Friday, July 31, 2009

Recipes to Consider

My readers, not in great numbers, seem to prefer contacting me by e-mail rather than posting on this blog. A reader has pointed out that the idea of bringing the parties in the Gates arrest case together for a beer at the White House came from the arresting officer, not Obama. Still, the symmetrical photo-op of Obama, the two parties to the dispute, and Biden having a beer outside under the trees will become an iconic symbol of this presidency, I predict.

A reader asks who is footing the bill for the shelter and food for Zelaya supporters gathered in Nicaragua? Surely not the Nicaraguan government, impoverished equally with Honduras.

Is the Honduran interim government softening its position, stalling for time, or just trying to put legitimate guarantees in place? The longer it remains in office, the more attitudes toward it seem to be becoming more nuanced, at least in the US and other media. The following articles may give a clue to the interim government's intentions and concerns. The last item has not actually been published yet and is shown here in excerpts.

NPR NEWS TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras July 31, 2009, 02:27 am ET
Honduran police cracked down on protesters and Congress delayed consideration of an amnesty bill needed to end the standoff, even as the interim leader appeared to back away from his opposition to reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The mixed signals from Honduras' interim powers on whether a deal to resolve the country's coup crisis is imminent came as Zelaya met with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras in Nicaragua, where the ousted president has set up his government in exile. But Zelaya's foreign minister expressed frustration with meeting with U.S. officials, saying nothing new came out of it.

The interim government has long said it hopes to outlast international sanctions and diplomatic isolation until November elections, which it hopes will weaken calls to restore Zelaya, who was flown into exile during a June 28 coup.
A former Honduran government official said Thursday that interim President Roberto Micheletti is open to considering Zelaya's reinstatement, but wants concessions to mollify reluctant business leaders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge information from a private conversation. Micheletti's previous refusal to even consider Zelaya's reinstatement was a key stumbling block in talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias on resolving Honduras' political crisis.

While Micheletti's apparent flexibility was seen as a positive sign for negotiations, Honduras' congressional leaders decided to put off until Monday consideration of a bill on granting amnesties to both sides in the dispute — an important part of Arias' plan to end the standoff. Congress had originally been scheduled to take up the matter this week.

Also marking a tougher stance, riot police in Tegucigalpa used tear gas and night sticks to break up a pro-Zelaya blockade of a main artery leading into the capital. Police said 25 people were injured and 88 arrested. "We will not allow any more disturbances," Micheletti told reporters Thursday. "We are going to bring order to Honduras."

A Zelaya supporter was wounded in the head by a gunshot and was seriously hurt; police spokesman Daniel Molina alleged the shot was fired by protesters. Red Cross spokesman Domingo Flores said protesters attacked an ambulance and beat three Red Cross workers, accusing them of being coup supporters.

Before this week, the interim government had largely tolerated the street blockades and protests, which regularly snarl traffic in Tegucigalpa and other major cities.
Zelaya's team, in turn, demanded a tougher strategy after Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of El Ocotal to meet in Managua with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens. Zelaya told reporters after the three-hour meeting that he asked for Washington to apply pressure on the interim government "with more energy, more strength and greater decisiveness." He will also ask for "immediate action" from the U.N. and Organization of American States.

But his foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, told the [Venezuelan] Telesur network that "it has been a meeting of repetitions, of positions that can't be negotiated. They (the U.S. diplomats) didn't come with a change, nor any new proposal."

Micheletti called the meeting an "interference," and said "Ambassador Llorens has committed a serious mistake by meeting with Zelaya." Zelaya adviser Milton Jimenez said a proposal would be floated in the OAS for other countries to extend visa cancellations — like those by the United States against four interim government officials — to a broader range of those involved in the coup, as well as freezing their bank accounts.

Zelaya told his supporters in the Nicaraguan border town of El Ocotal that he wanted them to form "peaceful popular militias" to demand his reinstatement Nearly all foreign governments have condemned the coup, and the United States and the European Union have suspended millions of dollars in development aid to Honduras.

The former Honduran official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Micheletti told Arias that the door was open to Zelaya's reinstatement. The ex-official, who has been in frequent contact with Micheletti, said he spoke Wednesday with the interim leader. The former official said Micheletti is seeking several changes to a compromise proposed by Arias last week that would restore Zelaya as president of a coalition government. The changes are aimed providing stronger guarantees that Zelaya will not resume efforts to change the constitution, an initiative that prompted his ouster.

The agreement already stipulates that Zelaya must drop ambitions to change the constitution. But among other proposals, Micheletti is suggesting that before Zelaya returns, an international commission would be put in place to monitor compliance with the agreement. In a statement earlier Thursday, Micheletti said the proposed compromise should be strengthened to "ensure that Zelaya abides by the constitution and allows the election of a new president in the November elections." Arias said Micheletti asked him to send an envoy to Honduras to jump-start negotiations, adding the envoy would have to meet with several sectors, "especially businessmen ... who have been very reluctant to consider the possibility that Zelaya be reinstated."

Honduras: Clashes at Protests

New York Times, Published: July 30, 2009

Several people were wounded and more than 100 were arrested Thursday during clashes between the police and supporters of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, in at least four locations. The most intense violence occurred on the northern edge of Tegucigalpa, the capital, where one person was shot in the head. Leaders of the demonstrations accused the police of firing tear gas and live ammunition on peaceful protesters. Television footage showed some protesters armed with long sticks and pickaxes.
[preview of article to run in Sunday edition, excerpts]

Nouvelle Regimes In a Few Easy Steps

By Moisés Naím, Washington Post
Sunday, August 2, 2009

The world no longer digests military coups as well as it used to. But now there's a new way for autocrats to cook up a grab for power. This new recipe relies more on lawyers than lieutenant colonels, and uses referendums and constitutional amendments, rather than tanks and assaults on presidential palaces, as key ingredients. But the result is the same: a dictator who, while keeping up the veneer of democracy, retains power for a long time…

In the Latin American adaptation of this nouvelle cuisine, an essential flavor has been the manipulation of the constitution. In Honduras, Manuel Zelaya tried to follow this recipe by rewriting his country's laws to stay in power for a second term, but the result was indigestion and a genuine, if flawed, attempt to inoculate a nation against the ravages of this dish.

Here then is the new recipe for autocrats around the globe.

Ingredients• Millions of poor people.
• Lots of inequality.
• Unimaginable poverty coexisting with unfathomable wealth.
• Injustice, social exclusion and racial discrimination.
• Abundant corruption.
• Complacent political and economic elites who are sure that "we are in control; nothing will happen here."
• Discredited political parties.
• An apathetic middle class, disillusioned about democracy, politics and politicians.
• A parliament, judiciary and armed forces weakened by prolonged marinating in a brew of indolence, inefficiency and corruption. It should be easy to buy a judge, senator or general.
• Media companies whose owners use them to promote their own commercial or electoral interests.
• A foreign superpower neutralized or distracted by other priorities and congested with too many international emergencies.
• An international public with a severe case of attention deficit disorder and general lack of interest in the details of how other nations are governed.
• An external enemy easy to denounce as a threat to the nation. The CIA is ideal…

1. Shake well the poorest segment of the population with a fiercely polarizing campaign. Sprinkle in resentment, political rancor and economic populism. Rinse away harmony while bringing social conflicts to a boil.
2. Come to power through a democratic election. This can be facilitated by having corrupt and discredited political rivals and a good vote-buying team. Stress the need to root out corruption and recover the wealth that the rich have stolen.
3. After winning that first election, hold other ones, but don't lose any. Elections aren't about democracy -- they're the garnish on your dish…
6. Launch a campaign to change the constitution through a popular referendum.
7. The new constitution should guarantee any and all rights to its citizens, especially the poorest, while minimizing their duties and obligations. Promise to alleviate poverty and extinguish inequality. Bury inside the new constitution provisions, concocted in complex legalese, that weaken or eliminate the separation of powers, concentrate authority in the president and allow for his indefinite reelection…
10. Repeat step number three. Indefinitely.
Bon appetit!
Moisés Naím is the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine. A version of this story was published in the Spanish newspaper El País.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Micheletti Talking National Reconciliation

Obama and, under his direction, Clinton have been consistently been trying, in calibrated steps, to promote non-violent solutions to international political problems and defuse crises, promoting the building of consensus, trust, and a spirit of compromise, hence the insistence on a negotiated solution in Honduras. Such an insistence, which will not work in all cases, may be frustrating to parties on either side who want their own position to “win” and who are impatient. Even in Afghanistan, despite a military push, there has also been a reaching out to the Taliban and their supporters. Regarding Cuba, already travel and other restrictions have been lifted for those with relatives on the island and, significantly, the US Interests Section (embassy equivalent) has turned off a news feed that, while it might have given Cubans a different slant on world news, was an irritant to the current regime. It’s certainly a change from the Bush-Cheney approach of labeling countries part of an “axis of evil” and making preemptive military strikes. Even domestically, Obama has expressed a willingness to deal on health care reform and has invited both parties in the Gates affair to sit down together at the White House. I don’t know how Obama keeps up with his amazingly busy and varied schedule and always seems prepared, quite a change from GWB who fumbled his words, disliked reading, went out on afternoon bike rides, took naps, and went to bed early.

