Monday, August 10, 2009

OK, Insulza Can Come, but Only as an “Observer”

Peace Corps Service at Any Age

Since so many mid-career employees are being laid off these days, I would hope that at least some would consider joining the Peace Corps. While I’ve always supported the PC for young people, because of its formative influence on their future career and personal development, I also urge it for experienced folks because they potentially have more to offer. A mid-career break or even later PC service can be enriching and life-affirming, regardless of age. I became an on-call Spanish interpreter for the first time at age 66, after I returned from my extended term in the PC. I’d never thought of doing that before, but now, for me, at age 71, it’s the perfect part-time career, helpful to my clients and with each encounter a new adventure. While hospital and rehab center work is my preference, I also accept assignments involving appeals of denial of unemployment benefits, divorce proceedings, motor vehicle license suspension appeals, juvenile justice matters, and mental health sessions, in short, the whole spectrum of human experience. I also will do political asylum requests, but usually avoid immigration court, for reasons mentioned in my book. As my book frankly recounts, PC service can be challenging—it’s right to call it “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” But the rewards are usually greater than the sacrifices. Truly, the Peace Corps proved beneficial to me, even after I had been battered by a series of personal misfortunes, not only a divorce and job layoff, but the untimely deaths of my son and foster son. If someone like me can do it after all that, so can you!

Honduras Developments
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now and return to the Honduras crisis. My Cuban commentator is back: Given the Micheletti administration’s decision to negotiate only on their terms and not to receive an OAS delegation going there to insist on its capitulation, the Obama administration is facing a quandary. Either it backs up the OAS and ratchets up sanctions one more notch, cutting off all US economic aid or placing a trade embargo on Honduras or it will risk losing its credibility and political prestige in Latin America. Deciding to wash its hands and let the Honduran factions fight it out might be politically safe in the US but externally it will be seen as Machiavellian, hypocritical and totally disrespectful to the OAS and the inter-American system. So the ball is in Obama's court and it’s a tough call, but he has got to decide one way or the other! Like a Cuban song states, "Como quiera que te pongas tienes que llorar!" [Whichever way you go, you’ll be crying.]

To this correspondent and others, I again say thanks for your continued comments. The US has not cut off humanitarian aid, as I said before, only military aid. That's about the only international aid that's still getting through. (And maybe a little from Taiwan, which has considerable investments in Honduras.) Contrary to his advice, Obama seems to have decided to do nothing for now. There is no violence to speak of, the country is surviving--albeit with difficulty--and come January, maybe this whole thing will blow over. Remember, Latin Americans have long urged the US to not meddle in regional affairs, so it's pretty ironic that Chavez and Zelaya are shouting, "Obama, do something!" The middle way in most things seems to be Obama's way. What does the US have to gain by aggressively interfering in Honduras? It will anger one side or the other, as our commentator indicates, and Hondurans seem pretty evenly and strongly divided. The US Congress is also divided on the issue. Of course, everyone knows that the US could force Zelaya's return if it really wanted to. But that could well trigger more violence and even bloodshed. Now, after pressure, no doubt from the US and other sources, Micheletti has agreed to accept the OAS delegation, as long Insulza, a strong Zelaya supporter, comes only as an “observer.” Let’s see if, finally, a mutually acceptable agreement can be worked out.

Honduras accepts OAS chief as 'observer'

Associated Press
Monday, August 10, 2009 1:07 AM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduras' interim government backed off its refusal of a visit by foreign delegates aimed at resolving the country's political crisis. The negotiators are welcome as long as Jose Miguel Insulza, head of the Organization of American States, participates only as an "observer," the Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti has objected to what it calls a "lack of objectivity" by Insulza - a vocal advocate of restoring President Manuel Zelaya to office after he was ousted in a June 28 coup. The ministry said the visit - originally planned for Tuesday - will now be rescheduled for a date "that will be decided in the next two days."

The statement by the Foreign Relations Ministry came just hours after the government had postponed the visit, objecting to the inclusion of Insulza in the group. The delegation organized by the OAS also includes the foreign ministers of Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

It was not the first time that diplomatic efforts to resolve the coup appear to have been delayed or drawn out by the interim government. It has dallied over a proposed compromise plan presented by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who served as mediator in the dispute, while rejecting the main point, Zelaya's reinstatement in office. The Washington-based OAS, a long-established hemispheric body promoting democracy, development and legal cooperation in the Americas, named the delegation on Friday.

