Saturday, July 11, 2009

No Progress So Far

Party Reminder: Remember, blog readers in the DC area, that we are holding another party for my book on Saturday, July 18, 5-9pm, at the home of Andrew Miller, 507 Quincy St. NW near Georgia Ave. metro stop, (202) 423-4828. RSVP at Discussion will include not only my book, but the current crisis in Honduras. So even if you’ve already read the book, please don’t hesitate to come. Apart from my book, we will be celebrating the 45th birthday of Alejandra, wife of my Honduran asylee friend, Gilberto (Betio) Flores, now a construction worker here. He is a former Honduran environmental activist and farmer (and father of nine) from the same province, Olancho, as Zelaya, known to him previously as a wealthy local rancher and logger, one of those his group opposed. However, Betio says he believes his organization now supports Zelaya’s return to office, though communication with his movement colleagues has been difficult. He has promised to try to have more information by the time of our event next Saturday. Of course, by then, the situation will have played out further.

Jennie, a nurse from Tennessee who worked with me at the IHS brigade last Feb. in Honduras, is in town and will be coming over tomorrow. She shares with me the tragedy of losing a child. We both are wondering now about the future of medical brigades in the country.

Saw a TV clip from CBN News of an interview with Marco Caceres, a man I know and respect, coordinating Project Honduras, a coalition of US non-profit organizations, mostly medical brigades and faith-based organizations, in Honduras. I attended their annual meeting in Copan in 2006. Caceres pointed out, quite correctly, that Honduras is just an unfortunate pawn in a larger game that Chavez is playing to wrest influence and control in Latin America away from the US.

As reported in today’s Washington Post, back in Honduras, a new CID-Gallup poll indicated that citizens were split on his removal, with a slight majority appearing to oppose it. Forty-six percent said they disagreed with Zelaya's ouster and 41 percent said they approved of it, according to the face-to-face survey of 1,204 Hondurans in the days following the ouster. A further 13 percent declined to answer. That helps, as I was having trouble estimating public opinion after being bombarded with opinions from both sides and also from the undecided middle. If correct, then, although Zelaya’s approval ratings were only 30% before his ouster, he may have gained strength since, though the question was not asked if those opposing his ouster would now favor his return. If he should return, he and his followers would need to be granted amnesty, likewise, the other side. It’s hard to imagine the military being very willing to do his bidding.

A long-time Venezuelan human rights and battered women’s advocate, suffering under Chavez, has this to say about Zelaya:

Particularmente soy de la conviccion que en algun momento no tan lejano, este sea repatriado y enjuiciado como lo merece.
En cuanto a que se radique aqui, no gracias!!! Ya con el nuestro basta y sobra! (I am of the opinion that he should be repatriated and tried, as he deserves. As far as his moving here, no thanks!!! The one we have already is more than enough!)

As the days go by, the prospects for Zelaya's peaceful return look dimmer. There needs to be a face-saving way out of this for all concerned. Again, my earlier idea that he take up ranching (or politics?) in Venezuela is not so far-fetched, assuming Chavez would accept him. Maybe Zelaya would agree to resign voluntarily for the good of the country, but only under certain conditions, such as release of anyone arrested, lifting of the curfew and press curbs, and early elections, monitored by international observers. Of course, he would also have to be guaranteed his pension and indemnified for his Honduran land holdings. He could become a poster boy for the Latin American left, traveling around the region, giving speeches, receiving accolades. Of course, he’s likely to do that anyway if he returns to office. If he should end up resigning, remember, you heard it here first.

If Zelaya does not return to Honduras, a certain very activist segment will feel betrayed and angry, mainly his fervid and sincere urban-based partisans, including Gloria at the blind school, though when I saw her last Feb., her enthusiasm was fading. His failure to return might well trigger violence and its suppression, accompanied by inevitable repression; I saw a photo in our Hispanic press of Zelaya’s wife—still in Honduras—leading a demonstration this week in Tegucigalpa. But the alternative of allowing Zelaya to go back might be even worse. There could be vendettas against opponents, real and imagined, if he returns to office, and if he is arrested, all hell will break loose. The latter must not be allowed to happen.

If Zelaya remains outside, Hugo Chavez and the rest of his clique will be furious at being beaten at their own manipulative political game. But how can they blame the US if Nobel Laureate Arias brokers the deal and if Obama and Clinton, at least publicly, have consistently supported Zelaya? After roundly condemning the “coup,” Hillary Clinton has smiled sweetly, saying, “Let’s give negotiations a chance.” Predictably, according to the morning news, Chavez is fuming about the subtle American hand in arranging talks in Costa Rica and the failure of anyone to arrest Michelleti there (who might do that?). He’s apoplexic that his scheme to add another country to his growing empire seems in jeopardy. Certainly, cheap oil from Venezuela and free light bulbs have been halted and Venezuela’s allies are invoking further sanctions. International loans are on hold, which will have a devastating effect on the country if it persists. The US has halted all non-humanitarian assistance. The situation has calmed somewhat, but it’s still not business as usual. So quick resolution is in the interests of all concerned. If Venezuela and its bloc remain punitive after a settlement, then the US and other countries will have to step into the breach with more assistance.

Well, it hasn’t happened yet, but the more I know, the less I feel Zelaya’s return would be of net benefit to the country. At first, I was horrified that a military coup could occur in seemingly apolitical Honduras after 30 years free of military rule. But now it is emerging that what at first looked like a coup, because of the lamentable involvement of the military, really was not exactly that. Honduras does need to amend its constitution, not necessarily to remove presidential term limits, but to allow for civil impeachment, something that would have prevented this whole sorry debacle in the first place.

