Friday, September 25, 2009

Zelaya Receives Communion, Michelleti Agrees to Arias Mediation Visit, Battles Among Media

Regarding Honduras, is Obama (via Hillary) a flip-flopper, indifferent, deliberately ambiguous, or genuinely trying to steer a conciliatory, middle course?

Some readers have faulted me for not making daily posts. Dear friends, I do have a job and many other responsibilities, so please be patient. I’m doing my best.

El Tiempo Latino, a local Spanish-language newspaper dated today, September 25, reports on the curfew that was ignored by Zelaya supporters, resulting in 113 arrests and one death, vandalism against fast food outlets, and the looting of businesses. Washington Hispanic adds that Zelaya accuses the interim government of pressuring him to commit suicide, something he has no intention of doing.

This just in from a Honduran friend inside the country: This is just a conflict between politicians in their struggle for power. T

his next from an observer based in the US: Barbara, I read the blog and it is very interesting. However, I think Micheletti likes his current status too much to care for his country. Zelaya is no saint, but if Uribe could change the law in Colombia to run again with no problems, why cannot the Hondurans do the same? I tell you why, double standards. Uribe is a US friend, so there was not much opposition there. Zelaya was stupid, or smart enough, whatever way you see it, to get close to Chavez. After all, oil prices were killing us, and are killing us in the US, Chavez is offering Honduras cheap oil. Empty bellies are a very persuasive reason in this case. The elites in Honduras, including the army, live in a different world. That is why they are so stubborn, geopolitics is a very foreign concept to them, unless is affects them directly. Micheletti likes the "status" of being President, event if that position is a curse in itself. I wish Obama had been more direct about this. He is a lawyer, not a historian. Sadly.

I agree that empty bellies and the need for oil are very persuasive. While the US has apparently taken no official stand against Uribe’s third term in Colombia, many US observers have strongly protested. However, Uribe does seem to be genuinely popular in Colombia, unlike Chavez these days—according to reports I get from inside sources in both countries, not any polls. I disagree that the Honduran military rank-and-file are an elite. They are mostly from the very poorest segment, though army service does offer them an avenue of upward mobility. My book and blog give the example of the army sons of Blanca, one of my rural village health volunteers, one of whom became an officer leading troops in Iraq. As to whether Micheletti enjoys the status of being president, it’s entirely possible. By taking the stand he has, he may have convinced himself that it’s the morally right and politically correct course.

Another correspondent asks whether Micheletti is so dead set against letting Zelaya resume office even for a little while because he fears a spectacular populist initiative that could sway the vote? Again, I have no insight into Micheletti’s state of mind.

Someone else comments: The riots that were expected by Zelaya's presence have started with sacking of stores. The de facto authorities responded with repression and curfews but the situation could become critical if public protests continue. Business interests will demand order and will ask the government for more repression. But the international community will interpret renewed repression as violations of human rights. Meanwhile, there will be a sizeable portion of the military that does not favor repression and is discontent and another portion that sympathizes with Zelaya and is trying to channel military discontent into a populist coup d' etat. An explosive mix to say the least and one that could break either way or erupt into a civil war. Where would you like to be in the present situation inside the frying pan, inside the fire or outside of the kitchen watching someone else doing the cooking?

Lots of comments coming in right now, including some predicting that military elements will turn against Micheletti in a counter-coup. Here is one of the more colorful comments: This whole mess has the feeling of a self-fulfilling prophecy, a Greek tragedy with Micheletti in the role of Oedipus. Moreover, like in a Greek tragedy, Micheletti is full of hubris and is unaware of the fact that he is but a tool in the hands of the Gods, or to describe it in modern terms, he is under the influence of historical forces over which he has no control. Finally, to complete the metaphor, instead of murdering his father and marrying his mother, Micheletti, while seeking to preserve them, will eventually manage not only to wipe out the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court but also to screw his own oligarchy in the process!

The Wall St. Journal, in an editorial published September 23, 2009, faults Zelaya for the current bloodshed, since he urged his supporters to converge on the capital, shouting “Fatherland, restitution or death” (an eerie echo of Fidel Castro’s exhortation “Fatherland or death”). The editorial exhorts the US to urge Zelaya “to turn himself over to Honduran authorities for arrest and trial.” Of course, that’s not going to happen.

Honduras articles collected by the Washington Post website today are too numerous to reproduce here. They report that both Zelaya and Micheletti say they are open to talks, that the UN Security Council was to take up the Honduras matter today, that Brazil wants to talk directly with Obama, and that the interim government believes that the upcoming elections will provide a solution, even though the ability to have fair elections is being disputed. The Carter Center has indicated that it will monitor the November elections.

An article in today’s Wall St. Journal (no e-mail version available) shows a photo of Zelaya receiving communion at a Mass being held inside the Brazilian Embassy. An emissary of Cardinal Rodriguez reportedly met with him, while protests and counter-protests continued outside the embassy. Zelaya reportedly accused Israeli mercenaries of blasting the embassy with high-frequency radiation, which Micheletti denied. After receiving an appeal from for US President Jimmy Carter, Micheletti agreed to allow a mediation visit by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. Meanwhile, media reports accused Zelaya of misusing government funds for caring for his horses and his ranch. At least if the battle takes place in the media, it’s better than out in the street where people can get hurt. (See article below next paragraph.)

