Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday Morning

Hello again. My daughter Stephanie, visiting from Hawaii, was in and out like a whirlwind, with a short but very full and active schedule. Yesterday afternoon, my granddaughter Natasha and her little son came over and helped Steph make inroads into my very overgrown yard, plants and weeds proliferating because of all the rain we’ve had. Stephanie was then off to New York, to join her husband in helping move and unpack his parents in their new home. They had to move when her husband’s paternal grandmother died and they could no longer afford to live in her rent-controlled apartment in NYC,

Meanwhile, in Honduras, things seem to change daily, even hourly. As my Cuban friend has commented, this is becoming a farce. Yes, indeed, Gabriel Garcia Marquez could not have invented a more absurd scenario. I’m sure that July 4th celebrations in Honduras, if any, were low-key, no big US Embassy bash where all the government functionaries are invited, no outdoor festivities such as those described in my book. I cannot help remembering a big outdoor party I attended at the Embassy in Managua prior to the vote that the Sandinistas lost. There they all were, Ortega and company mingling, drinks in hand, chatting among the ambassadors of many nations, confidently toasting victory.

Thanks for the blog comment by ikaros, reportedly Honduran-born, saying that he or she appreciates my neutrality on the Zelaya matter. The truth is, I really don’t have a strong opinion—I am just exploring and trying to make sense of an unfolding story. Like many such contentious political issues, there are valid arguments on both sides. What’s troubling is that there is no spirit of negotiation visible on either side, only standing fast and even a deliberate escalation of tensions. I would think the cardinal could try to mediate, though possibly he already has. From press reports, it sounds like Canada has offered to play a conciliatory role and, indeed, someone from Canada might prove an ideal mediator, that country being less involved with Honduras and less polarizing than either the US or other Latin American nations. But what could be a compromise position, one where neither side could claim victory and defeat of the other? It’s hard to think of anything, but that’s what is needed.

When I heard that Zelaya was arriving in Teguc Sunday in a Venezuelan aircraft with a leftist UN escort and, in a separate flight, being accompanied by sympathetic presidents of other Latin American countries (but not Chavez, thank goodness), I feared the worst. Unfortunately, no members of his own party with any official standing are in his corner; they consider him a traitor, who has brought embarrassment and unjust condemnation to Honduras, so he must be flanked only by outsiders. He also called upon his supporters inside the country to meet him at the airport. It’s fine to request a (peaceful) show of support and the foreign officials could help protect Zelaya’s safety, but it would be helpful if his escorts would come in a more conciliatory spirit, rather than as partisans, making threats and ordering the interim or acting government to take him back unconditionally—after all, they are not Hondurans and have no legal standing to govern Honduras.

The acting government and a substantial portion of Honduras feel they are being unfairly attacked by the entire world, ganged up on, being told what to do, and threatened if they fail to comply. No one will listen to their side of the story, which they feel has been misrepresented and completely misunderstood. The whole issue they’ve had with Zelaya is that he has become a captive of Hugo Chavez and his allies and is acting against Honduran interests for his own glory and to further the Chavez agenda. Now he is demonstrating just that by traveling with and aligning himself with Chavez and his sympathizers. In my opinion, if he really wanted to come back to and help Honduras, he should have sought out more neutral supporters and tried to reassure Hondurans that he is independent, not a Chavez pawn.

And Zelaya’s asking his own supporters to come out en masse was irresponsible, in my humble opinion. It was also a signal to protestors on the other side to come out as well, making clashes inevitable. The situation needs to be de-escalated, not revved up. Maybe Zelaya can actually return in safety eventually, probably not to govern as before, but to finish out his term, but he needs to take a less confrontational approach and shed some of his aggressively partisan foreign advisers and protectors.

Via long-distance, Zelaya also appealed to the armed forces to rebel against the interim government and follow his orders as the legitimate president. So far, that hasn’t happened. I wish I were in communication with my village volunteer Blanca’s army sons, one an officer and one a presidential palace guard. Of course, they probably wouldn’t give me their thinking even if we were in touch. Zelaya is a wealthy rancher from Olancho, the home province of a Honduran environmental activist whom I helped get asylum here. When Zelaya lived there, he was considered an enemy of their movement; now my Honduran friend is not sure whom to support.

* * * * * * *

Well, my worst fears were realized later in the day when Zelaya’s Venezuelan plane was not allowed to land and had to turn back. Meanwhile, clashes occurred and someone has now been reported killed and several have been injured. What I have seen firsthand in prior Honduran demonstrations is that guys not necessarily interested in a particular issue, apparent anarchists and criminals, take advantage of disorder to sow more mayhem and violence and that’s probably happening now. If the police or army inevitably intervenes, that provokes cries of “police state” and “military dictatorship.” Some Hondurans have been calling for UN peace keepers.