I've heard from the PC in Honduras that the new group of trainees has been standing by, patiently waiting in the DR, but is now finally going to Honduras. No doubt, they will be instructed to avoid involvement in the political fray. Meanwhile, a message I got today from a Honduran is that things there are fairly normal and the presidential campaign is in full swing. Interestingly, Pepe Lobo is the Nationalist candidate, the guy that Zelaya defeated last time (with the financial and strategic help—now regretted—of American Allen Andersson, a former Honduras PC volunteer). If my correspondent is right, the Honduras flap may now be greater outside the country than inside, a good thing.

It also sounds like the interim government may be yielding (or only stalling?). At least, Micheletti is adopting the Pbama tone of reconciliation, this time talking about internal reconciliation (see articles below). I thought Zelaya had been coming to Washington, but apparently he's still in Nicaragua. I do think most Zelaya supporters, unsophisticated and unschooled in geo-politics, will be happy just to see their guy back in Honduras if he returns. They can flock to and cheer at his speeches, shake his hand, embrace him. Meanwhile, he has left a mess for the next president to try to clean up. Of course, some countries are now saying they won't recognize the next Honduran election, especially if Zelaya does not go back, but if he does, most will, including the US. Whenever that election is held, I hope to be an observer.

Here is my most recent message from Honduras (no corrections made), saying that while protests continue, things have calmed down and are getting back to normal and the presidential candidates are campaigning, Elvin Santos for the Liberals (Zelaya’s party), Pepe Lobo for the Nationalists, and other candidates for smaller parties, despite the fact that Mel (Zelaya) and some other countries are protesting the legitimacy of the elections: la situacion de Honduras sigue.... siempre hay gente en las calles protestando pero el pais poco a poco vuelve a la tranquilidad, las elescciones estan previstas para finales de noviembre, los candidatos..Elvin Santos por el partido Liberal, Pepe Lobo por los nacionalistas, Cesar Hann por la UD ( por cierto este siempre a andado con Mel apoyandole cone so de la cuarta) el Pinu no recuerdo ahora ni la democracia Cristiana, bien hay otro que es un idependiente que dice( segun el que viene del pueblo) pero es un dirigente sindical, apellido H.Reyes... bien las elecciones internas fueron el año pasado.....asi que segun muchos es legal, pero los del Mel, y algunas personas internacionales dicen que no es legal por el gobierno que esta ahora..bueno no se....pero asi estan las cosas.

Mediator calls for continued sanctions in Honduras
Associated Press
Thursday, July 30, 2009 12:15 AM

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said Wednesday that foreign governments should keep on applying sanctions against Honduras' interim government even as its leaders expressed interest in further negotiations on ending the standoff. Arias, who sought unsuccessfully to mediate a compromise between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and his foes, said the interim administration "isn't convinced" and "hasn't yet recognized that President Zelaya should be reinstated."
Arias told reporters at a regional summit in Costa Rica that "sanctions should continue to be applied." Some governments have frozen aid programs for Honduras or canceled visas for officials connected to the interim government. The Costa Rican leader said Honduras' acting president, Roberto Micheletti, had called him to ask that Arias send an envoy to Honduras to speak with all three branches of the interim government. He said Micheletti had suggested Enrique Iglesias, the former longtime head of the Inter-American Development Bank. Arias did not say whether Iglesias would go.

Micheletti issued a statement Wednesday calling Arias' mediation "the best path to achieving a consensus in Honduras," and he asked Arias to include all parts of society in the dialogue, including church groups, students, business groups, unions, political parties and news media. "Our citizens need to support and broaden the San Jose dialogue in Honduras, that is, have a dialogue among our own people," Micheletti wrote.

Last week, Micheletti's government rejected a proposal by Arias that Zelaya resume the presidency in a coalition government of all parties and that amnesty be given to both sides. Honduras officials said Zelaya would be arrested if he returned to his homeland.

In Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, pro-Zelaya protesters returned to the streets and blocked traffic in another of their daily demonstrations demanding his restoration to the presidency. Backers of the government that was installed after the army flew Zelaya out of Honduras on June 28 also have held demonstrations.
Meanwhile, two Venezuelan diplomats remained holed up at their country's embassy a week after the interim government ordered them to leave. The interim government accuses Venezuela - whose President Hugo Chavez is a vocal ally of Zelaya's - of threatening Honduras and interfering in its internal affairs. It gave the diplomats a 72-hour deadline to leave on July 21, but they refused, saying they don't recognize the government.

The embassy's charge d'affaires, Ariel Vargas, vowed to hold out in the embassy as about 20 Zelaya supporters gathered outside seeking to block any forcible takeover. "We can't go out on the street for fear they will arrest us," Vargas told reporters. The interim government has said it will simply wait for the Venezuelans to leave.

Zelaya and a group of about 500 supporters remained at a Nicaraguan town on the border with Honduras. On Wednesday, U.N. officials toured the camp "to see what these people's health condition is," said Nicaraguan Health Minister Guillermo Gonzalez, who accompanied the group.

Honduran leader softens tone in fight over Zelaya
By Mica Rosenberg
Thursday, July 30, 2009 2:53 AM

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' de facto ruler called on Wednesday for new talks to solve the country's political crisis and a source said he might be willing to allow the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya under strict conditions. Roberto Micheletti, named by Congress as president after Zelaya was toppled in a coup last month, asked for a special envoy to come to Honduras "to cooperate in the start of dialogue in our country."

Under pressure from the United States to reverse the coup, Micheletti softened a previous hardline tone and said many Hondurans could play a role in solving the crisis. "This dialogue, this effective communication should include all parts of civil society, our churches, professional groups, student groups, business associations, media, political parties," he said in a statement read out on television.

Micheletti asked mediator Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to send Enrique Iglesias, a former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, to Honduras to breathe life into crisis talks that were all but dead. Washington has demanded Zelaya's reinstatement and on Tuesday revoked diplomatic visas for four members of Micheletti's administration. Micheletti has often said the government, Supreme Court and Congress were all firmly opposed to Zelaya's reinstatement, and that it could never happen, but his tone may be changing. A source with close connections to the de facto government said Micheletti might now be willing to consider Zelaya's return if given assurances that the ousted president does not try to derail democracy.

Micheletti wants Arias to send someone of international stature to help convince Hondurans of a plan to end the crisis that included Zelaya coming back to office, the source said, adding that the plan would need to be "fine tuned." "Because, as it stands, the proposal would be rejected across the board by the powers that be in the country," the source said. "He is saying to Arias, 'Help me convince my people,'" he said.

The Honduran Supreme Court, which ordered the army to oust Zelaya on June 28, is due to rule this week on Arias' proposal that Zelaya be allowed back to serve out the rest of his time, which ends early next year. A leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya upset the court and many in Congress by trying to hold a referendum to change the constitution. Critics say he was trying to extend his mandate, but he denies that.

The president said from exile in Nicaragua on Wednesday that he was confident he would return, but made no reference to any imminent deal. "There's no fixed date. Pressure is being put on for the accord," he told journalists.

Micheletti's government had shown every sign of determination to hold out until November presidential elections, gambling that the world will accept the new order after the polls. Honduran political analyst Juan Ramon Martinez said Micheletti might be trying to float a more flexible image to the outside world while entrenching his position inside Honduras, where there have been large marches in favor of keeping Zelaya out.

But if the United States, Honduras' biggest trading partner and an important military ally, were to impose more sanctions, some in Honduras might begin to feel the cost of holding out was too high.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Still Marking Time

It’s nice to see a new 5-star review on for my book, but sales have not expanded commensurate with the favorable reviews and commendations. I need to find a way to jump-start sales, the recession notwithstanding. I would think that with the down economy, more people might be considering a stint in the Peace Corps and others might want to find out more about Honduras in light of the current crisis. I’d like more libraries to have copies of my book and have donated some to libraries in Florida and know of at least one university library that has the book. However, a copy donated to the DC public library months ago has yet to appear in the online catalog. Some libraries are reluctant to offer self-published books and some imagine such books to be unreadable (though libraries are full of barely readable diet and dating books). I’ve had friends comment that they’d read my book as a favor to me, but were surprised to find they really liked it. “Who was your editor?” they ask. My answer: “You’re looking right at her.” In any case, suggestions about how to promote my book’s distribution and readership would be appreciated. And tell your friends! Give it as gift! Put one in your local library!

Meanwhile, today I can find no real news on Honduras or about is happening with Zelaya here in Washington. At least he still has a visa, unlike some members of the Micheletti team. Zelaya obviously isn’t trekking off to Caracas to make his case. Obama is trying to support Zelaya to counteract Chavez and to maintain credibility with Latin America—to at least keep the US from becoming an obvious target for condemnation. But the interim government is still standing fast. Unless the fall elections are moved up, there are still 4 more months to go. Can it hold out that long? For subsistence farmers, it probably doesn’t matter, but if public employees are not getting paid, that’s a problem. So far, with few exceptions, it seems that Honduran demonstrations on both sides have been peaceful, although Zelaya supporters have been burning tires, a time-honored gesture of protest in Latin America.

The following tongue-in-cheek commentary comes from someone in Venezuela: When an oppressed people is struggling against a right-wing tyranny, anything goes. The "human rights" mafia (all of them in the pay of the CIA, it goes without saying) will try to make out that there's some kind of contradiction between, say, complaining about the Honduras usurper's censoring of the media and our own government's sovereign decision last week to revoke the licenses of 240 radio stations.

