Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Quite Hopeless Yet

For readers out there who belong to Facebook and LinkedIn, I've joined both after getting multiple invitations. Somehow, I found I was already on LinkedIn, but don’t know how that happened and so had to get a new password, as I didn’t know the old one. When I found my profile there, it was pretty sparse. Presumably, no one can sign up for you, but whoever did it for me on LinkedIn didn’t have the complete story. I decided that if I am on there already (however inadvertently), I should at least post a photo and some information. Meanwhile, through Facebook, I’ve already connected with some folks who were on the IHS medical brigade in Honduras with me. It’s fun to find old friends, but with 3 e-mail addresses and this blog already, do I really need any more cyber-connections? I don’t want to be spending my whole life online!

While the circumstances and history are very different, a message received from a friend in Zimbabwe has given me hope that Honduras can pull out of the present crisis and come to some sort of agreement, however imperfect. If Zimbabwe, which has had such a terrible history of repression, deprivation, and breakdown of the rule of law, can forge some sort of working arrangement between bitter political rivals, then Honduras should be able to do the same—and, I hope, much faster. My Zim correspondent says: Things are slowly turning around and life is almost back to normal following the creation of the unity government. The new government is in the process of drafting a new constitution which will be adopted after a referendum. Another round of general elections will be held in two years time under the new constitution. We are hoping that we will have a truly representative government then.

I certainly hope that Honduras will not have to go through all the turmoil that Zimbabwe has in order to come out the other side, or a civil war such as its neighbors underwent before everyone becomes exhausted and is willing to make peace. The perfect can be the enemy of the good, especially when there are two conflicting visions of perfection. I continue with this blog not only for my faithful readers, but also to inform myself of day-to-day developments.

An editorial in a free right-leaning local paper, the Washington Examiner, is headline “U.S. sends wrong message to Latin America,” that is, by “welcoming former Honduran president Manual Zelaya to the White House today.” Notice the use of the word “former” and I wonder who in the White House or administration is actually welcoming him today? The editorial continues: “Obama is backing a would-be tin-horn dictator who seeks to overthrow the democratically elected government of Honduras and to trash that country’s constitution.”

Interestingly enough, Agnes, one of my Kenyan visitors, who knows nothing about Honduras apart from my book, perhaps influenced by the Examiner, has come down strongly against Zelaya’s return. “He should stay out,” she says emphatically.

As reported below, the US has revoked the visas of 4 Honduran officials, not named. As for the 3,000 teachers reported demonstrating yesterday, I suspect some were doing so primarily because they have not been paid. If and when a settlement is reached, they will demand their back wages. Hondurans who have crossed over into Nicaragua to support Zelaya certainly are sincere. If he could appear back in Honduras, even as a lame duck or figurehead president, those supporters would be ecstatic. Not to sound condescending, but most of them are simple people who worship statues of the Virgin Mary, believe in ghosts, and think the world was created in 8 days. I've known many of them and know how little it takes to satisfy them. As my blind friend Gloria is quoted in my book, she voted for Zelaya because, “He speaks so well.” She also liked his tough stance on crime and in favor of the death penalty. Since then, his agenda has changed, and, indeed, by last February, her support was wavering. But we do not see any crowds of fervent admirers clustering around Micheletti. Of course, he says he's not planning to stay on and is not looking for acslaim, just doing his duty to protect the country.

Honduras leaders under pressure as U.S. revokes visas
By Claudia Parsons

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 3:23 PM
TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' coup leaders came under new pressure on Tuesday to allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya's return to power as the United States revoked visas for four members of the de facto government. Washington has refused to recognize the government led by Roberto Micheletti, who took over when Zelaya was toppled in a June 28 coup, and it had already cut $16.5 million in U.S. military aid to the Central American country. Zelaya had asked President Barack Obama to revoke U.S. visas for the coup leaders and he quickly welcomed the move. "They are isolated, they are surrounded, they are alone," Zelaya said of the coup leaders. "This is a coup that has been dead from the start, so they will have to abandon their position of intransigence in the coming hours," he said in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal near the Honduran border

The de facto Honduran government, backed by the Supreme Court and Congress, has so far not bent to international condemnation of the coup and it insists that Zelaya cannot come back and serve the remaining six months in office. It says Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, violated the constitution by trying to organize a referendum on presidential term limits. He denies this.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has mediated talks between both sides but the negotiations have so far failed, with Micheletti refusing to back down. "We don't recognize Roberto Micheletti as the president of Honduras, we recognize Manuel Zelaya, and so in keeping with that policy of non-recognition, we have decided to revoke official diplomatic visas, or A visas, of four individuals who are members of that regime," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.

