Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Barbara Returns from Book Tour, Honduras Remains Unsettled

Hello, folks, have been busy and away, with no time to write here, but there hasn’t been any big breakthrough on Honduras meanwhile anyway, though various scenarios have been kicked around, like creating a power-sharing government or appointing an interim president who is neither Zelaya nor Micheletti.

But before getting into that, where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing? First, on Oct. 13, I spent the better part of an afternoon and evening interpreting for a national meeting of the SEIU, Service Employees International Union, taking place at the George Meany Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., a campus I didn’t know existed before. I sat at a table with Spanish-speaking union organizers from southern California. SEIU plans a big campaign to organize workers staffing nursing homes, educational facilities, and other venues for a large French corporation whose employees in France enjoy more benefits than those in the US.

Next day, in a rental car, I drove 6 hours to visit friends in Blacksburg, Va., met when my parents lived there, and to give some talks on the Peace Corps, Honduras, and my book, three talks in all. The first two took place on the Va. Tech campus and involved good audiences and lively discussions. I also invited a young man to dinner one evening, someone I’ve known from his childhood in my neighborhood. He was a volunteer in China and is now a grad student who also serves as the campus Peace Corps recruiter. However, my very last event, held at a bookstore on a rainy, chilly Friday night, must not have been well advertised, because only one person showed up! Win some, lose some. Book promotion and marketing involve hard work and just plain luck.

Back in DC, I got a notice that my book was named a Finalist for Best New Non-Fiction by National Best Books, so that’s still another award. I’m on the third version of my book now, having made little tweeks and corrections twice, each time having to pay someone to modify the pdf file, as I don’t have the necessary equipment myself, and sending it through the whole Amazon processing system again. I’ve mentioned two prior awards in the third and current version of the book, but don’t think it’s worth sending it through again to include mention of this latest one.

I’ve also begun reading the final book written by the late best-selling author Frank McCourt. This one, called Teacher Man, is in the same style as his two others (Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis). However, my gimlet eye fell immediately on a typo, in a section where he asks a high school student what he would do if he ran into the principal in the hall: “Turn your ahead away?” Obviously, that should be "head," not "ahead." It’s rare to find a book, no matter how famous the author, how many proofreaders have gone over it, or how large the press run without any mistakes, so probably I should not have been so nitpicky (obsessive?) about correcting small errors in my own book. But, having been an editor myself, I couldn’t let them be. I’ll just mention one, as an example. I had said that Nov. 1 is the Day of the Dead, but as the astute man reading my book for Recordings for the Blind noted, it’s really Nov. 2. Yes, I’d gotten confused between All Souls Day and All Saints Day. But once I knew Nov. 1 was wrong, I just had to change it. One of my correspondents, also an author, says that even though mainstream publishers send out as many as 100 free copies of a book to readers charged with catching errors, still, the average commercially published book has three errors and most self-published ones, many more.

On quite another subject, I attended a forum yesterday on the outlook for southern Sudan, an area of the world holding particular interest for me ever since my visit there in 2006. The speakers were Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, South Sudan’s representative in Washington, and Roger Winter, a veteran diplomat. To summarize, the north-south split (and the Darfur conflict) are a legacy of the divided-and-conquer strategy of British colonialism. The division now is a fait accompli, north and south essentially are two countries with different social, ethnic, and political systems requiring passports to pass across the divide. (When I was in South Sudan, I was issued a permission document by southern rebels good only for traveling in their territory.) The exact dividing line, however, is open to dispute, with much of the area that the bishop (readers of my article in America magazine will remember him) is trying to develop for southern Sudan located along that border. Gatkuoth estimated that at least 98% of voters in southern Sudan would vote for independence from the north, also my own impression when I was there. The problem will be achieving a peaceful disengagement. Of course, the south has oil reserves, the north a seaport, and the north’s President Bashir is under indictment for war crimes in Darfur. High marks were given to current US efforts in South Sudan and Darfur, although Winter expressed some misgivings about US envoy General Scott Grayson, whom he described as energetic and well-meaning, but inexperienced in the region.

