Sunday, November 29, 2009

Obamas Attend Local College Basketball Game, Honduran Election Day Arrives

Yesterday, Saturday, my only current housemate, internationally renowned water and sanitation expert Rochelle, went to a basketball game at George Washington University because the team from Oregon State, her home state, was playing. She also had a hunch, or had heard a rumor, that the First Family would be attending and she was right! There they all were, Barak, Michelle, the girls, and Grandma. And Oregon State won. Today, she left for Liberia. Rochelle does get around.

Every morning when I turn on the radio or scan the headlines online, I brace myself for hearing something terrible about Honduras, like that Zelaya, Micheletti, or Lobo has been murdered or that bloody clashes are underway between the army and election protesters. It’s always a relief when things are calm. If I feel anxious at this distance, imagine how Hondurans actually living in such a precarious situation feel. It’s also hard not to have sympathy for Zelaya supporters when it looked like their guy was going to be restored to office, then wasn’t, and their hopes were dashed. The streets of Honduras were reported to be calm ever since polls opened at 7am with a light, steady stream of voters, though no crowds or demonstrators. Last presidential election, 56% of eligible voters cast ballots. We’ll see this time if Zelaya’s call for an election boycott cuts substantially into that percentage. This whole matter has gotten so complicated now that it's up to Hondurans to decide. Of course, a small turnout will present a problem for the victor and for the US and international community as well.

Zelaya did not emerge suddenly from his refuge, as my Latin American correspondent speculated might happen. He may be planning some other strategy before or after the congress rules on his case on Dec. 2. Supposedly, Zelaya has Brazilian and other Latin American advisers, but they don’t seem to be advising him particularly well. Nor has he shown himself to be particularly statesmanlike by reaching out to his opponents to resolve the issue. Maybe he has been advised to hang tight and not to yield. In the short run, at least, his tactics do not seem to have been very successful. He certainly didn’t seem like a team player when he was president and he doesn’t now either, even when it would be to his advantage. Let’s see if today’s victor, presumably Lobo, is anymore skillful. I do anticipate a heavy interpretation schedule this week and may not have time to post the results and aftermath of the election immediately, so please watch the news.

Here, again, is my Latin American correspondent, whom I won’t identify further except that he is not Honduran and, obviously, has an excellent command of English and a unique manner of expression. Like I told you before, I do not consider Zelaya to be very intelligent politically nor for that matter very charismatic or radical and he may very well do a favor for the future leftist movement by dying at the right time instead of continuing to live on and eventually disappoint all the people who have placed their faith on him! If Shakespeare was right and all of life is a theater and all human beings actors, then the greatest gift of a failed politician like Zelaya might be to have enough timing to know when to make his exit from the stage and to make it in the grandest style possible. It would be anti-climatic for him to merely fade away and totally fail to live up to the hopes of his followers, causing a great damage to the political movement that he says he supports. In the next couple of days we will know whether he possesses this gift or whether he is just a political opportunist!

I do not want to make overzealous demands on him, but I believe that, unfortunately, the only way he can redeem himself in the eyes of his followers is to perish at the hands of the military leading a popular protest against the coming elections. Politics is cruel and, sadly, the only way a failed Latin American politician can preserve his status as a leader before his cynical followers is by rising above his fears and willingly assuming the role of a martyr to at least preserve his dignity when all else is lost! Right now Zelaya must be facing the toughest moment in his life since he must decide "To be or not to be!" or, put another way, whether to die as a hero or to live on as a loser!

I’m told that in the current issue of the New Yorker (Nov. 30, my copy hasn’t arrived yet), William Finnegan has written an article entitled, “An Old-Fashioned Coup.” To him, it's a straight-up illegal coup, no gray about it. He reportedly has spoken with Zelaya and quotes Arias as saying that the Honduran constitution is "the worst in the world." I wonder what Finnegan would have to say now about Arias's declaration that Costa Rica will support the Honduran election outcome, as mentioned in my last blog? That must have been a real blow to Zelaya’s forces, causing them to brand him as either a turncoat or a dishonest broker in his mediating efforts. Although I haven’t read the article and actually seen the evidence presented, I disagree that it really is an old-fashioned coup—it’s not a military government, a pre-planned presidential election is taking place on schedule, and Zelaya was acting demagogically, ignoring warnings and objections. On the other hand, he was duly elected and what happened to him was not business as usual. But just labeling Zelaya’s removal “an old-fashioned coup” doesn’t make it so. If it really was a coup at all, it was certainly a very different animal from past coups. We’ll see what kind of political leader Lobo turns out to be. He has a delicate and very tough job ahead, keeping the peace without being too heavy-handed and regaining the trust of both the Honduran people and the world. .

When I go to Honduras in Feb., Primero Dios (God willing), I’ll try to do some fact-checking, like on the 200 soldiers that Finnegan reportedly asserts arrested Zelaya. It's possible that the oligarchs, as my Latin American correspondent calls them, had been plotting to get rid of Zelaya for a while because of his Chavez connections and because they thought he was going too far (for example, raising the minimum wage 60% all at once) and that he then simply provided them with a convenient excuse by deciding to launch the referendum.

Here is our Latin American commentator’s reaction to the following article: The Obama administration was simultaneously trying to show some token commitment with the pro-democracy goal of the OAS to stop military coup d'etats from reoccurring in Latin America and at the same time not trying to take effective diplomatic and economic sanctions that would have brought Zelaya back to power because it feared Republican criticism that it had gone soft on communism during the midterm elections. This and other matters where Obama has been overcautious are already helping to give him a reputation of being an indecisive, flip flopping, do-nothing president which certainly will not aid his party or him in conducting their foreign policy or at the polls.

Here’s my reply to him: Is Obama just a pragmatist and a conciliator, or is he, as you, allege, overcautious and a flip-flopper? Being a political leader is challenging, not something most of us are capable of. G W Bush stuck to his guns, even when the facts negated them, such as about Iraq and the WMDs. I think I prefer nuanced politics, but, you are right, many Latin American leaders don't understand nuance and are angry and disappointed.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Honduras holds election, hopes to emerge from political turmoil
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 29, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA -- This Central American country held presidential elections on Sunday in a bid to regain international legitimacy after a coup that has rattled the hemisphere and frustrated the Obama administration's efforts to improve relations with Latin America. The U.S. government is hoping the elections will help resolve the crisis that exploded when the Honduran military detained President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. But most nations in the region have declared they will not recognize the winner, saying that would ratify the coup.

Turnout appeared light Sunday morning at some polling stations in poor neighborhoods, but voters lined up in working-class and middle-class areas. Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into the country two months ago, has called for a boycott of the vote.
Fearing violence, Honduran authorities deployed thousands of soldiers and police to guard the polls. Pickup trucks filled with camouflage-clad soldiers clutching AK-47 rifles or manning machine guns cruised the capital, but no major incidents were reported. "We are so anxious for this all end," said Rosa Maria Flores, 62, a teacher, referring to the crisis that has gripped the country. She was casting a ballot at a school in the working-class Kennedy neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, which was crowded with voters.

In the impoverished hillside neighborhood of San Francisco, where skinny dogs and chickens roamed the dirt streets, only a trickle of voters turned up Sunday morning. Naun Argijo, 21, said his family of 10, which shares a two-room shack, would not vote because they were upset over Zelaya's ouster. "He was the only president who looked out for poor people," said Argijo.