They will deliberately misinterpret our leader's call, earlier this year, for student protesters to be given 'a good dose of gas'. And worst of all, they are already suggesting parallels between the brutal ousting of Mel and the entirely constitutional replacement of the opposition mayor of Caracas (elected last November) with a loyal revolutionary appointed by our leader. These are the same ones who can't see the difference between Chavez's rebellion in 1992 (supported by the people) and the Honduran putsch. Or who laugh at Raul Castro's moving defence of democratic rights. The people are not fooled. Viva la revolucion!"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Quite Hopeless Yet

For readers out there who belong to Facebook and LinkedIn, I've joined both after getting multiple invitations. Somehow, I found I was already on LinkedIn, but don’t know how that happened and so had to get a new password, as I didn’t know the old one. When I found my profile there, it was pretty sparse. Presumably, no one can sign up for you, but whoever did it for me on LinkedIn didn’t have the complete story. I decided that if I am on there already (however inadvertently), I should at least post a photo and some information. Meanwhile, through Facebook, I’ve already connected with some folks who were on the IHS medical brigade in Honduras with me. It’s fun to find old friends, but with 3 e-mail addresses and this blog already, do I really need any more cyber-connections? I don’t want to be spending my whole life online!

While the circumstances and history are very different, a message received from a friend in Zimbabwe has given me hope that Honduras can pull out of the present crisis and come to some sort of agreement, however imperfect. If Zimbabwe, which has had such a terrible history of repression, deprivation, and breakdown of the rule of law, can forge some sort of working arrangement between bitter political rivals, then Honduras should be able to do the same—and, I hope, much faster. My Zim correspondent says: Things are slowly turning around and life is almost back to normal following the creation of the unity government. The new government is in the process of drafting a new constitution which will be adopted after a referendum. Another round of general elections will be held in two years time under the new constitution. We are hoping that we will have a truly representative government then.

I certainly hope that Honduras will not have to go through all the turmoil that Zimbabwe has in order to come out the other side, or a civil war such as its neighbors underwent before everyone becomes exhausted and is willing to make peace. The perfect can be the enemy of the good, especially when there are two conflicting visions of perfection. I continue with this blog not only for my faithful readers, but also to inform myself of day-to-day developments.

An editorial in a free right-leaning local paper, the Washington Examiner, is headline “U.S. sends wrong message to Latin America,” that is, by “welcoming former Honduran president Manual Zelaya to the White House today.” Notice the use of the word “former” and I wonder who in the White House or administration is actually welcoming him today? The editorial continues: “Obama is backing a would-be tin-horn dictator who seeks to overthrow the democratically elected government of Honduras and to trash that country’s constitution.”

Interestingly enough, Agnes, one of my Kenyan visitors, who knows nothing about Honduras apart from my book, perhaps influenced by the Examiner, has come down strongly against Zelaya’s return. “He should stay out,” she says emphatically.

As reported below, the US has revoked the visas of 4 Honduran officials, not named. As for the 3,000 teachers reported demonstrating yesterday, I suspect some were doing so primarily because they have not been paid. If and when a settlement is reached, they will demand their back wages. Hondurans who have crossed over into Nicaragua to support Zelaya certainly are sincere. If he could appear back in Honduras, even as a lame duck or figurehead president, those supporters would be ecstatic. Not to sound condescending, but most of them are simple people who worship statues of the Virgin Mary, believe in ghosts, and think the world was created in 8 days. I've known many of them and know how little it takes to satisfy them. As my blind friend Gloria is quoted in my book, she voted for Zelaya because, “He speaks so well.” She also liked his tough stance on crime and in favor of the death penalty. Since then, his agenda has changed, and, indeed, by last February, her support was wavering. But we do not see any crowds of fervent admirers clustering around Micheletti. Of course, he says he's not planning to stay on and is not looking for acslaim, just doing his duty to protect the country.

Honduras leaders under pressure as U.S. revokes visas
By Claudia Parsons

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 3:23 PM
TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' coup leaders came under new pressure on Tuesday to allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya's return to power as the United States revoked visas for four members of the de facto government. Washington has refused to recognize the government led by Roberto Micheletti, who took over when Zelaya was toppled in a June 28 coup, and it had already cut $16.5 million in U.S. military aid to the Central American country. Zelaya had asked President Barack Obama to revoke U.S. visas for the coup leaders and he quickly welcomed the move. "They are isolated, they are surrounded, they are alone," Zelaya said of the coup leaders. "This is a coup that has been dead from the start, so they will have to abandon their position of intransigence in the coming hours," he said in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal near the Honduran border

The de facto Honduran government, backed by the Supreme Court and Congress, has so far not bent to international condemnation of the coup and it insists that Zelaya cannot come back and serve the remaining six months in office. It says Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, violated the constitution by trying to organize a referendum on presidential term limits. He denies this.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has mediated talks between both sides but the negotiations have so far failed, with Micheletti refusing to back down. "We don't recognize Roberto Micheletti as the president of Honduras, we recognize Manuel Zelaya, and so in keeping with that policy of non-recognition, we have decided to revoke official diplomatic visas, or A visas, of four individuals who are members of that regime," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.

Kelly did not name the Hondurans affected but said the diplomatic visas of other members of the government were also being reviewed. "It is part of our overall policy toward the de facto regime," he said, adding that the measure was taken to support mediation efforts to end Central America's worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Zelaya has in recent days questioned whether the U.S. government was doing enough to push for his return. He wrote to Obama urging him to impose sanctions directly against the coup leaders and members of Micheletti's government, including the cancellation of their U.S. visas and a ban on their bank transactions.
Zelaya said as many as 1,000 of his supporters have made the trek to join him in Nicaragua, dodging road blocks and a curfew in the border region of Honduras. Security forces have succeeded in keeping thousands more from the border. Zelaya briefly crossed the border into Honduras last Friday but stepped back from security forces waiting to arrest him, saying he wanted to avoid a massacre. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described his actions as "reckless" and not helpful to the negotiation process.

Time may be running out for ousted Honduran leader
Associated Press
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 3:06 AM

OCOTAL, Nicaragua -- Honduras' interim leaders insist they can resist international pressure to step down until the country's presidential election in four months, expressing confidence a new government will spell the end of exiled President Manuel Zelaya's bid to return to power. In an interview with The Associated Press on the eve of the one-month anniversary of Honduras' June 28 coup, Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez clearly bet on outlasting Zelaya. He said Zelaya might start to lose relevance as campaigning begins and noted that even the candidate for Zelaya's own party doesn't support the ousted president. "There will be a totally different context and once the campaigns begin, the obsession with Mr. Zelaya will start fading," Lopez said.

He expressed a perhaps optimistic view that other nations will recognize the results of the election, scheduled for Nov. 29. Some nations have said they would not necessarily recognize a vote held under what they consider an illegitimate government that has cracked down on pro-Zelaya media. "Of course it will be recognized. There is no sense in talking about it not being recognized," Lopez said of the ballot to pick a successor to Zelaya, whose constitutionally mandated single term ends Jan. 27.

Lopez stood fast on the interim government's refusal to allow Zelaya to return to office, though Congress is scheduled to debate whether to grant him amnesty - one part of a compromise proposed by mediator Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica. Honduras' interim leaders have vowed to arrest Zelaya on four charges of violating the constitution if he sets foot in his homeland.

The charges stem from Zelaya ignoring a Supreme Court order and trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. Many people felt he wanted to end the constitutional ban on anyone serving more than one term as president. Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who adopted a left-leaning populist agenda, denied it. Zelaya contends the Nov. 29 election cannot be considered legitimate, and says he has settled in for the long haul at the impromptu headquarters of his government-in-exile in Ocotal, a Nicaraguan border town.

He has not said how he plans to continue his struggle after January, but on Monday he urged a few hundred restive supporters who have joined him in Ocotal to be patient for what could be a long fight. "It is our duty to struggle a day, two days, a month, six months, ten years. ... We are going to do it," Zelaya said. "The people's struggles are eternal."

He is trying to galvanize poor farmers, teachers and street activists into a movement strong enough to overcome his opponents and sweep him back into office, but Honduran military checkpoints kept all but a few hundred supporters from reaching Ocotal. Many of those who did make it to Nicaragua wondered how long they could hold out away from their work and families, waiting for Zelaya to come up with a plan. Zelaya has vowed to remain on the border for at least a week, but hasn't announced any concrete strategy since he walked a few meters into Honduras and then retreated Friday.

The crowd, housed in two shelters in Ocotal, spent Monday in disarray. They boarded buses for a drive to the frontier line, only to turn back when they realized Zelaya didn't plan to join them. The ousted president showed up at one of the camps to address his supporters, only to find they had left for the border. But hot meals arrived in the afternoon as Zelaya gave supporters an hours-long pep-talk, and a tractor trailer delivered hundreds of floor mattresses Monday evening for Hondurans sleeping at a municipal gymnasium. "We're waiting for Mel Zelaya to give the order, and we'll go with him," said Tomas Lopez, 57, an athletics teacher who traveled 375 miles (600 kilometers) to Nicaragua, leaving his family in Honduras. "I'm the head of the family, and they depend on me. We have food here and a place to sleep, but the problem is our children. Who is going to support them?"

The interim government that ousted Zelaya said Monday it had seized a series of what appear to be receipts from a key Zelaya organizer, indicating payments of between $3,000 and $20,000 to several protest leaders. None of the Zelaya supporters were immediately available to comment on the alleged payments or what they were for. Zelaya's supporters have staged near daily protests in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, including 3,000 teachers who blocked an avenue Monday.

