My readers, not in great numbers, seem to prefer contacting me by e-mail rather than posting on this blog. A reader has pointed out that the idea of bringing the parties in the Gates arrest case together for a beer at the White House came from the arresting officer, not Obama. Still, the symmetrical photo-op of Obama, the two parties to the dispute, and Biden having a beer outside under the trees will become an iconic symbol of this presidency, I predict.
A reader asks who is footing the bill for the shelter and food for Zelaya supporters gathered in Nicaragua? Surely not the Nicaraguan government, impoverished equally with Honduras.
Is the Honduran interim government softening its position, stalling for time, or just trying to put legitimate guarantees in place? The longer it remains in office, the more attitudes toward it seem to be becoming more nuanced, at least in the US and other media. The following articles may give a clue to the interim government's intentions and concerns. The last item has not actually been published yet and is shown here in excerpts.
NPR NEWS TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras July 31, 2009, 02:27 am ET
Honduran police cracked down on protesters and Congress delayed consideration of an amnesty bill needed to end the standoff, even as the interim leader appeared to back away from his opposition to reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The mixed signals from Honduras' interim powers on whether a deal to resolve the country's coup crisis is imminent came as Zelaya met with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras in Nicaragua, where the ousted president has set up his government in exile. But Zelaya's foreign minister expressed frustration with meeting with U.S. officials, saying nothing new came out of it.
The interim government has long said it hopes to outlast international sanctions and diplomatic isolation until November elections, which it hopes will weaken calls to restore Zelaya, who was flown into exile during a June 28 coup.
A former Honduran government official said Thursday that interim President Roberto Micheletti is open to considering Zelaya's reinstatement, but wants concessions to mollify reluctant business leaders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge information from a private conversation. Micheletti's previous refusal to even consider Zelaya's reinstatement was a key stumbling block in talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias on resolving Honduras' political crisis.
While Micheletti's apparent flexibility was seen as a positive sign for negotiations, Honduras' congressional leaders decided to put off until Monday consideration of a bill on granting amnesties to both sides in the dispute — an important part of Arias' plan to end the standoff. Congress had originally been scheduled to take up the matter this week.
Also marking a tougher stance, riot police in Tegucigalpa used tear gas and night sticks to break up a pro-Zelaya blockade of a main artery leading into the capital. Police said 25 people were injured and 88 arrested. "We will not allow any more disturbances," Micheletti told reporters Thursday. "We are going to bring order to Honduras."
A Zelaya supporter was wounded in the head by a gunshot and was seriously hurt; police spokesman Daniel Molina alleged the shot was fired by protesters. Red Cross spokesman Domingo Flores said protesters attacked an ambulance and beat three Red Cross workers, accusing them of being coup supporters.
Before this week, the interim government had largely tolerated the street blockades and protests, which regularly snarl traffic in Tegucigalpa and other major cities.
Zelaya's team, in turn, demanded a tougher strategy after Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of El Ocotal to meet in Managua with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens. Zelaya told reporters after the three-hour meeting that he asked for Washington to apply pressure on the interim government "with more energy, more strength and greater decisiveness." He will also ask for "immediate action" from the U.N. and Organization of American States.
But his foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, told the [Venezuelan] Telesur network that "it has been a meeting of repetitions, of positions that can't be negotiated. They (the U.S. diplomats) didn't come with a change, nor any new proposal."
Micheletti called the meeting an "interference," and said "Ambassador Llorens has committed a serious mistake by meeting with Zelaya." Zelaya adviser Milton Jimenez said a proposal would be floated in the OAS for other countries to extend visa cancellations — like those by the United States against four interim government officials — to a broader range of those involved in the coup, as well as freezing their bank accounts.
Zelaya told his supporters in the Nicaraguan border town of El Ocotal that he wanted them to form "peaceful popular militias" to demand his reinstatement Nearly all foreign governments have condemned the coup, and the United States and the European Union have suspended millions of dollars in development aid to Honduras.