Someone here, when I said Venezuela had been providing Honduras with subsidized oil and energy-efficient light bulbs, asked why the US was not providing more to Honduras—doing something visible like that? Well, of course, dollar for dollar, the US provides a whole lot more aid to Honduras and has for years, although now it’s gotten so it’s expected and has become so integrated into every sector on a cooperative basis that it’s taken for granted. And of the assistance being provided, the Peace Corps is a small, but significant, part. Yet, I must admit that for more than eight years, Latin America, Honduras included, has been relatively neglected by the US as our nation has been focused on the Middle East, Afghanistan, and North Korea, allowing a self-aggrandizing leader like Chavez to expand his influence in the vacuum created, especially when the price of oil was rising.

I just received a surprise call from the mother of Sandra, a girl living in a remote rural area near La Esperanza (her photos are in my book). This subsistence-farmer family with six children has no electricity or running water, but does have a cell phone and my phone number. I was distressed that Sandra’s mother was using her very scarce cash to call me here in Washington, DC, and I could barely hear her. She thanked me for sending money so that Sandra could have a second surgery—as mentioned previously on this blog, since her leg tumor had returned, as I had discovered during my Honduras trip last Feb. I asked her briefly about Zelaya and she said, “He is the elected president, so he should finish his term.” She also seemed to be asking for more money, but I’m not sure, as there was interference on the line. I asked her what sort of tumor Sandra had had, but at that moment, the call was cut off, either because her paid minutes had run out or the battery had died (and I don’t have their number). I sent an e-mail immediately to Luis, to see if he could get in touch with her. I also asked him about Peace Corps volunteers and what was happening to them, as I have not heard from him for days, although, at least initially, he was against Zelaya.

Now, I’m getting the feeling, though e-mails from Hondurans are fewer, that ordinary people on both sides, while excited and energized at first, are getting weary of the ongoing strife and are ready to settle and get the whole problem under control, even at the cost of “principle.” This stance will gain more adherents as the economy worsens under sanctions. The November elections are a few months away and Honduras is already on an economic edge, so the margin for survival is slight. .

Below, are recent press reports.

Zelaya's plane circles Honduran runway, can't land
By WILL WEISSERT and NESTOR IKEDA
Associated Press
Sunday, July 5, 2009 7:43 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Ousted President Manuel Zelaya says he can't land at the main Honduras airport because soldiers are blocking the runway with several military vehicles. The pilot of his Venezuelan plane circled around the airport and decided that landing is "totally impossible" because of the trucks in the way. Groups of police and soldiers also are stationed around the runway and the perimeter of the airfield, facing off against thousands of Zelaya supporters outside.

Zelaya says he'll announce later where they'll land. A crew of the Venezuelan network Telesur is on the plane. He told them Sunday that the pilots won't risk a crash, and vowed to try again on Monday or Tuesday.

AP's earlier story is below.
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) - Ousted President Manuel Zelaya appealed to the Honduran military to return its loyalty to him as he prepared to land in the capital Sunday, facing warrants for his arrest by security forces defending the airport against a crowd of thousands. Speaking live from the Venezuelan plane carrying him back to Tegucigalpa, Zelaya said he was just minutes away from landing in his high-stakes attempt to return to power. He asked that soldiers return their allegiance to him, "in the name of God, in the name of the people, and in the name of justice."

But the politicians who ousted him aren't backing down, and violence broke out among the huge crowd surrounding the airport, with at least one person killed so far. The man was shot in the head by gunfire from inside the airport as people tried to break through a security fence, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

Security forces fired warning shots and tear gas, and some Zelaya supporters threw rocks and set a fire. A van tore through the crowd, with someone shouting to make way for the wounded. A spokesman said the Red Cross was treating about 30 people for injuries, including a woman who had been stabbed.

"I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so that there is no problem in landing and embracing with my people," Zelaya told Venezuela's Telesur network while en route. "Today I feel like I have sufficient spiritual strength, blessed with the blood of Christ, to be able to arrive there and raise the crucifix." Interim President Roberto Micheletti refused to withdraw his order to prevent the plane from landing, and said he would not negotiate with anyone until "things return to normal." "We will be here until the country calms down," Micheletti told a news conference. "We are the authentic representatives of the people."

Honduras' civil aviation director said Zelaya's plane had been ordered not to enter Honduran air space. Police helicopters hovered over the airport. Commercial flights were canceled, and private planes were met by armed police. Micheletti also alleged that Nicaragua is moving troops to their border in an attempt at psychological intimidation, and warned them not to cross into Honduras, "because we're ready to defend our border." Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega called the allegation "totally false."