But the demonstrations have failed to become more than a minor inconvenience for interim President Roberto Micheletti and the formidable forces that support him: the military, business executives, Supreme Court and almost the entire Congress, including many in Zelaya's own party. Zelaya has received overwhelming support from nearly all foreign governments, which have condemned the coup and isolated the Micheletti government diplomatically.

But Zelaya complains that international mediation efforts to force his return have flagged. He accuses the United States - Honduras' largest source of development aid and its biggest trade partner - of not being forceful enough against Micheletti, who has ignored sanctions threats and U.N. demands that Zelaya be reinstated. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly urged Zelaya to be patient and give negotiations more time. He repeated U.S. criticism that Zelaya was being "reckless" in trying to return to Honduras without an agreement with his opponents. "We're continuing to urge President Zelaya to allow this political process to play out," Kelly said. "We're not going to put any artificial deadline on it, though."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Still Waiting

Although a dozen readers posted reviews on the site early on, nothing has been posted there lately. That’s why it was heartening and a surprise to hear from a former PCV reader, someone previously unknown to me, who sent this thoughtful message:

I just finished your book and thought it was excellent. I am an RPCV (El Salvador '96-'98) and simply wanted to say that I thought you did a great job. I can relate to so many of the stories and personalities in your book. It's amazing how the book brought back intense emotions and memories. Thank you for doing such a good job. I admire your dedication and commitment to the people of Latin America.

I've remained in solid contact with the community where I lived and have made trips back, a few times taking high school students (I currently teach high school Spanish) and last summer took my 4 -now 5 - year old son. I continually struggle with how to balance family with the desire to remain involved with Latin America. Your book was simply a great, inspiring reminder of all the possibilities out there. I can only say thanks for those kind words.

The NY Times article posted yesterday, saying that the military would not impede, but rather would support, Zelaya's return if an agreement is reached is a good omen. I don't know if that’s showing independence from Micheletti or just demonstrating that they are not an obstacle and that the interim government is not a military government. Or maybe the military are anxious to settle matters and tired of being on guard everywhere. It must cost something to station troops along that long Nicaraguan border and, who knows, Zelaya could always pop up from somewhere else.

The US seems to be stepping in to try to resolve the Honduras matter after Arias reportedly gave up, probably in the manner I suggested yesterday (although one of the articles below indicates Arias may be still involved). Let's see if Micheletti finally gives in. The problem is the interim government doesn’t trust Zelaya to live up to his agreements once he gets his foot back in the door. The US would have to provide some sort of guarantees, while not trampling too heavily on Honduran sovereignty. Zelaya is reportedly scheduled to come to Washington tomorrow, but don’t know if he will talk with Hillary, who seems tied up right now with the visiting Chinese.

Wishful thinking: that both the interim government and Zelaya will have learned something from all this about thinking longer-term before they act and about really helping out the poor without selling out the country.

U.S. insists it wants Zelaya's return to Honduras
By Claudia Parsons
Monday, July 27, 2009 4:31 PM

TEGUCIGALPA - The United States insisted on Monday it wants Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned to power but gave no commitment to tightening sanctions to force the de facto government to back down. Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, has complained that Washington was wavering and has not done enough to win his reinstatement.

The U.S. government said it had not changed its position. "Our policy remains the same, that we want the restoration of democratic order and that includes the return by mutual agreement of the democratically elected president, and that's President Zelaya," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.

President Barack Obama has condemned the coup, cut military aid to Honduras and thrown his support behind the mediation efforts of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, whose proposals include Zelaya's reinstatement. The de facto government has refused to let Zelaya back in and says it will arrest him if he does. The leftist complains that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stopped using the term "coup" to describe his removal from power on June 28. "The position of Secretary Clinton at the beginning was firm. Now I feel that she's not really denouncing (it) and she's not acting firmly against the repression that Honduras is suffering," Zelaya told reporters over the weekend.

Asked if the United States would impose new sanctions on the de facto government in Honduras, Kelly said it wanted to give Arias more time to seek a negotiated solution. "We're content to let that process play out, we're not going to put any artificial deadline on that," he told reporters.

Zelaya, who was ousted as he sought a referendum vote to change the constitution, is in exile in neighboring Nicaragua. He went to the border and took a few symbolic steps on Honduran soil last Friday, a gesture criticized by Clinton as "reckless."
No foreign country has recognized the de facto government but interim President Roberto Micheletti has so far refused to back down.

Seeking to win over his critics and perhaps avert harsher U.S. sanctions, Micheletti wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday arguing Zelaya's removal was legal because he was seeking to extend presidential term limits. "The truth is that he was removed by a democratically elected civilian government because the independent judicial and legislative branches of our government found that he had violated our laws and constitution," said Micheletti, chosen by Congress to lead the country hours after Zelaya was ousted.

Around 2,000 Zelaya supporters gathered on a major exit route from the capital Tegucigalpa to block the road in protest on Monday as Congress was due to examine and debate Arias' proposals. It was expected to reject the plan because it includes Zelaya's return as president. Zelaya was seized before dawn by soldiers and flown out of the country. The Supreme Court ordered his arrest and Congress backed his removal, appointing Micheletti as president.

Micheletti said he understood criticism of the abrupt way that Zelaya was ousted, saying: "Reasonable people can believe the situation could have been handled differently." "But it is also necessary to understand the decision in the context of genuine fear of Mr. Zelaya's proven willingness to violate the law and to engage in mob-led violence."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Not Over Until It's Over

The Honduran situation remains unresolved and Zelaya is vowing to cross the border once again, so I’m still not sleeping well. Zelaya should have made more effort to court political allies in the legislature, as well as among mayors, in the courts, and even among his fellow elitists, instead of relying so much on outsiders, especially Hugo Chavez. That’s what grates on many Hondurans.

And he doubled the minimum wage and increased public employee salaries on the promise of continued cheap oil from Chavez. Without that oil—which Chavez has now withdrawn—those wages are unsustainable. If Hondurans should elect a president not to Chavez’s liking, that subsidized oil is not going to return.

Chavez also donated millions of energy saving light bulbs to Honduras, as I mentioned on this blog right after my Feb. visit there. They can be seen even in empty sockets in villages without electricity or in outlets powered by car batteries. Many people are proud and grateful to have them, whether or not they actually function.

If you have a very needy, uneducated population—many illiterate—it’s easy to win them over by promises and grand gestures. But whether Zelaya or another Chavez supporter would be able to continue to deliver depends mainly on the price of oil and the continued productivity of Venezuelan reserves. If that largesse diminishes or restrictions on the personal freedom that Hondurans have enjoyed become too onerous, people who supported Zelaya or his successor will regret their choice, but may then find it too late to backtrack. Already, because of the oil dependency Zelaya signed onto, Honduras is in hock and in a bind if it does not continue with Chavez.

I’ve heard nothing about the presidential candidates running in November or whenever elections will actually take place. Who are they—what is their position on the expulsion of Zelaya? What are their political platforms and priorities? No one is even talking about that.

The Honduran military is saying the right thing—demonstrating that it is under civilian rule—expressing a willingness to accept Zelaya’s return to the country if an agreement is reached. (See article below.) At the same time, the military has been carrying out the interim government’s orders and, it seems, taking care not to hurt demonstrators, even while trying to control them. (Demonstrators might disagree.) However, if the interim government cannot pay the military, especially with the suspension of military aid, including from the US, then the military’s discipline in carrying out the interim government’s orders may soon erode. Also, since most foot soldiers come from poor families like many Zelaya supporters, they are probably finding it difficult to hold back demonstrators from a similar background.

It is ironic that Cuba has been readmitted to the OAS, while Honduras has been ejected. Since when was Castro—either Fidel or Raul—elected? Since when were anti-government protests tolerated by Cuba, or even by Chavez in Venezuela?

I am especially concerned, quite naturally, about Peace Corps volunteers. I’m also curious about Cuban doctors, both those now assigned by the Cuban government and those who have defected and set up private practices in Honduras. Also, what about Cuban boat people who arrived via the northern islands? Some of them, fearing what may happen, may already be making their way via Guatemala and Mexico to the USA.

Says one of my readers: I don't in the least blame Arias for washing his hands of the situation. I wouldn't call it a failure on his part, either. He's dealing with amateurs in international relations. Zelaya, in a recent article, has been described as a Latin America's own George Bush -- a rich, dumb, happy guy who got himself elected by playing at being the people's friend and soon started fooling with the levers of power, supposedly reserved for grownups. He seems to have been rolled by Chavez, who of course is not exactly an intellectual, either.

A US-based American woman, with a Honduran daughter-in-law and a U-Tube video to back up her assertions, says: The ballots for the referendum on changing presidential terms, were printed in Venezuela and delivered in one place by Venezuelan soldiers… All of these "votes" were cast for the ousted president, Mr Zelaya...The ballot boxes were stuffed…Ceasar Chavez, dictator of Venezuela, might be buying off the Generals of the Honduran Military.

Meanwhile, the Honduran situation gets curiouser and curiouser. (An entire story like this could not have been invented and, no doubt, an enterprising writer with a name and connections is already penning a book that practically writes itself.) Reportedly, the head of the Honduran Armed forces is due in Miami this weekend to take part in an offbeat religious sect meeting, according to the public announcement of the group’s "prophet,” claiming that the general in question, Romeo Vazquez, is his devoted follower. Maybe the general will be persuaded not to return to Honduras? Otherwise, this seems a heck of time to be leaving the country.

