Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is Time Running Out in Honduras?

While the Honduras political crisis remains unresolved, the country suffered another blow on Saturday, the 3-2 loss to the US in San Pedro Sula in a World Cup Qualifying game.

I keep waiting for some sort of agreement on Honduras before looking to join a group that may be doing election monitoring, because I don't think the November elections will be considered legitimate worldwide unless that happens. Having several Republicans supporting the interim government is no real help, except that it might make Micheletti and company feel that at least someone understands them and may give them false hope. However, it's conceivable that if elections do go forward without an agreement, then a new president takes office in late January, and Zelaya still remains holed up in the Brazilian Embassy that some sort of amnesty will be accorded and the international community, or some countries, will gradually restore ties and aid. At least, that may be an outcome that Micheletti is betting on. But I think Honduras will remain crippled for some time. So, I haven't made any moves yet to try to join a monitoring team. Unless a team is well-recognized, I really don't see the point.

As I believe I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be giving some book readings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., later this week, so I don’t expect to be posting again for a while unless there is an immediate breakthrough. If anyone has comments, I recommend that they contact me at my Yahoo address, as I don’t always remember to look for them on the blog itself.

New media measures take effect in Honduras
Associated Press
Saturday, October 10, 2009 9:09 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduras' interim leaders put in place new rules Saturday that threaten broadcasters with closure for airing reports that "attack national security," further restricting media freedom following the closure of two opposition stations. The latest decree is sure to anger supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and appears to be a challenge to the Organization of American States and a team of regional diplomats who were in the country Thursday to push for a resolution of the crisis. A statement released by the OAS delegation urged the coup-installed government to, among other things, allow the resumption of operations at the two broadcasters, which backed Zelaya's return to office.

Under the decree imposed by the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti, "the frequencies of radio or television stations may be canceled if they transmit messages that incite national hate and the destruction of public property." Officials can monitor and control broadcast messages that "attack national security," according to the decree.
It was adopted by the Interior Ministry and will be enforced by the National Telecommunications Commission, interim Information Minister Rene Zepeda told The Associated Press.

Micheletti was sworn in Honduras' interim president following a June 28 coup that ousted Zelaya and sent him into exile. After Zelaya suddenly reappeared in Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy on Sept. 21, street protests prompted the Micheletti government to limit freedom of expression, association and movement, and to shut down two pro-Zelaya broadcasters.

The restriction on civil liberties has been lifted, but Channel 36 and Radio Globo are still off the air. Micheletti said they would remain shut down until their owners "come to the courts to recover their right to be on the air." "We thought that when the (civil liberties) decree was revoked, the equipment would be returned, but that has not happened," said Yesenia Herculano, an activist with Honduras' Committee for Free Expression, earlier this week. "There has been no progress."
Talks on resolving the bitter divide over Zelaya's ousters produced some signs of progress before breaking off for the weekend.

On Friday, police fired tear gas and a water cannon at about 200 pro-Zelaya protesters who demonstrated outside the hotel where negotiations were taking place. There were no arrests and apparently no major injuries, though many people rubbed their eyes or had tears streaming from their eyes because of the acrid smoke.
The international community has been pressuring the Micheletti government to allow Zelaya's return before the Nov. 29 presidential election that was scheduled before the coup. Zelaya was toppled after he pressed ahead with plans for a referendum on changing the constitution despite a Supreme Court order ruling the vote illegal. The U.S. and other nations have suspended foreign aid and imposed diplomatic isolation on the interim administration.

October 10, 2009
Wrong Advice

The de facto Honduran government of Roberto Micheletti is listening to the wrong people. Since the military deposed the president, Manuel Zelaya, in June, Mr. Micheletti and his aides have received two American Congressional delegations — all Republicans — and they are getting additional free advice from former Republican officials who are clearly nostalgic for the cold war. Those days are over. Mr. Micheletti should instead pay attention to what he is being told by every democratically elected government in the hemisphere: President Zelaya must be reinstated to office. Nothing else will do.

Mr. Micheletti and his backers argued that they did everybody a favor by removing an erratic populist who was all too cozy with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Now they think they can stall through next month’s presidential election, hoping that the arrival of a new president will mean an end to sanctions and diplomatic isolation. “You don’t know the truth, or you don’t want to know it,” Mr. Micheletti angrily told a group of envoys from the Organization of American States, the United States, Canada and several Latin American governments who were in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’s capital, this week on an unsuccessful mission to solve the impasse.

But it is Mr. Micheletti who refuses to understand. Coups against democratically elected leaders, once the norm in Latin America, are no longer acceptable. There are signs that continued pressure may convince the de facto government to reinstate Mr. Zelaya under terms negotiated by the Costa Rican president, Óscar Arias. The deal would grant an amnesty to both sides and guarantee that Mr. Zelaya would do nothing to tinker with the Constitution or try to hang on to power.

The leading candidates for president — including the one from Mr. Micheletti’s party — have held talks with Mr. Zelaya, who sneaked back into Honduras and is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.

