Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Polarization vs. Conciliation

I hope some folks out there are still reading this blog, because I'm doing my best to keep up-to-date.

A hallmark of the Obama approach is bipartisanship, seeking common ground, non-confrontation, and coming together—at least, to the extent humanly possible. He’s steered away from direct criticism and seeking prosecutions of Bush-Cheney era officials, sought areas of agreement with Catholic doctrine at Notre Dame and in his meeting with the pope, and reached out directly to the Muslim world. He shook hands with Hugo Chavez and accepted from him a copy of an inflammatory, highly exaggerated, and dated book, Open Veins of Latin America, accusing the US of all sorts of offenses against its neighbors and making predictions that have not, in large part, come true, even though kernels of truth can be found there.
The Obama administration’s approach to the Honduras question has followed the same pattern of steering a middle course. Obama does that, I suspect, because he considers polarization to be counterproductive, dangerous, and destructive—and wants to move forward in a problem-solving way. Some have accused him, in Honduras and elsewhere, of being wishy-washy and not sufficiently principled—certainly, that is Chavez’s charge.

Honduras, as I mentioned in my book, has never appeared to be a particularly polarized country. I did describe militant public servants going out on strike, mobs attacking businesses, and environmental defenders being targeted for killing. These things have happened. However, in my observation, the ongoing tensions and polarization evident in neighboring countries, expressed in the 1980s in bitter and devastating civil wars and continuing in attenuated form ever since, have been much milder in Honduras. This, I would argue, has been beneficial to the country’s development, including to the vast Honduran underclass (though admittedly, not sufficiently so), and now it is not helpful to try to foment strife. So-called revolutions justified in the name of the poor, in my observation, have done little to actually help them and much to help maintain leaders in power and privilege. Not to say that Zelaya did not undertake some measures to genuinely help the poor, though I saw no particular evidence of that when I was there in Feb., except for the energy-saving lightbulbs donated from Venezuela. I can only wonder how my friends at the blind school and adult blind center are faring in all of this?

Zelaya, even if he secretly regrets his close alliance with Chavez, would be unable to publicly aknowledge that now. But if he would make some sort of credible apology and promise to peacefully serve out the remainder of his term as president of all the people, without engaging in reprisals or aligning himself with Chavez or any other faction, the interim government might conceivably be convinced to allow his return to the Honduran presidency. Most poor Hondurans would probably be satisfied just to see him return, whether or not he had any actual power left. However, it’s unlikely the other side would be able to trust him on that—I don’t know if he should be trusted. Yet, I see that as the ideal solution, though an increasingly unlikely one, since now both sides have staked out their positions and, the more they defend them, the more they come to believe them and are unwilling to back down. If anything, Zelaya has seemed more conciliatory than the other side because he is in a worse bargaining position, being out of office and out of the country right now. I just hope the next president of Honduras will be able to heal the rift. If he is into settling scores, whichever side he favors, that will have repercussions for years to come. Take a lesson from Obama!

A reader has mailed me a print copy of a Wall St. Journal article by columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady dated July 13, entitled “Why Hondurans Sent Zelaya Away.” O’Grady contends that the issue was not just the proposed referendum to extend term limits, but prior arbitrary actions by Zelaya, such as a January attempt to inject himself improperly into the surpreme court nomination process. And, in May, in a run-up to the plebiscite conflict, she implies that he organized a club-wielding mob threatening “national insurrection” if his wishes were not carried out. She alleges that in 2003, Bolivia’s president, Gonzalo Sanchez, was removed by similar tactics with help from Chavez, then lost support from the US and the OAS, paving the way for a Chavez ally to move into the presidency. I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras then and don’t remember hearing much about that. However, members of the Honduran political establishment were certainly aware of it and may have taken it as a warning that history was repeating itself.

If there was any need to show that the Honduras crisis is a struggle between two opposing political camps and that ideology is the prism that shapes the view of the facts, the following article from the UK Guardian confirms that. It expresses a Pro-Zelaya, pro-Chavez, anti-US view and came out a week ago, but was just now sent to me.

Below that, in Spanish, is a public complaint from a woman who alleges that she was involved in providing library books to poor communities, but was removed from her duties by the interim government, apparently for political disloyalty. She rightly points to the corruption endemic in the Honduran civil service. I hate to see Honduras descending into this level of reprisals and personal attacks. The complaint was forwarded from a Mexican source, presumably sympathetic to Zelaya, and I have no way of verifying its authenticity, but it does sound genuine.