So, what will Hillary Clinton or her representative and Zelaya talk about in their meeting this week? Perhaps, Clinton, while still insisting that Zelaya return as president, will spell out measures to assure he does not abrogate his agreement on the limits to his powers and allows amnesty for all parties. Of course, he will not be forbidden from endorsing and supporting someone else to carry on where he left off. Micheletti’s government may finally feel pressed to settle. If Zelaya returns, it will be the first time in a long time, if ever, that an exiled Latin American leader has returned peacefully to his position. If so, that will be a feather in Obama’s cap. (Remember, you heard it here first if it should happen.) Otherwise, the interim government will advance elections and try to hold out, while the population becomes ever more restive. In either of these scenarios, bloodshed may be avoided. And then, after the elections, the world can go back to forgetting about Honduras once again.

Pro-Zelaya border protest weakens in Honduras
By Sean Mattson and Esteban Israel
Sunday, July 26, 2009 3:01 PM

EL PARAISO, Honduras (Reuters) - Disheartened supporters of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya trickled home from the Nicaraguan border on Sunday, weakening protests backing his bid to return to power after a coup last month. Honduran troops manning checkpoints have prevented several thousand demonstrators from staging a show of support at the border for the leftist leader, now exiled in Nicaragua. Six miles from the border, 100 weary protesters milled around the coffee town of El Paraiso, a far cry from the massive outpouring of public backing Zelaya had called for.

Lilian Ordonez, a 29-year-old teacher, came with a convoy of some 100 cars to try to reach the border, but only six made it through the checkpoints. "We're going to head back to Tegucigalpa where most of the people are," she said, wiping off tears. "We have to change our strategy ... People are angry but we don't have weapons and against a rifle, we can't do anything." Demonstrations planned on the Nicaraguan side of the border were also muted.

Zelaya was accused by Honduran Congress and Supreme Court of trying to extend presidential term limits. Soldiers arrested him and sent him into exile on June 28. The United States, Latin American governments and the United Nations want Zelaya returned to power, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized him as "reckless" when he took a few steps onto Honduran soil on Friday in a symbolic gesture in front of international media.

Zelaya, who was holed up in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal near the border on Sunday, hit back at the U.S. secretary of state for the second time in two days. Clinton should "stop avoiding the issue" that the Honduran government is a dictatorship, he told journalists. "Secretary Clinton should confront the dictatorship with force," he said.

Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed interim president by Congress the day after the coup, says Zelaya's removal was legal since he was acting against the Constitution. The Supreme Court ordered his arrest and Congress backed his removal. U.S. President Barack Obama has cut $16.5 million in military aid to Honduras and threatened to slash economic aid.

But Obama has yet to take harsher measures and there are growing tensions with Zelaya, a close ally of Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chavez. The crisis has put Obama in a difficult position. He does not want to show U.S. support for rightist coups in Latin America, but some Republicans in Congress say he has already done too much for the ousted leftist. "It's been very clear from the outset that (the Obama administration) didn't really like Zelaya anyway," said Vicki Gass, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. "This wishy-washiness on their part is giving the impression that they are backing away from their original stance," she said.

The U.S. State Department said Zelaya is expected to visit Washington on Tuesday but it was unclear who he would meet. In a move that risked alienating Washington, Zelaya said on Saturday that Clinton was not adequately informed about the "repressive regime" in Honduras.

Micheletti seems to believe he can resist international pressure until elections in November and the world will accept the new order when a new president takes office in January. The alternative is a negotiated solution under pressure from Washington, likely modeled on a proposal by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who was mediating talks between the two sides that broke down last week.

The Micheletti government says it is still committed to negotiations and open to some of the terms of the Arias plan, but not the return of Zelaya as president.
The Honduran armed forces issued a statement on Saturday expressing support for the negotiating process and affirming respect for civil institutions and the executive, legislative and judicial powers. The military chiefs of staff would be among those with most to lose if Zelaya does return as president, since their position would be weakened if there is an admission that they acted illegally in removing him. Zelaya's relations with the military were tense before the coup. Just days before he was removed from power, he fired the military chief of staff after the army refused to help him run an unofficial referendum on extending his mandate.

Military in Honduras Backs Plan on Zelaya
By GINGER THOMPSON and BLAKE SCHMIDT, New York Times, Sunday 7-26-09

WASHINGTON — The Honduran armed forces issued a communiqué on Saturday indicating that they would not stand in the way of an agreement to return Manuel Zelaya, the country’s ousted president, to power.

Meanwhile, in Las Manos, a town along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, Mr. Zelaya made his second symbolic appearance in two days, defying calls from foreign leaders to avoid any moves that might provoke violence in his politically polarized country.

The communiqué was drafted in Washington after days of talks between mid-level Honduran officers and American Congressional aides. Posted on the Honduran Armed Forces Web site, it endorsed the so-called San José Accord that was forged in Costa Rica by delegates representing President Zelaya and the man who heads the de facto Honduran government, Roberto Micheletti. The accord, supported by most governments in the hemisphere, would allow Mr. Zelaya to return as president, although with significantly limited executive powers. Mr. Micheletti has steadfastly rejected Mr. Zelaya’s return as president.

In its communiqué, the Honduran military added its support to the proposal. Officials involved said it was meant to dispel any perceptions that the military would block civilian efforts to resolve the crisis. The officials said the military communiqué was significant because it was the first sign of support for the San José Accord by a powerful sector of the de facto government. And the officials said it could make it more difficult for the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court to reject the accord when they consider it. American officials who met here with the Hondurans said that they were two colonels who were concerned about the tensions generated by the political conflict.

Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit human rights group, said she was told that the officers were showing Congressional aides a recording of the day Mr. Zelaya was detained, as evidence that no abuses had been committed against him.

In the meantime, however, thousands of troops had been deployed to tighten security along the border to prevent Mr. Zelaya from returning. And thousands of his supporters defied government curfews and military roadblocks, by abandoning their cars and hiking for hours to reach the remote border post to see him. Mr. Zelaya vowed to try a third time to re-enter Honduras. "We are ready to take this to its final consequences," he told his supporters. "We are not afraid.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Playing Chicken

In a moment of high drama, offering a symbolic gesture to his supporters, as well as taunting his adversaries with a game of “chicken,” Zelaya and his entourage gathered near the Nicaraguan border where he briefly stepped over into Honduras on Friday evening. Then he stepped right back. The man is a real showman.

Of course, I know just where he was, having been there. These small, dusty towns on either side of the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, lacking amenities and with an unsophisticated population, are seeing a sudden surprise uptick in business and worldwide attention. I wonder if any reporters there are getting "Lempira's revenge" (the Honduran version of Mexico's "Montezuma's revenge) or finding their Blackberries don't work?

All I can say is, thank goodness that Zelaya stepped back across the border. God forbid that anything should happen to him. His injury, arrest, or any apparent attempt on his life could indeed trigger a civil war. El Tiempo Latino, a DC Spanish-language newspaper, quotes Zelaya as saying: “The civil war has now started.” Parodying Garcia Marquez, the article is headlined “Honduras: cronica de un retorno anunuciado,” (chronicle of a return foretold). Even the OAS’s Insulza, a strong Zelaya supporter, has warned that his return right now would be “hasty” (apresurado).

At the same time, another Spanish-language newspaper, Washington Hispanic, reports that Daniel Ortega is seeking to change the Nicaraguan constitution so he can run again, and that it has been revealed that Colombia’s rebel FARC movement contributed substantially to the campaign of current Ecuadorian President Correa. So the battle lines have been drawn in Latin America and the interim Honduran government is not totally paranoid to suspect the worst from Zelaya and his president pals in other countries. Meanwhile, Obama is trying mightily to stay above the fray to avoid triggering further polarization and an anti-US backlash. Uncle Sam no longer is trying to dominate the hemisphere, instead striving to reach consensus with its neighbors and demonstrating a spirit of compromise.

The problem is that now, apparently, Arias has bowed out as mediator in frustration. Where will movement come from now, unless either or both parties come back to him with a new proposal? Meanwhile, Zelaya remains outside Honduras and the interim government is squeezed even harder economically. No one could have made up a quirkier tale about a banana republic, which Honduras certainly is. I would hope the citizenry and leaders on both sides would learn something from this whole experience, maybe take a longer, more mature, and less impulsive, immediately self-interested view. But that may be wishful thinking.

From my Venezuelan human-rights advocate living in Caracas comes a comment on yesterday’s Washington Post editorial as to why the OAS, and especially Insulza, has excoriated and expelled the Honduran interim government for deposing Zelaya, but is mum about three elected leaders in Venezuela, including the mayor of Caracas, deposed by Chavez. She declares: Ese articulo es exactamente lo que muchos nos preguntamos. That article says exactly what many of us are asking ourselves.

Re the lack of free speech in Venezuela see
Spike Lee defends free speech on Venezuela visit


I sent this link to my Venezuelan friend above and she reported there was nothing in their press at all about Spike Lee’s speech.

Another e-mailer says this about Zelaya’s momentary incursion in Honduras:
The Wall St. Journal this morning reports that Zelaya walked across the border, physically lifted the chain separating Honduras and Nicaragua, walked a few feet into Honduras, heavily guarded, spoke briefly, and walked back to Nicaragua. Huh? & he said, "I am strong, I do not fear, but I know that I am in danger. Do not aim your rifles.” These are not the words or the actions of a strong, brave man. On learning of this, Castro must have rolled over in bed and shut his eyes.

