Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Abuse Accusations Grow, Media Curbs Are Lifted, New Negotiations Start

Unless there is some big breakthrough in Honduras, I may not be posting often from now on, as both my readers and I, like Hondurans on the ground, are becoming weary of this protracted dispute. Only my hard-core Honduras watchers are still on board.

Had a rare evening out on Sunday, invited by a friend to a concert of Indian sitar and drum music with singing commemorating Gandhi’s life. It was rhythmic, repetitious, and relaxing.

Just heard from the folks at IHS, participants in my usual medical brigade, that they are scheduled to leave on Oct. 22 for La Mosquitia, the rural east, where I’ve never been, but may try going next year. I still hope to join the Esperanza area brigade again next Feb., assuming the country is peaceful by then.

El Nuevo Herald reports that South Florida’s conservative Republican Cuban congresspersons, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, traveled to Honduras to meet with members of the interim government. Other Republican congressmen have also traveled there, the Honduran officials being unable to come to the US because of visa cancellations. Honduras has never been the subject before of so much attention. When I was assigned to Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer back in 2000, some folks asked me where it was actually located. Another article in El Nuevo Herald quotes Arias as criticizing the current Honduran constitution.

A regular reader pointed out a column in the Wall St. Journal speculating about anti-Semitism in the Zelaya/Chavez axis, especially with Chavez’ embrace of Ahmadinejad and Zelaya’s odd accusations of being assaulted by x-rays shot by Israeli commandos into the Brazilian Embassy. Hondurans are, in my experience, somewhat anti-Semitic, especially around Holy Week, but in a rather abstract and biblical way, since, if there are any Honduran Jews, I have never run across one. However, I have met Hondurans of Arab descent, especially shop owners in San Pedro Sula. In any case, charges of anti-Semitism, while perhaps a concern, seem peripheral right now to the Honduran political debate and a case of reaching for straws to condemn Zelaya and his associates.

A skeptical reader reacts to what he considers Zelaya’s pious agreement to accept the Arias accords: This is unadulterated bullshit! Zelaya is trying to give the impression that he is making a huge concession by agreeing to something that he had already accepted with the Arias proposals. Then the wolf shows his ear when he states that, of course, this is not something that forces the Honduran people not to have a Constitutional convention in the future. With this fancy footwork, how does he expect his opponents to trust him and to be willing to make an agreement with him when it is evident to the most naive person that he is going to do whatever it takes once he returns to power to get around the agreements to ape Chavez and become the de facto ruler of Honduras? It does not even require much imagination to deduce how he plans to go about it. While President, he will try to create a new political party that will nominate one of his henchmen to the presidency and, with his backing, he will have him elected in the coming elections. When this happens, Zelaya will become the power behind the throne. During his henchman’s presidential term, a referendum will be held asking the Honduran population to authorize a constitutional convention. After a favorable vote, this convention will be held to abolish presidential term limits. In the next Presidential election, Zelaya will be re-elected and will remain in power till death takes him away, turning Honduras into a new Venezuela. So, how can anyone expect Zelaya's opponents to voluntarily agree to his return to power? They will agree to negotiate to win time, but they will never agree to his return to power until the Arias proposal incorporates a plank that will prohibit him from starting his own political party and running his own presidential candidate in the coming elections. If this is not done, the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the crisis is nill, zilch, nada! What is now being negotiated, together with international guarantees is that Zelaya, once in power, would be forced to adhere to what is agree upon. The US and the conservative governments allied with it in Latin America are willing to return Zelaya to power, but only under conditions that ensure that he could not overturn the applecart and would be willing to support the negotiating positions of the de facto government. Since it is not sure that Zelaya will accede to having his wings clipped, a peaceful solution of the crisis is very much in doubt.

Here is a similar comment: Negotiations are in the offing about the implementation of the Arias mediation Proposal (AMP). What is at stake is that Micheletti wants assurances from the OAS that Zelaya is going to conduct honest transparent elections among the candidates that have already been nominated by the existing Honduran political parties and that power will be handed over to the winner next January 27 with no hanky panky. Zelaya in the meantime is willing to do all that with one small variation; he wants to be allowed to create a new political party which would be allowed to participate in the coming presidential elections and nominate a presidential candidate. Micheletti will not allow this modification of the election because he knows that Zelaya's presidential candidate will probably win and that Zelaya would probably be the power behind the throne a la Vladimir Putin and that the Zelayist administration would probably call for a new constitutional convention that would create the 17th Honduran Constitution eliminating presidential term limits and allowing Zelaya to take office for life, aping Chavez. Since the name of the game is control over Honduras’ political future, I do not believe that the negotiations will be easy or that both sides will reach a peaceful non-violent agreement that can be backed by the international community. Despite all the hullabaloo, the negotiations will probably break down and the Honduran crisis will have to be resolved through violent means. The most probable scenario is the continuation and intensification of public protests followed by an army revolt that could lead to a coup against the de facto government or simply the cessation of repression followed by anarchy and threats of lynching in the streets that would make all de facto government figures leave the country or request asylum in foreign embassies. Maybe the end will be as ironical as Micheletti and Zelaya swapping places between the Presidential Palace and the Brazilian Embassy! This will still drag out. Todavía hay tela por donde cortar! [There is still cloth left to be cut.]