We hear virtually nothing about the current Honduran presidential candidates and their positions on Zelaya’s ouster. We can only wonder also about their take on economic issues and the blatant income inequalities of the current system, on which much of Zelaya’s popularity rests. Additionally, what positions do they take on the economic sanctions being imposed on Honduras, a nation already among the region’s poorest and further suffering from reduced remittances from US-based relatives? Merchants are experiencing reduced sales and, in the cities, have borne the effects of wholesale looting. If any such debates are occurring within Honduras, we don’t hear about them.

I believe the majority of Hondurans will support their election outcome, with or without monitors, before the international community will recognize it. That is the problem. While there is a substantial proportion of the population who support Zelaya and a probably an equal proportion who oppose him, I get the sense that most Hondurans now just want the whole fight to be over. They were squeezed economically before and now it's even worse with the withdrawal of aid and loans, Chavez' removal of cheap oil, and the reduction in remittances because of the recession. Yet, the Peace Corps is still operating there and lots of people turned out for the World Cup qualifying soccer game held in S. Pedro Sula, which Honduras lost to the US. So, outside Teguc, it's pretty much business as usual, but harder than ever. I've heard nothing about campaigning by the Nov. presidential candidates and their position on Zelaya's return (though one represents his party). Also, I do think the Honduran powers-that-be have to address the vast economic inequalities and sheer hand-to-mouth poverty of so many Hondurans. Zelaya gave them hope, perhaps false hope, demagogic hope, if his own erratic conduct and that of his mentor Chavez are any indication, but many still believe in him. And repression and mistreatment by security forces has just hardened their resolve. I think both sides in this dispute have acted irresponsibly and not in the interests of the majority of the people. But I've given up predicting what will happen next. I'm really sad about the current situation because this was a country that was barely making it before.

An e-mail that just came in from southern Honduras strongly supports Zelaya, but admits that both sides have made mistakes and expresses hope that the matter will be settled soon. Meanwhile, I'm praying for some agreement in Honduras that may not be optimal and not please everybody, but that will be minimally acceptable and face-saving for all parties, both inside and outside the country. Hope that's not being utopian. It now looks as though the US might agree to monitoring and recognizing the Nov. election without Zelaya’s restoration beforehand.

From my blog readers:
No hay peor sordo que quien no quiere oir ni ciego que el que no quiere ver. El acuerdo entree Zelaya y Micheletti se va a lograr pacificamente cuando las ranas crien pelos!(There’s no worse deaf person than one who doesn’t listen nor blind one who doesn’t want to see. A peaceful agreement between Zelaya and Micheletti will be achieved when frogs grow hair!)

A reader makes a correction: Had to laugh at one regular’s guess that Micheletti is a Taurus. I looked: he’s a Leo. Like Fidel, like Obama.

Still another says: Barbara, I hope that I am wrong but I still do not think that despite all the internal and external pressure that has been leveled on him that Micheletti will agree to Zelaya's return. Right now he seems to be maneuvering to put the blame of not accepting the negotiating agreement on someone else. Apparently he thinks that the Supreme Court is more willing to turn it down than the Congress so he is asking it to decide. Of course, sub rosa I presume he is pressuring his cronies in the Supreme Court to turn the negotiated agreement down. Micheletti is one hell of a Machiavellian politician!

From the local Spanish-language press comes word that Honduras is going to the soccer World Cup(despite earlier loss to the US)being held in South Africa in 2010.
That got bigger headlines than anything about the political situation. Another article quotes Oscar Arias lamenting that the Honduran Constitution has no impeachment clause, leading to the current impasse. Other articles report that the resistance is growing and that Zelaya announced Oct. 15 as the end date for negotiations, a date now behind us. Negotiations are continuing, media freedoms have been restored, and Zelaya supporters are still demonstrating. Below are press reports, beginning with the most recent.

Honduran negotiator says coup talks at impasse
Associated Press
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:52 AM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- A top aide to ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says negotiations to solve the country's three-month old political crisis are once again at an impasse. Negotiator Victor Meza accuses the interim government of obstructing progress by insisting that Congress and the Supreme Court be consulted on whether Zelaya can be reinstated. The court has already said Zelaya should not be allowed to return.

Meza said Monday that Zelaya's team will not return to the table until Roberto Micheletti's government presents a "constructive proposal." But he added that they will not break off talks entirely.

Zelaya was ousted June 28 after he defied Supreme Court orders to cancel a referendum on a constitutional rewrite.

