Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Demonstrators Are Dispersed from Brazilian Embassy, Utilities Cut off

Obama’s modus operandi is to seek compromise and consensus, but in the Honduran case, as in others, that has proven rather difficult. I suspect that, with everything else on his plate, he wishes the annoying Honduran crisis would simply go away. However, now with Zelaya’s return, that cannot happen. Unless Zelaya and his family are going to take up permanent residence in the Brazilian Embassy, something has to give. By Latin American standards, although demonstrators have been abused and two even killed, given that this clash has been going on for 3 whole months, I think the authorities there have shown some restraint. Let's see if that continues now that Zelaya is back in the country.

Zelaya’s associates must have known about his overland trek to return to Tegucigalpa, as they’d predicted a change before the end of September, but they certainly kept the secret well. Was Zelaya assisted by some members of the armed forces? That possibility must be worrisome to Micheletti. Certainly Micheletti must feel under seige, not only with the whole world tunred against him, but surrounded by countries whose left-leaning governments are sympatheic not only to Zelaya, but also to Chavez, considered the mastermind behind Zelaya.

The Brazilian Embassy has warned the de facto government not to storm the embassy. However, demonstrators were dispersed with teargas, and water and electricity were cut off to the embassy. (See articles below about Zelaya’s return.)

One commentator remarks: An original way to continue to keep public pressure on the de facto government. But there is a potential price to pay. If Zelaya does not get back into power by September 29 and the Micheletti administration holds elections and turns over power to the elected administration, it is possible that the future Honduran government will not drop charges against him and, if so, he is liable to be holed up in the Brazilian embassy for a heck of a long time. Not too long, I would say, if the utilities are cut off. And the violence seems to be ratcheting up.

Referring to quite another part of the world, a long-term Burmese political prisoner, whose case was assigned to my local Amnesty International group, was reported released with a group of several other prisoners. We were thrilled. Alas, U Win Htein is still behind bars, contrary to what was initially reported, a huge disappointment. An associate of Aung San Su Kyi, he has been behind bars for at least a decade. We must now redouble our efforts.

This comment from an American living in Honduras came in on last Thursday’s blog, referring to a WW4 statement regarding Ramon Custodio:

La Gringa said...
Ramón Custodio has had his visa revoked therefore it would be impossible for him to visit the US.
That WW4 report must have info from another country! There is ONE vice-president in Honduras. There are 128 diputados. There are 6 candidates for president.
September 18, 2009 4:40 PM

September 23, 2009
Mystery in Honduran Leader’s Return

MEXICO CITY — He is the most wanted man in Honduras, with a face and black bushy mustache known to every soldier, police officer and border guard in the land. So as the political standoff in Honduras entered a surprising new chapter, the big question Tuesday was how in the world Manuel Zelaya, the deposed and exiled president, managed to sneak back into his country undetected. In a car trunk? With the help of loyal soldiers? In a disguise? Under the protection of other countries? Every option was being considered and debated in Tegucigalpa, where the population is very much divided on Mr. Zelaya.

His unexpected appearance at the Brazilian Embassy on Monday certainly surprised the government that ousted him nearly three months ago and had vowed to arrest him on 18 charges if he dared return. After initially denying that Mr. Zelaya had come back, the government was forced to send soldiers and police officers on Tuesday to disperse thousands of Zelaya backers who defied a curfew and massed outside the embassy for a glimpse of their erstwhile leader.

That Mr. Zelaya wanted to return was no secret. He buzzed the capital in a small plane on July 4 and stepped several feet across the border later that month from Nicaragua, to the delight of his supporters. In both instances the Honduran military stopped him. How he did so this time and, even more important, whether his presence will help resolve the standoff in his country, are the subject of fierce debate.

“Everyone has been working hard to reach a peaceful resolution to this crisis,” said a senior State Department official, when asked about Mr. Zelaya’s reappearance. “Zelaya’s return was unexpected, and for him to do this without consulting those parties certainly was not helpful. That said, it’s a reality and it could have the effect of forcing people to make decisions they have avoided making — or it could cause the situation to destabilize.”

Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, promised not to storm the Brazilian Embassy, where Mr. Zelaya, in his trademark white cowboy hat, and dozens of friends and family members are now trapped. However, the government did cut off water, electricity and telephone service to the building. But he appealed Tuesday to the international community for dialogue to resolve the crisis, which began June 28 when the military, the courts and the legislature decided that Mr. Zelaya had violated the law by scheming to extend his term beyond that allowed in the Constitution, and therefore had to go. But despite worldwide condemnation of Mr. Zelaya’s removal, Mr. Micheletti has refused to cede power. Elections are to be held Nov. 28 to choose a new president, but many countries have said they will not recognize the results and that Mr. Zelaya must be allowed to serve out his term.

From inside the Brazilian Embassy, Mr. Zelaya described his return to reporters as an arduous 15-hour slog that required trekking through the mountains and navigating back roads in buses, cars and trucks to get around military checkpoints. He said he was helped by a Honduran citizen, whom he refused to name. “They didn’t realize when I entered,” Mr. Zelaya said on Honduran radio. “I mocked them.”

Various reports have emerged of Mr. Zelaya’s convoluted journey, which may have involved the help of other countries. After initially insisting that Mr. Zelaya was not in Honduras at all but was in a luxury hotel in Nicaragua, Mr. Micheletti said he had learned that the ousted leader had gone through various Central American countries, apparently in an effort to disguise his movements, before entering Honduras.