Here’s a somewhat more optimistic view: It’s hard to be certain after all previous false starts, but I believe this post 9/29/09 negotiation will be the definitive one. The army high command, the legislators, and business circles seem to have accepted the principle of Zelaya's return, given the fact that he will have limited powers under the Arias proposal and that the army will be under the Electoral Tribunal's direct command. Everyone but Micheletti seems to have agreed to the general principle that the Arias proposals are the best way to return peace to the country but it will take some stiff negotiations to agree on the details that will guarantee that Zelaya will not use his return to power against his enemies or to run for a second term or create a new party that would run a presidential candidate that will count with his backing in the coming elections, that he will hold a honest and transparent election and hand over power to the victor next January. But as you know "the devil is in the details" and there are a lot of them to haggle and squabble over. Remember Winston Churchill's dictum that "Gentlemen do not fight about questions of principle. They fight over the way that principles are going to be applied!" So we are not out of the woods by a long shot and could even be dragged back to the middle of them. If Micheletti continues to be stubborn or Zelaya does not give the minimum guarantees to prove his bona fides that his opponents ask for, anything could happen, even a civil war. But I am more hopeful than ever that a negotiated settlement can be reached based on the Arias mediation proposals because both sides seem to have become convinced that they cannot force their opponents to submit without the use of violence and the possibility of a civil war, too high a price to pay, and that the Arias proposal will protect each side's fundamental interests. The sticking point in the negotiations will be whether Zelaya will be allowed to start a new political party and to publicly back a presidential candidate in the coming elections.

And, finally, this: Micheletti is playing hard to get. It's not enough that Z has agreed not to take up the Constitutional Convention until next year if he regains his office and that the agreement is going to be guaranteed by the OAS. What the heck else does he want? I believe that it could be three things; 1- A guarantee that the Army is going to be out of Z’s control when he hands over power. If that is going to happen one month before elections, M will not want to hand the presidency over till at after 10/29/09. 2- He wants ironclad assurances that Zelaya would not interfere with existing election arrangements and create a new party and nominate a new candidate for the presidency that could manage to win the elections with his backing. That is why he is proposing handing over power to Z after the elections, to make sure that they are carried out the way that the Honduran oligarchy has planned them and that an oligarchical representative will be the next Honduran president. 3- M would just like to minimize Z's duration at the helm to minimize the possibility that he could find a way to get his way and continue to dominate Honduran politics despite any agreement that he might make. He is a good bargainer; he wants to give as little as he can to have in maneuvering room. Since Zelaya and the OAS will probably not be able to give M the tight-clad guarantees that he wants, it is very possible that the game will go into extra innings and that he will try to remain in power until next January. I think the only way for Zelaya to return to power is through intensified public protests followed by a middle-rank army revolt. M may be a schmuck, but he is a very stubborn and determined one and he might not be very brilliant, but he has daring, courage and natural cunning. With those qualities and Zelaya’s indecision, Micheletti just might pull through and finally get his way anyway. If he does he is showing that he has the making of a true Machiavellian realist politician. Although I dislike him, every day that goes by I respect him more and more for the way he has resisted national and international pressure and has stood his ground.

So, maybe now, Micheletti is trying to hold on until Oct. 31? He's getting quite a bit of moral support from Republicans in the US Congress, but Hondurans cannot eat that! It's true that allowing Zelaya to field a candidate is very risky from Micheletti’s standpoint, because he is a demagogue and most Hondurans are, at best, only semi-literate. As readers of my book know, people there believe in chupacabras that come out at night to suck blood from livestock, that a statue of the Virgin Mary is alive and hears their prayers, and that a man having sex with an animal produces deformed offspring, either human or animal. Of course, some Americans are uninformed too, believing that the earth was created in 7 days, that Christ's image can appear on a piece of toast, and that Obama was born in Kenya. Americans had to suffer considerably before realizing that voting for GW Bush had been a mistake. But it's even worse in a country like Honduras. Hondurans are that much more desperate, uniformed, and willing to believe that a savior like Zelaya will deliver them from their many woes. When they realize that he has failed to do so, it will be too late to change course. But, Zelaya has awakened the hopes and aspirations of many poor Hondurans, so that even establishment politicians must pay attention to that sector from now on. Let’s hope that lesson has been learned, even if Zelaya is curbed, so that it is not back to the old politics as usual.

Honduras' Micheletti lifts media, social curbs
Monday, October 5, 2009 3:14 PM

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Micheletti lifted an emergency decree on Monday that had suspended some civil liberties and shut two media outlets loyal to ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Micheletti had come under international pressure to lift the emergency measures as the Organization of American States tries to negotiate an end to a crisis triggered when Zelaya was toppled in a June coup. Zelaya slipped back into the country two weeks ago and has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy.