Kelly did not name the Hondurans affected but said the diplomatic visas of other members of the government were also being reviewed. "It is part of our overall policy toward the de facto regime," he said, adding that the measure was taken to support mediation efforts to end Central America's worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Zelaya has in recent days questioned whether the U.S. government was doing enough to push for his return. He wrote to Obama urging him to impose sanctions directly against the coup leaders and members of Micheletti's government, including the cancellation of their U.S. visas and a ban on their bank transactions.
Zelaya said as many as 1,000 of his supporters have made the trek to join him in Nicaragua, dodging road blocks and a curfew in the border region of Honduras. Security forces have succeeded in keeping thousands more from the border. Zelaya briefly crossed the border into Honduras last Friday but stepped back from security forces waiting to arrest him, saying he wanted to avoid a massacre. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described his actions as "reckless" and not helpful to the negotiation process.

Time may be running out for ousted Honduran leader
Associated Press
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 3:06 AM

OCOTAL, Nicaragua -- Honduras' interim leaders insist they can resist international pressure to step down until the country's presidential election in four months, expressing confidence a new government will spell the end of exiled President Manuel Zelaya's bid to return to power. In an interview with The Associated Press on the eve of the one-month anniversary of Honduras' June 28 coup, Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez clearly bet on outlasting Zelaya. He said Zelaya might start to lose relevance as campaigning begins and noted that even the candidate for Zelaya's own party doesn't support the ousted president. "There will be a totally different context and once the campaigns begin, the obsession with Mr. Zelaya will start fading," Lopez said.

He expressed a perhaps optimistic view that other nations will recognize the results of the election, scheduled for Nov. 29. Some nations have said they would not necessarily recognize a vote held under what they consider an illegitimate government that has cracked down on pro-Zelaya media. "Of course it will be recognized. There is no sense in talking about it not being recognized," Lopez said of the ballot to pick a successor to Zelaya, whose constitutionally mandated single term ends Jan. 27.

Lopez stood fast on the interim government's refusal to allow Zelaya to return to office, though Congress is scheduled to debate whether to grant him amnesty - one part of a compromise proposed by mediator Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica. Honduras' interim leaders have vowed to arrest Zelaya on four charges of violating the constitution if he sets foot in his homeland.

The charges stem from Zelaya ignoring a Supreme Court order and trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. Many people felt he wanted to end the constitutional ban on anyone serving more than one term as president. Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who adopted a left-leaning populist agenda, denied it. Zelaya contends the Nov. 29 election cannot be considered legitimate, and says he has settled in for the long haul at the impromptu headquarters of his government-in-exile in Ocotal, a Nicaraguan border town.

He has not said how he plans to continue his struggle after January, but on Monday he urged a few hundred restive supporters who have joined him in Ocotal to be patient for what could be a long fight. "It is our duty to struggle a day, two days, a month, six months, ten years. ... We are going to do it," Zelaya said. "The people's struggles are eternal."

He is trying to galvanize poor farmers, teachers and street activists into a movement strong enough to overcome his opponents and sweep him back into office, but Honduran military checkpoints kept all but a few hundred supporters from reaching Ocotal. Many of those who did make it to Nicaragua wondered how long they could hold out away from their work and families, waiting for Zelaya to come up with a plan. Zelaya has vowed to remain on the border for at least a week, but hasn't announced any concrete strategy since he walked a few meters into Honduras and then retreated Friday.

The crowd, housed in two shelters in Ocotal, spent Monday in disarray. They boarded buses for a drive to the frontier line, only to turn back when they realized Zelaya didn't plan to join them. The ousted president showed up at one of the camps to address his supporters, only to find they had left for the border. But hot meals arrived in the afternoon as Zelaya gave supporters an hours-long pep-talk, and a tractor trailer delivered hundreds of floor mattresses Monday evening for Hondurans sleeping at a municipal gymnasium. "We're waiting for Mel Zelaya to give the order, and we'll go with him," said Tomas Lopez, 57, an athletics teacher who traveled 375 miles (600 kilometers) to Nicaragua, leaving his family in Honduras. "I'm the head of the family, and they depend on me. We have food here and a place to sleep, but the problem is our children. Who is going to support them?"

The interim government that ousted Zelaya said Monday it had seized a series of what appear to be receipts from a key Zelaya organizer, indicating payments of between $3,000 and $20,000 to several protest leaders. None of the Zelaya supporters were immediately available to comment on the alleged payments or what they were for. Zelaya's supporters have staged near daily protests in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, including 3,000 teachers who blocked an avenue Monday.

But the demonstrations have failed to become more than a minor inconvenience for interim President Roberto Micheletti and the formidable forces that support him: the military, business executives, Supreme Court and almost the entire Congress, including many in Zelaya's own party. Zelaya has received overwhelming support from nearly all foreign governments, which have condemned the coup and isolated the Micheletti government diplomatically.

But Zelaya complains that international mediation efforts to force his return have flagged. He accuses the United States - Honduras' largest source of development aid and its biggest trade partner - of not being forceful enough against Micheletti, who has ignored sanctions threats and U.N. demands that Zelaya be reinstated. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly urged Zelaya to be patient and give negotiations more time. He repeated U.S. criticism that Zelaya was being "reckless" in trying to return to Honduras without an agreement with his opponents. "We're continuing to urge President Zelaya to allow this political process to play out," Kelly said. "We're not going to put any artificial deadline on it, though."

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