Friday, July 3, 2009

Now what?

This just in from someone who served in PC with me in Honduras: “I can't tell you how many times I have said to people. ‘You're not sure you can do it? Let me tell you about...’ Not that any of them are half as strong as you. But people in their 20's don't want to think they can't do something someone in their 60's can.” Well, that’s my message, too, to all my readers, regardless of age: “If you want to do it—with apologies to Obama—Yes, you can!”

Whew! e-mails have been pouring in thick and fast from Honduras and elsewhere on the situation there. I won’t venture to call it a coup any more, since some Hondurans reading my blog have taken offense at that. Zelaya doesn’t seem to have many political allies inside Honduras, just a group of angry supporters in Teguc. Here in Washington, DC, a crowd of his supporters held a rally yesterday at which the current ambassador, a Zelaya appointee spoke, though he seems to have been won over by the other side. But he did not convince his listeners that what had happened to Zelaya was completely legal. If the army had not been involved, if there had just been a judicial proceeding, that would not have given the appearance of a military coup.

Most Hondurans I’ve been in touch with feel misunderstood and threatened more by the rest of the world than by the Honduran military. Zelaya seems to have become pretty unpopular, beginning about a year or so ago when he began hobnobbing with Chavez. Now they blame both Zelaya and Chavez for their present dilemma and causing the whole world to be against them. Although the OAS has made threats of sanctions and has expressed an unwillingness to negotiate, the new Honduran leadership is still holding fast, though probably worried about the consequences. Both sides, firm as they are now, are going to have to yield, because Honduras cannot tolerate sanctions, being already in a weakened economic condition.

The US ambassador is apparently sheltering Zelaya’s son, and maybe also his wife, but has not cut off aid. The US has kept a low profile, but maybe needs to step in now behind the scenes to break the impasse. The Obama administration in this case, as elsewhere, has to walk a diplomatic fine line and avoid favoring Zelaya too much, even though the US has already publicly supported him. And Zelaya himself needs to back down, even though that may infuriate Chavez. His friend Chavez did him no favors by pushing him into this.

I’ll share a couple more things with those of you reading this blog.
One commentator tells me: Socialist/communist politicians for years have been using democratic constitutional elections to attain power. Once in power, they don't feel any respect for the constitution and immediately begin efforts to convert the country to socialism/communism and to keep themselves in power indefinitely.

And here is my answer to yesterday’s analysis of the Honduran situation from the former Cuban bureaucrat now living in NYC, someone, I might mention, who had great difficulty getting permission to leave Cuba, partly because of his close ties to the Castro government, and for whom I was instrumental in helping him get out:

You are certainly right that Chavez, Ortega, and, now, Zelaya are Fidel wannabes imitating him only clumsily. And they are donning the "liberators of the poor" mantle just to further their own ambitions and power, much as Fidel himself has also done, but, I agree, with much more cunning and finesse. He is a master. He has the whole world still believing he is the underdog who has successfully championed the common man everywhere and bravely defied the hegemonic USA. And you are quite observant that whoever comes out ahead in the Honduras fight will be part of the land-owning elite--indeed Zelaya is a wealthy rancher who only lately has let himself be seduced by Chavez into accepting subsidized oil and free energy-efficient light bulbs. Zelaya won his 15 minutes of fame and repaid Chavez by hosting the OAS meeting and engineering the return of Cuba to the OAS.

But all that has not made Zelaya very popular with any but a small segment of the Honduran population, as far as I can tell. Hondurans hosted refugees from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador in the 1980s and are not anxious to get embroiled in polarizing left-right politics. That is why, unless he manipulated the vote and vote count (as Chavez has been accused of doing previously), Zelaya would probably lose the referendum, not to mention a second term. If the referendum were allowed to go forward, I would advocate that it be overseen by international observers (Jimmy Carter?)—a role I undertook myself in Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the DR. Such observers cannot eliminate all fraud, but their presence helps. However, it doesn't look like the referendum is going to happen now.