Zelaya won wide international support after his military ouster a week ago, but the only prominent escort aboard his plane was the U.N. General Assembly president after Latin American leaders backed out, citing security concerns. Washington advised him against flying back, fearing it would make a peaceful resolution more difficult. At least three other planes left the Washington area separately, carrying Latin American presidents, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States and journalists. They were trailing Zelaya to see what happens in the skies over Honduras before deciding where to land.

Flying with Zelaya were close advisers and staff, two journalists from the Venezuela-based network Telesur, and U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a leftist Nicaraguan priest and former foreign minister who personally condemned Zelaya's ouster as a coup d'etat. With their safety not guaranteed, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa pleaded with the Honduran military forces to avoid bloodshed. "If there is violence the whole world must clearly know who is responsible," he said.

If Zelaya's plane is allowed to land, the others will land as well, Correa said. If not, Correa, the presidents of Paraguay and Argentina and Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, planned to land in El Salvador. Honduras' new government has vowed to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, Zelaya had also pressed ahead with a referendum on whether to hold an assembly to consider changing the constitution. Critics feared he might press to extend his rule and cement presidential power in ways similar to his ally Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But instead of prosecuting him or trying to defeat his referendum idea at the ballot box, other Honduran leaders sent masked soldiers to fly Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint.

The military solution prompted condemnation at the United Nations and the OAS suspended Honduras in response. Many called it a huge step back for democracy, and no nation has recognized the new government. President Barack Obama has united with Chavez and conservative Alvaro Uribe in criticism. Without OAS membership, the isolated interim government faces trade sanctions and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized oil, aid and loans.

Micheletti's vice foreign minister, Martha Lorena Alvarado, said the interim government sent the OAS a letter expressing "willingness to conduct conversations in good faith." In Washington, senior Obama administration officials took that as a positive sign.

Speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the State Department, the officials said the United States and other OAS member countries are coordinating contacts and outreach to facilitate a resolution, despite their insistence on having no formal relations with the interim government.

The immediate concern, however, was avoiding more bloodshed. The poor Central American country's Roman Catholic archbishop and its human rights commissioner urged Zelaya to stay away.

"We have to defend our rights in a way that is personal but peaceful. Against the bayonets, we must put forth our conscience and our patriotism," Zelaya said as Venezuelan pilots flew him toward home. The protests turned violent despite efforts by their leaders to keep things peaceful. "We have no pistols or arms, just our principles," organizer Rafael Alegria said. "We have the legitimate right to fight for the defense of democracy and to restore President Zelaya."

Large crowds of Zelaya's critics also have staged daily demonstrations to back Micheletti, who was named by congress to finish the remaining six months of Zelaya's term.

Zelaya has drawn most of his support from the working and middle classes of this impoverished nation, while his opponents are based in the ranks of the well-to-do, although the increasingly leftist approach of the wealthy rancher had eroded his popular support.
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Deadly Clashes in Honduras as Ex-President’s Return Blocked
By MARC LACEY and GINGER THOMPSON
New York Times, July 6, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The ousted Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, swept over Honduras Sunday evening as crowds of his supporters clashed with soldiers and riot police at the airport. But after his plane swooped in low over the airport and cheers erupted from the crowds below, it veered away and headed to El Salvador.
“The runway’s blocked,” he said in an interview from sky that was broadcast over loudspeakers at the airport. “There’s no way I can land.” An air force jet and helicopter circled above airport, emphasizing the interim government’s control of the situation and bringing to a close a dramatic episode that had much of the country standing on edge.

The leaders who expelled Mr. Zelaya in an early-morning coup last Sunday had bluntly said that the plane carrying the deposed president and other aircraft accompanying it would be denied permission to land. “If he pushes it, there will be 10,000 people on the runway to prevent him,” said Enrique Ortez, foreign minister of the caretaker government.

But Mr. Zelaya, vowing to return home to recover his presidency, boarded a plane in Washington on Sunday afternoon with the United Nations General Assembly president, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, and a small group of advisers and others. Crowds of Mr. Zelaya’s supporters ringed the airport on Sunday evening, demanding that he be allowed to return to the country and the presidency to which he had been elected.Soldiers stood in formation at one end of the runway and in trenches dug into a hillside, firing into the air and setting off tear gas, while a helicopter hovered overhead.As hundreds of people tried to break down the fences to enter the airport grounds, soldiers fired into the crowd.

At least one person was killed and two were badly wounded, a medic and emergency services at the airport said, according to Reuters. Adding to the drama, Mr. Zelaya was giving interviews from the air as he approached Central America. “No one can obligate me to turn around,” he told Telesur, a Venezuelan network that had reporters on the plane. “The constitution prohibits expelling Hondurans from the country. I am returning with all of my constitutional guarantees.” As the plane neared the airport, Mr. Zelaya addressed the military directly on live television, asking soldiers to return their loyalty to them “in the name of God, in the name of the people, and in the name of justice.” About 5:25 p.m., his plane swept in low over the airport and the crowd erupted in cheers. But the plane flew past the airport and circled around the capital.

