Sunday, July 5, 2009

Negotiation or Clash?

Hope everyone has been having an enjoyable July 4 weekend. My daughter Stephanie from Hawaii is visiting here for the festivities. Our weather has been uncharacteristically mild and pleasant, though no doubt DC’s legendary hot, humid summer doldrums will kick in eventually. It was perfect yesterday for picnics and the fireworks down at the National Mall. Sitting next to me out on the grass was a couple from Kentucky, in Washington for the first time celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. The aftermath of the metro accident is still evident, with funerals and slow going through the crash area, which has handicapped someone like me who must frequently use that line to get to interpretation assignments.

The situation in Honduras seems to be changing daily, so I may have to revise my predictions. The US has pretty much been keeping hands-off, not commenting further, perhaps wisely so, though perhaps active behind the scenes. Chavez has cut off cheap oil and it looks like the OAS is invoking sanctions. Presumably the US is included in that, whatever is involved, though that is not clear, since member countries have the option of deciding what to do. Several countries have recalled their ambassadors, but not the US so far. If the interim government is squeezed too hard economically (and there is little squeezing room available), then people may start blaming it rather than Zelaya for the current mess. That might boost his popularity, which was at a low point before all this happened. In that case, interim government officials could lose support and find their own lives in jeopardy. Which way the army would go then is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps realizing these risks, the interim government has hinted at holding the November elections early. And it may decide that negotiation is the way to go after all. And even though the secretary general of the OAS has said, “No negotiation,” that’s probably not quite true. The problem now will be to work out a solution allowing all parties to save face and feel protected and put this sorry episode behind the country without further bloodshed and strife and before someone gets badly hurt or killed. I do give the army credit so far for restraint. Cardinal Rodriguez, someone I respect, has warned against Zelaya’s return today.

But now, Zelaya has announced his return today (after this writing), so I am very worried, as he has asked his supporters to meet him en masse at the Teguc airport and the interim government has vowed to arrest him. That is not a recipe for calm. He should wait, but maybe he wants to be a martyr and not let his support fade, though he’s playing a dangerous game—I think he would like to be a symbolic martyr, not lose his life. And, of course, he wants to win this dispute, as does the other side. Fortunately, other Latin American presidents are reportedly coming with him, but not Chavez, against whom there are strong feelings in Honduras for having interfered, even as the pro-Zelaya faction may be grateful for his backing. Chavez is certainly a polarizing figure.

That’s how things stand as of this morning. Let’s see what happens next. Below from today’s NYTimes, Barbara

O.A.S. Votes to Suspend Honduras Over Coup

WASHINGTON — The Organization of American States voted Saturday night to suspend Honduras, but after deliberations that lasted until nearly midnight, it stopped short of calling on member countries to impose sanctions on the interim government responsible for ousting President Manuel Zelaya.

With a show of hands, all 33 members of the organization voted in favor of a resolution that expressed "deep concern about the worsening of the current political crisis” in Honduras, and called for the country’s immediate suspension. It appeared that Honduras did not vote.

Afterward, Mr. Zelaya confirmed that he planned to return to Honduras on Sunday. “I am going back to defend my people,” he said. “I am going back to defend my country.”
Honduras is only the second country suspended by the O.A.S., the Western Hemisphere’s top diplomatic body; Cuba was barred in 1962 as Fidel Castro took the island toward communism in the years after his 1959 revolution. The group said that Honduras would be held accountable for violations of human rights, and it called on Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to continue diplomatic efforts aimed at peacefully returning President Zelaya to power.

But rather than calling on member countries to impose sanctions against Honduras, a move advocated by several countries, led by Venezuela, the resolution encouraged countries to "review their relations" with Honduras while diplomatic efforts continued, a more moderate stance that had been pressed by Canada and the United States.

It appeared that the United States and Canada were less persuasive in convincing Mr. Zelaya not to return to Honduras on Sunday. Some diplomats said his return would be like throwing a match in a tinderbox.

But during his speech to the O.A.S. Saturday night, Mr. Zelaya stood firm.
“This coup is a test to the rule of law of every country in the world,” he said with passion after the vote. “And I believe this test has been energetically answered.”
Mr. Zelaya added: “There are moments when keeping silent is a crime. This is one of those moments.”

As the regional group gathered here to discuss suspending Honduras and escorting its ousted president back to his country, a torrent of defiant statements from leaders of the post-coup government seemed to further narrow the prospects of a diplomatic resolution.

The regional group got a bleak report from Mr. Insulza, whose whirlwind visit to Honduras on Friday not only failed to persuade Honduras’s de facto government to surrender power, but also seemed to solidify the coup leaders’ resolve. Mr. Insulza described his discussions with leaders of the Honduran Supreme Court as “tense.” He said that in light of the “inflexible attitude of the de facto regime,” there seemed to be no alternative to suspending Honduras. “This should not be interpreted as an action against the Honduran people,” he said, “but as a way of pressuring the de facto government.”

In Tegucigalpa, the capital, it seemed clear the post-coup government was squaring for a fight. Attempting to outflank the O.A.S.’s plans to suspend Honduras, the interim government — which took power last Sunday after troops stormed President Zelaya’s home, detained him and put him on a plane to Costa Rica — announced Friday night that it was quitting the group.

On Saturday afternoon, it was clear that some in the O.A.S. were also prepared to push back. A handful of the region’s presidents, including the leaders of Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay, were scheduled to arrive here to accompany Mr. Zelaya to Honduras on Sunday.

Meanwhile, others in the organization were expected to argue strongly against the plan, saying Mr. Zelaya’s return to Honduras would be like throwing a match into a tinderbox.

Peter Kent, a minister of state in Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, told the meeting that suspending Honduras would not be enough to restore democratic order.
And he said the organization had to “maintain diplomatic initiatives,” aimed at directly engaging the interim government, to help end the crisis. As for President Zelaya’s plans to return, Mr. Kent was emphatically opposed to the idea, saying, “It is far from clear that the current conditions could guarantee his safety upon return.”

On the streets of Tegucigalpa on Saturday, anti-Zelaya protesters lined up to defend the new government, while more than 10,000 people answered his videotaped call to turn out at the airport, vowing to guard him upon his return. A man with a megaphone shouted at the soldiers: “Are you the armed forces of the people or the armed forces of the bourgeois?”

In a statement on the radio, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez, said there could be a “bloodbath” if Mr. Zelaya returned.
With the O.A.S. suspension all but certain, the most pressing matters facing the group on Saturday were decisions over how to proceed.

A senior Obama administration official said the United States would probably move to suspend economic development and military assistance.

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