Saturday, September 5, 2009

US Cuts Aid to Honduras, Chavez Lauds Decision

Slowly, the Obama administration is ratcheting up the pressure on the Honduran de facto government, cutting off instead of just suspending $30+ million in non-humanitarian aid. But more crucial is saying that election results would not be recognized as matters now stand, a big blow to the effort to run out the clock. Regardless of legalities and the constitution, Obama doesn't want the US to be the only country to recognize election results under the de facto (illegitimate?) government, even though this was not a classical military coup, as there is still civilian rule. Some Latin American countries are talking "trade embargo" at the same time that efforts are underway to have the US lift its embargo against Cuba, a blatant double standard. Which side in Honduras represents "real" democracy? That is the question. If the election is not recognized, then Honduras is in big trouble.

In our local Spanish-language press, a column by Jorge Ramos cites 3,500 arrests in Honduras, at the same time, giving both sides of the argument their due. He ends the article by quoting Micheletti as saying that if he commits an error like Zelaya did, then he should be arrested, just as he plans to do with Zelaya if he returns.

Zelaya, speaking in Washington, is quoted as saying that the US should cut off all aid to Honduras. Not all aid has been stopped, but a substantial step was taken (see article below). Chavez, from Iran, praised the decision to cut aid, but it might be best if he would just keep his mouth shut!

The Washington Post editorial shown in 3rd place below agrees with the position taken by my Latin American commentator in these pages.

US cuts aid to Honduras in support of ex-leader
Associated Press
Friday, September 4, 2009 2:04 AM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduras' coup-installed government dug in its heels after Washington cut off millions of dollars in aid to the Central American nation, vowing that ousted President Manuel Zelaya would not return to power despite increasing international pressure. Hours after President Barack Obama's administration cut off all aid to the Honduran government, the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemning the decision Thursday night. "Whether you wish us well or not, we will pay any price, we will bear any burden, we will take on any difficulty, we will support any friend and oppose any enemy to ensure the survival and the success of liberty and democracy in our country," interim Interior Minister Oscar Raul Matute said in the letter, echoing President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address.

Washington's action, announced as Clinton was meeting with Zelaya, makes permanent a temporary suspension of U.S. assistance put in place after he was deposed in June. It cuts more than $31 million in non-humanitarian assistance, including $11 million remaining in a more than a $200 million five-year assistance program run by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. "The Secretary of State has made the decision, consistent with U.S. legislation, recognizing the need for strong measures in light of the continued resistance to the adoption of the San Jose Accord by the de facto regime and continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

After meeting with Clinton, Zelaya welcomed the move. "It is gratifying that the United States has taken a strong position against the coup," he told The Associated Press in a brief interview. Zelaya said more pressure may be necessary.
The San Jose accord, brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, aims to return Zelaya to power with limited authority until elections now set for November. But Micheletti has refused to accept it, prompting Clinton's decision to cut aid. Clinton made the decision even though she did not determine that Zelaya's ouster met the U.S. legal definition of a military coup d'etat. Such a finding would have forced the administration to cut off assistance and had been urged by some leading lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Howard Berman of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "This one looks, walks and quacks like a duck," Berman wrote in Thursday's editions of the Los Angeles Times. "It's time to stop hedging and call this bird what it is. And if, for whatever reason, the State Department lawyers do not conclude that this was a coup, Congress should examine other ways by which it can directly affect the flow of aid."

Clinton did not make that finding because Zelaya's ouster involved "the participation of both the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as the military," Kelly said.

Zelaya was deposed and exiled on June 28 amid suspicions among his opponents that he wanted to overturn a constitutional provision limiting Honduran presidents to a single term. He has denied that was his goal.

In Honduras, representatives of the interim Honduran government said the decision won't return Zelaya to power. But his supporters said the move was an important step to apply more pressure on Micheletti's government.

Gabriela Nunez, Micheletti's finance minister, said withholding funds is a mistake and that U.S. should respect the dignity of the Honduran people. "America must understand that what happened in Honduras was not a coup, but a presidential succession," she said.

