Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More on Honduras Coup

According to my contacts in Honduras, it's fairly calm in most parts of the country, except in the capital, where demonstrators for and against Zelaya have clashed with police using tear gas and rubber bullets which, while not fatal, can cause distress and injuries (I remember the tear gas and water cannons in Chile in 1988). Amnesty International has called for protection of the rights of protesters, presumably, for the rights of peaceful protesters. Schools are closed, there is a curfew, and most people are staying indoors.

The last time there was a military coup in Honduras was in 1978. While a military coup is unacceptable and undemocratic and not something Hondurans would want to see return, nonetheless, many ordinary citizens (and not just wealthy elites) had been getting concerned because Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan security forces had come into the country to support Zelaya and even reportedly supplied the ballots he was going to use in his referendum. So, it's not a completely black and white situation. Many Hondurans feel that too many other countries are meddling in their internal affairs.

The only solution I see, and the one I believe most Hondurans would support, would be to reinstate Zelaya as president, allowing him to finish out his term until January, but have him agree to scrap efforts to amend the constitution to allow him to stay on beyond that time. The Venezuelan military should butt out and the US military should continue to lie low at its Honduran base. Even though Chavez has blamed the US for the coup, if anything, the US has bent over backwards to support Zelaya so far and he himself told the Spanish press that the US had actually stopped the coup—but that was before it had actually happened. Zelaya plans to return to Honduras on Thurs. when more violent clashes and demonstrations are likely to occur.

Anyway, that's what I’ve heard so far, Barbara

Monday, June 29, 2009

Update on Honduran Coup

For those reading this blog for clues about the current situation in Honduras, I will share with you what I know to date about a situation still unfolding. While a military coup is certainly undemocratic, and while some segments of the Honduran population strongly support Zelaya, my people on the ground there seem to think that most do not support his efforts to serve a second term and they are unhappy about the way he tried to circumvent the constitution and the established political process, with a lot of advice and support from Chavez and the Castro government—reportedly Chavez even supplied the referendum ballots when local authorities refused to do so.

Mostly, there has been calm since the coup, except for the burning of tires at certain city intersections, a common form of protest in Honduras and other Latin American countries. And the folks I have heard from are not elite oligarchs, as Chavez contends, but ordinary people, not really poor, but middle-class; otherwise, they would not be writing me e-mails. They describe a general state of surprise and confusion, with some fear, by those old enough to remember, of return to the bad old days of military rule back in the early 1980s.

The way out of this dilemma, as I see it so far, would be to insist that Zelaya come back as president, to finish out his term, which ends in January, but provided he agrees not to run again or try to mount a referendum outside of established norms.

At least this situation has placed Honduras on the world map. I'll let you know if I hear anything more. Barbara

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Honduras Coup and other subjects

First, let me thank Jane, Jose Manuel, and Lesly for their comments posted on this blog, which I only discovered and answered today, since I admit to being somewhat IT challenged, never having grown up with computers and Internet. But, I'm learning! Leslie very kindly said she also served in the Peace Corps in La Esperanza and remembers "the famous Barbara Joe name." Yes, I was famous within a small, select circle.

By good friend Blanka (correct spelling, she's from the Czech Republic)says she saw someone reading my book on the metro last week, but she didn't get a chance to talk with the person as she had to get off.

A copy of my book was donated to the DC public library several months ago, but has yet to appear in the online catalogue. Meanwhile, I am planning to come out with a very slightly revised version, namely with a statement on the front cover about my recent award, to-wit: Best New Non-Fiction Finalist: National Indie Excellence Awards and on the back cover. a quote from the Washington Post review: Barbara's book is a great read...Buy and read this book, no matter your age. Also, a very few corrections and additions inside. However, there were some glitches there, which has delayed production of the new version. I will announce it when it comes out, though it is almost impossible to distiguish from the current version.