The political crisis in this tiny, coffee-exporting country has divided Honduras and exposed the ineffectiveness of U.S. and international pressure to preserve democracy in a poor region long marked by strongman governments, analysts say. Despite the personal involvement of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, two American-brokered accords aimed at reversing the coup have unraveled. The Obama administration now finds itself accused by regional allies like Brazil of abandoning its commitment to democracy for a more pragmatic solution. "This will leave a bad aftertaste in people's mouths, the way the U.S., rightly or wrongly, rushed to condemn the coup, then for its own reasons, tried to backpeddle," said Chris Sabatini, policy director at the Council of the Americas business group. "It will make the U.S. less of a trustworthy partner diplomatically."

U.S. officials say they have little choice but to recognize the long-planned election -- assuming it is fair -- as part of a solution to the crisis in this longtime American ally. "What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?" a senior U.S. official told reporters in Washington recently, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sunday's vote will almost certainly end a brief spell of left-wing populism in the Honduran government, with the two leading presidential candidates both prosperous businessmen with centrist platforms. Neither Zelaya nor the de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, is on the ballot. The leading candidates are Porfirio Lobo, of the National Party, and Elvin Santos, of Zelaya's Liberal Party. Both oppose Zelaya.
But the country's deep polarization is likely to continue. Spidery black graffiti covers the walls of squat pastel-painted buildings around this mountainous capital, reading "We don't want coups!" and "The people demand their rights." Several small, crude bombs have exploded at state institutions and media supportive of the de facto government in recent days. No one was harmed.

On Friday night, soldiers shot at a car that drove past a security post onto a public road near a military installation in Tegucigalpa, hitting the 32-year-old driver in the head and causing his vehicle to crash into several bystanders, who were also injured, according to a news release from Amnesty International. A call to the military spokesman was not immediately returned.

The Honduran military detained Zelaya after he tried to hold a referendum that many feared was aimed at illegally extending his rule beyond the one-term limit. The wealthy rancher had increasingly alienated his country's political parties, the Catholic Church and the business community with his growing ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the leader of an anti-U.S. leftist alliance in Latin America.
Even before Zelaya's ouster, U.S. diplomats had discouraged a series of coup plots in Honduras. But when Zelaya fired the military leadership in June for refusing to help carry out his referendum, the generals gave the go-ahead to remove him, U.S. officials say. Acting on an arrest warrant from the Supreme Court, 200 soldiers stormed the presidential residence and bundled Zelaya onto a plane to Costa Rica.

The Obama administration initially condemned the action, seeking to burnish its democratic credentials in a region with harsh memories of U.S.-backed coups. It cut millions of dollars in aid and threatened to withhold U.S. recognition of the election unless the de facto government signed accords that would restore Zelaya with limited powers. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in September that the de facto regime was in a box -- "and they will have to sign on to the . . . accords to get out of the box."

But in the end, the United States proved to be in the box. The Micheletti government refused to sign the accords, and a subsequent agreement has stalled. Micheletti and his allies reached out for support to Republicans in the U.S. Congress, who held up critical diplomatic appointments to protest U.S. backing for the reinstatement of a Chávez ally.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank, said the legislative move undermined U.S. decision-making, which also seemed to lack authoritative direction. "At times, no one seemed to hold the reins on a day-to-day basis," he said.

U.S. diplomats are hoping the presidential election will produce a winner motivated to negotiate with the Zelaya camp in hopes of winning international recognition. The Honduran National Congress is scheduled to debate Wednesday whether to allow Zelaya to finish the final two months of his term, acting under an Oct. 30 agreement between him and Micheletti. But many politicians here doubt that Congress will approve his return. "Our preference is obviously that the Congress restore Zelaya," U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens told reporters Friday. The newly elected government, he said, "will have a vested interest the Micheletti government didn't have to engage with the international community."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------November 29, 2009
Weary of Political Crisis, Honduras Holds Election

TEGUCIGALPA — Rony Gómez will stay home when Hondurans go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, five months after the military and Congress ousted the last one. “I won’t vote,” he said. “It would be endorsing the coup.” The question is how many Hondurans feel like Mr. Gómez, a 40-year-old street vendor and former soldier. Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, condemns the elections as illegal, and predicts a low turnout that will show that he still enjoys popular support.

But the de facto government that has run the country since the coup last summer argues that the elections — scheduled long before the country’s turmoil began — are the only way to end the political crisis and move on. A large turnout would prove that most Hondurans agree. Many people here, weary of what they refer to as “the situation,” and worried as the economy spirals downward, say they do plan to vote. “That’s how the transition starts,” said Moisés Bados Castellano, 67, a retired accountant and farmer. “We need democracy in this country.”

In the final days before the vote, the streets here were calm. Campaigning stopped at the end of last week and there was barely an election poster visible by this weekend. The flags and bunting that usually wrap the city’s buildings and cars in the colors of the two leading parties before elections were also absent. The two leading candidates began running months before Mr. Zelaya was ejected and exiled, but their platforms promising to deal with the global recession, the country’s stubborn poverty, mounting crime and dysfunctional schools instantly were overshadowed by the coup.

Porfirio Lobo, who lost the last election four years ago to Mr. Zelaya, had a double-digit lead in the last polls. Mr. Lobo, 61, a wealthy conservative with a long political career, has danced rhetorical circles around the question of Mr. Zelaya’s future. “I think it’s fundamental to have a dialogue with all the actors,” Mr. Lobo told foreign reporters Friday. “I know that at some point I will have to talk to Zelaya.” But he refused to say what might happen to the multiple legal charges, including treason, that Mr. Zelaya faces.His opponent, Elvín Santos, who had been Mr. Zelaya’s vice president before resigning to run for president, has been a more outspoken supporter of the coup.

As the elections approached, the apparent quiet masked an underlying tension. Over the past week, homemade bombs have exploded here and in San Pedro Sula without any injuries. “Everything seems fine but there is a dangerous calm,” said Nubia Palma, 58, a lawyer who says she will vote. “There is speculation about a whole pile of things. They could boycott the elections.”

At this point, a significant boycott seems to be the last recourse available to Mr. Zelaya. He has spent the past two months camped out at the Brazilian Embassy after he sneaked back into the country. The de facto government says it will arrest him when he sets foot outside the building.He spends his days on the telephone with advisers and the media. “The elections won’t punish the coup,” he said in an interview. “They will elect a fraudulent president.” He said that he planned to ask for the results to be annulled on the basis of what he expected to be a low turnout.Along with his wife and two political advisers, there are 18 more people in the embassy, including several reporters and supporters in charge of secretarial work, cleaning and security.

In their spare time, they organize chess tournaments, said Carlos Eduardo Reina, one of the political advisers. Food is allowed in twice a day past the soldiers who are blocking access to the streets around the embassy to keep away supporters. But the large street protests organized to protest Mr. Zelaya’s ouster have long since dwindled, as security forces have cracked down harshly, beating and arresting demonstrators. The government has closed pro-Zelaya broadcasters. And human rights groups report constant harassment and threats against Mr. Zelaya’s supporters. United States officials agree that the human rights situation has deteriorated significantly since the coup.

In theory, the world stands with Mr. Zelaya and his condemnation of the elections. Not a single country has recognized the government of Roberto Micheletti, who was named president by the Congress hours after Mr. Zelaya was flown out of the country. The United States, the European Union and the multilateral banks have all suspended aid to Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

The United States, which brokered a deal last month that was to end the crisis and legitimize the elections, has said that it approved of the vote’s going forward. But with the exception of Panama and Costa Rica — whose president had tried to mediate an accord — no other countries in the region have publicly joined the United States in that stance.

Under the deal that the United States worked on and that both Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti signed, the Honduran Congress was to vote on Mr. Zelaya’s restoration. The two sides were also supposed to form a unity government until Mr. Zelaya’s term expired, as scheduled, at the end of January. The deal quickly fell apart after Congress delayed its vote — now scheduled for Wednesday — and a unity government was never formed. United States officials continue to press for some version of the deal. They hope that the election could unlock the country’s political paralysis.“The newly elected government will have a vested interest that the Micheletti government did not have to engage with the international community,” said Hugo Llorens, the United States ambassador here.