Juan Barahona, who has been leading protests in Honduras against the coup, said he hopes the suspension of U.S. aid can make a difference. He said Micheletti's government "cannot hold on to power without outside income," but that he feared the interim leader will simply "sacrifice the aspirations of our people."

Kelly said the United States would not recognize the results of the election under current conditions and stressed it was imperative that the vote meet international standards. "That election must be undertaken in a free, fair and transparent manner," Kelly said. "It must also be free of taint and open to all Hondurans to exercise their democratic franchise. At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections."

In addition to the aid cut, he said the State Department would revoke the U.S. visas of an unspecified number of Honduran officials who are backing Micheletti. The department had previously revoked the visas of four Honduran officials allied with Micheletti. It has also stopped issuing most visas at the U.S. embassy in Honduras.
Brazil, meanwhile, announced it is suspending a 2004 agreement that exempts Hondurans from needing a visa to enter the South American nation. Brazil previously pressed for Zelaya's return through the suspension of energy accords and the withdrawal of its ambassador from Honduras.

Chavez welcomes US decision to cut aid to Honduras

Associated Press
Friday, September 4, 2009 9:03 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is welcoming the United States' decision to cut millions of dollars in aid to Honduras. Chavez says "it's about time" Washington took action against the government that has been in charge in Honduras since a June 28 coup ousted his ally, President Manuel Zelaya.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly announced the decision to cut more than $31million in non-humanitarian assistance on Thursday. Kelly added that the U.S. would not recognize the results of Honduras' upcoming presidential elections under current conditions.

Chavez told Venezuelan state television by phone from Iran on Friday that he hopes the U.S. will make good on its decision.

The Honduran Impasse
How the de facto government, and congressional Republicans, serve the purposes of Hugo Chávez, editorial, Washington Post
Saturday, September 5, 2009

THE AIM of U.S. policy in Honduras should be to reinforce the principles of democracy and the rule of law and to thwart those -- including ousted president Manuel Zelaya and his mentor, Hugo Chávez -- who are seeking to subvert them. At stake is not just the future of Honduras, a tiny Central American country, but the survival of threatened liberal institutions across Latin America.

It follows that the best solution to the crisis is that laid out in July by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Under its terms, Mr. Zelaya, who was arrested and deported by the military in June, would be allowed to return and resume his post -- thus reversing the clear breach of democratic order that occurred. However, the president would have to form a unity government under international supervision, he would have to abandon his attempt to hold an illegal referendum on changing the Honduran constitution, and he would have to leave office when his term ends in January.

This outcome would be a victory for the Hondurans who supported Mr. Zelaya's ouster because they feared he was attempting to mimic Mr. Chávez's dismantling of Venezuela's democracy. Mr. Chávez would lose his Honduran puppet by means he could not contest: A new president would be chosen in an internationally monitored election this fall.

By refusing to accept the Arias plan, Honduras's de facto government -- and its supporters in Washington -- are playing into the hands of the Latin American left. The Tegucigalpa administration of Roberto Micheletti is trying to resist pressure to allow Mr. Zelaya's return until the election is held and Mr. Zelaya's term expires. That would serve to undermine the legitimacy of any new president and prolong the crisis indefinitely. That's why the Obama administration was right to formalize a suspension of $31 million in aid this week and to join other Latin American governments in saying that "at this moment" it "would not be able to support the outcome of the elections."

The administration's action was not without risk. If the Micheletti regime digs in its heels, the result could be the very destabilization that the United States and its moderate allies hope to avoid. But the Obama administration won't have much chance of rallying Latin American governments against the anti-democratic abuses of Mr. Chávez or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega if it is not willing to use its leverage in Honduras, a country whose economy would collapse without aid, free trade and worker remittances from the United States.

In fact, it seems probable that Mr. Micheletti's government would have yielded by now if not for the encouragement of Republicans in Congress. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) seems to think the best way to help Honduras is to block the confirmation of crucial administration diplomatic appointments in Latin America, including Arturo Valenzuela, a highly respected scholar and diplomat who should be helping to untangle this mess as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Once again, the only beneficiary of such obstructionism will be Mr. Chávez.

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