As for the main topic of this entry, Honduras was relatively free of political strife during the 1980s when Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua were embroiled in civil wars, offering safe haven to refugees from all three countries. But now, perhaps, it is Honduras' turn to experience internal strife. Until now, most Hondurans have been fairly apolitical. And certainly the economic situation is so fragile, the country cannot afford unrest.

Zelaya, now suddenly exiled to Costa Rica, was, as readers of my book may recall, the favored presidential candidate of my blind friend Gloria. I was not particularly concerned when Zelaya reestablished ties with Cuba and supported Cuba's bid to rejoin the OAS, as that had the potential for positive results. And, of course, Cuban doctors have served in Honduras since Hurricane Mitch, often working in tandem with Peace Corps volunteers like myself. Warmer relations with Venezuela also resulted not only in favorable terms for oil, but in the gift of energy efficient light bulbs from Venezuela to Honduran households, as recounted in my blog. However, I was concerned when Zelaya wanted a second term, in contravention to a long established principle of the constitution--seeming to want to follow in the footsteps of Chavez and Fidel Castro by remaining in power. But I didn't expect a coup or military takeover and I certainly hope that the US military, at the Honduran base of Palmerola, stays out of the fray.

I am wondering right now how the army sons of Blanca, one of my volunteer village health workers, are faring. One son was a guard at the presidential palace last Feb., as my blog describes, the other is an officer who was in charge of Honduran troops in Iraq, as mentioned in my book.

I'm still somewhat in a state of shock right now and don't know quite what to think. I don't favor a military takeover, but, at the same time, Zelaya's attempt to extend his term in office was worrisome and seemed an ill-conceived power grab and poorly timed. I just hope the crisis can be resolved without bloodshed and that the Peace Corps won’t be pulled out or expelled. See AP report below. Barbara

Honduran military ousts president ahead of vote

Honduran president says he's victim of 'coup'
• Troops arrest Honduran president

AP – A military vehicle patrols the area around the presidential residency in Tegucigalpa, Sunday June 28, …
By WILL WEISSERT and FREDDY CUEVAS, Associated Press Writers Will Weissert And Freddy Cuevas, Associated Press Writers –

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Soldiers seized the national palace and sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in Costa Rica on Sunday, hours before a disputed constitutional referendum. Zelaya, a leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said he was victim of a coup.

The Supreme Court said it was supporting the military in what it called a defense of democracy, and the Honduran ambassador to the Organization of American States said the military was planning to swear in Congressional President Roberto Micheletti to replace Zelaya.

Zelaya was arrested shortly before polls were to open in a referendum on whether to change the constitution. The Supreme Court ruled the referendum illegal and everyone from Congress to members of his own party opposed it. Critics said Zelaya wanted to remove limits to his re-election.

It was not immediately clear who was running the government. Tanks rolled through the streets and hundreds of soldiers with riot shields surrounded the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

The constitution mandates that the head of Congress — Micheletti — is next in line to the presidency, followed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Zelaya, arriving at the airport in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, called the military action illegal.

"There is no way to justify an interruption of democracy, a coup d'etat," he said in a telephone call to the Venezuela-based Telesur television network. "This kidnapping is an extortion of the Honduran democratic system."

Zelaya said he would not recognize any de facto government and pledged to serve out his term, which ends in January. He said he would attend a scheduled meeting of Central American presidents in Nicaragua on Monday. He siad Chavez, which is also going, would provide transportation.

Chavez, who along with the Castros in Cuba is Zelaya's top ally, said Venezuela "is at battle" and put his military on alert.

President Barack Obama said he was "deeply concerned" by Zelaya's expulsion and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the arrest should be condemned.
"I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Obama's statement read.

Zelaya told Telesur that he was awoken by gunshots and the shouts of his security guards, whom he said resisted troops for at least 20 minutes. Still in his pajamas, he jumped out of bed and ducked behind an air conditioner to avoid flying bullets, he said.

He said eight or nine soldiers in masks escorted him onto an air force plane that took him to Costa Rica.

Chavez said troops in Honduras also temporarily detained the Venezuelan and Cuban ambassadors, beating them.