As all of Honduras stood in suspense, the interim president, Roberto Micheletti said he was willing to negotiate with the Organization of American States, the group that ousted Honduras on Saturday night for forcibly ousting the president. It remained unclear whether Mr. Micheletti’s proposal represented a breakthrough, as some Obama administration officials said might be the case.

Tensions were high throughout the region. Mr. Micheletti said that Nicaraguan troops had been observed near the border with Honduras, which he called a provocation. He called on President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua to withdraw the troops and vowed to defend Honduran territory.But Mr. Ortega of Nicaragua denied in a radio interview that any troops were massed and American officials in Washington said they lacked any information of Nicaraguan troop movements.

The presidents of Equador, Paraguay and Argentina as well as Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the O.A.S, were flying in a separate plane and they had plans to land only if Mr. Zelaya’s plane landed safely. If not, they were going on to El Salvador.

Even as they vowed to talk, members of the ousted government did not back off a bit from their contention that ouster of Mr. Zelaya by the army was legal and that under no circumstances would he be allowed to complete the final six months of his presidency.

Mr. Micheletti said he was concerned that Mr. Zelaya’s arrival in the country would cause violence. “We don’t want internal conflicts,” he said. “We don’t want bloodshed and this could be the consequence of him coming back.” Awaiting him upon return, Mr. Micheletti said, 18 arrest warrants for treason, abuse of authority and other charge. The new government said Mr. Zelaya had broken the law by pushing ahead, even when the courts ordered him not to, with a referendum on whether to change the country’s constitution. Critics feared he intended to extend his rule past January, when he would have been required to step down.

But even as President Zelaya’s flight approached Honduras, a flurry of diplomatic efforts were underway to try to stop the crisis from spinning out of control. Mr. Micheletti issued another urgent offer to the O.A.S. to negotiate a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, although even as he vowed to talk, members of the de facto government did not back down from their refusal to allow Mr. Zelaya to return to office.

And in a possible reciprocation by the O.A.S., the organization shifted away from a strategy that prohibited their diplomats from speaking with Mr. Micheletti. For the first time, officials indicated that the O.A.S. would open direct channels of communication.

In a telephone interview, a senior Obama administration official said that the United States, worried about the worsening tensions on the streets of Honduras, was also beginning its own diplomatic efforts, in coordination with the O.A.S., to get the negotiations with the de facto government moving sooner rather than later. The officials would not give details of their efforts. “This is an extremely difficult and delicate situation,” the senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, “and from our point of view, speed is of the essence.”

Excerpts from Washington Post, 7-6-09
[Acting President] Micheletti said in a news conference that Nicaraguan troops were massing at the border with Honduras. "I want to ask the country of Nicaragua, our brothers, not to cross our borders, because we are ready to defend our country. If there are acts of war against our country, there will be bloodshed," he said.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega dismissed the charges of troop movement as "totally false." Critics of the de facto Micheletti government said the rumors of a war with Nicaragua were propaganda intended to consolidate power for the new regime by introducing an illusory external threat.

U.S. officials confirmed that Honduras's de facto government had sent a message to the OAS seeking to open negotiations, a move that one official described as positive.

Representatives of many countries at the OAS meeting -- including the United States -- urged Zelaya not to fly back to Honduras, saying the move was dangerous for him and his supporters. "Given the situation in Honduras, we did not see how this was going to assist in creating a political space for dialogue. But at the same time, we respect the right of President Zelaya as a Honduran citizen, and the legal and constitutional leader of Honduras, to make his own decisions," the U.S. official said

1 comment:

skydove said...

The Hondurans could teach the Palestinians a thing or two. They saw a leader the majority voted for enthusiastically go bad on them; they observed his ties with the region's most oppressive dictators; and when he began a blatant move to stay in power, they made a preemptive strike. They haven't backed down in the face of world opinion, which seems to want them to shut up and let the scenario play out according to Zelaya's Chavez-supported "rules."
Although they're looking intransigent now, I give the Hondurans a lot of credit for not waiting (like Rwanda, Darfur, . . .) for the worst to happen, at which time they'll be unable to do anything but get crushed.
I'm sorry the press is giving certain "police state" aspects such prominence. The pic on page 1 of today's Times has a row of Honduran soldiers behind riot shields. I didn't read the piece, but I'd be surprised if it mentions what Barbara pointed out (that at times like this, troublemakers who are not themselves much interested in politics seem to materialize to stir things up).