Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brilliant US Move

Glad to see that people out there are reading this blog. Sometimes I don’t notice their comments right away, but will try to be more vigilant from now on. The Honduran situation seems to be calling for daily blogs right now. One person whose message came in a few days ago says: “I'm also following your blog. I am an RPCV [former PC volunteer] (Marcala, La Paz 02 - 04) and spouse to a host country national. My in-laws seem uninformed and a little afraid. I wish I could talk to the campesinos I used to work with. I am sure they are fine, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had a unique insight. Keep blogging!”

How nice to see the US engaging in intelligent foreign policy for a change! While the Honduran situation is far from resolved, choosing Oscar Arias as mediator was a stroke of genius. Arias is to meet with both Zelaya and Michelleti in San Jose, Costa Rica, on Thursday, whether separately or together has not been specified. In engineering this mediation, the US, without appearing heavy-handed, has seized the initiative from Chavez, a blunt-instrument kind of guy who likes to visibly throw his weight around and seems to act on impulse, in this case, initiating the whole Honduran referendum debacle, complete with ballots printed-up in Venezuela, Venezuelans infiltrated into pro-Zelaya crowds, and providing a Venezuelan aircraft to return Zelaya to Honduras even when allies were asking him not to. Those Latin American presidents who accompanied Zelaya on that abortive jaunt have tarnished their own reputations, in my opinion. Even worse was Chavez’ threat to send in Venezuelan troops. Sending troops into a neighboring country is a real no-no in the region, an act of war. Zelaya has shown poor judgment in letting himself be so totally guided and manipulated by Chavez, who, with the clout of oil and because of US inattention to Latin America, has been aggressively seeking to enlarge his sphere of influence. But, as my Cuban friend has observed in these pages, while Chavez strives to emulate Fidel and take over as he is fading, he has none of the finesse and smarts of the master.

Before I go further, I apologize that the excerpt from the Miami Herald in Spanish posted yesterday did not have spacing between paragraphs. I had pasted in a document containing such spacing, but did not take care to assure that it carried over to the posting. Will be more careful from now on, as I don’t know how to go back and make corrections. But since this is a blog, some leeway should be granted.

Also, in addition to following the Hondurans situation, I have a special interest in the serious clashes in western China between Uighurs and Han Chinese. Rebiya Kadeer, a tiny Uighur widow in her 60s who lives in the DC area, once rode back with me on the train from an Amnesty Int'l meeting in Delaware where she spoke. Through her interpreter, who was with her, we had quite a lively conversation. Now the Chinese are blaming her for fomenting the unrest there. She has a remarkable life story, from humble beginnings, she developed a million-dollar business and also had 11 children, some now living with her here, others in prison in western China. She herself spent 7 years in a Chinese prison and was an Amnesty Int'l prisoner of conscience. The Uighurs are Turkic Muslims being governed by the Chinese much like the Tibetans in Tibet, with all the attendant problems therein. A number of Uighurs spent several years in G’tmo without charges, but could not be released back to China for fear they would be jailed or tortured. Four went to Bermuda and 17 others are destined to go to the Pacific island of Palau, despite Chinese government protests.

As mentioned yesterday, I met Arias during the 1980s and am convinced that he knows the score. He's not naive and tries to be fair within the constraints of reality. How he manages to resolve this problem will be a real test of his skills. I think Michelleti is glad to be offered a chance to speak his piece and not be brushed aside as a non-entity. Trying to envision a mutually acceptable solution, however, is pretty difficult. There will have to be guarantees of amnesty and security for both sides and, perhaps, assurance that Chavez will keep hands-off, even though he is not party to the agreement. We'll soon see. Washington Post article below. Barbara

Costa Rican to Be Honduras Mediator
U.S. Enlists Arias to Lead Negotiations
By Juan Forero and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Foreign Service
July 8, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, July 7 -- Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for helping resolve Central America's civil wars, will mediate the increasingly volatile confrontation between deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government that ousted him, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced in Washington on Tuesday after meeting with Zelaya.
Zelaya and the interim president here in the Honduran capital, Roberto Micheletti, have agreed to travel to Costa Rica and meet with Arias on Thursday, Arias said in a news conference in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose. "What is important is there is a willingness by both sides to sit down and negotiate," he said.

The anger and polarization in Honduras, though, foreshadow difficult talks between the two men, who have vowed to stand firm. Speaking on Honduran radio from Washington, Zelaya said his reinstatement as president was "nonnegotiable." "What this is, is not a negotiation," he said. "This is the planning of the exit of the coup leaders."

The Obama administration's efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis came two days after Zelaya attempted to reclaim his presidency by flying into Honduras's main airport. Troops kept his small jet from landing, and soldiers fired on demonstrators, killing two men and increasing the pressure for a negotiated solution. "I believe it is a better route for him to follow at this time than to attempt to return in the face of the implacable opposition of the de facto regime," Clinton told reporters at the State Department. "So, instead of another confrontation that might result in a loss of life, let's try the dialogue process and see where that leads." Clinton called Arias "the natural person" to try to broker a solution.

The new route to defusing the crisis contrasts with the tough line proposed by Zelaya's close ally, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. After the June 28 coup, in which soldiers roused Zelaya from bed and put him on a plane out of the country, Chávez said he would "overthrow" the de facto government. On Sunday, he provided the plane in which Zelaya tried to return.

It was unclear how Chávez, a frequent critic of the United States, viewed Washington's advocacy of talks. On Sunday, he said on his weekly TV show in Venezuela that he was "sure" the United States had played a role in Zelaya's ouster, though he said he did not think President Obama was behind the plot. Under Zelaya, Honduras had joined a Chávez-led alliance that opposes the United States.

So far, U.S. officials have taken a nuanced approach to restoring Zelaya, consulting with allies in Latin America and voicing support for the Organization of American States, which unanimously voted to demand Zelaya's reinstatement. But Micheletti did not budge, even after the Washington-based organization suspended Honduras.

A senior Obama administration official said discussion then turned to finding a respected interlocutor. Arias's name came up, and on Tuesday morning, Clinton called the Costa Rican president and spoke to him about mediating. She then put forth the idea to Zelaya, who agreed and spoke with Arias by phone from the State Department to work out the logistics. In Honduras, Micheletti had already asked Arias on Monday to consider playing a role, the administration official said.

"The United States seized the opportunity to take away the whole Honduran crisis from the palpable influence of the South Americans, i.e., Chávez, Kirchner, Correa, and put it under regional arbitration," said Cresencio Arcos, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, referring to the Venezuelan president and his allies in Argentina and Ecuador. "It's now less ideological."

Despite the breakthrough, the administration official said, U.S. policy calls for the de facto government to step aside. "Part of the restoration of the democratic order is for Zelaya to finish out his term," the official said. Obama has voiced strong support for that outcome, despite Zelaya's criticism of U.S. policies, suggesting that the deposed leader's political views are irrelevant to the fact that he was removed from office in an undemocratic manner. Washington "supports now the restoration of the democratically elected president of Honduras," he said Tuesday in a speech in Moscow. "We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders."

The de facto government insists that the ouster was not a coup but a "constitutional substitution" designed to remove a leader it contends had grown dangerously authoritarian. But Micheletti, speaking to local radio Tuesday, appeared to have softened his position from Sunday, when he told foreign reporters, "No one here is going to pressure me." On Tuesday, he said he would send a team of negotiators to Costa Rica. He reiterated that the meeting "doesn't mean that Zelaya will be allowed to return," but he also praised Arias, who has condemned the coup, as "a man with a lot of credibility in the world."

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