Saturday, October 31, 2009

US Realpolitik in Honduras?

Happy Halloween. It’s warmish here, looking rather cloudy with a threat of rain, but I’m still ready with my candy. I always run out, rain or shine. It would be more nutritious to give out something other than candy, but that’s not practical after the razor blades in apples and such and, besides, kids reject anything but candy.

Just realized that we change to standard time tomorrow. I’m a morning person, so really don’t appreciate the touted extra hour of sleep in the morning. I’d rather have it at night.

Thanks to those who have registered as regular blog followers. I don’t know most of you personally, but we do meet in cyberspace. You haven’t left any comments on the blog lately. Most comments I’ve repeated here have been sent to my Yahoo address, also shown on the blog. Either way is fine for making comments.

About Honduras, a regular correspondent notes: American pressure did the trick but it was only applied one month before the elections. Was this a coincidence? I think not!

Another correspondent says that she read in the Wall St. Journal that US observers will be present for the Honduran elections, despite what I had been told by someone at NDI.

The letter (far) below signed by several Congresspersons coincides with the Administration’s successful efforts to broker an agreement, which seems to provide an immediate answer to their request. I see that Maxine Waters of LA is one of the letter's signers. Years ago, attending a briefing held before one of her trips to Cuba that was to include a meeting with Fidel Castro, I asked her to please intervene on behalf of some Afro-Cuban political prisoners there, but she said she didn't want to hear anything about political prisoners or human rights. Then why were members of Amnesty International invited to talk with her before her trip? She now seems quite concerned about human rights in Honduras, but apparently that does not extend to Cuba.

A win in Honduras
How the Obama administration outmaneuvered Hugo Chávez

Saturday, October 31, 2009, Editorial Washington Post

THE STAKES in Honduras's political crisis have always been bigger than the country's tiny size would suggest -- and so it follows that the breakthrough engineered this week by the Obama administration is more than a minor diplomatic triumph. At its root, the fight in Honduras has been over whether Latin American nations will remain committed to upholding liberal democracy and the rule of law, not only at home but for their neighbors. The alliance led by Hugo Chávez is promoting a rival model of populist authoritarianism -- one that Honduras's deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, was attempting to adopt. When the Honduran army arrested Mr. Zelaya in June and illegally deported him, it, too, violated democratic norms, thus providing Mr. Chávez and his client with a convenient means to rally support.

Not just Venezuela's satellites but every other member of the Organization of American States joined in censuring Honduras. The subsequent intransigence of the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti -- and the unthinking support it received from some Republicans in Congress -- only added fuel to Mr. Chávez's fire.
The beauty of the U.S.-brokered deal is that it is founded on democratic process -- the very thing the Chavistas want to destroy. The Honduran Congress will vote on whether to restore Mr. Zelaya to office for the three months remaining in his term. Mr. Zelaya says he has the votes to return as president, but if he does, he will head a "government of reconciliation," and the armed forces will report to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a presidential election previously scheduled for Nov. 29 will go forward with international support and regional recognition for the winner. Neither of the two leading presidential candidates supports Mr. Zelaya or his agenda, which means that Honduras's democracy should be preserved, and Mr. Chávez's attempted coup rebuffed.

Continued U.S. involvement will be needed to ensure that the deal is implemented. If it succeeds, the Obama administration will have the standing -- and the obligation -- to insist that the OAS start paying attention to other breaches of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. A good place to start would be neighboring Nicaragua, where would-be strongman Daniel Ortega is entrenching himself in power through fraudulent elections, corrupt manipulation of the courts and orchestrated violence.
In Washington, meanwhile, Republicans such as Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who helped to prolong the Honduran crisis, should have no more excuse to hold up the confirmation of the administration's appointments for Latin American posts. As it happens, the leader of the U.S. delegation in Honduras this week, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, is one of the State Department professionals abused by Mr. DeMint. Having recorded the Obama administration's biggest diplomatic success so far, Mr. Shannon ought to be allowed to take up his new post as ambassador to Brazil.

October 31, 2009
Deal Set to Restore Ousted Honduran President

Less than two days after senior American officials arrived in Honduras, the leader of the nation’s de facto government signed an agreement that would allow the return of the country’s ousted president, paving the way for an end to Latin America’s deepest political crisis in years. The deal, which was reached late Thursday and still faces the hurdle of being approved by the Honduran Congress, followed months of intransigence by leaders of the de facto government.