Of course, there is no unanimity of opinion. Opinion here in the US is polarized and even more so in Honduras, where there is direct impact on people’s lives, which makes resolution extremely problematic. Where is the middle ground? Either Zelaya returns or he does not; it’s like being a little bit pregnant. I agree with the following commentator that 70% of Hondurans are poor.

From a US correspondent: After the OAS and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, entered into intense negotiations for several days with the leader of the coup that violently overthrew President Zelaya in the middle of the night, urging the reinstatement of the democratically elected President Zelaya, said negotiations were ended because the coup leader(s) would not cooperate. President Zelaya thus decided to try to cross the border into Honduras from Nicaragua.

Thousands of his supporters were there to jubilantly welcome him, but hundreds of armed soldiers were forcing them away from the crossing site, so President Zelaya decided to not cross so as to avoid violence and bloodshed.

The Statement our Secretary of State made today with respect to this outrage was that the President of Honduras was “reckless” and that he should have “negotiated” his reinstatement. This statement by our Secretary of State is truly reckless and reveals something worse than a Secretary of State being just out of touch. This is a stunningly irresponsible statement as it blames the victim of a coup that was carried out by an anti-democratic leader(s) of a wealthy, rightist clique that rules over a population that is 70% below the poverty level, a population that finally was celebrating the election of a decent man of conscience who was beginning to usher in a new era of hope based on social and economical justice.

Miami Herald
headline—Zelaya at the border. Friday, 7-24-09

Ousted Honduran leader steps briefly into homeland
By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press 7-24-09

EL PARAISO, Honduras – Ousted President Manuel Zelaya took a symbolic step into his homeland Friday, vowing to reclaim his post a month after soldiers flew him into exile. But he stayed only briefly before returning to Nicaragua, saying the risk of bloodshed was too great. He said he would give talks with the coup-installed government another try. "I am not afraid but I'm not crazy either," Zelaya told the Venezuela-based television network Telesur. "There could be violence and I don't want to be the cause."

Shortly before Zelaya's crossing, his supporters clashed with soldiers and police nearby after the government ordered everyone off the streets along the 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) border with Nicaragua in a noon-to-dawn curfew. Police said one demonstrator was slightly injured. Wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, Zelaya walked up to a sign reading "Welcome to Honduras" and smiled to cheering supporters at the remote mountain pass surrounded by banana trees.

He stopped a few steps into Honduran territory, speaking to nearby military officials on his mobile phone. "I've spoken to the colonel and he told me I could not cross the border," Zelaya said. "I told him I could cross." But he soon returned to Nicaragua and said he was ready to return to the negotiating table. "The best thing is to reach an understanding that respects the will of the people," Zelaya said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Zelaya's efforts to return "reckless." International leaders had urged Zelaya not to go home without an agreement out of fear it would lead to bloodshed. Zelaya had said he had no choice after U.S.-backed talks with his ousters failed to reinstate him.

The interim government has insisted it will arrest Zelaya once he returns, ignoring threats of sanctions from nations worldwide if he is not reinstated. Soldiers formed a human chain near the border crossing Friday but did not move to approach Zelaya. In a statement, the interim government of Roberto Micheletti said it too still believes in negotiations. Its deputy foreign minister, Marta Alvarado, accused Zelaya of seeking "subversion and a bloodbath."

Zelaya said his reinstatement is necessary to preserve democracy and prevent coups, not only in Honduras but across a region that has seen many in its turbulent political history. "The people of Latin America and the world have been losing their rights," Zelaya said. Thousands of Zelaya opponents demonstrated in San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city.

An equal number of supporters flocked to the border to support Zelaya's return, and soldiers manned checkpoints on highways leading to the border area to prevent them from getting to El Paraiso. Some made their way on foot after bus drivers refused to risk the trip. The government said the border curfew was intended to preserve the peace, but by late afternoon authorities did not appear to be enforcing it.
All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya and flew him into exile. Nations on both sides of the political spectrum say Zelaya's return to power is crucial to the region's stability.

But Washington and the Organization of American States have asked Zelaya to be patient and not return on his own, fearing it would plunge the country into chaos. "President Zelaya's effort to reach the border is reckless," Clinton said in Washington. She said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.

An initial attempt to fly home on July 5 was frustrated when officials blocked the runway of the Honduran capital's airport. Honduras' Supreme Court ordered Zelaya's arrest before the coup because he ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum on whether to form a constitutional assembly. The military decided to send Zelaya into exile instead.

The negotiations stalled after neither side accepted a proposal from Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the chief mediator. Arias called for Zelaya's reinstatement, amnesty for the coup leaders and early elections.

Zelaya briefly steps into Honduras _ now what?

Associated Press
Saturday, July 25, 2009 4:29 AM

OCOTAL, Nicaragua -- Ousted President Manuel Zelaya stood on the edge of his country and called on his fellow Hondurans to resist the coup-installed government. Then he quickly retreated back to Nicaraguan territory, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed and give negotiations another try.

His foray Friday brought the Honduran political crisis no closer to a resolution - and irritated some foreign leaders who are trying to help Zelaya reclaim his post. Still, his brief but dramatic excursion a few feet into his homeland kept up the pressure on the interim government and the international community, highlighting the threat of unrest if the two sides cannot resolve the crisis through negotiations.
Thousands of Hondurans flocked to the border town of El Paraiso to support Zelaya when he planted his cowboy boots on home soil for less than 30 minutes. Defying a curfew, the demonstrators clashed with security forces who fired tear gas. Shaded by his white cowboy hat, Zelaya encouraged them, saying protesters facing tear gas should "grab the canister and throw it back." He warned security forces they would pay for obeying the regime that sent him into exile: "You are risking your careers as police and soldiers."

Many miles away in the northern Honduras city of San Pedro Sula, thousands of Zelaya opponents staged their own protest, holding signs reading "Zelaya can return, but to jail."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Zelaya's trip "reckless" and said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras. Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza had urged Zelaya not to go home without an agreement out of fear it would lead to bloodshed.
Zelaya, a rich rancher who moved to the left and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after being elected, said he had no choice after U.S.-backed talks failed to reinstate him. He insisted his lightning trip showed the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti was losing control and would be forced to negotiate."It's clear they cannot govern with the people against them and a president in exile," Zelaya told reporters. "The best thing is to reach an agreement that respects the sovereign will of the people." But it was unclear who would take the lead in bringing the two sides back to the table.

Zelaya, who was spending the night in the northern Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, declined to discuss what he would do next, although he reminded reporters that he had cars and planes available for another attempt to return home.
The previous mediator, Costan Rican President Oscar Arias, bowed out this week after presenting a final proposal that would restore Zelaya to the presidency and offer amnesty to the coup leaders. While insisting it still believes in dialogue, the interim government has refused any pact that would reinstate Zelaya, ignoring threats of sanctions from the United States and other nations.

Zelaya called for tougher action from the United States, Honduras' biggest trade partner and its source of aid. Washington has already suspended more than $18 million in military and development assistance. The European Union has frozen $92 million in development aid. U.S. pressure "has been limited. Its measures have not been effective," Zelaya said. "There is a de facto regime ruling with bayonets, and in that sense, the United States has told me they want a peaceful solution. I'm also looking for a peaceful solution."

The interim government insisted it would arrest Zelaya once he returns, but soldiers near the remote mountain border crossing Friday did not move to approach him. Interim Deputy Security Minister Mario Perdomo told The Associated Press that authorities didn't bother to arrest Zelaya because he barely entered Honduras. "Zelaya made a show of entering Honduras: He put one foot in, and left," Perdomo said. "And he did this in a dead zone of the frontier, which we tolerated."
Micheletti called Zelaya's trip "an irresponsible act, ill-conceived and silly."
All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Honduras' Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya on June 28 and flew him into exile. Nations on both sides of the political spectrum say Zelaya's return to power is crucial to the region's stability. The Supreme Court ordered Zelaya's arrest before the coup because he ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum on whether to form a constitutional assembly. The military decided to send Zelaya into exile instead.

Zelaya, whose terms ends in January, said his reinstatement is necessary to preserve democracy and prevent coups, not only in Honduras but across a region that has seen many in its turbulent political history. "My presence here tells the world not to forget about an oppressed nation," he said.

Inflaming Honduras [article online, scheduled in Sunday edition]
By Edward Schumacher-Matos
Sunday, July 26, 2009, Washington Post

The tiny country of Honduras is providing a lesson in humility on the frailty of democracy and the limits in making it work. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, hasn't listened and may soon lose his job. He deserves to.

Honduras's de facto government has been surprisingly hardheaded in defying the OAS, the Obama administration and most world governments by refusing to allow the return of Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, who is threatening to try by force. Central America could be thrust back into war.

It's a crisis that should never have happened. In the weeks before Zelaya's ouster, American diplomats behind the scenes tried to encourage moderation as the Honduran president sought recklessly to push through a constitutional referendum that might lead to his reelection. The Supreme Court, the National Congress, the president's own attorney general, the human rights ombudsman and the electoral commission all ruled that the referendum violated the constitution, which clearly outlaws even consideration of a presidential reelection.