But Mr. Zelaya seems little inclined to continue negotiations.“The accord was a plan to make the elections legitimate,” he said. “As long as the rule of law isn’t restored, there is nothing.”
November 28, 2009
Region Finds U.S. Lacking on Honduras

WASHINGTON — Drug cartels are running amok in Mexico, Raúl Castro is tightening his grip on Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is making mischief with Russia and Iran, but it is a relatively obscure backwater, Honduras, that has provided the Obama administration with its first test in Latin America. The ouster of Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran populist president, five months ago propelled the deeply impoverished country onto President Obama’s packed agenda. The question now is whether his administration’s support for the presidential election being held there on Sunday will be seen as a stamp of approval for a coup or, as senior administration members maintain, the beginning of the end of the crisis.

Most countries in the region see it as the former. Haunted by ghosts of authoritarian governments not long in the grave, countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile have argued that an election held by an illegal government is, by definition, illegal. They worry that if Mr. Obama appears to set aside that principle in Honduras, where the United States has long been a power broker, what would Washington do if democracy were threatened in a more powerful country where it wields less influence?

Last week, Marco Aurélio García, a senior adviser to the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said his country “continues to have great hopes” for good relations with the United States. But, he added, “the truth is so far we have a strong sense of disappointment.” While there have been other issues — new United States bases planned for Colombia and a slow movement toward engagement with Cuba — much of the disappointment stems from the administration’s handling of the crisis that began June 28 when Honduran troops detained Mr. Zelaya and forced him into exile.

Mr. Obama was one of the first to condemn the coup and call for Mr. Zelaya to be restored. Rather than impose a strategy for handling the crisis, the White House collaborated with the rest of the region in support of negotiations between Mr. Zelaya and the conservative leaders of Honduras’s de facto government. Since then, the United States policy toward Honduras has been marked by mixed signals and vague objectives. The State Department was pulled in one direction by Democrats, who supported Mr. Zelaya, and another by Republicans, who sought to weaken the administration’s resolve to reinstate him.

The administration suspended some $30 million in assistance to Honduras, but continued the bulk of its aid — worth hundreds of millions of dollars — saying it did not want to punish the majority of Hondurans living in poverty. The United States was slow to criticize human rights abuses by the de facto government, but swift to scold Mr. Zelaya for political stunts that culminated with his sneaking back into Honduras, where he remains camped inside the Brazilian Embassy.
The move that seems to have most undermined Mr. Obama’s clout came last month when the administration reversed course by signaling that it would accept the outcome of Sunday’s elections whether or not Mr. Zelaya was restored to power. Latin American governments accused the administration of putting pragmatism over principle and of siding with Honduran military officers and business interests whose goal was to use the elections to legitimize the coup.

“President Obama’s credibility in the region has been seriously weakened,” said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a Latin America expert at the Brookings Institution and a former vice president of Costa Rica. “In a matter of five months, his administration’s position on the coup has gone from indignation to indifference to confusion to acquiescence.” In interviews, senior administration officials rejected that view, saying that their strategy shifted as the crisis evolved, but that they never abandoned the region’s shared principles.

Mr. Zelaya, once a darling of the Honduran upper classes, fell from favor when he began increasing the minimum wage, reducing the price of fuel and allying himself with President Chávez. His critics say he crossed a line when he defied the Supreme Court and pushed a referendum to change the Constitution so that he could run for another term. The court called in the military.

The longer the crisis went on, administration officials said, the more they feared Honduras would become another Haiti, where sanctions against a military regime pushed the hemisphere’s poorest country to the brink of collapse. “We understand that we have to build consensus and that we have to work multilaterally, but we can’t sacrifice a country to do that,” said a senior administration official, who like others interviewed for this article asked not to be identified because he or she were discussing diplomatic deliberations. “Not recognizing the elections unless President Zelaya is restored to power doesn’t get us anywhere.”

On Sunday, President Obama sent a letter to President da Silva laying out his arguments. And on Monday, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, made the administration’s case before the Organization of American States, saying the election was not an effort to “whitewash a coup d’état.” Instead, he said, it was an opportunity to permit “the Honduran people to exercise their sovereign will.” With the exception of Panama and Costa Rica, no other countries in the region have publicly said they will join the United States in recognizing the vote. “They really thought he was different,” said Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to Latin America’s view of Mr. Obama, adding, “But those hopes were dashed over the course of the summer.”

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dad of Honduran Former Officemate Dies, Hond. Supreme Ct. Rules vs. Zelaya, Brazil Threatens Ouster from OAS, Costa Rica Vows Election Recognition

Just received word from Luis, my Esperanza officemate during Peace Corps, that his father, for whom he was named, has died of a heart attack. The senior Luis, who must have been about 65, had had a previous attack, from which he appeared to have recovered, but no bypass surgery or arterial stents are available there. He was a former secondary teacher, affectionate grandfather, and genial conversationalist, a well-known, respected figure in La Esperanza. Even our office address was designated by his name: una cuadra al norte del deposito Pepsi, contiguo a Luis Knight (one block from the Pepsi warehouse, next to Luis Knight). Death necessarily comes to us all, but even when it’s not totally unexpected, as in this case, it’s still a big shock and loss for those left behind.

Yesterday, not only did I wax nostalgic for our makeshift potluck Thanksgiving Peace Corps dinners, but also recalled a memorable Thanksgiving I spent in Iasi, Romania, when I was there to evaluate orphanages after the end of the Ceausescu regime. That scrawny, tough Romanian turkey was served with a fruit puree approximating cranberry sauce, thanks to the touching efforts of our Romanian hosts to re-create a holiday dinner they had never actually experienced. Meanwhile, scores of standard full-breasted turkey dinners eaten here with traditional side dishes all blur into a single memory.

Now, Zelaya’s pal Hugo Chavez is castigating France for having condemned Carlos the Jackal to life imprisonment, calling Carlos’s trial blatantly unfair.

Here in DC, today’s El Tiempo Latino reports that 16 Venezuelan university students who began a hunger strike on Nov. 21 have vowed to consume only water until the OAS Human Rights Commission investigates their claims of political persecution.

In the same issue, Zelaya pronounces the upcoming presidential election in his country “illegal” and columnist Jorge Ramos sees the Honduran political establishment motivated by fear of Chavez’s influence and by a stubborn defense of their right to govern their own country without being told what to do by outsiders.

The Honduran Supreme Court (see Reuters article below) has ruled that Zelaya’s ouster was legal, probably influencing the congressional vote scheduled for Dec. 2. An article in Miami’s El Nuevo Herald gives more details of the court’s decision, which accuses Zelaya of six specific crimes, among them “treason against the homeland.” Zelaya has said he refuses to return to power anyway under the circumstances, though, no doubt, he prefers not to have to spend the rest of his days inside the Brazilian Embassy. Some sort of amnesty needs to be offered him, though the interim government certainly will not relish the idea of having him free to roam the country, both out of concern for his own safety and fear that he may cause serious unrest and rally his followers to undermine the winning presidential candidate.

As per another Reuters article below, Brazil is speaking out on behalf of Zelaya, threatening to spearhead the expulsion of Honduras from the OAS. Agreed that a country should not be able to topple an elected president without justification, but it should be able to do so if he acts against the law and the constitution. Honduran officials have long ago recognized that not including an impeachment clause in their constitution was an unfortunate mistake. But saying that the action against Zelaya has “the fingerprints of a coup,” as per Lula’s spokesman, is not the same as saying it is a coup. It certainly looked liked a coup at first, but has turned out to be something in between. That’s the problem, it’s not clearly a coup or anything else. It will be a real irony, a travesty really, if Honduras is permanently excluded from the OAS (right now, it is just suspended), while Cuba is admitted.

