Saturday, August 8, 2009

Yes, No, Maybe So?

A new reader of my book, a PC volunteer in 1970 in El Salvador, just sent this message: Just wanted to let you know that I much enjoyed the book. It stirred up old and not so old memories. My recent trip to Honduras [for a medical brigade] was surprising in it's familiarity given that 40 years had passed since I had been back to Central America. In some ways it felt like I was gone only a short time. What I had forgotten between 1970 and 2009 is the sheer difficulty of getting anything done given the lack of infrastructure and graft/corruption. Your accomplishments were enormous in that context, which I doubt a reader who has not experienced a developing culture first-hand fails to appreciate.

The local Spanish-language press recounts how Zelaya supporters have been converging from all parts of the country on the capitol. At the same time, it reports that Chavez supporters attacked an independent TV channel and injured journalists there. (Later Chavez distanced himself from the attack, reportedly criticizing it.) Nicaragua’s Ortega warns Honduras against any military hostilities (not very likely right now), Ecuador’s Correa denies having received FARC funds, and columnist Jorge Ramos laments the OAS double standard with an article alleging that Insulza’s indignation over Pinochet does not apply to Castro, whom he quotes Insulza as describing as a “charismatic authoritarian.” And as for Chavez’s actions to suppress critics inside Venezuela, he quotes Insulza as saying the OAS has no jurisdiction there. Certainly there is a double standard and the leaders of the Honduran interim government have legitimate fears of falling into that orbit if Zelaya returns. On the other hand, the NYTimes article below about Billy Joya advising the Micheletti government is pretty scary. Micheletti should immediately ditch that guy as an adviser. If he wants to win any allies, he doesn't need that taint.

Someone who regularly reads this blog comments on my last posting: After what he [Zelaya] tried to pull in Honduras, he should be *glad* the U.S. response is "tepid." An administration that hadn't gone to great pains to present itself as shedding the label of American exceptionalist and de facto boss of the hemisphere would have waded in with a big fat "Attaboy!" to Micheletti et al., as well as offers of support and advice on how to mollify highly placed critics, who predictably enough were aghast at the way Zelaya was treated. Then Zelaya would have been whining about U.S. meddling. You're right, of course, that the U.S. can't go against reinstatement. & come to think of it, it may not be premature to get the ball rolling on that. Zelaya does have a grievance in that the constitution forbids the arbitrary exiling of any citizen. If he isn't allowed to resume his office fairly soon, he may decide to file charges against the army. But if he's allowed to go back, escorted securely and courteously by Honduran army regulars, not his ragtag crew of Chavezettis, he'll have less to complain about in the eyes of the world.

Another blog reader speculates that: It looks like the Honduran de facto regime is going to try to run the clock out and hang on to power until handing power over to the next administration after the pushed-forward October presidential elections. At least that was what Micheletti said to the New York Times in the story about next Tuesday's OAS diplomatic mission to Honduras.

Alternatively they could be trying to hold out until one month before the anticipated election (September 29) when the control of the army passes to the Electoral Tribunal to avoid giving Zelaya the opportunity to fire the army high command.

If either of these tactics turns out to be true, I wonder where the de facto regime is obtaining the foreign exchange to carry on now that all foreign military and economic aid and Venezuelan oil has been cut off? In the normal everyday march of human affairs, these guys should have been long gone by now! Where are they getting such unheard of stamina? I believe if the de facto government continues much longer that something fishy must be going on!

Why does not the Obama government or the OAS as a US agent simply just push them over the edge rapidly by applying a temporary trade embargo to Honduras? Why is the de facto Honduran government being allowed to run the clock out? Is it possible that the de facto government could be receiving secret foreign aid from the US or from a US ally (Israel comes to mind) that is allowing the Honduran oligarchy to carry on as usual and continue successfully resisting international pressure and national protests to return Zelaya to power? Could the US be saying one thing and doing another under the table?
If some Machiavellian policy like this ever surfaces, it will make the Irangate scandal look like a mere child’s play and cost the Obama administration all the international good will that it has labored so long to build up!

The item below just came in (in English) from a woman representing business interests in Honduras, trying to counteract the negative investment climate. What she says corresponds with what most people there have told me, that life is pretty normal except for demonstrations that continue in the two largest cities, Teguc and San Pedro Sula, with demonstrators burning tires and blocking roads, and the scarcity of gasoline and diesel at service stations. Of course, subsistence farmers out in the hinterland don’t rely on diesel or the minimum wage and what news they get via radio is sporadic, so I doubt they are feeling much, if any, pinch. Their lives are already pinched, but in a seasonal, local rhythm that doesn’t rely much on the outside world.

