Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Small Ray of Hope?

Yesterday afternoon, on the way to an interpretation assignment in a residential neighborhood in suburban Rockville, MD, walking from the bus stop to the house, I passed two giant piles of household goods tossed willy-nilly out on the sidewalk, whether from homeowner or renter evictions, I don’t know. What was obvious was that each family’s life had been completely disrupted and all they had invested in over the years was likely to be lost: shoes, clothes, toys, furniture, photographs, books, dishes—everything scattered and exposed to weather and theft. It was very poignant. For a moment, I was tempted to take a toy for my great-grandson, but stopped, reasoning that the families might be able to commandeer help in recovering some of their belongings. Such evictions have the impact of a natural disaster, but are so unnecessary and benefit no one. There must be a better way.

Meanwhile, Honduras remains in a standoff, but now with a slight glimmer of hope. Zelaya asked for a meeting with Hillary Clinton and they met this afternoon, after which she announced that Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias would try to mediate between Zelaya and interim president Micheletti, both of whom have now agreed to speak with him. That’s progress. I suspect that Micheletti welcomes a chance to explain his side of the story, which no one has been willing to listen to until now. Arias is the ideal mediator, as he is from Central America, speaks Spanish, knows the parties, and has the reputation of helping settle even much more serious disputes associated with Central America’s civil wars of the 1980s. But this is a tough one and it's hard to imagine a result acceptable to both sides.

I met Arias more than once during the 1980s, the first time in Grecia, near San Jose, Costa Rica. At the inauguration of a local swimming pool, he donned trunks and dove right in, swimming the whole length without coming up for air. When he emerged, dripping wet, he smiled broadly and vigorously shook my hand. I always liked and trusted him after that.

It would be a feather in Obama’s cap if the current imbroglio could be resolved peacefully, within the cooperative framework he’s laid out for his administration, but it won’t be easy. Obama realizes that his administration cannot buck the opinion of most Latin American leaders, especially since he has pledged to work with them on a partnership basis, and, I believe, both Zelaya and his opponents realize the value of keeping the US as an ally. In fact, the economic survival of Honduras depends on it. They must know that and should both be willing to modify their positions for the good of the population as a whole.

I’ve heard reports that pro-Zelaya crowds have been swelled with Venezuelans, not a welcome development. At the same time, so far, the Honduran military has failed to heed Zelaya’s call to obey him as commander-in-chief. And the US would not want to directly challenge the military, not only because that would be counterproductive to all concerned, but because the US owes a debt to the Honduran military for cooperating with the “war on drugs” and, most of all, for having sent troops to Iraq when few other countries in the region were doing so. However, as the article below from the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald points out, no other deposed Latin American leader has been restored except Aristide after his ouster and then only with a military intervention led by the United States. Even so, Aristide did not last in power. The article suggests that Zelaya may continue to be recognized by the world as the rightful president of Honduras, but without actually returning there.

It does seem that his return would provoke more violence and threaten his own life, so he may have to be content with being an internationally recognized president-in-absentia. And while international loan funds to Honduras have been suspended—a serious problem—nonetheless, despite threats, no individual country has suspended aid or trade, according to the Herald article, except Venezuela, which has cut off oil shipments. However, today, it was announced that the US has suspended all non-humanitarian aid.

No one has told me yet whether PCVs are being evacuated or just sitting tight. I also wonder about volunteers with the Japanese Peace Corps.

Both Slate online and Miami Herald articles follow below. Barbara

Everyone's Wrong About Honduras
Reinstating deposed President Manuel Zelaya would be a disaster.

By Dan Rosenheck, (Slate)
Updated Sunday, July 5, 2009, at 10:40 AM ET

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras—Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and President Barack Obama make for strange bedfellows, but the two men have found an unlikely common cause in Manuel Zelaya. A mustachioed rancher with a signature Stetson hat, Zelaya was toppled from Honduras' presidency on June 28 in Latin America's first successful military coup since the Cold War. His ouster has prompted a virtually unprecedented outbreak of consensus in the hemisphere, with every leader in the Americas demanding Zelaya's immediate reinstatement. There's just one problem with this uncharacteristic eruption of regional harmony: It's likely to move Honduras even further away from the re-establishment of constitutional order that the international community claims to desire.

While the army's ultimate decision to whisk Zelaya out of the country was indeed an illegal coup, the deposed president bears full responsibility for plunging Honduras into the constitutional crisis that led to his extrajudicial removal from office. In the 2005 election, he ran as a centrist law-and-order candidate and won by just four percentage points.* To solidify his relatively weak mandate, he handed out generous salary increases to teachers and raised the minimum wage. This blew a hole in the budget; scared off the International Monetary Fund, which had previously made loans to Honduras; and forced Zelaya to turn to Hugo Chávez, Latin America's pre-eminent sugar daddy, for financing.

