Friday, October 2, 2009

Now Rift in US Congress on Honduras Widens, OAS Returns to Tegucigalpa

Despite all the political strife in Honduras, Peace Corps volunteers remain on the job in their rural and small-town locations, far away from the dramas taking place in Tegucigalpa, where matters still remain tense and uncertain. Meanwhile, in the capital, although travel may be down, at least the various delegations are keeping high-end hotels in business.

A review of the local Spanish-language press, which comes out on Fridays, mentions that the US ambassador to the OAS, Lewis Anselm, characterized Zelaya's clandestine return to Honduras without an agreement as “irresponsible.” Also, that the OAS had been invited to come back to Honduras, but that politics is threatening the morale of the Honduran soccer team hoping to qualify for the World Cup. Another article reports that over 150 Venezuelan students in 11 cities are on a hunger strike, asking the OAS to intervene to evaluate the status of human rights in their country.

Although it doesn’t have to do with Honduras, I’m still stunned by my latest interpretation assignment involving a 13-year-old girl, 6-months pregnant and refusing to name the father. She looked so small, thin, and shy while being questioned. I have suspicions about a couple of her family members, but, of course, like a good interpreter, I did not voice them. I cannot give more details here because of confidentiality, but the situation and image of that girl have stayed with me.

Here is what a new commentator has to say: At a minimum, the folks who kicked out Zelaya failed to consider the public relations consequences of their action, and their later suppression of pro-Zelaya dissent undermines their claim to be defending the constitution. And Lula makes pious disclaimers regarding his wish to not interfere in the internal affairs of Latin American states while ensconcing Zelaya in the Brazilian embassy. I heard that the Congressional Research Service did an analysis of the situation and said that the Honduran Congress and courts have a right to dismiss the president.

Another observes: Z's supporters not only want him back. They also want a referendum on calling for a constitutional convention, This second demand goes beyond the conditions of the Arias proposal, and together with the possibility that he could create a new political party and nominate a Z backed candidate for the coming presidential elections, is what is scaring the members of the Honduran oligarchy and blocking the acceptance of Z's return to power. While Arias' proposals might be prima facie acceptable to the Honduran oligarchy, they are reacting to Z's probable strategies to get around them and install a leftist government per secula seculorum in Honduras. They are conscious that once they lose power, a social revolution will probably ensue and they might not recover it at all or for a very long time. Fear of Fidel Castro's and Hugo Chavez examples motivates their behavior.

I would just let my commentators take over this blog, but they don’t post on the blog, only via my personal e-mail. Again, here is my erstwhile Latin American observer: What is now being discussed is whether Zelaya can create a new political party that would present a candidate in the coming elections and back him publicly. If this is allowed, that candidate would probably win and through him Zelaya would continue to run Honduras. Right now the Honduran oligarchy that backs Micheletti has fractured and is in a state of flux in which there is a weakening of its resolve and an increasing number of its members have taken fright and moved to more moderate positions, strengthening the sectors in favor of rapid solutions and less stringent demands. This includes the middle ranks of the officer corps who must carry out repression against the population and who are acutely aware of growing discontent among the lower ranks of the military. If, despite increased repression, popular opposition and public protests continue, this trend towards moderation and quick acceptance of the Arias proposal will continue and will ultimately prevail. The radical and unyielding faction of the oligarchy is giving its last hurrah and making a final effort to prevail, but since this effort will not eliminate the opposition and the legitimacy of the coming elections are in danger, its support among the oligarchy and the military is weakening and it will finally have to capitulate. However, in the meanwhile, it continues to exercise its "derecho al pataleo," the foot movements an executed criminal makes after being shot or dropped through the trap door of a scaffold with the rope around his neck.

And finally, this: The army high command, the legislators and business circles seem to have accepted the principle of Zelaya's return, given 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 are asking 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, that the possibility of a civil war is too high a price to pay, and that the Arias proposals 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.

The fears of Micheletti and his associates are real and explain why they are being so pigheaded. They don't trust Zelaya, once he is back in office, to comply with whatever promises he may have made. But if they run out the clock until January, there will be a huge price to pay, including failure to recognize the elections around the world. They are between a rock and a hard place,

OAS returns to seek deal on Honduras crisis
By Patrick Markey
Friday, October 2, 2009 5:55 PM

TEGUCIGALPA - An Organization of American States mission returned to Honduras on Friday to start work on negotiating an end to a standoff triggered when President Manuel Zelaya was ousted and exiled in a military coup. Zelaya, who riled Honduran elites with his ties to Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, was toppled by a coup in June but sneaked back into Honduras last week and has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy. De facto leader Roberto Micheletti says Zelaya must face charges and cannot return to power, while Zelaya insists on being reinstated to office.
Honduras refused entry on Sunday to an OAS advance mission but a team of diplomats flew back into Tegucigalpa on Friday to prepare ground for foreign ministers from the region who hope to broker a deal to break the deadlock. "Naturally we have to be cautious in all this but we are reasonably optimistic," OAS mission chief Victor Rico told reporters at the airport.