Business leaders are getting especially antsy about the country’s increasing isolation. The leader of the Honduran Manufacturers Association has called for restoring the deposed leader with limited powers while granting Mr. Micheletti a lifetime seat in Congress. A former finance minister who backed the coup is saying that he would support Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement, after the election, so he could finish out his term that ends in January.

Time is running out. If Mr. Micheletti and his backers expect the next Honduran government to be recognized as legitimate by the international community, it must restore Mr. Zelaya to office now.

Honduran Leadership Finds Friends Among GOP Lawmakers
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 2009

In the three months since soldiers expelled Honduras's leftist president, the Obama administration and the rest of the world have shunned the Central American country, cutting off aid and travel visas. But the isolated Honduran leadership has found one lifeline: Republicans on Capitol Hill. Within days of President Manuel Zelaya's ouster on June 28, the Honduran elite launched a lobbying campaign in Washington, arguing that the leftist leader had been a menace to their country. The de facto Honduran government and its allies have spent at least $600,000 on public-relations experts and lobbyists from both parties, including Lanny Davis, who was special counsel to President Bill Clinton.

Although the Hondurans have not succeeded in reversing U.S. policy, their arguments have found favor with some American lawmakers. A Republican senator has blocked two key nominations for Latin America, weakening President Obama's diplomatic team. In the past week, two GOP delegations have traveled to Honduras to meet with the de facto government, which is not recognized internationally.

Those actions have complicated the strategy of the Obama administration, which has been seeking to impress a growing crop of leftist Latin American leaders with its pro-democracy credentials. The administration is pressing for a negotiated solution in Honduras and worries that the de facto government is trying to run out the clock until the Nov. 29 presidential election -- with the support of its allies in Washington. "It gives [the de facto government] this hope you can hang on," said one U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. "It's not helpful."
Republicans say they are trying to prevent the spread of a leftist, anti-American ideology promoted by Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chávez -- a close ally of Zelaya's. "We've seen these power-hungry leaders of South and Central America take command and never let go. It's a worrisome trend," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a longtime critic of Chávez.

But other Republicans who have befriended the de facto government have little or no experience in the region, such as Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), an outspoken Obama foe. That has given rise to speculation that they are playing politics. "It's about the Republicans using what they can to attack the administration," said Julia E. Sweig, a Latin America expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's definitely bigger than Latin America."

Some analysts say the pushback has made the Obama administration more cautious on Honduras. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview last month, however, that U.S. efforts to seek a negotiated solution have "certainly put us on the right side of the dispute."

The Honduran crisis began when Zelaya, a rancher who had positioned himself as a champion of the poor, was arrested by soldiers and whisked out of the country on a military plane. Obama quickly joined the rest of the hemisphere's leaders in declaring that "the coup was not legal."

In the next few days, though, it became clear that this was no typical Latin American military coup. The Honduran Supreme Court revealed that the military was acting on an arrest warrant it had issued for Zelaya on charges that included treason. The accusations stemmed from his campaign for constitutional reform, which many Hondurans saw as an effort to entrench himself in power. Although the arrest may have been legitimate, the military's expulsion of Zelaya was a "direct violation" of the constitution, according to an analysis by the U.S. Congress's legal research arm.

Clinton has backed a plan that would reinstate Zelaya with reduced powers until the end of his term in January. Roberto Micheletti, who has assumed the Honduran presidency, has rejected the plan. Isolated internationally, Micheletti and his supporters have taken their case to the U.S. Congress. A group of Honduran businessmen backing Micheletti hired Roger F. Noriega, a top Latin America official in the Bush administration, to organize a meeting in July with Republican lawmakers. "It's the most senators I've seen in a room on Latin America in at least a decade," said Dan Fisk, another former Bush official who until recently was a Senate aide.

"What caught a number of senators' attention . . . is that all of a sudden you had the United States, Chávez and [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro on the same side," said Fisk, who has provided unpaid advice to DeMint's office. Fisk and Noriega have long been known as staunch opponents of Cuba's government and its supporters in Latin America.

Another group of Honduran businessmen hired Davis for a fee of at least $350,000. He wrangled an invitation to testify at a congressional hearing on Honduras in July and met with lawmakers from both parties. Davis said in an interview that he has not spoken to Clinton about Honduras and that he has backed her calls for a negotiated solution. In addition, the de facto government signed a $292,000 contract with a politically connected public relations firm in Washington.

Zelaya, in contrast, has relied largely on his ambassador in Washington to make contacts in Congress. "We don't have money to pay anyone. It's an unequal fight," said Ambassador Eduardo Enrique Reina.

For two months, DeMint has protested the Obama administration's Honduras policy by holding up a vote on its nominees for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, and ambassador to Brazil, Thomas A. Shannon Jr. The senator has built a following as an Obama critic, saying in July that conservatives could "break" the president by thwarting his health-care reform efforts. But DeMint denied he was using the Honduras issue to pummel the president. "This is not about Obama. This is about foreign policy," he said. "What I'm trying to do is get some of the facts on the table and encourage the administration to take a fair look.

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