A third Reuters article below reports on the weariness of the Honduran people and the substantial poll lead of Porfirio Lobo, Zelaya’s opponent in the last election, an advocate of business investment, and a man even further removed from Zelaya’s politics and policies than the candidate from Zelaya’s own party, Elvin Santos. The Carter Center is not sending observers; I had contacted them right after Zelaya and Micheletti signed their agreement in October, offering my services, but never received a reply.

Now, poor Zelaya, even Arias has turned against him (see first article below). Zelaya must feel as betrayed by Arias as he feels betrayed by the US and will probably question the Costa Rican president’s impartiality as a negotiator. However, Arias, like US officials, may argue that further investigation and developments, including Zelaya’s own behavior, led to a modification of their original position.

Colombian-born columnist Edward Schumacher-Matos sees the US standing alone in support of the Honduran election, but that was before Arias made his surprise announcement.

Latin America is dividing along familiar ideological lines. And I do get the sense myself from e-mailed reports that Zelaya's support, even among the poor, is waning; they're becoming weary and everyone is suffering-- international construction projects have been halted, putting people out of work. So the obstinacy of the Micheletti gang seems finally to be panning out with at least a half-turn in the tide of both world and national Honduran public opinion. How a new government will treat Zelaya and how he will act when he emerges from the embassy are still unanswered questions, but it seems unlikely now that he will ever resume office. We'll have to see what role he plays in the future and whether he assumes the leadership of the disloyal opposition. Sounds like Lobo, anticipating victory on Sunday, is trying to head that off by extending him an olive branch that he may end up rejecting. This whole saga has had so many unexpected twists and turns--and they're not over yet.

One of our regular correspondents comments: Hard to believe that the election is only days away. The calm before the storm? Or the exhaustion of a populace nearing the finish line? We'll know soon enough.
November 27, 2009
Costa Rica to Recognize Next Honduran Government

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Costa Rica promised to restore ties with the Honduras after it elects a new president on Sunday, joining other nations in rejecting ousted President Manuel Zelaya's insistence that recognizing the vote would legitimize a June coup.The front-runner in the elections, Porfirio Lobo, welcomed the decision by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, saying in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday that he expected other Latin American countries gradually to follow suit. ''Some who are saying today they won't recognize the vote have told me they will recognize the elections,'' he said.

Lobo also promised that if he wins, he would include Zelaya in a national reconciliation talks and suggested that the ousted leader would be able to leave his refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy without fear of arrest. Zelaya has been holed up there since sneaking back into the country in September. ''They have to get him out. If not, how?'' said Lobo, who declined to answer whether he would grant Zelaya a pardon on abuse of power and other charges. ''What I know is that if we want peace for Honduras, we have to bring him into the dialogue,'' he said.

Arias' decision to acknowledge the next administration is a new setback for Zelaya, who is urging the international community not to recognize the vote. Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was a chief mediator in largely unsuccessful negotiations to restore Zelaya to power. He now says the world should not punish the next Honduran government for the coup. ''Why should we punish them with a second Hurricane Mitch by not recognizing the next government, isolating it, denying it cooperation?'' Arias said in an interview aired Friday on CNN en Espanol. The 1998 hurricane killed thousands in Honduras.

Western Hemisphere countries, once united in condemning the June 28 coup, are divided on recognizing the results of the elections, which were scheduled long before Zelaya's ouster. Left-led countries, including Brazil and Argentina, argue recognizing the vote is tantamount to whitewashing the coup.

But the United States, the chief source of foreign investment and development aid in Honduras, says it will support the election. Panama and Peru have also promised to recognize the elections if they are fair and clean. ''It is important for Honduras, for Central America, for democracy, that more and more countries are recognizing the electoral process,'' said Lobo, the National Party candidate who leads opinion polls.
Alone, and right, on Honduras
By Edward Schumacher-Matos
Washington Post, Friday, November 27, 2009

The United States finds itself pretty much alone in supporting elections to be held this Sunday in embattled Honduras. It's enough to make you wonder whether, following the unilateral misadventures under George W. Bush, we might once again be on the wrong side of history. With the exception of Panama, almost everyone else in the world maintains that the elections are illegitimate as long as the country's last elected president, Manuel Zelaya, remains deposed. The former lumber baron is hunkered down inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, sleeping on sofas and blustering to the media.

I firmly believe in multilateralism and compromise. As every spouse learns, the most important words to maintain peace are "yes, dear." But this is one of those times when you have to stand on principle. My bet is that the world will come around to Washington's view.

Though Zelaya was escorted out of the country at gunpoint while in his pajamas nearly five months ago, a realization has slowly spread across Latin America and Europe that this was not a standard military coup. The Honduran Supreme Court had ordered Zelaya's removal from office after he resorted to mob rule to carry out a referendum that the courts, the Honduran Congress, the electoral commission and his own attorney general had ruled unconstitutional. Zelaya, seeking to lift presidential term limits much as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez had done, had created a constitutional crisis. The military has since apologized for overstepping its bounds by depositing him abroad instead of in jail. Zelaya later sneaked back into the country and took refuge in the embassy.

Latin American nations, so fearful of coups that they didn't stop to consider the facts, blundered in trying to bring the de facto government to its knees by kicking it out of the Organization of American States. When the Hondurans refused to bow to OAS pressure, the hemispheric body, led by its ham-handed secretary-general, José Miguel Insulza, was left with no negotiating leverage.

Only the United States responded with a calibrated approach, siding with the Latin American countries over how Zelaya was removed but being understanding enough to seek a mediated solution. For once, bipartisanship thrives. A group of Senate Republicans backed off from their blind thrashing at Chávez ghosts, and now the democracy institutes of both parties are sending election observers.

The elections were scheduled, the candidates were chosen and the electoral commission was appointed while Zelaya was still in office. As Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela told an OAS commission this week, "this is an election consistent with the constitutional mandate to elect the president and Congress."
What matters now is what happens on Sunday. If there is no widespread violence or fraud and if participation is more or less 50 percent, as in past elections, the international opposition is likely to crumble. As an earlier assistant secretary of state, Jeffrey Davidow, now at the University of California at San Diego, told me, "There will be new faces, and that will change the negotiating dynamic."

Porfirio Lobo of the opposition National Party is way ahead in polls. Though conservative, he has reached out to Zelaya and called for "a national dialogue" should he win. Under a U.S.-mediated agreement between Zelaya and the de facto government, the Honduran Congress is supposed to decide Zelaya's fate. It, too, leans toward a face-saving solution for him that maintains social peace.

Zelaya, however, now accuses Washington of "treachery" because it didn't force Honduran lawmakers to reinstate him before the election. He says he won't accept returning to office for the last two months before the new president's inauguration. He remains impetuous and irresponsible. His stance feeds what Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, his former culture minister and now a visiting professor at Harvard, flatly predicts will be "a revolution." He says the past five months have created a new "paradigm" in which a largely leftist "resistance" favoring the country's poor and detached from the two main political parties will largely boycott the elections.

Perhaps. But the poor in Honduras are notoriously conservative in favoring stability over social upheaval, and the mainstream political establishment recognizes it must better address the country's deep poverty. The failings are real, but Zelaya's removal was less about class and more about law and politics. There is thus good reason to believe that the election will come off favorably enough for Honduras to be accepted again. We will see on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, despite being alone, is right not to panic.