US leaves Honduras to its fate
Washington is unwilling to take the side of democracy in Honduras by opposing the coup leaders it helped to train
Mark Weisbrot
Wednesday July 8 2009

The military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras took a new turn when he attempted to return home on Sunday. The military closed the airport and blocked runways to prevent his plane from landing. They also shot several protesters, killing at least one and injuring others. The violence and the enormous crowd, estimated in the tens of thousands and reported as the largest since the coup on 28 June, put additional pressure on the Obama administration to seek a resolution to the crisis. On Tuesday, secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Zelaya for the first time.

In many ways this is similar to the 2002 coup in Venezuela, which was supported by the US. After it became clear that no government other than the US would recognise the coup government there, and hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets to demand the return of their elected president, the military switched sides and brought Hugo Chavez back to the presidential palace.

In Honduras, we have the entire world refusing to recognise the coup government, and equally large demonstrations (in a country of only seven million people, with the military preventing movement for many of them) demanding Zelaya's return. The problem in Honduras is that the military, unlike Venezuela's, is experienced in organised repression, including selective assassinations carried out during the 1980's, when the country was known as a military base for US operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Honduran military is also much closer to the US military and state department, more closely allied with the country's oligarchy and more ideologically committed to the cause of keeping the elected president out of power. Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, a Honduran army lawyer who admitted that the military broke the law when it kidnapped Zelaya, told the Miami Herald: "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible." Inestroza, like the coup leader and army chief General Romeo Vasquez, was trained at Washington's infamous School of the Americas (now renamed Whinsec).

This puts a heavy burden on the people of Honduras, who have been risking their lives, confronting the army's bullets, beatings and arbitrary arrests and detentions. The US media has reported on this repression only minimally, with the major print media sometimes failing even to mention the censorship there. But the Honduran pro-democracy movement has in the last few days managed to change the course of events. It is likely that Clinton's decision to finally meet with Zelaya was the result of the large and growing protests, and Washington's fear that such resistance could reach the point at which it would topple the coup government.

The Obama administration's behaviour over the last eight days suggests that if not for this threat from below, the administration would have been content to let the coup government remain for the rest of Zelaya's term. This was made clear again on Monday, at a press briefing held by the state department spokesman Ian Kelly. Under prodding from a reporter, Kelly became the first on-the-record state department official to say that the US government supported the return of Zelaya. This was eight days after the coup, and after the United Nations general assembly, the Organisation of American States, the Rio Group and many individual governments had all called for the "immediate and unconditional" return of Zelaya, something that Washington still does not talk about.

Meanwhile, on the far right, there has been a pushback against worldwide support for Zelaya and an attempt to paint him as the aggressor in Honduras, or at least equally as bad as the people who carried out the coup. Unfortunately much of the major media's reporting has aided this effort by reporting such statements as "Critics feared he intended to extend his rule past January, when he would have been required to step down."

In fact, there was no way for Zelaya to "extend his rule" even if the referendum had been held and passed, and even if he had then gone on to win a binding referendum on the November ballot. The 28 June referendum was nothing more than a non-binding poll of the electorate, asking whether the voters wanted to place a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country's constitution. If it had passed, and if the November referendum had been held (which was not very likely) and also passed, the same ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January. So, the belief that Zelaya was fighting to extend his term in office has no factual basis. The most that could be said is that if a new constitution were eventually approved, Zelaya might have been able to run for a second term at some future date.

Another major rightwing theme in the media and public perception of the Honduran situation is that this is a battle against Chavez (and some collection of "anti-US" leftist allies: Nicaragua, Cuba, take your pick). This is a common subterfuge that has surfaced in most of the Latin American elections of the last few years. In Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and El Salvador, for example, the conservative candidates all acted as if they were running against Chavez, the first two with success, and the second pair losing. It is true that under Zelaya Honduras joined Alba, a grouping of countries that was started by Venezuela as an alternative to "free trade" agreements with the US. But Zelaya is nowhere near as close to Chavez as any number of other Latin American presidents, including those of Brazil and Argentina. So it is not clear why this is relevant, unless the argument is that only bigger countries or those located further south have the right to have a co-operative relationship with Venezuela.

Clinton has just announced that she has arranged for the Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to serve as a mediator between the coup government and Zelaya. According to Clinton, both parties have accepted this arrangement. This is a good move for the state department, as it will make it easier for it to maintain a more "neutral" position, as opposed to the rest of the hemisphere, which has taken the side of the deposed president and the Honduran pro-democracy movement. "I don't want to prejudge what the parties themselves will agree to," said Clinton in response to a question as to whether Zelaya should be restored to his position.

