Monday, July 13, 2009

Back to Business As Usual?

This just in from a Peace Corps program director in Honduras, indicating that life is starting to return to normal: Barbara, Up to now, there is no change in the work of volunteers except, of course, the curfew that we had for a couple of weeks that was lifted last night. I hope the cooperation can continue. Be well and thanks for thinking of Honduras.

President Zelaya, not deposed by any judicial or administrative proceeding, being aroused from sleep in his pajamas before dawn on the day of his proposed referendum and being forced to board a plane out of the country at military gunpoint still remains a stark and troubling image that understandably evoked widespread outrage and condemnation. Yet, certainly arresting him would have been worse. What will and should follow is less clear. Although world opinion supports his return to office, the prospects of that occurring peacefully grow dimmer by the day.

When Honduran presidential elections are held, it will be interesting to see how the candidates refer to the Zelaya matter, particularly the candidate representing Zelaya’s Liberal Party. Will he defend Zelaya or distance himself as other party members have?

A reader replying at my Yahoo address (posted on the blog, which most prefer to use rather than the blog address) suggests that Zelaya be given (protected) house arrest at his ranch. There is ample precedence for that. In Nicaragua, as my book describes, disgraced former president Arnoldo Aleman was sentenced to house arrest at his ranch after being convicted of massive fraud and corruption. As far as I know, he is still living there quite comfortably.

Meanwhile, a sputtering and fuming Hugo Chavez, in the habit of giving orders and having them obeyed, feels no compunctions about publicly telling Obama exactly what to do: arrest Michelleti, recall the US ambassador to Honduras, remove your troops from Honduras. Obama quite wisely simply ignores him.

But ignoring Chavez should not mean ignoring Latin America. The neglect and malfeasance of the Bush administration has left Obama with a full plate of thorny international problems to tackle, including Iraq, Iran, Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, and North Korea, not to mention other major issues such as the economy, health care, global warming, and immigration reform. But someone needs to be assigned to pay strategic and coordinated attention to Latin America, right in our own backyard (in terms of geographic proximity and common interests, not dominance) and not allow the drift toward Chavez to continue, not only for the sake of US interests, but in the interests of citizens of the region.

Chavez has made no secret of the fact that he’s the power behind Zelaya, which actually weakens them both. Chavez could now threaten to cut off oil shipments to the US, augmenting his own transport costs to more distant shores and strengthening Obama’s call for reduced oil dependency, while not affecting US supplies too drastically. Chavez is looking increasingly like an impotent giant whose control of Venezuela’s oil wealth isn’t gaining him much traction. Even his loyal allies, the presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, have not been particularly outspoken lately.

In response to the editorial posted yesterday from a Paraguayan newspaper, describing Chavez’s dictatorial tactics, a Venezuelan reader writes:

Al menos en el exterior hay aun periodistas de conciencia que no temen ser reprimidos al escribir la REALIDAD que nos aqueja!!! [At least outside the country, there are still journalists of conscience unafraid of reprisals for writing about the REALITY that afflicts us!!!]

The following appeared after yesterday’s post.
Honduras lifts curfew 2 weeks after military coup
Associated Press
Sunday, July 12, 2009 5:36 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduran authorities on Sunday lifted a curfew imposed since the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya two weeks ago - a sign the interim government is trying to restore normality to life in the crisis-gripped country.
In a nationally broadcast announcement, the interim government said the curfew had reached its objective to "restore calm" and curb crime. The de facto administration of Roberto Micheletti imposed the curfew after soldiers escorted Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint on June 28, plunging Honduras into political turmoil. Hondurans were ordered to stay in their homes from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. nightly. The government briefly extended it from sunset to sunrise when Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras and the military blocked his plane from landing by parking vehicles on the runway July 5.

Daily demonstrations for and against the forcibly exiled leader have disrupted transit and prompted many businesses to close. Many governments have withdrawn their ambassadors to protest the coup.

The interim government said Hondurans nationwide can go out at night starting Sunday. Guillermo Quintanilla, a taxi driver, cheered the action. "Thank God," he said. "A lot of people who work at night have not been able to." Juan Barahona, leader of the Zelaya support base, said officials were under pressure from bars and other businesses hurt by the curfew. "This is to give the world the impression that there is an environment of freedom in the country," even though that is not the case, he said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been the most vociferous defender of Zelaya, said Sunday that Micheletti was behind the brief detention of journalists for two of his country's state television channels, VTV and Telesur. Venezuela's ABN state news agency reported that the seven were detained Saturday and later released after Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro made efforts to secure their freedom.

ABN later reported that a crew working for VTV was expelled from Honduras.
Ariel Vargas, an official at the Venezuelan Embassy in Honduras, told ABN the TV crew was escorted to the airport. Honduran authorities threatened the journalists at gunpoint earlier and confined another TV crew from Telesur to a hotel in Tegucigalpa, according to ABN.

The interim government's minister of information, Rene Zepeda, told The Associated Press he had no information about the alleged detentions. He denied authorities are trying to censor the news media, saying "what we want is peace" in Honduras. Zepeda commented prior to the report of the VTV crew's alleged expulsion.

Chavez also called on President Barack Obama to withdraw troops from an air base in Honduras to protest the new government. Chavez accused Obama of "wiggling" around the political crisis and warned if he does not take action, "he will end up worse than Bush," a reference to former President George W. Bush. The United States has maintained the Enrique Soto Cano air base in Honduras for 23 years. The base houses about 350 U.S. soldiers.

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged Hondurans to pursue dialogue and reconciliation after following the situation with "great concern." Both claimants to Honduras' presidency met separately Thursday with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is leading mediation efforts, but they refused to talk face to face. Representatives of Zelaya and Micheletti met again with Arias on Friday and agreed to hold future talks, but no date was set.

About 300 Zelaya supporters held a peaceful demonstration in a park in Tegucigalpa on Sunday. "Mr. Micheletti lifted the curfew, but be careful because we are living in a tense climate and without true democracy," said Esly Lizardo, 65, a protester.
Zelaya's supporters fear the interim government will drag out negotiations so it can remain in power through November's presidential elections.

But former Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez, a delegate of Micheletti who participated in the talks, said his side has not ruled out the possibility of early elections.

U.S. officials hope the talks will ease Zelaya back into the presidency while resolving the concerns of Honduras' Supreme Court, Congress and military, which say they legally removed the president for violating the constitution. They accuse him of trying to extend his time in office, though he denies that.

Arias won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending Central America's civil wars.
Associated Press writer Chris Toothaker in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

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