From Spanish-language website, Democracia Participativa, Oct. 17, 2009 [It says, essentially, that the sticking point is Zelaya’s return to power, though the negotiations are said to be “cordial.”]

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Negociadores del Gobierno de facto y del depuesto presidente de Honduras Manuel Zelaya llegaron el miércoles a un acuerdo preliminar para superar la crisis desatada por el golpe de Estado, pero aún no coinciden en el punto clave: la vuelta del mandatario al poder. Las partes rivales consensuaron un texto único preliminar de varios puntos, que aún tenía que ser aprobado por Zelaya y por el presidente de facto, Roberto Micheletti, dijo el delegado zelayista Víctor Meza.

Pero los representantes del Gobierno de facto aclararon que todavía no llegaron a un consenso en el punto medular del acuerdo, el retorno de Zelaya al poder después de haber sido derrocado y expulsado del país el 28 de junio por militares. "El diálogo sobre este punto ha sido cordial y ambas partes hemos alcanzado importantes avances. Sin embargo, hasta este momento, no hay ningún acuerdo final en torno a este punto", dijo el equipo negociador de Micheletti en un comunicado.

Is U.S. Opposition to the Honduran Coup Lessening? Tim Padgett
16 October 2009

Toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya speaks during a meeting with advisers and negotiators inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 12, 2009. The negotiations that were revived this week in the hope of resolving the Honduran coup crisis still haven't cracked the critical issue: whether ousted President Manuel Zelaya will be restored to office and allowed to finish the final three months of his term. The U.S., the Organization of American States (OAS) and every other nation in the world have condemned the June 28 military coup as antidemocratic — and they've warned the installed President, Roberto Micheletti, that they won't recognize the results of Honduras' long-planned Nov. 29 presidential election if Zelaya isn't reinstated beforehand.

But there are growing signs that the U.S. may be willing to abandon that condition. A number of well-placed sources in Honduras and the U.S. tell TIME that officials in the State Department and the U.S.'s OAS delegation have informed them that the Obama Administration is mulling ways to legitimize the election should talks fail to restore Zelaya in time. "We're suddenly hearing from them that the one may no longer be a [precondition] for the other," says a Western diplomat in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya is currently holed up in the Brazilian embassy.

Zelaya warned this week that legitimizing the election "without the reinstatement of the constitutional President would only legitimize" the coup. But U.S. officials, while insisting they've not given up on restoring Zelaya before Nov. 29, acknowledge they're considering a Plan B — perhaps brokering more international oversight of the balloting while forging a deal that reinstates Zelaya after the election so that he can finish out his term, which ends on Jan. 27. "We've always preferred a restoration of constitutional and democratic order in Honduras that includes the restoration of Manuel Zelaya," one State official tells TIME. "But the elections are going to take place either way, and the international community needs to come to terms with that fact."

The official concedes that recognizing an election held while an illegitimate regime is in power is a "significant challenge." It may be even harder given recent actions by that regime: in the past three weeks, Micheletti has cracked down on civil rights, shuttered pro-Zelaya broadcasters and decreed that more media will be muzzled if they "transmit messages that incite national hate." Micheletti, a devout Roman Catholic who has said he's on a calling from God, lifted many of his emergency decrees during a visit last week by U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Micheletti supporter. But human-rights groups like Amnesty International say police and soldiers are still blocking street protests.

October 15, 2009
Accounts at Odds on Honduras Deal

MEXICO CITY — There were reports of a deal on Wednesday, followed by reports of no deal. By the end of the day, the Honduras political standoff was mired in the same confusion that has characterized it from the start. A negotiator for Manuel Zelaya, the country’s leader who was ousted on June 28, raised hopes by telling reporters that significant progress had been made in talks with representatives of Roberto Micheletti, leader of the de facto government.

Victor Meza, the Zelaya negotiator, said a tentative deal, which he hinted would restore Mr. Zelaya to the presidency, had been sent to Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti for approval. But soon afterward Mr. Micheletti’s representatives reported that there was no agreement to return Mr. Zelaya to office and that negotiations would continue on Thursday.

The proposals being floated were reported to be all over the map, including the idea of appointing an interim president — neither Mr. Micheletti nor Mr. Zelaya — to lead the country. A key deadline looms because presidential elections are scheduled for Nov. 29, and the United States and other countries have threatened not to recognize them unless the standoff is resolved.

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