Honduras to vote for new president amid coup crisis
By Mica Rosenberg
Friday, November 27, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras chooses a new president on Sunday in an election that may defuse a crisis caused by a coup against President Manuel Zelaya, but the vote is splitting Washington and Latin America. Neither Zelaya nor arch-rival Roberto Micheletti, the country's de facto leader, are running in the election, which could give a new president the chance to take Honduras beyond the political gridlock that has divided the Central American nation and cut off international aid. "We see the running of these elections -- assuming that they're run in a fair and transparent way -- we see them as an essential part of the solution of this crisis," U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said this week.

Leftist Zelaya was ousted by the army in June and replaced by Micheletti who has blocked attempts backed by the United States, Latin America and Europe to have the president reinstated. Zelaya -- now holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa -- and his supporters argue that recognizing the elections would essentially give the coup leaders victory. Zelaya is urging the vote be rescheduled. Latin American powers like Argentina and Brazil also say an election organized by Micheletti's de facto government is not valid, possibly putting them at odds with Washington which looks likely to recognize the vote.

The Organization of American States and the independent Carter Center are not sending observer missions. Human rights groups fear there could be violence.

The two leading candidates, from Honduras' traditional ruling elite, have skillfully avoided much talk of the crisis in their election campaigns and hope Honduras will be welcomed back into the international fold after the vote. Some analysts say under this scenario Zelaya would fade from the headlines.

Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo of the conservative opposition National Party, has emerged as the frontrunner in the election, scheduled before the June 28 coup. In an October poll by CID-Gallup, Lobo was 16 points ahead of his closest rival, Elvin Santos from Zelaya and Micheletti's Liberal Party.

A wealthy landowner who lost the 2005 election to Zelaya, Lobo is seen backing investment-friendly policies if he wins. "Today begins the turning of a new page in Honduran history. We should leave behind differences and unite together to look forward," Lobo said at a closing rally in the capital this week jazzed up by thumping music and dancing girls.

Many Hondurans are tired of the crisis and want to move on. "(Micheletti and Zelaya) caused this problem and the people are the ones suffering ... The vote is our only way out of this," said engineer Hector Guzman, 48, at the Lobo rally. International lenders slashed aid to the poor coffee- and textile-exporting country and the Organization of American States suspended Honduras to punish the coup leaders.

Honduras' Supreme Court said on Wednesday in a non-binding opinion that Zelaya cannot legally return to office, dimming the possibility of his reinstatement, court sources said. When in power, Zelaya crossed Congress, the Supreme Court and the military with a bid to change the constitution. Critics say he wanted new rules to stay in power, but he denies this.

Security forces have repeatedly cracked down on anti-coup protests, causing several deaths, and some observers say a fair vote is impossible after Micheletti temporarily shut down pro-Zelaya news channels.

When soldiers rousted Zelaya from his bed at dawn and sent him to Costa Rica on a military plane, it conjured up memories of Central America's dark Cold War past when military leaders often backed by the United States overthrew democratic governments.

Zelaya told Reuters this week it would be undemocratic if the United States ended up backing the result of an election held by a post-coup government, since coup leaders supported the vote from day one. "The U.S. position ... has divided the Americas and is creating a grave precedent," Zelaya said. Micheletti and his supporters accuse Zelaya of getting too close to Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez.

But the rancher and logging magnate is an unlikely working-class hero who some say did little to systematically improve the lot of Honduras' poor while in power.
Honduras Supreme Court backs Zelaya ouster
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that ousted President Manuel Zelaya cannot legally return to office, dimming the possibility of his reinstatement after a June coup, court sources said. The Court did not release the full text of its non-binding ruling, but a court source and a lawyer close to the proceedings said it closely follows earlier decisions upholding Zelaya's ouster after he moved to change the constitution.

On June 28, soldiers removed Zelaya from office and sent him into exile on orders from the Supreme Court. The Congress swore in Roberto Micheletti to head the new government, but the world denounced the move and refused to recognize the interim government.

The Court's opinion will be passed to lawmakers as part of a U.S.-backed deal between both sides that calls on Congress to decide whether or not Zelaya can be reinstated. The opinion may sway Congress' December 2 vote against Zelaya, who snuck back into the country in September and is camped out inside the Brazilian embassy.

Honduran soldiers have surrounded the embassy. Zelaya pulled out of the U.S.-brokered deal earlier this month and says he will refuse to return to power.
Honduras will hold a presidential election on Sunday that was scheduled long before the coup. Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti is running and the United States sees the vote as a possible solution to the stalemate.
November 26, 2009
U.S. Policy on Honduras Puts Latin Ties at Risk, Brazilian Says

BRASÍLIA— The United States risks souring relations with much of Latin America if it recognizes a presidential election in Honduras on Sunday, the foreign policy adviser to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said in an interview on Wednesday. The de facto leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has said he hopes the election will end a political crisis that began when soldiers placed President Manuel Zelaya on an airplane and sent him into exile on June 28.

The United States, which condemned the coup, has not announced an official position on the election, but American officials have implied that the Obama administration will support the outcome, saying that recognition of the presidential election was not contingent on Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement. “The United States will become isolated — that is very bad for the United States and its relationship with Latin America,” the Brazilian foreign policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, said after he had spoken on the telephone to the White House national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones. Mr. Garcia said that “very important countries — the majority in terms of population and political weight — won’t recognize” the results of the election.

Neither Mr. Micheletti nor Mr. Zelaya, who has been living in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital, since sneaking back into Honduras in September, is running for president. Much of Latin America had hoped that President Obama would herald a new era in Latin American diplomacy, after eight years of the unpopular Bush administration and decades of perceived meddling by Washington. “It would be good if that expectation were not frustrated,” Mr. Garcia said he had told General Jones.

Mr. Garcia and other Latin American diplomats contend that recognizing the election will essentially legitimize a coup in a region that has been consolidating its democracies. He and others say that conditions for free elections do not now exist in Honduras. “The election has the fingerprints of a coup,” Mr. Garcia said. To accept the results of the election, he added, would encourage “another country to adopt the same solution — ‘We don’t like this president; let’s topple him.’ ”
Mr. Garcia, who said that Mr. da Silva shared his views, explained his concerns to General Jones in what he described as a friendly conversation. “General Jones thanked me and said he would discuss it with his colleagues in the White House,” he said.

Mr. Garcia insisted that Brazil, which has been seeking a growing leadership role in the region and beyond, was not trying to challenge the United States. “This is what you do between friends — you say, ‘Hey, that’s not O.K.,’” he said. But if Washington insists on recognizing the election, several countries will respond by seeking countermeasures in the Organization of American States, Mr. Garcia said. “The O.A.S. itself would deal with that and I already heard from some members that Honduras could be excluded from the O.A.S.,” he added.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Honduran Election Day Approaches, Will Zelaya Pull Any Surprises?

Matters are getting rather murky in Honduras, but maybe after Nov. 29, the aid will start flowing again. It doesn't look very hopeful for Zelaya to be restored to office and even if he is, it will be kind of anti-climatic at this point. While he cannot stay living forever with his entourage in the Brazilian Embassy, if he comes out, whether as president or not, his life and liberty may be in danger. He might do best to make a clandestine exit from the country just as he entered.
As the Nov. 29 election day approaches, the blog Democracia Participativa reports that Zelaya supporters are gathering to “peacefully disrupt” the voting process. That sounds a bit contradictory and ominous. No doubt, injuries and death will occur. The same blog reports that the OAS is unsure how to regard the election, while the US is supporting it, it seems, as “part of the democratic process.” Yet, according to most reports, neither US nor OAS observers will be present, although there will some from Europe. (See AP article below, that US observers will be there.)