In our local Hispanic press, I see that Zelaya and Micheletti did not meet in Costa Rica. The cozy, intimate gathering I’d envisioned taking place informally in Arias’s personal residence was nothing of the sort. Separately, each man put forth his own position, then abruptly departed, leaving behind rival teams to debate further. Both are being represented by high-powered partisan teams bent on “winning” (probably with foreign advisers in the wings), so negotiations are going to be difficult and complicated. Poor Arias. I suppose he also has his own team of advisers and assistants. I hope he has a big house and adequate security. Barbara

See below.

Zelaya's point of no return
By Michael Lisman
[London] Guardian, July 7, 2009 appearing in the Inter-American Dialogue

As Honduras enters its second week of political crisis, the international community is beginning to take a second look at the murky circumstances under which the Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was removed from office and exiled from the country on June 28.

Until last weekend, world leaders were unanimous in their condemnation of the so-called military coup. But having been forced to watch the spectacle continue for a second straight week, the world has now become painfully aware of two things they had not anticipated.

The first is how ardent, unanimous, and organized the interim government in Honduras is against any sort of reprieve for Zelaya, much less his reinstatement.

The second is how erratic and unfit for leadership Zelaya has become. Both realisations have caused diplomats to rethink their strategies in the push for Zelaya's immediate and unrestricted return to power. As the standoff continues this week, the international community would be wise to bite its tongue and instead, push for what world leaders initially called a "Honduran solution" – even if it's not the one they had in mind.

Last week's stance was simple: whether or not Zelaya's ouster is deemed a coup or not, removal of a democratically elected president by military force cannot be endorsed. With little further understanding of the contemporary politics of Honduras, this was the starting point with which the international community reacted. Initially, it appeared highly unlikely that the interim government assembled last week would be able to resist the mounting international pressure and growing isolation to reinstate Zelaya. Central American neighbours temporarily closed their borders to Honduras, donor agencies suspended aid, and some governments even threatened military intervention. As of last week, not a single country had agreed to recognise Roberto Micheletti as the new head of state. For one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, economic and political isolation in the name of liberty is simply not tenable, so the reasoning went.

Over the weekend, that reasoning changed. On Sunday, Zelaya's triumphant return was stymied by a determined Honduran military, and bolstered by popular support for the interim government. Zelaya's premature and embarrassing return attempt may well prove to be the turning point in this high-stakes drama. As the clock ticks on Zelaya's comeback, the option of moving up November's elections to September becomes an increasingly appealing resolution for the international community.

Widely reviled by the political class in Honduras (including the leaders of his own Honduran Liberal Party), Zelaya is now known not only as the hapless president ousted at gunpoint in his pajamas, but also by his atrocious governance record and erratic behaviour – which includes nearly doubling the minimum wage to the severe detriment of his country's economy, repeatedly refusing to submit a 2009 budget to congress, and ultimately disavowing both legislative and judicial checks on his power. Some countries, such as Canada, Taiwan and Israel are beginning to hedge their initial tacit support for Zelaya's return. Others that were only last week pushing for Zelaya's reinstatement are starting to realise that the bloodshed and turmoil that his return would inevitably cause may simply not be worth the trouble.

With the standoff as it is, key international leaders and organisations should take the following steps – some of which they may already be doing behind closed doors - to help Honduras move forward.

First, someone in Micheletti's circle needs to help his interim government understand the necessity of managing its international public relations to help position itself for the coming negotiations. Loyalist partisans now serving as spokespeople for the government have failed miserably in persuading anyone outside of Tegucigalpa that the Honduran constitution – which has no single mention of a provision for the removal of a president from office – provides a legal basis for their actions. Blind intransigence worked to create the impasse thus far, but it will undercut their position as they seek to regain the confidence and repeal the sanctions of their allies, as well to placate a confused and increasingly indignant Honduran population.

Second, outsiders must ratchet down the rhetoric on "the future of Hemispheric democracy," the pressure to cut out aid for the poor, and the impending loss of OAS membership. They should focus less on pure democratic principles – which have clearly failed Hondurans in one way or another over the past several months – and more on pragmatic solutions that take into account both the precarious conditions on the ground and alternative resolutions that don't necessarily include Zelaya's full restoration.

Third, as Zelaya returns this week to Washington DC for meetings, key players like Hillary Clinton and Jose Miguel Insulza should take the opportunity to privately remind Zelaya and his entourage that without widespread international support, he would quickly join the lonely ranks of other regional coup victims such as Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Ecuador's Jamil Mahuad – inept and corrupt heads of state that were also removed from office, but with less than fierce global support for their respective reinstatements (both men live quite comfortably in exile today).

This might temper Zelaya's sense of entitlement and help him see the merit of scenarios that entail him standing down for the good and safety of his country. If some world leaders – perhaps Brazil's Lula – can shake some sense into Zelaya by threatening to temper international support, Zelaya could be forced to acquiesce to a brokered deal of immunity in return for a voluntary resignation. If he refuses, his only other option would be taking shelter within the Latin American left led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a bloc which would make him a political martyr but likely be ineffective in retuning him to power, especially as the Honduran interim government seeks to run out the clock on Zelaya's remaining term in office.

We now know that a deal must be brokered, and that cooler heads must prevail. In order to curtail increased suffering and possible bloodshed, swift action towards a peaceful resolution is called for. Swift action this week, however, as opposed to last week, will now need to be coupled with more nuanced consideration

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