Monday, July 20, 2009

Crunch Time

Today, my interpretation client, a Salvadoran father of girl charged with a juvenile offense, commented, when I said I had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, “Hondurans do not want to go through what we did in the 1980s civil war—that’s why I came to this country.” Well, now it looks like Hondurans might.
But, first, to elaborate a little more about being at church yesterday, as some of you already know, instead of attending a regular Catholic parish, I meet with a small group of co-religionists at a (still official) Mass celebrated by rotating priests teaching at Catholic University. We meet in a small storefront on a commercial street, at a center for gay Catholics called Dignity, located across from the US Marine barracks. There, we sit in folding chairs and start out the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father and Mother…”

Yesterday was the celebration of the 60th anniversary since becoming a nun for Alice Zachmann, who for almost 30 years has been active in Guatemalan human rights. She gave us a brief history of her life growing up in rural Minn. without running water or electricity--like me in Honduras only a lot colder--then becoming a teaching sister. In 1981, when the worst atrocities were occurring in Guatemala, she retired from teaching to devote herself to that cause. When people tell her, and tell me, that we are an "inspiration" now in our dotage, we simply have to say that as long as we have energy and mental acuity, we will go forward as we've always done. I refrained, when toasting Alice with champagne yesterday, from saying how remarkable she is for still going strong at age 83, because when that sort of comment is applied to me, I find it kind of condescending, as if we were expected to be sitting all day in our rocking chairs knitting and nodding off.

Received a blog link from Marco Caceres, someone I know and trust, director of Project Honduras, a coalition of US-Based private and faith-based charities working in Honduras, whose TV interview link was featured earlier on these ( Here is the link to his essay: writings/ civil_coup. pdf which I tried to copy, but couldn’t copy his pdf file, so see for yourself. He essentially says that Zelaya engaged in a civil coup on June 25, 4 days before his own forced expulsion from the country by forcing his way into a Honduran air base with a bused-in mob to retrieve the referendum ballots confiscated by the supreme court. If he were going to be arrested, it should have happened at that point.

Another correspondent points to a recent Wall St. Journal column, alleging that Article 239 of the Honduran constitution specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection “shall cease forthwith” in his duties, and article 4 provides that “any ‘infraction’ of the succession rules constitutes treason." The column further alleges that the aborted flight to Teguc was a put-up job. Zelaya knew he wouldn't be allowed to land but was hoping to cite mob violence, as indeed happened. Whether he regrets that someone was killed isn't mentioned. But now, I would say, the time to dispute the details of the constitution have passed--a political solution is required and urgently.

I continue to believe (hope?) that somehow (exactly how is way beyond my pay grade) that the next successful Honduran presidential candidate—and indeed, the entire government—can find a way to wrest the banner of improving the situation of the poor from Zelaya and Chavez, that is, to beat them at their own game. The following observations below by one of my blog followers, only confirm my opinion. And the US is going to have to get foursquare behind such an effort, not only for the benefit of poor Hondurans, but to prevent Honduras from following other countries into the Chavez orbit or seeing the country go up in flames. The US needs to find a way to better help the poor all over Latin America, at least in those countries not already in the Chavez camp or maybe even try to woo them away, though we have no oil to offer.

It will be hard now with the economic crisis for the US to increase assistance, but neglecting to do so will be more costly in the long run. The problem with Chavez and company is not that helping the poor, as they claim to do, is bad idea, quite to the contrary. But, rather it is that helping the poor in the Cuba, Chavez, Sandinista manner carries a very heavy price. It means all kinds of manipulations are made to maintain leaders in power and anyone who disagrees is severely punished. Fear distorts the whole society—at least in my observations in Cuba and in Nicaragua during the Sandinistas. And the economy doesn’t end up doing so well either, including for the poor, although Venezuela’s oil wealth has helped soften that blow. Only the top political leaders really benefit. So, essentially, one elite is exchanged for another. I don’t have first-hand experience in Venezuela, only through contacts with human rights advocates and journalists there, as well as asylum applicants in my interpretation work, but what they indicate is worrisome. In any case, Chavez is still president, after promising in 1998 to step down when his term ended.