Over the past month, the change in government in Honduras has been in the news. You may even have written about it. The political situation is of concern to all Hondurans, and I can tell you that the business community is united in urging a peaceful and quick resolution. Unfortunately, the normality of life in Honduras has not received much media attention. Business here continues to flourish, and people are going about their normal lives – working, relaxing, attending school, shopping, visiting friends and family, going out to eat, and so forth. In short, we are operating as usual. Honduran factories, many in our industrial parks in Free Trade Zones, continue to produce high-quality electrical harnesses, automotive components, textiles & apparel, and many other products for export. Our call centers and other service providers are serving their regional, local and international customers. From Puerto Cortes, our deep water, Atlantic Megaport , operating under the U.S. Container Security Initiative (CSI), shipments of manufactured and raw items are moving regularly to and from the United States and other markets. The country’s four international airports – in Tegucigalpa , San Pedro Sula , Roatán, and La Ceiba – remain fully open for business. Cruise ships continue to visit the popular Caribbean island of Roatán , just off the Honduran coast. In short, Central America’s second largest country remains in perfect position for U.S. companies seeking business and investment opportunities.

Obama says no quick way to end Honduras crisis

Friday, August 7, 2009 8:25 PM

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said on Friday that he has no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras, where supporters of a coup are refusing to let ousted President Manuel Zelaya return to power. Obama told reporters he still supports the reinstatement of Zelaya, who was overthrown in June, but that the United States would not take unilateral action. "I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr Zelaya," Obama said.

Obama has canceled $16.5 million in military aid to Honduras and has condemned Zelaya's removal, as have Latin American governments and the European Union. But the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti, the former head of Congress, appears to be digging in and the country's elite say they will keep Honduras running even if the administration is not recognized by foreign governments. "We would like to see him be able to return peacefully to continue his term, but we are only one country among many and we are going to deal with this in an international context," Obama said.

Zelaya, an ally of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said on Tuesday the United States needs "only tighten its fist" to evict the de facto government. "It is important to note the irony that the people that were complaining about the U.S. interfering in Latin America are now complaining that we are not interfering enough," Obama said.

Implying that support for Zelaya may be weakening, a U.S. State Department letter sent this week to a key Republican U.S. senator said U.S. policy on the Honduras' crisis is not aimed at supporting any particular individual.

Before the coup, Zelaya was pushing for constitutional reforms that included letting presidents seek re-election. His opponents accused him of trying to stay in power, but he denies the allegation. Mediation efforts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have so far failed to achieve Zelaya's return, as has pressure from Venezuela's Chavez, a key leader in Latin America. The United States, Honduras' longtime ally and top trading partner, has withdrawn diplomatic visas from key members of the de facto government in a bid to force Zelaya's reinstatement.

Interim Honduras gov't insists Zelaya won't return
Associated Press
Friday, August 7, 2009 8:54 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduras' coup-installed president says an OAS delegation traveling to the Central American country next week won't persuade him to allow the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Roberto Micheletti says the diplomats are welcome to come and learn about what led to Zelaya's June 28 ouster, but he vows that "no one will come here to give us orders."
Micheletti insists he will leave the presidency in January, when a new president would take power following previously scheduled elections in November. The delegation includes six Latin American foreign ministers and senior OAS officials. Zelaya's supporters continued nationwide marches Friday to pressure for his reinstatement.

August 8, 2009
A Cold War Ghost Reappears in Honduras
New York Times

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras--The coup here has brought back a lot of Central America’s cold war ghosts, but few as polarizing as Billy Joya, a former police captain accused of being the former leader of a death squad. He didn’t sneak quietly back into national politics. He made his reappearance on a popular evening talk show just hours after troops had rousted President Manuel Zelaya out of bed and loaded him onto a plane leaving the country.

Mr. Joya’s purpose, he said, was to defend the ouster and help calm a public that freed itself from military rule less than three decades ago. Instead, he set off alarms among human rights activists around the world who worried that the worst elements of the Honduran military were taking control. “The name Billy Joya reverberated much more than Micheletti,” Mr. Joya protested, perhaps a little too strenuously, referring to the head of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, installed by the military. “Instantly, my image was everywhere.”

Mr. Joya’s conflicting images — a vilified figure who portrays himself as a victim — are as hard to reconcile as his life story. Human rights groups consider him one of the most ruthless former operatives of an American-backed military unit, known as Battalion 316, responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering hundreds of people suspected of being leftists during the 1980s. Today, Mr. Joya, a 52-year-old husband and father of four, has become a political consultant to some of the most powerful people in the country, including Mr. Micheletti during his failed campaign to become president last year. Now that Mr. Micheletti has effectively secured that post, Mr. Joya has resurfaced again as a liaison of sorts between Mr. Micheletti and the international media.

