differences, but we also enjoy the paradigm of liberty and equality here in the United States that is unsurpassed in any other nation in the world . . . it is because we enjoy the blessings of liberty but we also bear its burdens. One burden is here at home, to form a more perfect union amongst our equal sovereign citizens. Our other burden is to remain a target of tyrants, and terrorists, and despots throughout the world, who would impose their will and dominion upon their fellow human beings, in violation of their God-given right to be free. And the final burden we bear, as Lincoln, Mario, Ileana, and Henry and others so often remind us, we have the duty, as free people, to never forsake those who are struggling for their own freedom. Because if we forsake them, we forsake ourselves, and endanger that which is most precious to us, most precious, to those who suffer. So when we do our job, all of us regardless of where we fit – whether we are in Congress, or whether we are citizens of the corporate world, or whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, may we always be united. So when the final toll is counted, and we all are held responsible for our actions in this finite scream of time called life, that we will not be found wanting in the balance, and we will never hear the voices of those we forgot ask us “Why?”. Thank you very much for this award.


Keane Bhatt is an activist in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the United States and Latin America on a variety of campaigns related to community development and social justice. His analyses and opinions have appeared in a range of outlets, including NPR, The NationThe St. Petersburg Times, CNN En Español, Truthout, and Upside Down World. He is the author of the new NACLA blog “Manufacturing Contempt,” which takes a critical look at the U.S. press and its portrayal of the hemisphere.

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