On a completely different topic, I was invited recently to a forum at the Hudson Institute, a right-leaning think tank located in Washington, DC. The main speaker was Dr. Jyttee Klausen, Danish author of a book published by Yale U. Press entitled The Cartoons that Shook the World. Klausen is a professor at Brandeis and Harvard. She appeared on a panel with a Muslim woman who appeared unveiled and whose name I don’t recall. Dr. Klausen said that Yale published her book, but without the page that showed the actual cartoons as they had initially appeared, although that page had been cleared beforehand. She showed us the removed page, as it had appeared originally in an obscure Danish publication, looking fairly innocuous to Western eyes. Six months after the cartoons had first been published, a worldwide movement against them was initiated by radical Muslims, who added some more flamboyant images to the originals and sent them all around the world via the Internet, resulting in a trade boycott of Danish goods by Muslim countries and the deaths of over 200 people. The voices of moderate Muslims, Klausen and her fellow panelist argued, are drowned out because of fear. Fear of reprisals may also have motivated Yale Press to remove the page depicting the cartoons, although the justification offered was along the lines of wanting to avoid offending Muslim religious sensibilities. Klausen showed examples of early Muslim art representing Mohammed in face and body, then later, with a veil over his face. Much of the Koran exhorts followers to be peaceful and conciliatory, and satire and disagreements appear in historical Muslim texts. However, now, only the most radical interpretations hold sway, violence is emphasized, and any pictorial depiction of Mohammed is strictly forbidden as blasphemous. So was the original publication of the cartoons in Denmark a matter of freedom of expression, or was it a hate crime, discriminatory and racially motivated, like swastikas and nooses? That’s the crucial question. Klausen argued that Muslim extremists are imposing their views through death threats not only on the majority of Muslim who actually are moderate, but also on non-Muslims, and are extending their censorship to the West and threatening traditional Western freedoms.

September 25, 2009
Battle for Honduras Echoes Loudly in Media

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — “The lies of Manuel Zelaya” intones a stern voice as a picture of Mr. Zelaya, the deposed president of Honduras, flashes on the screen. Then to the ring of a cash register, images flash by of Mr. Zelaya’s cowboy hat, horses, a private plane, Times Square. While he was president, Mr. Zelaya bought jewels, paid for trips and maintained his horses with money he stole from the Central Bank and the Treasury, according to the television advertisement produced by the de facto government. Headlines from Honduran newspapers pop up onscreen as if to demonstrate the truth of the accusations. The spot, and others like it, are regular fare on Honduran television and radio, where the fierce political battle dividing Honduras plays out amid assertions of all kinds, no matter whether they are rooted in fact. Mr. Zelaya’s return to the country on Monday has turned up the volume on the media war — one in which the government’s voice is the loudest, but in which Mr. Zelaya is a skilled and equally slippery combatant.

“Mr. Zelaya has a terrorist plan,” another government ad asserts, accusing the deposed president of using the Brazilian Embassy, where he has taken refuge, as his general command. That followed an ominous warning that “foreign groups and military planes” had managed to enter Honduran territory. The government spots are the most extreme example of the allegations that have become the diet of the Honduran airwaves.

Even before Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a coup on June 28, television and newspapers, controlled by a handful of wealthy businessmen, were opposed to him. Along with a state television station, the government of Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, has many vehicles with which to discredit, if not smear, Mr. Zelaya. On Wednesday night, for example, government television reported, without attribution, that Brazil had promised to reinstate Mr. Zelaya in return for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

But Mr. Zelaya has his own media allies, notably the Radio Globo radio station, which broadcasts around the clock, opening its microphones to callers and repeating its own set of rumors and misrepresentations. Mr. Zelaya is a frequent caller to the station and to others around the world, where he makes his own outrageous claims: Israeli commandos have been hired to kill him; he is being secretly poisoned by gas and radiation; Mr. Micheletti is preparing to storm the Brazilian Embassy.

“Nobody in Honduras gives the truth 100 percent,” said Alejandro Villatoro, the owner of Radio Globo and a legislator allied with Mr. Zelaya. He said that the reports of repression by the police and soldiers that had become a staple of his station were not broadcast on government-allied media. The government clearly has the advantage, he said, noting that he and his reporters were briefly arrested the day of the coup. That experience has made him determined to keep the station on the air, even though the government frequently blocks his programming (most recently with children’s bedtime stories). Advertisers have pulled their spots since the coup, and so he is financing the station’s $15,000 to $20,000 monthly budget.

Each side argues that it is countering the other side’s lies. “Our goal is to tell people the truth,” said a government media adviser who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the government. “They are running a disinformation campaign.” The competing accusations continue when the two sides discuss what led to the crisis. According to a recent analysis of the legal issues of the case prepared by the Law Library of Congress in Washington, both Mr. Zelaya and those who ousted him appear to have broken the law.

In Mr. Zelaya’s case, he flouted court rulings ordering him not to conduct a survey on whether to convene a citizens’ assembly to change the Constitution. Eventually, the chief prosecutor filed a complaint with the Supreme Court accusing Mr. Zelaya of treason and abuse of authority, among other charges. That led to an arrest warrant that was carried out on June 28.

But Mr. Zelaya was not formally arrested when soldiers raided his home. Instead, the army detained him, took him to the airport and put him on a plane to Costa Rica, even though the Honduran Constitution says no citizen may be handed over to foreign authorities.The military has said it decided to remove Mr. Zelaya from the country to reduce the likelihood that his detention would cause unrest. After initially defending the decision, members of the de facto government have come to see it as a mistake.

Norma C. Gutierrez, an international law specialist who prepared a legal analysis for American lawmakers last month, criticized both sides. Her bottom line: the case against Mr. Zelaya was rooted in constitutional and statutory law. His removal from the country was not.

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