Then, the OAS sent in three election observers. Their very presence gave legitimacy to Zelaya's efforts. The Congress asked the OAS mission to leave; it didn't. Empowered, Zelaya then resorted to mob rule by sending supporters to invade a military base and seize the ballots that the electoral commission refused to distribute. The Supreme Court ordered the army to arrest the president. The army did so and sent him into exile.

Insulza then further inflamed the situation by emotionally declaring the ouster a military coup -- "rape," he called it -- and leading an unconditional charge to restore the president. He went so far as to fly in an escort plane as Zelaya tried to return to the country -- an attempt that set off riots at the Tegucigalpa airport and led to the only death in the crisis.

Upset by Insulza's lack of judgment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bypassed him to ask Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to mediate between the two Honduran sides. Insulza is Chilean, and Chilean government sources say that Clinton has informed them that the Obama administration will not support Insulza's reelection as secretary general when his term is up next year.

Clinton was equally angered by his role in lifting the expulsion of Cuba from the OAS. He was correct in arguing that the Cold War resolution expelling Cuba was no longer valid, but the Americans felt he was less than vigorous in helping draw the democratic lines Cuba must cross to rejoin the organization.

Some conservative critics see ulterior motives. They accuse Insulza of being leftist and pandering for the bloc of OAS reelection votes led by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, chief supporter of Zelaya and the Castro brothers. Insulza certainly has backed away from his activism two years ago defending press freedom in Venezuela and has been largely silent as freedoms erode there and in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
I don't know what is in Insulza's heart, but I am more generous toward him. I have known him as a dedicated, sometimes shrewd public servant and democrat. He is limited by the need for consensus among the 34 members of the OAS and, it seems, by the trauma of the bloody military coup by Augusto Pinochet in his own country 36 years ago. He couldn't see that Honduras was different.

The outdated OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter, meanwhile, is designed to prevent coups, but it restricts the OAS from getting involved in internal maneuvers such as packing courts and gutting opposition parties under democratic guise that are the bigger threat in the region today. The OAS, moreover, is a presidents club. Congresses and courts aren't represented. Presidents tend to be more sympathetic toward reelection and the use of measures such as plebiscites to expand their power.
None of that excuses the harm that Insulza himself has done in Honduras. He has shown no respect for its constitution or institutions. He has been tone-deaf to the need for trust and legitimacy for democracy to work.

Hondurans are right to worry that Zelaya, even if returned in a national unity government, will resort to more demagoguery, as Chávez did after he was temporarily ousted in a 2002 coup. What Insulza should be doing, but isn't, is searching for formulas that allow all the pieces to be put together again in a way that protects real democracy in Honduras and the hemisphere. [The writer is a Colombian-born former NYTimes and Wall St J reporter now CEO of Meximerica Media, Inc.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Continued Suspense

It’s hard to imagine a good outcome for the Honduran crisis, unless Obama and Arias are magicians. And the outcome is going to be less than satisfactory because it's damned if you do, damned if you don't--since neither faction is “democratic.” Arias is trying to reduce polarization and facilitate some sort of consensus, but the interim government doesn’t trust that and, indeed, the history of Honduras does not support it. The idea of even the traditional political parties working collaboratively is unknown—it’s winner-take-all in an election, hence the fear and mistrust.

Of course, we also have polarization here in the US, something Obama has been trying to overcome with limited success. There has to be a certain amount of trust in the leadership and hope in the future for a country to move forward and Zelaya seems to have more of that on his side, although a substantial proportion of Hondurans, like my school teacher friend cited earlier here (a single parent struggling to make ends meet), who considers Zelaya a traitor who has sold out his country to Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Early this morning on the radio program Democracy Now, it was reported that Zelaya was planning to walk across the border this weekend, presumably from Nicaragua, unarmed, with his family. It was also said that a general exiled from the country for human rights abuses in the 1980s had recently come back to help direct the Honduran armed forces in the crisis. I didn’t catch his name.

See article below on Zelaya’s plans to cross the border. He has set up shop in Esteli, a Nicaraguan town that I know well. No doubt, my friends in El Triunfo and Guasaule are affected by the security measures along the border. Also below is a Washington Post editorial questioning why the hue and cry over Zelaya in the OAS and nothing at all about Chavez’s moves to illegally oust his rivals in Venezuela?

This in from another reader:
Zelaya is looking wimpier and wimpier when it comes to protecting his own butt: note that since Reuters didn't amplify Zelaya's statement that the Honduran army has said it would shoot to kill in the event of a border crossing; we don't know whether it's true or just more shameless demagoguery. The news service should have verified and advised readers, one way or the other.

Oscar Arias isn't in a very good position. He had almost no time to prepare for this difficult engagement, and now it's beginning to look as though he's committed to the U.S. line on the non-negotiability of the reinstallation of Zelaya. The interim government folks are getting smart and speaking softly about waiting for the next proposal from Arias instead of hewing to their earlier stance (no return as president, no way). But isn't this a "deck chairs on the Titanic" situation?

As far as I can see, the Michelleti government’s only move is to say to Arias, "All right, we acknowledge that since the former president broke the country's laws and contravened its constitution when he was in office, we should have arrested him in Tegucigalpa rather than forcibly exiling him. You have explained to us with beautiful clarity why the action we chose was wrong and why so many of our friends were offended. But now we say this: Bring the former president back under international guard and we promise to arrest him quietly and allow him to retire to his ranch to await trial." They'd have to be careful about the composition of the international guard, to be sure it didn't consist of Chavez-paid thugs with AKs. But how's that for a little something for everyone?

Again, Hillary's statement is relatively meaningless. The U.S. secretary of state has weighed-in with an exhortation to stay at the bargaining table, but if Obama has any "or else" up his sleeve, he didn't let her deliver it.

My Latin American correspondent now has this to say:
Maybe you are right. It’s hard to stand up for democracy when you know that the opponent you hand power over to is going to do his damndest to never hand it back! But if you do not hand power over and behave just like him, how can you have the moral rectitude to be able to demand it back? The problem is how to make sure that whoever receives power is not allowed to alter the democratic system so that he can not ever lose it again.

Only a few nations in the world have found a solution to this situation. Furthermore, the ones that have reached it are the world’s richest, and most educated nations. There must be some way that third-world countries can become democratic without allowing a Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega or Rafael Correa to subvert the democratic institutions and create totalitarian systems where they can remain in power until they die and even hand over power to a successor who would imitate their behavior. But then again humanity has been fiddling with this problem since the Greek city states and has still not found an adequate answer for it.

Ousted Honduran leader sets up Nicaragua base
By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
Friday, July 24, 2009 6:45 AM

ESTELI, Nicaragua -- Honduras' deposed president set up base near his country's border to prepare a return home, urging soldiers to ignore an arrest order against him and shrugging off warnings that his homecoming could provoke violence.
Manuel Zelaya drove a jeep to Esteli, a town just 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the Honduran border, where he shut himself inside a hotel Thursday night to plan a strategy for reclaiming the presidency from the interim government that sent him into exile. He said he would make a second bid to return home as early as Saturday, saying U.S.-backed mediation efforts had broken down. The interim government vows to arrest the president if he sets foot in Honduras, and imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew along border areas.

The 56-year-old ousted leader, wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, was accompanied by the foreign minister of Venezuela, whose leftist President Hugo Chavez has been the most vociferous critic of the June 28 coup.
Zelaya said he would spend Friday studying how best to enter Honduras - whether by land, sea or air. He urged Hondurans to gather wherever he decides to cross and called on soldiers to stand down when they see him. "I am on my way to Honduras, and I hope most Hondurans can overcome the checkpoints, that they head to the border, and that they not fear the soldiers," Zelaya said at new conference at the hotel. "I am strong, I do not fear, but I know that I am in danger." He addressed the Honduran military: "Don't aim your rifles at the representative of the people or at the people."

All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya and flew him into exile. Nations on both sides of the political spectrum say Zelaya's return to power is crucial to the region's stability.

Zelaya said the mediation efforts, led by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, failed after representatives of the interim government flatly rejected the possibility that he might return to finish his presidential term, which ends in January 2010. They say they cannot overturn a Supreme Court ruling forbidding Zelaya's reinstatement. But Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, held out hope that the two sides might still reach a settlement - and called Zelaya's attempt to return without an agreement "hasty." "He has always wanted to return to his country, but it's important to make an effort to avoid a likely confrontation," Insulza said. He said that neither delegation had officially responded to Arias' proposal, which calls for Zelaya's reinstatement, amnesty for the coup leaders and early elections.

The U.S. warned of tough sanctions against Honduras if Zelaya is not reinstated, but also said Thursday it does not support Zelaya's plan to return on his own. "Any step that would add to the risk of violence in Honduras or in the area, we think would be unwise," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington.

The Honduran military thwarted Zelaya's first attempt to return home July 5 by blocking the runway at the airport in the capital, Tegucigalpa. The flight sparked clashes between Zelaya's supporters and security forces in which at least one protester was killed. Lorena Calix, a spokeswoman for Honduras' national police, said officers were ready to detain Zelaya if he tries again to come home.
The Honduran military said it would not be responsible for Zelaya's security if he returns, responding to the ousted president's warning earlier this week that he would blame military chief Gen. Romeo Vasquez "if something happens to me on route to Honduras." The Defense Ministry suggested Zelaya might stage an assassination attempt on himself to blame Vasquez. "We cannot be responsible for the security of people who, to foment general violence in the country, are capable of having their own sympathizers attack them," the ministry said in a statement late Thursday.