Excerpts from a longer (!) message just in from our erstwhile Latin American correspondent: Politics moves in waves or cycles and, if he plays his cards right, Zelaya's popular support might very well propel him to power in some future Honduran political crisis. However, I have my doubts whether he will eventually achieve this. He seems to have some charisma but not a great deal of political intelligence. On a scale of political intelligence between 1 and 10, 1 being Hugo Chavez and 10 Fidel Castro, I would give him no more than a two or a three. Certainly his negotiations with Micheletti did not show him to be very cunning. Micheletti outfoxed him at every turn. However, whatever his political intelligence, he is, at present, a definite threat to the Honduran oligarchy and will be dealt with as such as long as his political popularity continues among the Honduran populace.

The probability that he could have success if he comes to power again will depend, among other things, on Honduras’s future economic growth and the continuation in power of Hugo Chavez and in his ability to provide Zelaya with economic aid which would in turn depend on the price of oil. Since Chavez continues to ravage the Venezuelan economy with his mismanagement and to lose popular support because of his lack of fulfillment of his populist promises, Chavez might very well not be around to pick up the tab if Zelaya is ever returned to power. Moreover, even if he is around, the existing price of oil might not allow him to provide Zelaya with the volume of aid that he was receiving before June 28.

However, one should not lose sight of the possibility, that, in keeping with Zelaya's larger than life personality, just before, during or after the elections, Zelaya would voluntarily decide to leave the Brazilian Embassy in a desperate gesture to dramatize his opposition to the whole situation and to become even more of a political martyr in the eyes of the world and the Honduran population. The best moment to do so would, of course be on November 28, one day before the elections, to be able to disrupt them and promote abstensionism but there could be political advantages to doing so at any moment afterward to force the oligarchy to jail him and try him and thus keep his presence on the public eye. Of course, his enemies could seize the opportunity to assassinate him and get rid of a threat to their rule, but on the eve of an election with the country full of international inspectors to vouch for the transparency of the process and the desire of the authorities to minimize for the moment human rights violations this would be highly improbable.

So this would be the most favorable moment for Zelaya to pull a stunt like getting into the trunk of the Brazilian Ambassador's car and being dropped off in the main public square of Tegucigalpa. At any event, take due notice that Zelaya is proud, persistent and feels sufficiently victimized to try to pull off a stunt like that to make a brave gesture to the world and try to recover his wounded honor. In a macho Hispanic culture like Honduras, such dramatic behavior is expected from people who feel their honor has been slighted and want to uphold their manliness!

Here is my own reply: I quite agree that Zelaya is not the brightest bulb, but probably more so than Chavez, who acts like an elephant in a China shop. Zelaya has lost popularity, but still has a strong core of supporters who are already gathering, heeding his call to "peacefully disrupt" the upcoming election. The presidential candidates have avoided mention of the Zelaya matter, but I've noticed they are talking more now about confronting the needs of the poor. The OAS seems less than unified about what to do about Honduras and how to treat the election there. It's hard to completely disparage a voting process.

As for assassination, if Zelaya suddenly emerges from the Brazilian embassy, that's certainly a risk and not just from his political enemies. Many Hondurans carry personal firearms (the NRA would love them) and shoot from the hip. The murder rate there is more than 20 times that in the US, which is already twice that of most developed countries. More than 7,000 are murdered annually in that country of 7+ million and that's probably an undercount. Among recent victims have been two officials of presidential front-runner Lobo's Nationalist Party and Micheletti's own nephew. Murders happen there every day. Rural residents make their own firearms that shoot one homemade bullet at a time and have to be reloaded. Sometimes clandestine graves containing several bodies are found although no one had reported the victims missing. Zelaya's own father murdered squatters on his property, found in mass graves after his death. So Zelaya knows the risks. If he should emerge from the embassy the day before the election, the interim government folks had better rush to protect his life.

Speculating on whether Honduras will enjoy substantial economic growth in the foreseeable future, that's highly unlikely. It will be hard even to make up the ground lost during this whole political battle and the withdrawal of outside aid. Remittances are down and potential outside investors are likely to shy away because of the political instability. The populace is uneducated and corruption is high. During the last 50 years, Honduras has been at the bottom of the economic heap. It would take a long time to overcome that situation. In that respect, Zelaya's appeal to the poor (the majority) may be to his advantage initially, but when he is unable to meet their expectations, they may turn against him, as is happening in Venezuela now, according to my contacts there, though, at that point, repression is increased, just as Chavez is increasing it now. Not a pretty scenario for the future of Honduras. But neither is the status quo.

If Zelaya does make a surprise emergence from the embassy, you will have predicted it first! Of course, he may also make a clandestine exit from the country, just as he entered it, rather than spends the rest of his days as a hostage in the embassy. Until now, I suspect, the Brazilian Embassy in Teguc was a fairly low-level posting, with the ambassador mostly concerned with diplomatic encounters and ceremonial activities. I've walked by its guarded entrance many times and never noticed any particular commotion. All that has changed.

The AP article below reports that US observers will be at the upcoming election. I have tried mightily to find whether and who might be going and, until now, the word has always been: no US observers. But maybe some State Dept. folks were drafted at the last minute? In any case, at this late date, I won't be joining them.

Hope everyone out there has a good holiday. Thanksgiving puts me in mind of how we volunteers would get together to recreate a feast not celebrated in Honduras. We each brought something, not always a traditional Thanksgiving food. The turkey was often the hardest item to find and cook. But there was a real sense of camaraderie as we shared our meal and waxed nostalgic for “home” on that most iconic of American holidays.

Honduras vote to sideline president, enshrine coup
Associated Press
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 3:47 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Sunday's election will likely accomplish what the plotters of a coup set out to do five months ago: end the political career of leftist President Manuel Zelaya and replace him with a more moderate leader from Honduras' establishment. And Washington, which had vowed not to recognize the elections unless Zelaya was reinstated, now appears to have decided it has few options but to do exactly that.

"In the end, the coup won," said Heather Beckman, a Latin America analyst with the New York-based Eurasia Group. "It was a bad thing and it shouldn't have happened, but in the end there wasn't anything anyone could do."

Millions of poor Hondurans drew hope from Zelaya's left-leaning policies in a nation long ruled by a wealthy elite. But they now have no presidential candidate to represent them; the only one who backed Zelaya dropped out of the race last month with little support, saying his participation would condone the coup. The leading candidates belong to the two main parties that voted overwhelmingly in Congress to support Zelaya's ouster - including the one that got him elected before turning against him.

Zelaya, flown into exile by soldiers on June 28, slipped back into the country three months later and has since been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy. His term ends in January, and the constitution bars him from running again. At first, President Barack Obama strongly condemned the coup, the first in Central America in more than two decades, and said the United States wouldn't recognize any elections conducted under the coup-installed government.

But his administration, eager to restore development aid and anti-drug cooperation with its old ally, has more recently signaled it will support the new government. Arturo Valenzuela, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Monday that the United States will send observers to ensure the election is free and fair. "This is an electoral process that follows the normal electoral calendar under the Honduran constitution, and it had been under way for several months prior to the coup," he said, adding: "This was not an election invented by a de facto government in search of an exit strategy or as a means to whitewash a coup d'etat."

Valenzuela did not promise recognition of the vote, but his statement constituted a victory for interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has endured months of diplomatic isolation and sanctions since taking office. Micheletti has argued that the elections would show the world that democracy is intact in Honduras.
On Wednesday, about 2,000 Micheletti supporters marched in the capital to encourage people to vote. Demonstrators said they believe Sunday's ballot will end the crisis. "I have faith that the elections will be the end of the problem that Zelaya got us into," said Ana Castellanos, 26.