The group's mission is to try to persuade Micheletti to negotiate with international mediators, which Insulza described as a "continuation of Oscar Arias' work." The interim government countered that Insulza not only insisted that he accompany the delegation but also failed to include foreign ministers who might be open to "reconsidering our position." Neither Insulza nor the OAS immediately commented.
From the beginning, Insulza and the OAS as a whole have harshly condemned the coup and said that any solution to the crisis must include Zelaya's restoration to office. The organization later voted to suspend Honduras from its ranks. The interim government, however, had already said it would quit the organization rather than meet its demands.

Despite the suspension of millions of dollars of U.S. aid and the threat of more sanctions, interim leaders have made clear they expect to hold out until the Nov. 29 elections. Coup backers hope the election will calm international demands to restore Zelaya, whose term ends Jan. 27.

Soldiers arrested Zelaya and flew him into exile in Costa Rica after he ignored a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. Zelaya is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election. Opponents say his real motive for the referendum was to abolish term limits so he could run again. Zelaya denies that was his intention. Micheletti, the courts and the military generals all insist no coup occurred because Zelaya was arrested on orders of the Supreme Court and replaced by an act of Congress.

The interim government acknowledges that sending Zelaya into exile wasn't legal, though it says that was necessary for his security and to prevent unrest. But it says everything else it did was according to the Honduran Constitution.

Below is an article I missed earlier.

August 8, 2009
Senator Fears Letter Sends Wrong Signal on Honduras

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is concerned that the Obama administration’s efforts to placate Republican critics of its policy on Honduras were giving the impression that American support for the restoration of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, had begun to weaken. Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the committee chairman, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said Friday that the senator was worried that a State Department letter to Republican legislators “risks sending a confusing signal” about the United States’ support for negotiations aimed at restoring Mr. Zelaya to power.

The State Department sent a letter this week to Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, who had warned that key State Department appointments — including the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs — could be held up unless the Obama administration gave lawmakers a “detailed clarification” of the steps it had taken, and intended to take, in response to the coup in Honduras, as well as to the political conflict that led to it.

There are significant disagreements in Congress over how to respond to the Honduran crisis, and the threats over the confirmations have evolved into a proxy fight over Honduras. Democrats support a negotiated deal that would let Mr. Zelaya return as president with limited powers. But Republicans back the contentions of the leaders of the de facto regime, who say Mr. Zelaya brought about his own downfall by organizing an illegal referendum to try to extend his term.

On June 28, Mr. Zelaya was rousted from bed by soldiers who put him on a plane to Costa Rica. With support from the Honduran Congress and the Supreme Court, the military handed power to a de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti. The Obama administration joined governments around the world in condemning the coup, and it cut off some aid to bolster demands that Mr. Zelaya be returned to power. The United States has also supported a compromise offered by President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, who is mediating the dispute, that would permit Mr. Zelaya to complete his term with reduced powers.

However, in the letter to Senator Lugar on Wednesday, the State Department seemed to distance itself from Mr. Zelaya, criticizing his “insistence on taking provocative actions” that contributed to the crisis and saying that the administration’s policy “is not based on supporting any politician or individual.” The letter angered Latin American leaders, who were already critical of what they considered a weak response by the United States. The United States has not withdrawn its ambassador and has avoided stronger economic sanctions, saying it was concerned about destabilizing the third poorest country in the hemisphere.

President Obama told reporters on Friday that he continued to support the reinstatement of Mr. Zelaya, but that the United States would not act unilaterally, Reuters reported. “I can’t press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya,” Mr. Obama said, the news agency reported. In Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, however, the State Department’s letter was celebrated by the de facto government as a sign that it was winning a battle of wills within the administration.
In another development on Friday, the Organization of American States announced that it would send a delegation of foreign ministers, led by Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, to Tegucigalpa on Tuesday.

Antonio Tavel, the president of Xerox in Honduras, echoed the views of many in the Honduran business community when he said the Obama administration’s tough talk had softened in the six weeks since Mr. Zelaya’s ouster. And he said that the steps taken by the United States to put pressure on the de facto government — suspending $16.5 million in military assistance — had had little effect. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but their bark is worse than their bite.”

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