Chavez has been all bluster, threatening to send in Venezuelan troops and cut off oil shipments--I'm glad to see the US laying low, even though it has a military base in Honduras. I am wondering about Peace Corps volunteers, who, I presume, have been told to remain in their sites and not travel around.

And, sad to say, you are also right that it probably doesn't matter much, one way or another, to the common Honduran citizen what the outcome is, since governmental corruption and nepotism are endemic and the same social sector, just a different faction, will remain in charge in any case. The only benefit to Honduras from all this is that it's now on the map and people around the world have become aware of its existence. Barbara

Finally, here’s a warning from Cuban-born, Spain-based commentator
Madrid, Spain

Preventing a Honduran Bloodbath
The United States Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, an extremely competent diplomat, tried very hard to keep Honduras's Congress from ousting President Manuel Zelaya. After his arguments and pressures were exhausted, and faced with something that seemed inevitable, he did what he could: he sheltered the president's son at his residence to save him from any violent outcome.

Fortunately, Zelaya's expulsion from the presidency and from his country was bloodless. It wasn't exactly a military coup: the Army acted on orders from the Supreme Court after Zelaya's continued violations of the law. The ousted president seemed intent on getting reelected, even if it meant violating the Constitution, and on dragging the nation into Hugo Chávez's "21st century socialism" camp against the will of the Honduran people.

Nevertheless, if there is still something worse than the depressing spectacle of a freely elected president forced to leave his country at gunpoint, it is that same leader trying to force his way back in. If Zelaya returns, he will be arrested and charged with an array of crimes. His imprisonment will embarrass any who decide, irresponsibly, to accompany him on such a mad adventure.

This is most grave. Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega are already talking about invasions and resorting to force. That could unleash a bloodbath and would certainly destroy the weak political institutions that Honduras labored to achieve three decades ago, when the era of military dictatorships mercifully ended. Peter Hakim, president of Inter-American Dialogue, put it this way: "Zelaya is fighting with all the institutions in the country. He is in no condition really to govern."

And that's the truth. According to Mexican pollster Mitofsky's April survey, Zelaya was Latin America's least popular leader. Only 25 percent of the nation supported him. Another survey found that 67 percent of Hondurans would never vote for him again. Why? Because the Hondurans attributed to him a deep level of corruption; because they assumed he had links to drug trafficking, especially drugs originating in Venezuela, as former U.S. Ambassador to the O.A.S. Roger Noriega revealed in a well-documented article published in his blog; and because violence and poverty -- the nation's two worst scourges -- have increased dramatically during his three years in power.

Simply put, a huge majority of the country -- including the two major political parties (including Zelaya's), the Christian churches, the other branches of government and the armed forces -- do not want him as president. All agreed that he should finish his mandate and leave power in January 2010, but no one wanted him to break the law to keep himself in the presidency. Hugo Chávez has already done that, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Bolivia's Evo Morales and probably Ecuador's Rafael Correa are also trying to do the same. The Hondurans, without question, do not want to go down the path of Hugo Chavez's collectivist and anti-Western "caudillismo," allied to Iran, Cuba and North Korea.

What to do under these circumstances? The worst idea is to resort to force. The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti already is summoning reservists and the Army is preparing to defend the nation's sovereignty. The nationalist discourse is heating up with talk of "defense of the motherland" against foreign enemies. They worry about foreign aggression, shrewdly propelled by Chavez and his crew, in which -- inexplicably this time -- the Americans have sided with the enemies of democracy and the rule of law.
If a conflict explodes, one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries will suffer the bloodletting that Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua experienced during the Cold War.

The solution is to move forward with the general elections planned for November. It's a solution within everyone's reach: the candidates are already there, freely elected in open primaries, and both enjoy much popularity. Why plunge this society irresponsibly into a maelstrom of violence? Once the new government is selected, a government that enjoys the legitimacy generated by a democratic process, the Honduran people can push this lamentable episode into the past.

That will be best for almost all parties in the conflict. Zelaya may lose the game, but Hondurans will not pay with their blood for the mistakes and misdemeanors of a maladroit ruler.

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