The US can be seen as puppet-master behind the scenes in Cost Rica. Of course, Chavez is the puppet-master behind Zelaya. This whole scenario is being played out between Venezuela and the US through proxies. Venezuela made the first move and the US was slow and confused at first in responding. Now maybe the US will lose to Venezuela, but to go completely against Chavez will also be a loss.

It can be argued that the US, while admittedly powerful and influential, doesn’t control the whole world, as is obvious. Sometimes people elsewhere attribute more control of events in far-flung corners of the world to the US than our country actually possesses (a belief that also can increase US influence). And sometimes, like for every other country, our policies result in dismal failure. The Bush administration’s massive and tragic miscalculations in Iraq are a glaring example. So whether the US really has so much power over what happens in Honduras as my correspondent below alleges could be challenged and attributed to the Latin American idea of total US domination of the region. However, in the Honduras case, I happen to think he’s probably right. I do hope he’s right especially that Zelaya’s threat to enter Honduras secretly without an agreement is just posturing, because the results would be disastrous.

So, here, immediately below, is a Latin American, born and bred, who shall remain nameless, expressing himself on the Honduran situation. I’m hoping he is right that both sides are mainly posturing and I pray they will not fight. But today, I got another message from him predicting that, if pressed to choose, Obama will have to go with Zelaya and, very soon, as talks seem to be breaking down. Better for Michelleti to get something rather than nothing and risk civil war without US support.

After that is an article about the current situation that also sounds dire. Several articles about Honduras with today’s date are posted on the Internet and on the Washington Post website, but I have selected only one and the rest you can look up for yourselves. They all seem to be in the same vein, that crunch time is here or fast approaching.

Here is my Latin American correspondent: Oscar Arias is only an intermediary, a sub-puppet master, that the US government is using to handle the final puppets who are Zelaya and Micheletti (Goriletti). Arias' role is to provide a fig leaf over US hegemony while twisting arms behind the scenes to get both sides to reluctantly agree to US decisions and solutions.

As I believe I told you before, the Obama administration's objectives in this imbroglio are to return Zelaya to power in exchange for his agreement to cease trying to upset the apple cart by advocating a modification of the Honduran constitution.

The agreement with the Zelaya administration should also provide amnesty for his opponents and allow them to keep their positions in the government and in the military. Moreover, it should include provisions to hold impartial and democratic presidential elections in November under international supervision in which Zelaya would not be a candidate.

This would allow the US to:
1- Respect the Latin American consensus to not allow a coup against a democratically elected president.
2- Avoid, for the time being, violence and civil war in Honduras.
3- Give the Honduran oligarchy an opportunity to defend itself by participating in the future in a fair presidential election without to resort to a coup.

Of course, the US holds the trump card in this power struggle, which is the decision to continue granting or not economic and military aid to the de facto Honduran government and both sides that are negotiating know it. [Note: military aid has been suspended.] They also both know that Oscar Arias is backed by the US and expresses the US will and that the side that opposes or does not accept US demands will lose the present power struggle. In short, both sides know that they will eventually have to give in and agree to the terms handed down indirectly through Arias by the Obama administration but this does not mean that they are willing to do so rapidly.

For the time being, they are going through ritual and time-consuming negotiating gestures trying to convince their backers that they are defending their interests to the utmost and trying to threaten their opponents and to influence the Obama administration into giving them better terms.

Zelaya's threats to enter Honduras are as much of a farce as Micheletti's offer to resign the presidency if Zelaya is not allowed to return to it or the Honduran Supreme Court's offer to give amnesty to Zelaya. All these noises are pure empty bluffs, mere theatrics for the peanut gallery, transparent vain silly attempts to gain new backers, provide enthusiasm for their followers and to confuse and frighten their opponents!

I believe that after the agreement to return him to power, Zelaya will create a new populist political party and designate a trusted and popular backer, such as his foreign minister Patricia Rojas, as its presidential candidate and try to win the next election. If he pulls it off he will then try to ape Putin and Fidel Castro and become the power behind the throne during his elected supporter's presidential term.