The Honduran standoff is U.S. President Barack Obama's first key test in Latin America after he promised a new engagement with a region that often had testy ties with Washington when George W. Bush was in office. Soldiers sent Zelaya into exile on June 28 after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. Critics say he illegally sought to amend the constitution to lift term limits but Zelaya denies wanting to stay in power.

Troops have cordoned off the Brazilian embassy but protests have dwindled since the de facto government imposed a decree banning marches in support of Zelaya, a logging magnate whose cowboy hat has become a symbol of the opposition.

Micheletti, a veteran politician in Central America's No. 2 coffee grower, is under pressure to seek a deal and lift the decree that has curbed civil liberties and shut two media stations loyal to the deposed leader. U.S. officials have pressed for Zelaya's restoration but criticized his surprise return. Washington has put pressure on Micheletti's supporters by cutting aid and revoking visas but shied away from tougher measures such as trade sanctions.

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint and some U.S. congressmen met Micheletti after the Republican lawmaker criticized the Obama administration for "blind support" of Zelaya's reinstatement. Washington, the United Nations and even some of Micheletti's local backers have urged him to lift the decree but he has resisted as the standoff edges closer to a November 29 presidential election that he says will resolve the crisis.

Micheletti has backed off a threat to shut Brazil's embassy if it does not give Zelaya asylum or hand him over to face treason charges. "He guaranteed there is no ultimatum. It has been lifted and they can stay until a solution is found," said Bruno Araujo, a Brazilian lawmaker who met Micheletti.

There are signs a compromise could emerge as both sides face demands to find a way out. One idea is a power-sharing deal. "An agreement may now be possible given growing frustration with the lack of a solution, weakening support for (Micheletti) and a sense of urgency to ensure the viability of ... elections," said Eurasia Group analyst Heather Berkman.

Several countries have suggested they might not recognize the vote without a prior agreement involving Zelaya. Honduran business leaders are proposing Zelaya be allowed back without executive power and put under house arrest until his term ends in January, when he would face corruption charges.

Kerry's Attempt to Block DeMint's Honduras Trip Reveals Policy Feud
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

A simmering feud over U.S. policy toward Latin America burst into the open Thursday when Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) tried to prevent a fact-finding trip to Honduras by a Republican senator who is blocking two important diplomatic appointments. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) denounced Kerry's move on the Senate floor and sought the intervention of the minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Republican leader appealed to the Defense Department to provide an aircraft for DeMint's trip and the Pentagon agreed to do so, according to the South Carolina senator's office.

"These bullying tactics by the Obama administration and Senator Kerry must stop, and we must be allowed to get to the truth in Honduras," DeMint said in a statement. His spokesman, Wesley Denton, called Kerry's action "unprecedented." Kerry fired back in a news release: "Senator DeMint's statement wins an A for 'audacity.' Thanks to his intransigence, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can't even hold hearings on our policy in Central and South America." The statement, issued by Kerry's spokesman, Frederick Jones, added that when DeMint allows a vote on the appointment of the two diplomats, "the Committee will approve his travel to Honduras."

The clash showed the depths of animosity that have developed in Congress over Obama's policy toward Honduras since its leader was removed by its military in June and expelled from the country. The administration, along with all other governments in the hemisphere, branded the action a "coup." It also cut off millions of dollars in aid and suspended the U.S. visas of Honduran officials. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped organize negotiations, led by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, that produced a plan to allow ousted president Manuel Zelaya to return to his post temporarily, with limited powers. The de facto Honduran government, led by Roberto Micheletti, a former leader of the National Congress, has rejected that proposed settlement.

DeMint and a handful of other conservative Republicans have said Zelaya's removal was legal because he had violated a constitutional ban by trying to extend his presidential term. They have protested that the Obama administration is supporting a politician with close ties to Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chavez.
For weeks, DeMint has held up a critical Senate vote on Arturo Valenzuela, Obama's choice to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the nominee to be ambassador to Brazil.

DeMint aides said he was preparing to travel to Honduras on Friday with three Republican House members -- Aaron Schock (Ill.), Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Doug Lamborn (Colo.) -- when they learned that the trip had been nixed by Kerry. As head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry can withhold committee funds for travel and deny permission for the use of military aircraft. But he had never before used that power to block another senator's travel, his aides said. DeMint's office said Thursday evening that thanks to McConnell's intervention, the trip would go forward. DeMint's statement accused the State Department of being part of the effort to block his trip.

But Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, denied that it had played any such role. "We don't control congressional travel," he said.

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