October 6, 2009
Honduran Security Forces Accused of Abuse

TEGUCIGALPA— Rosamaria Valeriano Flores was returning home from a visit to a public health clinic and found herself in a crowd of people dispersing from a demonstration in support of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya. As she crossed the central square of the Honduran capital, a group of soldiers and police officers pushed her to the ground and beat her with their truncheons. She said the men kicked out most of her top teeth, broke her ribs and split open her head. “A policeman spit in my face and said, ‘You will die,’ ” she said, adding that the attack stopped when a police officer shouted at the men that they would kill her.

Ms. Valeriano, 39, was sitting in the office of a Tegucigalpa human rights group last week, speaking about the assault, which took place on Aug. 12. As she told her story, mumbling to hide her missing teeth, she pointed to a scar on her scalp and to her still-sore left ribs.

Since Mr. Zelaya was removed in a June 28 coup, security forces have tried to halt opposition with beatings and mass arrests, human rights groups say. Eleven people have been killed since the coup, according to the Committee for Families of the Disappeared and Detainees in Honduras, or Cofadeh. The number of violations and their intensity has increased since Mr. Zelaya secretly returned to Honduras two weeks ago, taking refuge at the Brazilian Embassy, human rights groups say.
The groups describe an atmosphere of growing impunity, one in which security forces act unhindered by legal constraints. Their free hand had been strengthened by an emergency decree allowing the police to detain anyone suspected of posing a threat. “In the 1980s, there were political assassinations, torture and disappearances,” said Bertha Oliva, Cofadeh’s general coordinator, in an interview last week, recalling the political repression of the country’s so-called dirty war. “They were selective and hidden. But now there is massive repression and defiance of the whole world. They do it in broad daylight, without any scruples, with nothing to stop them.”

Amid the crackdown, a delegation of foreign ministers from the Organization of American States is scheduled to arrive in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on Wednesday in an attempt to restart negotiations between representatives for Mr. Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president. In advance of the meeting, Mr. Micheletti lifted the decree Monday.

The abuses could have a chilling effect on presidential elections scheduled for Nov. 29. The de facto government and its supporters argue that the elections will close the chapter on the coup and its aftermath, but the United Nations, the United States and other governments have said that they will not recognize the vote if it is conducted under the current conditions. “Elections are a risk because people won’t vote,” said Javier Acevedo, a lawyer with the Center for Research and the Promotion of Human Rights in Tegucigalpa. “The soldiers and police at the polls will be the same ones as those who have been carrying out the repression.”

Investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited in August, and found a pattern of disproportionate force, arbitrary detentions and control of information. The group asked the de facto government to provide protective measures for dozens of politicians, union leaders, teachers, human rights workers and journalists who say they have been followed and threatened.

The de facto government responded that strong measures were needed against Mr. Zelaya’s supporters, whom they described as vandals, a point backed up by government television advertisements showing burning buses and street barricades. Some of the demonstrations have turned violent as some of Mr. Zelaya’s supporters have smashed storefronts and burned tires at street barricades. The government says that three people have been killed since the coup.

Mr. Micheletti has said the investigators from the Inter-American Commission were biased, noting that its president, Luz Patricia Mejía, is Venezuelan. Much of Honduras’s political and economic elite feared that Mr. Zelaya was trying to copy Venezuela’s brand of socialism as he moved toward an alliance with that nation’s president, Hugo Chávez. The Honduran government’s human rights institutions have failed to respond to the violations with any vigor, advocates say.
The human rights prosecutor, Sandra Ponce, is on vacation, according to news reports. Ramón Custodio, the government human rights commissioner who fought repression in the 1980s, has generally supported the coup, although he has criticized some actions of the de facto government. Groups that were vulnerable to human rights abuses before the coup face even more risk now. Since the coup, for example, there have been six murders of gay men or transvestites, according to gay rights groups. Until 2008, the average number of such killings each year was three to six.

The day after Mr. Zelaya returned, the police broke up a demonstration by his supporters outside the Brazilian Embassy with tear gas. As people were fleeing, security forces tear-gassed the Cofadeh office, just blocks away. The action, Ms. Oliva believes, was aimed at preventing Cofadeh lawyers from intervening by taking testimony or seeking the release of people who were detained.

Since Mr. Zelaya’s return, security forces also have been rumbling through poor neighborhoods that are the base of his support. “They are going into neighborhoods in a way to intimidate people,” said Mr. Acevedo, the lawyer. In that time, the center has documented an increasing level of violence. Investigators have seen more than two dozen people with bullet wounds in hospitals, and some detainees have had their hands broken and have been burned with cigarettes, he said. While the police and soldiers are looking for the activists who have been organizing resistance, the sweep seems to pick up anyone who gets in their way.

Yulian Lobo said her husband was arrested in the neighborhood of Villa Olímpica and accused of having a grenade. “It came out of nowhere,” she said, adding that her husband, a driver, had not been to pro-Zelaya marches. Lesbia Marisol Flores, 38, is a resistance activist, but when the police beat her up, she was waiting at a bus stop after attending the wake of a 24-year-old woman who died after she was tear-gassed outside the Brazilian Embassy on Sept. 22.“There were eight policemen and their faces were all covered,” she said, adding that they had selected her at random from the group at the bus stop. “There was no motive. It is their hobby now.”

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