Zelaya called on Honduran soldiers to desist, urged citizens to take to the streets in peaceful protests, and asked Honduran police to protect demonstrators.
Zelaya ally Rafael Alegria, a labor leader, called for protests.
"We demand respect for the president's life," he told Honduran radio Cadena de Noticias. "And we will go out into the streets to defend what this has cost us: living in peace and tranquility."

About 100 Zelaya supporters, many wearing "Yes" T-shirts for the referendum, blocked the main street outside the gates to the palace, throwing rocks and insults at soldiers and shouting "Traitors! Traitors!"
"They kidnapped him like cowards," screamed Melissa Gaitan. Tears streamed down the face of the 21-year-old, who works at the government television station. "We have to rally the people to defend our president."

Honduras has a history of military coups: Soldiers overthrew elected presidents in 1963 and 1972. The military did not turn the government over to civilians until 1981under U.S. pressure.

Micheletti has been one of the president's main opponents in the dispute over whether to hold the referendum. The head of the Supreme Court was also opposed to the nonbinding referendum, on whether to ask voters whether they want to convoke an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

It appeared that the vote would no longer take place.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Metro accident tests my commitment to public transportation

June 27, 2009

Doubtless my readers have all heard about the fatal crash earlier this week of two metro trains at rush hour, along an above-ground route that I travel almost every day for my Spanish interpretation work. After Monday evening’s accident, which killed 9 people and injured many more, metro travel in that area, which I had to undertake all this past week, was exceedingly slow and arduous. Passengers had to dismount from a station far from the accident site, get on a bus that went from one closed metro station to another picking up and dropping off, until we had passed the whole shut-down area and could get back on a train to continue on our way. For 2-hour assignments, I had to spend at least 5 hours going to and from. However, my inconvenience was trivial compared to what so many had suffered. Still, I am hoping that trains will be going straight through again by next week.

There was an understandable drop in ridership after the accident, although there had been only one fatal accident (with fewer casualties) before, back in 1982. I also noticed that passengers were now shying away from the front and rear cars, where people were killed or injured in the crash. Among the fatalities was a 40-year-old Salvadoran single mother of 6, Ana Fernandez.

One of my other interpretation assignments last week took me in the opposite direction to a hospital in Bethesda, where the patient, an 18-year-old Salvadoran boy with heart symptoms, was enrolled in an NIH research study. He had crossed the border alone at age 12 to join an older brother living here. His parents are still in El Salvador. Since he had no legal guardian here, he had to wait until he reached 18 to be able to sign consent as an adult so his heart condition could be examined. He was accompanied to the hospital by his brother’s wife, who spoke no English, though my patient did. Mainly, I was there for her but I also felt this boy needed moral support, as he seemed shy and fearful. He asked for a tranquilizer before entering the MRI machine.

After his tests were over, I asked the hospital to send the boy and his sister-in-law home in a cab as they had no car. I waited with them outside the hospital until it arrived. The driver was a Spanish-speaking woman and, after my long trek earlier in the day around the damaged track in the opposite direction, I asked her to please drop me off at the nearest metro station on her way to taking the boy and his sister-in-law home so I wouldn’t have to wait for the bus. Female taxi drivers, especially who speak Spanish, are rare in my experience, in fact, I’d never encountered one before.

It turned out his lady, about age 50, had come from Cuba 7 years before and learned to drive in order to drive a taxi. I asked her how she had gotten out of Cuba. She said she had met a Brazilian tourist who had agreed to marry her so she could leave. “You know,” she said, “Our life in Cuba was unbearable.” I said I knew, because I had visited there. After she got to Brazil, her new husband facilitated her departure for the US while he stayed behind in Brazil. “He had seen how we were living in Cuba and he did me a big favor. He never even charged me anything.” I didn’t find out how she had met the Brazilian tourist (was she working in a hotel?) and how she had actually gotten to the US, as by then, we had reached the metro station where I got off.