Zelaya wrote to Obama asking why Washington appeared to be changing its position, and called on Latin America's leaders "not to adopt ambiguous or imprecise positions like the one shown now by the United States." Many left-led governments in Latin America insist recognizing the vote is tantamount to legitimizing the coup. "We find it regrettable anyone would want to cleanse a coup d'etat with an election process conducted in a country that has virtually been in a state of siege these past months," Marco Aurelio Garcia, chief international adviser to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said Tuesday of the U.S. stance.

Many Hondurans simply want to go to the polls and put the crisis behind them. But others are boycotting to protest the months of strife, which saw the jailing of pro-Zelaya protesters and the occasional shutdown of anti-government radio and television stations. "I have no intention of voting," said shop owner German Lagos, 36. "The elections will serve only to legitimize this coup."

The two leading contenders - Porfirio Lobo of the National Party and Elvin Santos of Zelaya's own Liberal Party - fought against Zelaya's campaign to change the constitution, fearing he planned to follow in the footsteps of his close ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and lift a ban on presidential re-election. Zelaya has said repeatedly that was not his intention. Lobo, who lost to Zelaya in 2005, is benefiting from the Liberal Party's divisions over Zelaya's ouster. A wealthy businessman who favors jeans and cowboy boots on the campaign trail, Lobo campaigned as a hard-line conservative in favor of the death penalty in 2005 in this country beset by gang violence.

This time around, he has softened his tone, saying at a recent rally: "If we want foreign investment and tourists, then let's walk in peace."

Santos, a civil engineer who was Zelaya's vice president until resigning last year to run for president, has criticized the military's decision to exile Zelaya but not called for his restoration. Zelaya supporters consider Santos a traitor.

A U.S.-brokered pact signed by Zelaya and Micheletti last month left Zelaya's reinstatement up to the Honduran Congress. Zelaya predicted he would be back in power in a week. But Congress remained quiet until last week, when leaders said they would take up the matter Dec. 2. "It was slap in the face of the international community, to the United States," said Manuel Orozco, a Central America expert with the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. But in the end, the United States "allowed the pragmatic approach to prevail," he said. "They wanted a swift resolution in order to prevent greater instability in Honduras."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Citizen Havel Film, IHS Brigade, Micheletti on Leave, Lobo Ahead in Presidential Poll for Nov. 29

If you have a chance to see the documentary “Citizen Havel,” as I did with my Czech friend, you will get an inside peek into the life of a head-of-state. Although the Czech Republic is a small country (10 million), it was pretty prominent in the post-Soviet period. From the “velvet revolution” to the end of his 10 years as president, Havel allowed himself to me filmed having informal conversations with his staff, preparing for public appearances, at his first wife’s funeral, and at his second marriage. It was like Nixon with his tapes, but filmed as well and spanning more than a decade. Included is footage of a visit by a youthful-looking Bill Clinton who, on being given a gold-plated sax, plays for an appreciative audience that includes Secretary of State Albright. Later, there is a visit by a sour-looking George W. Bush and his wife Laura. Like my late ex-husband, Havel chain-smoked Camels and, like my ex, developed lung cancer, but had the good fortune to survive after two major surgeries.

Official word has come through from International Health Service about the upcoming medical brigade I plan to join, that it will take place in and around Las Hortensias (a town mentioned in my book) Feb. 15-27. Meanwhile, Operation Smile, another regular brigade gig of mine is overlapping, with the dates of Feb. 18-28 in Teguc. I plan to start out with IHS and may go later to Operation Smile. Las Hortensias is at an even higher elevation than La Esperanza and last time I was there, it was foggy and cold. I wish I had a warm sleeping bag. IHS has a new website at

Now, just as I’m planning my Honduran trip, word comes from Kiwanis, who want me to speak at their conference being held Feb. 26-28 in nearby Arlington, Va. They had trouble reaching me because of my unlisted phone number, but somehow found my e-mail (perhaps through this blog?). Of course, that would be a great opportunity to promote the Peace Corps for older applicants and also my book, so, if I do that, I’ll have to cut my brigade participation short. To complicate matters further, the guy who reviewed my book for Peace Corps Writers, which gave me an award, is now in Panama with PC Response insisting that I visit there while I am in Central America. If so, it would have to be before the medical brigade but after another speaking engagement for the Library for the Blind Jan. 29. Ah, fleeting fame, such as it is.

Our local Spanish-language press here in Washington reports that Zelaya does not accept the accord that he signed, in part, apparently, because of a delay in its implementation and in part because he does not want to participate in a government of “national reconciliation” since that implies power-sharing with Micheletti. Didn’t he read the fine-print on that before he signed? But the vice president of the legislature reportedly has said that legislators are moving forward on the basis of the signed accord, regardless of Zelaya’s pronouncements, and will make a decision, one way or the other, after the Nov. 29 election.

Maybe the US failed to dot some “i”s or cross some “t”s in relation to the accord or there’s some backroom deal between the US and the interim government. It could be that the US got fed up with trying to accommodate Zelaya, especially since Latin American governments also seem to have cooled off in their support. Even Chavez has been uncharacteristically quiet. Also, the fervor of Zelaya’s supporters seems to be waning. Maybe it’s just the usual hopelessness and helplessness and just plain fatigue kicking in after so many false announcements of an impending deal and so many fruitless efforts. Meanwhile, the latest US envoy, Craig Kelly has said that the US will recognize the Nov. election, calling voting a democratic right of the Honduran people, with the election “part” of the solution to the crisis, whereas previously the US has threatened not to recognize the election as legitimate. This is a far cry from the heady days when Hillary Clinton pronounced the removal of Zelaya a “coup” and invited him to the White House. Over time, the administration has backed away from that stance, perhaps in part because of sheer weariness and also Zelaya’s own actions, like sneaking back into the country, which the Secretary of State characterized as counterproductive.

On Friday, my interpretation patient was from Honduras and had just returned from a visit to La Ceiba, a major city on the north coast, using her US passport (she is dual citizen) because Honduran consulates in this country have been shut down and the US is not granting visas. She told me that almost no one there was talking about either Zelaya or the upcoming election. Most were concerned about economic survival during an increasingly difficult time. The political stuff, she said, was taking place mostly in the capital. I told her that I know a Latin American an observer of Honduran politics (see below) who believes that the seeds of a revolution, civil war, or army revolt have been sowed by the Zelaya matter. This woman said she saw no evidence that any such activity was brewing, at least, not yet. I also spoke with a local Honduran friend and one-time environmental activist (the one I helped obtain asylum here) who believes that Zelaya’s momentum has been lost and that he will never resume the presidency.

However, if the army is not being paid adequately, given the economic pinch on the Honduran government, then unrest among its ranks is likely to grow. Additionally, if Zelaya supporters are able to cause unrest that the army reluctantly has to control, army disaffection may eventually occur.

El Nuevo Herald
in Miami has announced that Micheletti is taking a leave from the presidency, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 2, so as not to distract from the election process. It wasn’t clear who would be taking over. I guess he doesn’t want to be blamed for being an illegitimate chief executive overseeing the voting process. Also, he may fear for his personal safety after his nephew was murdered.

I also received some LA Times clippings from a Los Angeles friend about a documentary called “Which Way Home” that followed Honduran kids on the perilous journey to the US. Another article reports that Central Americans’ northward migration is up this year, especially from Honduras since Zelaya was removed from office. She also sent an article stating that Peace Corps applications are up 40%, not surprising, given the state of the economy.