Of course, while his crony is president, Zelaya will attempt to change the constitution abolishing term limits with the populist excuse that time is needed to carry out very necessary social reforms. If he accomplishes this, he will then try to be reelected, ad secula seculorum, to the presidency of Honduras just as Chavez and Correa have done in Venezuela and Ecuador.

This is a recipe for trouble because as you know, "Una cosa piensa el borracho y otra el cantinero!" and Zelaya's opponents have conflicting desires and interests. The representatives of the Honduran oligarchy, even if they temporarily bow to US pressure and allow Zelaya to return to the presidency, know all of his future intentions and will continue to fight them tooth and nail.

Pressure grows on Honduras, violence feared
By Simon Gardner and Esteban Israel
Monday, July 20, 2009 7:31 PM

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras' de facto leader came under increased pressure on Monday to hand power back to the ousted president with Washington threatening to cut aid and Latin American leaders warning of bloodshed if he does not back down. Efforts to broker an end to the power struggle in Honduras following a June 28 military coup collapsed on Sunday after interim leader Roberto Micheletti rejected a proposal to reinstate overthrown President Manuel Zelaya.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the frustrated peacemaker in the talks, asked both sides to give him until Wednesday to broker a solution to the crisis. But Micheletti, who was appointed by Honduras' Congress after the coup, remained defiant despite being shunned by foreign governments. "My position is unchangeable," he said in a speech on Monday at the presidential palace to a standing ovation.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a "very tough phone call" with the caretaker president, warning him he could face cuts in economic aid unless he strikes a deal with his enemy, spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "She reminded him about the consequences for Honduras if they fail to accept the principles that President Arias has laid out, which would (have) a significant impact in terms of aid and consequences, potentially longer-term consequences ..., for the relationship between Honduras and the United States," he said.

It was not clear what sanctions might apply but the options include slashing $180 million in economic aid. The United States has already halted $16.5 million in military aid and multilateral lenders have put another $200 million on hold.
The European Commission also tightened the screws on Micheletti, suspending all budgetary support payments to Honduras. It had earmarked 65.5 million euros ($92.73 million) in payments in the 2007-10 period. Latin American leaders fear violence in the impoverished Central American country unless Micheletti steps aside.

"Insurrection and confrontation are not a good path to take, but I don't think we will avoid it unless the de facto government shows some flexibility," said Jose Miguel Insulza, the chief of the Organization of American States. The United States and other governments pleaded with Zelaya to wait out the 72 hours requested by Arias before staging a return to Honduras from exile in Nicaragua.
Zelaya says resistance is being organized in Honduras to pave the way for his return this weekend, despite the de facto government's threats to arrest him. The government has imposed a night-time curfew. Zelaya tried to fly back to Honduras earlier this month but soldiers blocked the runway and at least one protester was killed in clashes with the army.

Pro-Zelaya protesters gathered peacefully outside Congress on Monday but protest leader Juan Barahona said they planned highway blockades on Wednesday and union leaders called for a national strike on Thursday and Friday. "This is just the start. For now, these are peaceful protests but things could get a lot worse," said Wilfredo Moncado, a 59-year-old union leader who joined the march.

Zelaya was expelled from the textile and coffee exporting country in his pajamas in the middle of the night. He had upset his political rivals by trying to lift presidential term limits and the army toppled him after the Supreme ordered his arrest.

The crisis is widely seen as a litmus test for U.S. President Barack Obama as he seeks a fresh start with Latin America despite ideological differences with vocal U.S. foes like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of the deposed Honduran leader.

Micheletti has a base of local support in business circles as well as the Supreme Court, Congress and the Catholic Church, making this coup unlike those that battered Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. On Monday, he urged business leaders to continue investing in Honduras and asked his supporters to help him try to turn the tide of world opinion in his favor. Analysts say he is biding his time so that Zelaya's reinstatement becomes a moot point. His term was due to end in January, and elections were scheduled for November.

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