After President Manuel Zelaya’s expulsion from the country on June 28, the new government adamantly refused to accept his restoration to office, despite international condemnation, isolation from its neighbors and multiple rounds of failed negotiations. Roberto Micheletti, the leader of Honduras’s de facto government, relented only after senior Obama administration officials landed in the Honduran capital to take charge of the talks, pressing the point that the United States would not recognize the coming presidential election unless he accepted the deal.

Though senior administration officials played down their role, Latin America experts said that the agreement represented a breakthrough for President Obama, whose relations in the hemisphere were tested by the crisis. For months, the administration resisted driving the negotiations, positioning itself as just another member of a coalition that included both its allies and its adversaries in the region. Latin American leaders took the lead in the talks, but both sides kept trying to win over Washington, long the dominant power in the region.

During a half-hour telephone call last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a leading role, making it clear to Mr. Micheletti that the United States was growing impatient with the stalemate and demanding that democracy be restored. Mr. Micheletti later joked with his aides that she stuck so close to her message it appeared she had a limited vocabulary. “I kept trying to explain our position to her,” he said, according to officials close to the talks, “but all she kept saying was, ‘Restitution, restitution, restitution.’ ”

Speaking on Friday in Pakistan, Mrs. Clinton called the deal a “historic agreement.”
“I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that, having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order, overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue,” she said.

The essential elements of the agreement had largely been worked out months ago by other Latin American leaders. If Congress agrees, Mr. Zelaya will serve out the remaining three months of his term, and the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 will be recognized by all sides. Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti, both members of the Liberal Party, are not candidates.

Some significant obstacles remain, not least of which is the approval of the nation’s Congress, which voted overwhelmingly to strip Mr. Zelaya of power four months ago and now has to decide whether to reinstate him. “That is going to be the issue that is most provocative internally,” said Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr., who led the American delegation, “and probably where we in the international community are going to have to pay the closest attention.”
The president of Congress, José Alfredo Saavedra, who is close to Mr. Micheletti, suggested that the legislature was in no hurry to decide on Mr. Zelaya’s fate. “At this time, nobody, absolutely nobody, can impose deadlines or terms on Congress,” he said.

The Zelaya camp also warned that there was much to do before the crisis was over. “Signing the agreement does not resolve the problem,” Carlos Eduardo Reina, an adviser to Mr. Zelaya, told local news organizations. “It opens space, it opens the door and determines what will be the path to return Honduras to legality.”
Kevin Casas-Zamora, an analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former vice president of Costa Rica, said he expected the Honduran Congress to approve Mr. Zelaya’s return because the two main presidential candidates right now had the most influence over legislators and wanted an agreement that would legitimize the election.

According to Mr. Micheletti, the accord would establish a unity government and a verification commission to ensure that its conditions were carried out. It would also create a truth commission to investigate the events of the past few months, but it would not provide amnesty for any crimes committed in connection with the coup. That could cause tensions with the military, which roused Mr. Zelaya from his bed and summarily forced him out of the country. It is unclear what it would mean for Mr. Zelaya, who has been threatened with arrest on charges ranging from corruption to treason.

As news of the agreement spread, residents poured from their homes and workplaces across Tegucigalpa, the capital, to celebrate. Jubilation broke out in streets that had been torn with protests for months.

Latin American governments had pressed the Obama administration to take a forceful approach to ending the impasse. Immediately after Mr. Zelaya was ousted, Mr. Obama joined the rest of the region in calling for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement. Later, the administration suspended about $30 million in aid and visas for people who had been identified as central supporters of the de facto government.
But hundreds of millions of dollars in American humanitarian assistance continued to flow, and Latin American countries, concerned about the precedent the coup had set in a region where democracy remained fragile, criticized the United States for sending mixed signals to Honduras.

There were no mixed signals this week, said officials close to the talks. “They showed the isolation the country would face, that doors would be closing to Honduras for some time to come,” said Roberto Flores Bermúdez, a former Honduran ambassador to Washington who served as a representative of the de facto government.

Congress Members Urge Obama to "Break the Silence" on Honduran Rights Violations
Axis of Logic
29 October 2009

Dear President Obama, October 27, 2009

We are writing to you regarding an urgent situation where lives are at stake and action on your part may prevent further tragedy.

Since the return to Honduras of President Manuel Zelaya, the de facto regime has taken further repressive measures, in addition to the previous violations of basic rights and civil liberties which have been recognized and denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and all of the key Honduran human rights NGOs, among others.

According to reports from the media and rights organizations, the coup regime violently dispersed a gathering of Hondurans in front of the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa with tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets, resulting in numerous casualties, including several reported fatalities.

