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.

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