The former Honduran official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Micheletti told Arias that the door was open to Zelaya's reinstatement. The ex-official, who has been in frequent contact with Micheletti, said he spoke Wednesday with the interim leader. The former official said Micheletti is seeking several changes to a compromise proposed by Arias last week that would restore Zelaya as president of a coalition government. The changes are aimed providing stronger guarantees that Zelaya will not resume efforts to change the constitution, an initiative that prompted his ouster.
The agreement already stipulates that Zelaya must drop ambitions to change the constitution. But among other proposals, Micheletti is suggesting that before Zelaya returns, an international commission would be put in place to monitor compliance with the agreement. In a statement earlier Thursday, Micheletti said the proposed compromise should be strengthened to "ensure that Zelaya abides by the constitution and allows the election of a new president in the November elections." Arias said Micheletti asked him to send an envoy to Honduras to jump-start negotiations, adding the envoy would have to meet with several sectors, "especially businessmen ... who have been very reluctant to consider the possibility that Zelaya be reinstated."
Honduras: Clashes at Protests
By GINGER THOMPSON
New York Times, Published: July 30, 2009
Several people were wounded and more than 100 were arrested Thursday during clashes between the police and supporters of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, in at least four locations. The most intense violence occurred on the northern edge of Tegucigalpa, the capital, where one person was shot in the head. Leaders of the demonstrations accused the police of firing tear gas and live ammunition on peaceful protesters. Television footage showed some protesters armed with long sticks and pickaxes.
[preview of article to run in Sunday edition, excerpts]
Nouvelle Regimes In a Few Easy Steps
By Moisés Naím, Washington Post
Sunday, August 2, 2009
The world no longer digests military coups as well as it used to. But now there's a new way for autocrats to cook up a grab for power. This new recipe relies more on lawyers than lieutenant colonels, and uses referendums and constitutional amendments, rather than tanks and assaults on presidential palaces, as key ingredients. But the result is the same: a dictator who, while keeping up the veneer of democracy, retains power for a long time…
In the Latin American adaptation of this nouvelle cuisine, an essential flavor has been the manipulation of the constitution. In Honduras, Manuel Zelaya tried to follow this recipe by rewriting his country's laws to stay in power for a second term, but the result was indigestion and a genuine, if flawed, attempt to inoculate a nation against the ravages of this dish.
Here then is the new recipe for autocrats around the globe.
Ingredients• Millions of poor people.
• Lots of inequality.
• Unimaginable poverty coexisting with unfathomable wealth.
• Injustice, social exclusion and racial discrimination.
• Abundant corruption.
• Complacent political and economic elites who are sure that "we are in control; nothing will happen here."
• Discredited political parties.
• An apathetic middle class, disillusioned about democracy, politics and politicians.
• A parliament, judiciary and armed forces weakened by prolonged marinating in a brew of indolence, inefficiency and corruption. It should be easy to buy a judge, senator or general.
• Media companies whose owners use them to promote their own commercial or electoral interests.
• A foreign superpower neutralized or distracted by other priorities and congested with too many international emergencies.
• An international public with a severe case of attention deficit disorder and general lack of interest in the details of how other nations are governed.
• An external enemy easy to denounce as a threat to the nation. The CIA is ideal…
1. Shake well the poorest segment of the population with a fiercely polarizing campaign. Sprinkle in resentment, political rancor and economic populism. Rinse away harmony while bringing social conflicts to a boil.
2. Come to power through a democratic election. This can be facilitated by having corrupt and discredited political rivals and a good vote-buying team. Stress the need to root out corruption and recover the wealth that the rich have stolen.
3. After winning that first election, hold other ones, but don't lose any. Elections aren't about democracy -- they're the garnish on your dish…
6. Launch a campaign to change the constitution through a popular referendum.
7. The new constitution should guarantee any and all rights to its citizens, especially the poorest, while minimizing their duties and obligations. Promise to alleviate poverty and extinguish inequality. Bury inside the new constitution provisions, concocted in complex legalese, that weaken or eliminate the separation of powers, concentrate authority in the president and allow for his indefinite reelection…
10. Repeat step number three. Indefinitely.
Moisés Naím is the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine. A version of this story was published in the Spanish newspaper El País.