While the siege of the Embassy is a serious violation of the Vienna Convention, more disturbing is the broad assault against the Honduran people unleashed by the coup regime.

On September 22 the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, stated that "given the reports we have received, and the poor track record of the security forces since the coup, we fear that conditions could deteriorate drastically in the coming days." That same day, the Americas Director for the London-based rights organization Amnesty International, Susan Lee, has stated that "the attacks against human rights defenders, suspension of news outlets, beating of demonstrators by the police and ever-increasing reports of mass arrests indicate that human rights and the rule of law in Honduras are at grave risk."

The international community has also spoken out regarding the worsening human rights situation in Honduras. On September 22nd, Mexico released a statement in the name of the 23-member Rio Group demanding that the de facto government stop carrying out "acts of repression and violation of human rights of all Hondurans." The following day, the President of the European Union seconded the Rio Group statement.

Mr. President, we were glad to hear State Department spokesman Ian Kelly on September 22 reaffirm the position of the Administration that Manuel Zelaya is the "democratically elected and constitutional leader of Honduras." But unfortunately, the mixed messages that have characterized the Administration's response persist.

The head of the US delegation to the Organization of American States Lewis Anselem represented our nation in that body by saying "Zelaya's return to Honduras is irresponsible and foolish and it doesn't serve the interest of the people nor those who seek the restoration of democratic order in Honduras [...] Everything will be better if all parties refrain from provoking and inciting violence." Not content to place equal blame on both the victims of the violence and the perpetrators, he then chose to personally insult Mr. Zelaya, saying "The president should stop acting as though he were starring in an old Woody Allen movie." State Department spokespersons have declined numerous opportunities to distance your administration from Anselem's words.

We note that, unlike the coup leaders, President Zelaya has indicated his openness to dialogue and has accepted the San Jose agreements that emerged from the US-backed mediation process led by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica.

The suspension of rights announced by the junta on September 27 in Executive Decree PCM-M-016-2009 was used to shut down independent media outlets like Radio Globo and Canal 36, which have only recently been able to resume broadcasting.

The decree was denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as "a violation of international law," containing "provisions [that] arbitrarily restrict fundamental human rights."

ED PCM-M-016-2009 remained legally in effect and was enforced by the junta until Monday, October 19, when the rescission was finally published, only to be replaced by a decree from the junta's Security Minister in which all planned public gatherings, rallies or marches, must be made known to the national police 24 hours in advance, including names of event organizers, start and end times, and any march routes.

Another, similar decree allowing authorities to suspend any media considered to be "fomenting social anarchy", had already been issued on October 7. According to the organization Reporters Without Borders, the October 7 decree is "targeted at those that oppose the coup" and "constitutes a real threat to pluralism, an incentive to self-censorship and an additional mechanism for polarizing the media and public opinion."

Free and fair elections cannot take place under these conditions.

Though we commend the administration for having strongly stated their support for the restoration of democracy in Honduras, we are concerned that neither you nor the Secretary of State has denounced these serious human rights abuses in a country where US influence could be decisive.

It is now more urgent than ever to break this silence. It is critical that your Administration immediately, clearly and unequivocally reject and denounce the repression by this illegitimate regime. We can say sincerely and without hyperbole that this action on your part will save lives.

Furthermore, the vast majority of our neighbors in the region, including Brazil and Mexico, have clearly indicated that they will not recognize the results of elections held under the coup regime.

On September 29, Costa Rican President and US-appointed mediator Oscar Arias noted the regime's continued rejection of the San Jose accords, and warned that Honduran elections cannot be recognized by the international community without a restoration of constitutional order. Arias said, "the cost of failure of leaving a coup d'etat unpunished is setting up a bad precedent for the region [...] You could have remembrances of a bad Latin American past, insisting on elections under these circumstances and overlooking items in the San Jose Accord."

It is time for the administration to join this growing hemispheric and international consensus and unambiguously state that elections organized by an undemocratic government that has denied critics of the regime the right to free speech, assembly, and movement, cannot and will not be considered free and fair by our government.

We feel it is imperative that the administration step up its efforts to bring about a prompt restoration of democracy in Honduras, together with other regional leaders.

We eagerly await your reply.


Raúl M. Grijalva, José E. Serrano,
Fortney "Pete" Stark, Danny K. Davis,
Janice D. Schakowsky, Maxine Waters,
Barbara Lee, John Conyers,
Luis V. Gutierrez, Jesse L. Jackson,
Chaka Fattah, James P. Moran,
Michael M. Honda, Sam Farr,
James L. Oberstar, Eddie Bernice Johnson

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