Chávez's price was that Honduras join his Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (recently rechristened the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), an anti-U.S. political trade bloc. The move stunned Honduras, a fiercely conservative nation that has traditionally been a staunch U.S. ally. Zelaya, whose term ends in January 2010, further alienated voters by floating plans for a constituent assembly, a new constitutional convention that would enable him to remove the country's inconvenient ban on presidential re-election. The current Honduran Constitution makes no provision for such a mechanism and explicitly states that its one-term limit can never be amended.

Zelaya's call for a poll asking Hondurans whether a formal vote should be held on staging a constituent assembly was ruled illegal by the nation's supreme court. The president went ahead anyway, ordering the army to distribute ballots. When Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the Honduran military, refused, Zelaya fired him; the supreme court then reinstated Gen. Vásquez and ordered the ballots confiscated. Finally, Zelaya himself led a group of supporters to an air force base to recover the ballots. This blatant disregard of judicial orders led the supreme court to issue a warrant for his arrest.

In virtually every other country in the world, Zelaya would have been removed from office. But, peculiarly, the Honduran Constitution does not include an impeachment procedure—Congress is entitled to name a new president only in the absence of the current one. So, rather than bringing Zelaya before a judge to be tried for his criminal misbehavior, the army rousted him out of bed and flew him off to Costa Rica in his pajamas. The legislature then voted to replace him with Roberto Micheletti, the head of Congress, who was next in the line of succession.

There is no doubt that this last move should not be allowed to stand. But the international community's single-minded insistence that Zelaya be reinstated as soon as possible—ignoring his own campaign to undermine constitutional order—is likely to backfire. Zelaya's behavior has left him every bit as isolated within his country as Micheletti is outside of it. The entire Honduran political establishment, including virtually every member of Congress, the courts, the military, and the business community, is dead-set against his return. And while the opinion of the population as a whole is tougher to measure—no one has taken a poll in the last week—the deck seems stacked against him. His approval rating was a mere 30 percent even before this episode began, and the demonstrations against him have been larger and more numerous than those in favor (although a strong military presence has surely caused many Zelaya supporters to stay home).

The region's leaders, who seem blind to these realities, have not budged from their campaign to shove Zelaya back down Honduras' throat. In fact, José Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, along with the left-leaning presidents of Ecuador and Argentina, has volunteered to personally accompany Zelaya on his return to Honduras, as a "diplomatic shield" against his (entirely legitimate) arrest.

This has prompted a dangerous surge of reactionary, jingoistic nationalism in Honduras. The media are awash with accusations of "infiltration" by "Communist" agents from Nicaragua and Venezuela, and Micheletti's backers feel the country's sovereignty is being trampled on. "Neither Chávez nor Obama should interfere with our country," said Rosario del Carmen, a government employee at an anti-Zelaya rally in Tegucigalpa's central square. "We already had a dictatorship in the '80s, and Zelaya was making another one."

By backing the Micheletti administration into a corner, the region's leaders are forcing it to take a defiant posture. Rather than allowing itself to be kicked out of the OAS, the new government pre-emptively withdrew from the organization on Saturday. The OAS "is a political organization, not a court," Micheletti wrote in a letter to Insulza, "and it can't judge us." The harder the international community pushes for Zelaya's reinstatement, the more determined plucky Hondurans will be to prevent it—and to make it impossible for him to govern if he does return to office.

None of this means foreign governments should accept the coup and recognize Micheletti as president. But rather than framing the issue as a contest of wills, Insulza needs to recognize that Zelaya had sacrificed most of his political support and legitimacy in the weeks leading up to the coup and aim to engineer a negotiated solution. That means talking to Micheletti (which he refused to do on a visit to Tegucigalpa), offering Zelaya the option either to resign or to stand trial in Honduras, and probably a call for swift new elections. The generals who gave the order to deport Zelaya should also be tried.

Finally, to make sure this situation never happens again, any deal should also include the introduction of an impeachment mechanism into the Honduran political system. Zelaya was right that the country needed constitutional change—just not the one he was advocating.

Dan Rosenheck is the Economist's bureau chief for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2222241/

