America’s dark history with Iran extends as far back as 30 years when a group of student activists took hostage hundreds of U.S. expatriates at a U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. Jimmy Carter, a well-respected humanitarian, was the President of the United States at the time. In response, President Carter sanctioned trade between the United States and Iran.
One day before Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the U.S. lifted these sanctions in exchange for the release of all the hostages. During Ronald Reagan’s first term in office, Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group connected to Iran, would take seven new U.S. hostages. Then, in 1984, the U.S. enacted new sanctions against arms sales to Iran, which the CIA and the Reagan White House ignored, sparking a scandal known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
During Ronald Reagan’s second term as president, in a series of 41 Congressional hearings, the American people learned that the White House and the CIA secretly sold weapons to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan militant group, Contra, on the border of Honduras.
The CIA’s secret oil war
Contra was a rebel group in Nicaragua, a country in Central America, where the CIA had been actively conducting covert missions related to oil and arms control.
In this secret war, the CIA attacked oil pipelines that flowed from Mexico to Nicaragua. Today, Nicaragua imports 73% of its oil from high-cost oil producers in the United States.
U.S. oil producers in Texas and North Dakota are not cost-competitive; it makes very little sense for Latin American countries to import oil from North American suppliers.
David Ricardo, a political economist in 1817, would have said that the U.S. lacks a comparative advantage in oil production. In other words, North America is a less efficient producer of oil than other countries like Iran and Venezuela.
For three months during the hearings, until the Congressional investigation concluded, Ronald Reagan did not speak to the public. Finally, on August 12, 1987, in a televised address to the nation, Ronald Reagan denied knowledge of funds transfers from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebel group. Further, he took full responsibility for the incident and denied that the arms sales to Iran were related to hostage negotiations with Hezbollah.
U.S. energy policy connects the Iran-Contra Affair to Honduras
In February 2018, a political activist and lawyer from Honduras held a Congressional briefing in Washington, DC, on Capitol Hill.
In a room that overlooked the Washington Memorial, this man told stories about government-sponsored murder, police brutality, and other human rights violations in his country.
He explained that he owned a political radio station in Honduras, but the government had sabotaged the equipment to prevent him from exercising his right to free speech.
Further, he and his family have received numerous death threats from the government and wealthy special interests. Despite all the risks, he continued to fight for freedom.
I was there in that room listening to him that day with unmatchable admiration.
He had two questions for the Congressional staffers and interns joining us that day for the small briefing on Capitol Hill.
- Why does the U.S. government finance a dictatorial and oppressive regime in Honduras?
- Why were seven global fair election officials in Washington, DC, when they should be questioning the integrity of the November 2017 elections in Honduras?
The man went on to tell a story about a civil protest that turned to bloody murder. A woman uninvolved with the political rally heard the commotion outside and left her apartment in a concerned search of her brother, who had not returned home. When she exited her apartment, a military police officer point-blank shot her in the head unprovoked.
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According to data provided by USAID, the United States financed $10 million of the 2017 election in Honduras to ensure a transparent and democratic process. The U.S. also spent $5 million on foreign military sponsorship in Honduras. In total, the U.S. disbursed $150 million to Honduras in 2017.
In 2018, the U.S. government disbursed $153 million to Honduras with $7,867,292 applied toward a vague program called, “Agreement with Government of Honduras.”
Honduras is a net oil importer from the United States
So — why does the United States ignore the atrocities in Honduras while demonizing the governments of Venezuela and Iran? Why did the U.S. intervene in Iraq in 2001, Syria in 2011, and the Ukraine conflict in 2014, but leave Honduras untouched amidst severe human rights issues?
All the United States cares about when it comes to Honduras is that it continues to source 95% of its oil imports from expensive U.S. suppliers. In fact, Honduras attempted to negotiate a better deal on oil with Venezuela in 2006. The White House and then-president George W. Bush reacted to news of the discussions with public disapproval.
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To answer the questions of the Honduran resistance fighter — Politicians in the United States and global governing institutions ignore the problems in Honduras because they and their wealthy constituents have nothing to gain by helping. All they care about is that the government places in power pro-U.S. oil officials. They want these troubled countries to continue sourcing oil from U.S. firms instead of lower-cost Venezuela or Iran.
If the U.S. did intervene to establish a democratic order in Honduras, the U.S. oil industry would risk losing Honduras as a loyal consumer of petroleum products. A democratically elected leader may ignore sanctions on Venezuela and purchase low-cost oil from them instead of the United States.
Like many other countries across the globe, the U.S. government has never been without some level of corruption. Nevertheless, there is a considerable difference between our interventions in the Middle East and the Vietnam War. The latter at least had a somewhat reasonable rationale: to preserve the balance of powers and ensure neither China nor Russia grew too powerful to become a global threat. Except, wait: That could have been a war over oil also.
The United States engages in protectionist international trade policies counter to the missions of post-World War II global governing institutions like the World Trade Organization (replacement to 1948s GATT) and the once-lauded Washington Consensus policies advocating for free trade.
Now that investors are pumping ever-greater amounts of money into renewable energy projects, the U.S. will find it hard to justify wars in the national interest of securing our country’s oil supply. Hopefully, global bullying and toxic nationalism won’t continue to control U.S. foreign policy objectives when the world transitions more fully to solar, wind, and hydro-electric power sources.