It is difficult to see how this mediation will succeed, so long as the coup government knows that it can sit out the rest of Zelaya's term. The only thing that can remove it from office, in conjunction with massive protests, is real economic sanctions of the kind that Honduras's neighbours (Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala) imposed for 48 hours after the coup. These countries account for about a third of Honduras's trade, but they would need economic aid from other countries to carry the burden of a trade cut-off for a longer time. It would be a great thing if other countries would step forward to support such sanctions and to cut off their own trade and capital flows with Honduras as well.

So it is up to the rest of the world to help Honduras; it is clear that Hondurans won't be getting any help from the US. The rest of the world will have to scream bloody murder about the violence and repression there, too, because Washington will not make much of an issue about it.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

The following is the item referred to above, about the woman who lost her library book distribution job.

Yo Rebeca Becerra, acuso a Mirna Castro, a Juan Fernando Ávila Posas, disque
Secretaria de Estado en el despacho de Cultura, Artes y Deportes y el otro
Viceministro de Cultura; y todos aquellos que por medio de la traición han
enfrentado al pueblo hondureño, los golpistas que juzgará la historia, y que
están haciendo retroceder el estado de democracia que se desarrollaba en mi
país. A los traidores y traidoras que dentro de la Secretaría fraguaron mi
salida, estos y estas también arrastrarán en su conciencia hasta el día de
su muerte la traición, no se les puede llamar de otra manera más que
cobardes, cómplices del gobierno de facto.Los denuncio por haberme, ilegítimamente, depuesto de mi cargo de DirectoraGeneral del Libro y el Documento de esta Secretaría; por atrasar los procesos culturales emprendidos, por atentar contra la cultura.

Mi trabajo era llevar libros a los municipios más pobres de Honduras
organizando bibliotecas (20 bibliotecas organizadas en menos de 2 años) en
municipios donde nunca se había presentado un encargado de gobierno, de
llevar el Bibliobús (promoción a la lectura) a los niños descalzos que no
pueden acceder a un simple libro por la pobreza en la que viven. Mi trabajo
se basó en impulsar un proceso de modernización en la Biblioteca, Archivo y
Hemeroteca Nacionales, un proceso de digitalización que hoy peligra porque
la ignorancia impera en el país. En fortalecer la Agencia Nacional del ISBN
y atender hasta donde fuera posible las demandas de las dependencias a mi

Mi trabajo se basó en poner a trabajar gente que pernoctaba en sus cargos
sin producir nada para el país, en despedir corruptos que se robaban los
pocos recursos con que cuenta la Secretaría. En gestionar recursos para las
dependencias. Se basó en imprimir libros, (¿acaso imprimir libros es un
delito?) en apoyar a autores y autoras nacionales por medio de la compra de
sus obras literarias para suplir la Red Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas. En
representar a mi país en el exterior dignamente. En hacer visible una
dirección que agonizaba por falta de iniciativa, de visión y de compromiso.

Mi trabajo era apoyar a personas que venían del interior del país de
colegios y escuelas públicas a solicitar libros para tener que leerles a sus
alumnos. Personas sin recursos, que llegaban sin comer y que no podían irse
con las manos vacías. Mi sensibilidad iba más allá de mi cargo como
funcionaria pública hasta ofrecer parte de mi pago salarial para actividades
y personas.En apoyar a las y los artistas con producción de afiches, trifolios, etc.
Nadie se fue de la Dirección General del Libro y el Documento con las manos

Mi trabajo era mi compromiso con la cultura y con mi patria. Lo cumplí con
honradez y entrega, sacrificando mi familia, trabajando horas extras,
sábados y domingos y más allá del cansancio.Gracias a los que me acompañaron en esta lucha a favor de la cultura a losCoordinadores y Directores que creyeron en las directrices; los exhorto aseguir adelante, no dejemos morir este trabajo que nos ha costado tanto

Gracias a aquellos y aquellas que dentro de la Dirección General del Libro y
el Documento, al Sindicato de la SCAD y otros/otras que no quiero mencionar
porque me da asco, traicionaron este proceso cultural que se llevaba a cabo
a favor del patrimonio bibliográfico y documental de la nación, el mal no me
lo hacen a mí ni a mi familia si no a la CULTURA Y A NUESTRO PUEBLO.

Licda. Rebeca Becerra
Directora General del Libro
y el Documento-SCAD
Secretaria Nacional de Cultura-CECC/SICA
Oficina 235-47-14

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