Honduras' Supreme Court ordered Zelaya's arrest before the June 28 coup, ruling his effort to hold a referendum on whether to form a constitutional assembly was illegal. The military decided to send Zelaya into exile instead - a move that military lawyers themselves have called illegal but necessary. Zelaya's opponents, who objected to his populist and socialist policies, have argued the president was trying to change the constitution to extend his term. Zelaya denies that.

Washington Post Editorial
Democrats in Need of Defense
Why defend the rule of law in Honduras but not in Venezuela? Friday, July 24, 2009

LATIN AMERICAN diplomats remain preoccupied with the political crisis in Honduras, which has been teetering between a negotiated solution that would conditionally restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya to office and an escalation of conflict that would play into the hands of anti-democratic forces around the region. While the drama drags on, those forces continue to advance in other countries, unremarked on by some of the same governments that rushed to condemn Mr. Zelaya's ouster. So it's worth reporting on a meeting that took place Tuesday at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington between OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and three elected Venezuelan leaders who, like Mr. Zelaya, have been deprived of their powers and threatened with criminal prosecution.

The three are Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and the governors of two states, Pablo Pérez of Zulia and César Pérez Vivas of Tachira. All three won election in November, along with several other opposition leaders. But since then, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has used decrees, a rubber-stamp parliament and a politically compromised legal system to strip the officials of control over key services and infrastructure.

Mr. Insulza, a Chilean socialist who has been flamboyant in his defense of Mr. Zelaya, listened to the Venezuelans' account. But the OAS leader insisted that there was nothing he could do about Mr. Chávez's actions, even under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was adopted by all 34 active OAS members in 2001. This month, Mr. Insulza helped spur the OAS to suspend Honduras on the grounds that it had violated the charter. But in the case of Mr. Chávez's stripping power from the governors and mayors, Mr. Insulza said, "I can't say whether it is bad or good." His authority, he said, is limited to "trying to establish bridges between the parties."

That is not how Mr. Insulza handled the case of Honduras, of course. Far from promoting dialogue, the secretary general refused to negotiate or even speak with the president elected by the Honduran National Congress to replace Mr. Zelaya. Instead he joined in a Venezuelan-orchestrated attempt to force Mr. Zelaya's return that, predictably, led to violence. Now, with an attempted mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled, Mr. Zelaya is again threatening to enter the country without an agreement. Don't expect the OAS chief to dissuade him.

Still, Mr. Insulza has a point. The weakness of the Democratic Charter is that it protects presidents from undemocratic assault but does not readily allow OAS intervention in cases where the executive himself is responsible for violating the constitutional order -- as Mr. Zelaya did before his ouster. The Honduras crisis provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to seek changes in those rules. If the administration is to depend on organizations such as the OAS to advance its policies in Latin America, it must push it to counter attacks on democracy whenever and wherever they occur.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Achieving a Democratic Solution

Today, I went to the Washington, DC, office of Amnesty International-USA for a special showing of a documentary by Norwegian film maker Gry Winther. Called Women in White, Damas de Blanco, it focuses on the silent weekly Sunday march in Havana of white-clad mothers and wives of Cuban political prisoners. Cuba has pretty much faded from the headlines, especially after the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but the repression—there is no other word for it—of the Castro regime continues after 50 years. I make a couple of cameo appearances in the film, as volunteer coordinator for Cuba and other Caribbean countries for AI-USA, but that is hardly its salient feature. The main protagonists are the women and their men, who have been imprisoned for years now, accused of having different ideas about how the country should be governed and the economy run, or for simply having written articles published abroad or having unauthorized books in their home. In Havana, I came to know Raul Rivero, who is interviewed in the film. He is a poet and writer now in exile in Spain, imprisoned in 2003 and released early for health reasons, whose wife was member of the Damas.

As a 30-year member of Amnesty, I feel duty-bound to try to expose and stop human rights violations, whether by the US, a right-wing government like that of Pinochet in Chile (where I was election observer in 1988), Israel, the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, or Cuba, regardless of the ideology that fuels those violations. Castro, because of his rag-tag guerrilla mystique, very successful propaganda, and genuine efforts by the US to topple him decades ago, retains a brave underdog image. Also, there are Cuba’s much-touted advances in economic equality, health, and education. I’ll grant Cuba a good educational system that prepares professionals well, but often for non-existent jobs. However, in my experience, the economic and health advances are overblown, especially since 1990, when massive Soviet subsidies abruptly ended. Also, the US embargo (called a “blockade” in Cuba) is pretty porous and the largest share of Cuban imports of food and medicine come from the US, because such products are exempt from the embargo. However, whether or not Cuba provides adequately for its citizens, the provision of economic and social rights do not require the suppression of civil and political rights, both types of rights can co-exist.

This may seem to be getting off the track regarding Honduras, but the fight in Honduras is partly about this same issue. The interim government there may, in fact, be trying to protect the wealthy or at least the economic status quo, but is also trying to protect against the encroachment on civil and political rights represented by Chavez and, in more extreme form, by Cuba. So I would recommend seeing the Ladies in White, but don’t know how people can obtain a copy of the documentary. It has been shown in theaters in LA and Norway, also on Norwegian television, and is listed on several websites, but I have not seen distribution information there. However, I think it has an important message and the film maker put herself at considerable risk in filming inside Cuba, not to mention the risk to those whom she filmed.

But back to the immediate situation in Honduras, one thing that concerns me greatly there is that firearms are ubiquitous. They are not registered and the violent crime rate is already high. Of course, police forces are inadequate, especially outside the cities. And although the Honduran army has been showing its muscle lately, it doesn’t have a huge number of troops or much equipment because no outside threat had been evident and the country has had other, more important, needs. But, just imagine a civil war where private citizens are shooting at each other, a very scary scenario. In demonstrations I’ve witnessed in Honduras, there has always been a violent, perhaps criminal, element taking advantage of the turmoil.

One of the interns who watched the Cuba film at the AI DC office today is a graduate student in international affairs. We talked a little about Honduras afterward. As she said, and as I have said earlier here, the US is not all-powerful and cannot solve every problem in the world. Our country already has its hands full, so to speak, and Honduras is hardly a priority. That country is important to the US only in the broader Latin American context. And that context demands that the US not appear as the super-power aggressor mandating how things should be done in the hemisphere.

I have not found any mainstream US media commenting on Honduras so far today. A group in El Salvador called CIS (not sure what that stands for) has sent out an appeal for donations to support its “solidarity” efforts in Honduras, especially to pay for further missions to Honduras and ads to publicize their view of the Honduran situation in Salvadoran newspapers. CIS’s recent investigative mission to Honduras reports that half of all media outlets are shut down and over 600 people have been arrested. The organization lauds the election of “progressive” presidents in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador and includes Zelaya in that same camp. It mentions that Cuba has now been rightfully reinstated by the OAS, but that Honduras has been rightfully expelled and chides the US for not having yet cut off all aid to Honduras.

Meanwhile, my previous Latin American commentator has this to say (slightly edited):

The Micheletti regime, in spite of the threat of international economic, military and oil sanctions is trying to see if they can ignore Zelaya and hold out for sufficient time to hold presidential elections and hand over power to the newly elected government. They need time to begin to feel the effect of sanctions on the population before they capitulate. They are not going to feel directly the effects of the economic hardships the sanctions will bring. The poorest sections of the Honduran society will.

The fact that Zelaya supporters are threatening to invade Honduras and that they have considerable support among the population will create an explosive social situation and conditions for a bloody civil war. Moreover, the longer Micheletti holds out, the less popular support his side will have in the coming presidential election. Thus, in my view, everything Micheletti's side is doing is extremely counterproductive. His side's best shot is to accept the Arias mediation proposal and to place all their efforts in choosing a strong candidate for the coming Presidential election and gathering all possible support for his candidacy.

The solution to Honduras’s problems is to carry out the long run development of a capitalist economy and the creation of a middle class and an educated electorate that could anchor the country's democracy. But this is wishful thinking. Lamentably, the choice the Hondurans now have is between the demagogues and a feudal oligarchy.

Of course, Zelaya is a demagogue and his side is not offering an acceptable long-run solution. But as a short-run choice, it is preferable to the selfish oligarchy that has up to now run Honduras. Because, at least, it will offer the population something it has never had before: hope. Moreover this new hope will put them in motion.

The trick is to preserve the democratic process so that if they make mistakes and do not offer the population what they want, they will lose popularity and have to change their policies or lose elections.

For democracy is, after all, just an endless process of trial and error where ambitious groups compete in elections for popular favor and rise to power and lose it according to how they meet the popular will. Obama is right when he states that the US should favor democracy, and not one group or the other, because in the end what is going to ensure that the politicians satisfy the popular will is that democracy exists so that the population can freely choose who its rulers should be.

So in the final analysis, it does not matter whether Zelaya, Micheletti, or the Count of Montecristo rules Honduras for the time being. What is important is to ensure the democratic process and that no democratically elected president could ever be deposed by a military coup.

That is the challenge, to ensure a democratic process so that the majority can always kick the bums out if they don’t want their leadership any more. The prospect of losing that electoral power is a legitimate fear of the interim government, quite apart from any effort to protect their current privileges. But maybe there is no way around it, unless, somehow, guarantees can be written into any agreement signed in Costa Rica. But who will enforce those agreements? Not the OAS, and not the US either, it seems, Barbara