Publicado el lunes, 07.06.09 Miami Herald en espanol

Obama juega papel de equilibrista en drama hondureño
Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- El presidente Barack Obama, quien ha prometido a los gobernantes del Hemisferio Occidental diálogo en igualdad de condiciones y soluciones diplomáticas a las controversias, al parecer está mostrando un papel inédito frente al golpe militar en Honduras: el de equilibrista.
En su intento de desoír las opiniones de que está tomando parte con el depuesto presidente Manuel Zelaya, miembro de la corriente populista antiestadounidense en Latinoamérica, al mismo tiempo Obama está tratando de no adoptar medidas unilaterales que pudieran tumbarlo de la cima de popularidad que goza en la mayoría de países de la región.
Obama prometió en la Cumbre de las Américas en Trinidad y Tobago en abril que quería ser considerado como un socio que no imponía nada, un marcado desvío del unilateralismo que caracterizó a su antecesor, George W. Bush. Esa política, según analistas independientes, está ahora sometida a su prueba de fuego con Honduras, donde jefes militares derrocaron a Zelaya hace menos de dos semanas expatriándolo en pijamas. El alegato para el golpe: acciones inconstitucionales para gobernar, incluyendo un intento de reformar la constitución que le permitiera reelegirse, pese a la inminencia de las elecciones presidenciales en noviembre y los pronunciamientos contrarios de la judicatura.
La congresista republicana Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, miembro del Comité de Relaciones Internacionales de la Cámara de Representantes, ha escrito a Obama pidiéndole tácitamente apoyo para Roberto Micheletti, designado presidente por el Congreso en reemplazo de Zelaya. Ros-Lehtinen ha dicho que Obama, si hace lo contrario, actuaría sobre la base de "información fragmentada" de las cuestionables acciones de Zelaya.
Obama ha reaccionado con cautela. Dijo que la forma en que Zelaya fue destituido "no fue legal" y que su gobierno continuaría trabajando con los demás países para restituir el orden democrático a través de organismos internacionales, como la OEA y Naciones Unidas, que ya censuraron el golpe.
"Esta es una situación que requiere de una considerable discreción", dijo Cristopher Sabatini, director de política del Consejo de las Américas en Nueva York. "Nos hemos quejado con frecuencia de la diplomacia obstructiva, de retórica, del gobierno de Bush, y creo que lo que estamos viendo ahora es que Estados Unidos está tratando quietamente de ejercer su poder y autoridad moral".
Estados Unidos es el destino de prácticamente la mitad del comercio internacional de Honduras, tiene un programa de donaciones de 215 millones de dólares en ayuda humanitaria a través de la Cuenta del Milenio y es socio en un acuerdo de libre comercio con Centroamérica. Todo lo que tendría que hacer es cortar esos canales y aislar más a Micheletti.
Pero Washington también ha tenido en en los militares hondureños aliados poderosos en el pasado, especialmente durante la Guerra Fría. Y en su acción de cautela ante los golpistas, no parecía estar solo. Dos días después de la decisión de la OEA de suspender las obligaciones de Honduras en la organización y pedir a sus miembros que analicen la posibilidad de adoptar otras acciones bilaterales contra ese país, ninguno de los 32 miembros que ahora tiene la OEA ha procedido más allá de lo esperable.
"Zelaya puede seguir siendo el presidente legítimo de Honduras y víctima de un golpe militar", dijo Michael Shifter, subdirector del Diálogo Interamericano. "Pero será difícil que retorne a su país".
En realidad ningún presidente depuesto ha sido retornado al cargo por presión internacional. Jean Bertrand Aristide regresó a su cargo en Haití en 1994 después de su derrocamiento en 1991, solamente con una invasión militar encabezada por Estados Unidos. Según Shifter, la suspensión de Honduras acordada por la OEA parecía una medida "muy drástica y precipitada" que incitaba al gobierno interino de Honduras a aferrarse más al poder.
"Qué hacer con Zelaya sigue siendo un punto críticamente clave de cualquier negociación", dijo a la AP. "Por razones de principio y simbolismo, pareciera bueno para él retornar, pero las preocupaciones de posible intranquilidad en Honduras tienen también que ser tomadas en cuenta".
El canciller brasileño Celso Amorim discrepa. Cree que las acciones de la OEA, más las del Banco Mundial y Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, de suspender los créditos a Honduras y congelar sus actuales programas de más de 400 millones de dólares en total, difícilmente serán resistidas por el gobierno de Micheletti. "Sin esa ayuda económica y sin petróleo este régimen golpista no va a durar mucho", dijo a reporteros en París, donde está de visita oficial.
La forma en que Obama ha tomado las manifestaciones violentas en favor de Zelaya en Honduras preocupa igualmente a Mark Weisbrot, codirector del Centro para la Investigación Económica y Política (Center for Economic and Policy Research). "El gobierno de Obama ha permanecido en silencio frente a la violenta represión en Honduras, incluyendo los disparos de militares y la muerte de manifestantes desarmados y la censura de la prensa", dijo. "Este silencio ha ayudado al gobierno golpista a ver una prolongada expectativa de vida".
Durante el debate de la OEA el sábado 4 de julio, día de la independencia de Estados Unidos, la delegación estadounidense mantuvo un perfil discreto y su intervención fue más bien protocolar. Pero el vicecanciller canadiense Peter Kent repitió lo que ha estado diciendo en días previos sobre los hechos en Honduras, al insinuar indirectamente que Zelaya no era tampoco un santo. Si bien el golpe era en sí "una afrenta" para la región, donde hasta el 28 de junio todos los países excepto Cuba tenían gobiernos elegidos en libertad, existía también "un contexto en el cual ocurrieron los acontecimientos" que no debiera ser ignorado, dijo.

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