Mr. Joya looks straight out of central casting, though not for the role of a thug. He has more of the smooth, elegant bearing of a leading man. And in the 14 years since he was first brought to trial on charges of illegally detaining and torturing six university students, he has undertaken a solitary quest — one that can at times border on obsession — aimed not only at defending himself, but also at vindicating the government’s past fight against Communism.

In 1995, he released a 779-page volume of newspaper clippings, government records and human rights reports meant to substantiate the military’s narrative of the cold war, which essentially accuses its opponents of having blood on their hands as well. And in 1998, after living for a couple of years in exile in Spain, Mr. Joya said he was the first and only military officer to surrender himself for trial. “Not once in 14 years has there been a single legitimate piece of evidence linking me to these crimes,” he said. Referring to human rights organizations, he said, “What they have done is to condemn me in the media, because they know if they proceed with these cases in court, they are going to lose.”

The odds would appear to be on Mr. Joya’s side. In 1989, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined that the Honduran military was responsible for systematic abuses against government opponents. Still, in the 27 years since this country returned to civilian rule, authorities say, Honduran courts have held only two military officials — Col. Juan Blas Salazar Mesa and Lt. Marco Tulio Regalado — accountable for human rights violations.

Only about a dozen other officers ever faced formal charges. And most of those cases, like Mr. Joya’s, remain unresolved by a judicial system that remains crippled by corruption. Meanwhile, Mr. Joya has not suffered silently in legal limbo. In some ways, he has hardly suffered at all. His business as a security consultant and political adviser to some of the most powerful elected officials and businessmen in the country has been lucrative. “He is like one of those guys who went to Vietnam,” said Antonio Tavel, president of Xerox in Honduras. “He had an ugly job to do once upon a time, and now he’s a regular family guy.”

Mr. Joya is the son of a businessman who helped start several successful companies in Honduras but gambled away more money than he made. Mr. Joya, one of four children, said he enrolled in the military academy at 14, mostly as a way to gain early independence. He was expelled from the academy, he said, when a teacher caught him cheating on an exam. But instead of giving up his dream to be a soldier, he enlisted as a private and within two years had risen to become the youngest sergeant in the army.

Mr. Joya joined the military police, and in 1981 — as the Reagan administration spent tens of millions of dollars to turn this impoverished country into the principal staging area for a covert war against the region’s left-wing guerrilla groups — Mr. Joya said that he and 12 other Honduran soldiers received six weeks of training in the United States. He acknowledged that he went on to become a member of Battalion 316. But that’s where his version of events diverges from those of his accusers. He has been charged with 27 crimes, including illegal detention, torture and murder. The most noteworthy case involved the illegal detention and torture of the six university students in April 1982. The students said they were held in a series of secret jails for eight days. During that time, the students testified, they were kept blindfolded and naked, denied food and water, and subjected to beatings and psychological torture.

Among those detained was Milton Jiménez, who later became a lawyer and a member of Mr. Zelaya’s cabinet. In 1995, Mr. Jiménez told The Baltimore Sun that officers from the battalion stood him before a firing squad and threatened to shoot him. “They said they were finishing my grave,” he said at the time. “I was convinced I was going to die.”

Edmundo Orellana, the former Honduran attorney general who was the first to try to prosecute human rights crimes, said it was “absurd” that Mr. Joya remained free. “Billy Joya is proof that civilian rule has been a cruel hoax on the Honduran people,” Mr. Orellana said. “He shows that ignorance and complicity still reign inside our courts, especially when it comes to the armed forces.”
Absurd, Mr. Joya countered, are the charges against him. After his television appearance, he said he received so many threats that he took his wife and youngest daughter to the United States. Now he returns to Honduras only intermittently to meet with clients.

Poring over dozens of newspaper clippings and court dockets during an interview, he argued that Battalion 316 was not established until two years after Mr. Jiménez’s detention, and that it was a technical unit specializing in arms interdiction, not counterinsurgency. He also argued that the former students’ testimony against him is rife with contradictions. He said Mr. Jiménez, for example, later recanted his charge that Mr. Joya was involved in his interrogations.

“It was never my responsibility to detain people, to torture people or to disappear people,” Mr. Joya said. “But if those had been my orders, I am sure I would have obeyed them, because I was trained to obey orders. The policy at that time was, ‘The only good Communist is a dead Communist,’ ” he continued. “I supported the policy.”

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