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.

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