At the border town of El Amatillo, just across from El Salvador, a Honduran immigration agent working the evening that Mr. Zelaya entered the country said she did not see him. “But there are a lot of mountain passes where he could have crossed,” she said.

The Spanish newspaper El País, citing an unnamed Salvadoran official, reported that Mr. Zelaya was a passenger on a Venezuelan plane that landed without authorization on Sunday night in El Salvador. He was met, it said, by a car belonging to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the Salvadoran governing party. Both Venezuela and El Salvador have leftist governments sympathetic to Mr. Zelaya. Where Mr. Zelaya went next, though, no one seemed to know.

The Honduran military denied that his return was a major security breach. “Military intelligence did not fail,” Adolfo Lionel Sevilla, the de facto defense minister, told El Heraldo, a Honduran daily newspaper. He added cryptically, “Everything can’t be publicized because it would create anxiety.”

One worry is that some members of the Honduran military loyal to Mr. Zelaya may have aided in his return. “There is a certain amount of concern among Hondurans about how Zelaya got into the country,” said Christopher Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly, a New York academic journal. “It’s hard to imagine that he could get in without some cooperation from the military. And Micheletti, in particular, has to be worried about whether he really has control over all his forces.”

One Venezuelan newspaper said Mr. Zelaya hid part of the time in a car trunk. Other accounts had him pulling up at the Brazilian Embassy in a vehicle with diplomatic plates that belonged to the Central American Parliament. Whether the Brazilians knew he was coming was a matter of debate.

The State Department official said the United States had been aware that Mr. Zelaya wanted to return to Honduras, because he had vowed to do exactly that during his last visit to Washington. But the official said the United States was caught unawares by Mr. Zelaya’s appearance at the Brazilian Embassy, since he was expected in New York this week to address the United Nations.

After tear gas was fired to disperse protesters and scores of curfew arrests were made Tuesday, the State Department official said the United States was deeply concerned about the de facto government’s actions. He said he had heard reports that the security forces had taken control of houses surrounding the embassy, prompting the United States to send “strong signals” to Mr. Micheletti that they expected the government “to respect the inviolability of diplomatic territory and personnel.”

Tensions Rise In Honduras Over Coup
Violence Feared as Exiled President And De Facto Leader Refuse to Buckle
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 23, 2009
In a battle of wills that threatened to explode in bloodshed, the two men who claim to be leader of Honduras both insisted Tuesday that they would not back down, as soldiers in the country's capital fired tear gas to disperse supporters of the leftist president who made a dramatic return three months after being flown into exile by the military.

De facto president Roberto Micheletti said in an interview that he would not cede his office to President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted because of what the country's Supreme Court viewed as his efforts to stay in power beyond the one-term limit. Zelaya is now holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.

Still, as U.S. and Latin American diplomats worked feverishly to defuse the crisis,
the de facto president acknowledged that unofficial contacts had been established between his side and the Zelaya camp. "We are content this is going on," Micheletti said from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. He said, however, that he would not accept "impositions" from those close to Zelaya.

The coup in small, impoverished Honduras has brought unified condemnation from a hemisphere determined to prevent a return to the military takeovers of the past. But Honduras's neighbors -- and its most important trading partner, the United States -- have appeared impotent in the face of the crisis.

On Tuesday, Honduran soldiers used truncheons, water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands of Zelaya supporters outside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, according to news reports from the country. Zelaya, who was inside with about 70 friends and relatives, told reporters, "We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice."

He had suddenly appeared in the capital a day earlier, after a secret 15-hour trip through the country. Police and soldiers quickly swarmed the area around the embassy, raising fears of violence.

"Given the reports we have received, and the poor track record of the security forces since the coup, we fear that conditions could deteriorate drastically in the coming days," Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The U.S. government appealed to both sides to remain calm and urged Micheletti's government to respect the Brazilian diplomatic premises, which it agreed to do. U.S. diplomats in Washington and at the United Nations -- including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- met with Latin American diplomats to try to resolve the crisis. "The fact is, Zelaya is there. . . . We have to now try to take advantage of the facts as we find them," said one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said the United States and other governments were urging talks between Zelaya and Micheletti and that there were "initial feelers" between the two sides.
Asked if he was willing to negotiate with Zelaya, Micheletti said in the interview that he would impose conditions: "We want to hear from Mr. Zelaya first, before negotiations, that he's ready to accept the elections on the 29th of November, that he's ready to support the next government."

Zelaya has said he will not recognize the presidential elections unless he is allowed to return to power, as envisioned under the "San Jose accord," which was brokered in U.S.-backed negotiations this summer. Under the pact, Zelaya would be allowed to conclude his term as scheduled in January 2010, but his powers would be reduced and elections would be moved up by a month. Zelaya has said he is willing to sign the accord, but Micheletti has refrained.

The de facto leader said he did not trust that Zelaya would leave office as scheduled. He also said officials had discovered numerous cases of corruption linked with Zelaya. Under the San Jose accord, amnesty would be granted to people on both sides for political crimes.

But Micheletti made clear he did not envision amnesty for Zelaya. "We have laws in the country. If he presents himself to the authorities, the courts, I think he's going to have a fair trial," Micheletti said.

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