On another topic related to my Amnesty volunteer work on the Caribbean, Yoani Sanchez, a young Cuban blogger not allowed to leave her country recently to collect a journalism prize awarded by Columbia University, has now written to President Obama asking seven questions, which he has answered in considerable detail. Obama says that he is willing to meet and talk with representatives of the Cuban government, but only if there is to be substantive discussion, not just talking for talking’s sake. He said that he has already taken steps toward family reunification by allowing those with relatives on the island to visit there freely and send remittances, also steps to facilitate direct phone communication and mail exchange. However, while Mr. Obama agreed to consider and explore other measures, he did not agree to take any other unilateral measures. In response to Yoani’s question about whether he would consider visiting Cuba, he did not rule out such a visit, but said that any such visit would require considerable preparation and needed to be aimed at defined purposes. Raul Castro did not answer the same list of questions. Yoani's husband was beaten up out on the street, as she herself was few days earlier.

Regarding Zelaya’s announcement that he and his followers will boycott the Nov. 29 election and are asking the world not to recognize its legitimacy has brought this response from our usual wordy Latin American correspondent: That is the only dignified answer that he could give. He should have done this long ago so as not to give Micheletti the opportunity to run out the clock! It also sets up the situation for abstention and pubic confrontation on election day, to be followed hopefully by an army uprising in his favor. At this stage of the game, abandoned by the US government, he has no better card to play. It is a long shot but it could possibly generate an army pronunciamiento and if it does not, it helps to make him a political martyr and increases his popularity with the Honduran people.

If there is no popular uprising before election time, expect an announcement creating a new Zelayist party shortly afterward that, if Zelaya is still alive, will probably nominate candidates for the presidency and congress in 2013 and if not outlawed will probably sweep the elections in that year and vote in favor of a constitutional convention shortly afterward to eliminate presidential term limits and allow Zelaya to be elected president-for-life.

The oligarchy may have won a Pyrrhic short-term victory but they have made the long-term struggle more difficult by making him the idol of the Honduran population! The oligarchy knows all this and is also aware that keeping him imprisoned in the Brazilian Embassy will not stop him from directing the new political movement.

The only solution to the threat he poses is assassinating him! For this reason, the oligarchy will probably amnesty him so he can leave the Brazilian embassy, go out into the world and provide a better target for assassination. [Murders of politically connected figures have been fairly frequent just in the last few months.] That and the loss of prestige of the Obama administration and the US government in Latin America as a result of the sudden switch in the US position are the only thing I can see in my crystal ball! Obama acted in this manner to forestall expected Republican criticism before the midterm elections if Zelaya was returned to power. But the jury is still out on whether the possible domestic benefits of this move will outweigh the foreign policy costs of such a decision.

Allowing a weakened and restricted Zelaya to return to the presidency would have been a better option because he could not have been able to carry out his desires and this would have produced disappointment and weakened his long run backing with the Honduran people. It turns out that the Honduran oligarchy is not the only group capable of behaving myopically! Even the almighty US government with all the expert counseling at its disposal is capable of losing important long-run foreign policy advantages for minuscule short-run electoral benefits.

Meanwhile, the Nov. 29 election is going forward, as per the article below, with Nationalist (Conservative) candidate Lobo ahead in the polls. If most Hondurans survive on $250 per month, as the article below contends, that is more than Peace Corps volunteers got as allowance when I was there and must be due to Zelaya’s raising of the minimum wage, which the legislature approved. Still, with the withdrawal of aid and loans, that average wage must have fallen since Zelaya’s ouster.

The article confirms my impressions that while revolutionary fervor may still be bubbling below the surface, as our frequent commentator above contends, many Zelaya supporters seem to have given up for now and most people just want to return to the previous familiar status quo, however inadequate. Some had a brief window of hope for something better, but now see it closed,

Honduras election sets return to business as usual
Associated Press
Sunday, November 22, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- The coup last summer in this tiny, Central American country blew up into an international incident, with thousands of Hondurans taking to the streets while everyone from Barack Obama to Fidel Castro lined up behind ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Now, with Zelaya still holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, voters will choose a new president Nov. 29 from the political establishment that has dominated Honduras for decades. No one is pushing the leftist agenda of the ousted leader, who said he was trying to lift a country where seven in 10 people are poor.
That's because Zelaya was disturbing a deeply conservative society that has long cherished peace and stability. "It's a risk-averse culture," said Manuel Orozco, a Central America expert with the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

The months of turmoil as Zelaya pressed for his reinstatement, the negotiation and U.S. shuttle diplomacy are about to be overtaken by business as usual - Honduran style. Even many of the poor who supported Zelaya as he aligned himself with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Latin America's new left say they will vote for conservative front-runner Porfirio Lobo, a 61-year-old wealthy businessman who is ahead by double digits in the polls. "I will vote for the one who can fix this and give us work right now, because those suffering are the poor," said Reina Gomez, 53, a single mother who washes clothes for a living and who supported Zelaya in 2005.

Zelaya, a commanding figure whose standard uniform includes a white cowboy hat, was prohibited by the constitution from running for more than one term - even before the military whisked him out of the country at gunpoint in the June 28 coup. His opponents said he wanted to follow in Chavez's footsteps and revise the constitution to extend his time in office. Zelaya denies any such intention.

Honduras has always been run by a handful of families who control the news media, economy and every power sphere from the military to the Supreme Court. As many of Central America's conservative governments battled leftist insurgencies from the 1960s to the 1980s, Honduras had no civil war and served as a key staging area for U.S.-backed Contras fighting Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.

But in one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations, gaunt workers in torn shoes and worn clothing trudge from their hillside shanty towns past Tegucigalpa's gleaming shopping malls to work in garment factories or American fast food restaurants. Most survive on $250 a month. "Here the politicians don't appreciate the people. They promise you all kinds of things but one comes in and then the next, and things are still the same," said construction worker Mario Espinal, 52, whose work diminished by half when international loans were cut off in the political crisis.

Like his counterparts from Nicaragua to Ecuador, Zelaya began preaching reform that favored the poor. He raised the minimum wage by 60 percent and pulled in Venezuelan aid that included free tractors and $300 million a year for agricultural investment. "President Zelaya gave us hope that the people of Honduras would finally be able to emancipate themselves from a group of oligarchs that have kept this country subjugated through a constitution that was shaped to protect their interests," said Andres Pavon, a human rights activist. While many Hondurans want reform, they were reluctant to trust Zelaya, a wealthy rancher elected from one of the two major conservative parties.

Orozco notes that other Latin American leftist leaders - from Chavez to Bolivia's Evo Morales and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil - grew up poor. They also spent years building their grass-roots movements, while Zelaya - with support from a couple unions and student groups - started shooting from the hip late in his term. Zelaya "belongs to the elite, and he chose to dismiss his own peers and paid the price for that," Orozco said. "Those leaders have a hard time communicating their message. They think that because you like the poor, the poor are going to like you."

According to the CID-Gallup Poll, Zelaya's job-approval rating dropped steadily from 2007 to just 38 percent in October 2008, though it had rebounded to 53 percent by February and has held steady around 50 percent since. But beyond the first week of his ouster, he had a hard time amassing large numbers of supporters demanding his return.

Meanwhile, the left in Honduras is divided into small parties with few resources - and without a charismatic leader to unite them into a movement strong enough to challenge the conservative stronghold. Presidential front-runner Lobo, who lost to Zelaya in 2005, is campaigning on a return to normalcy and blames Zelaya's Liberal Party for thrusting the country into international turmoil.

His main opponent is the Liberal Party's Elvin Santos, a construction magnate who distanced himself from Zelaya's leftist rhetoric at a closing campaign rally on Sunday. "Democracy is built on work, effort, sacrifice," Santos said. "Some people say that can be disguised now by calling it 21st century socialism. ... I call that disguised populism."

The U.S-brokered pact with the interim government of Roberto Micheletti leaves the decision to reinstate Zelaya with the Honduran Congress, which has yet to vote. Zelaya has said he would not return to the presidency if Congress votes to restore him after the elections because that would legitimize the coup. The new president chosen in next week's elections will not take office until January.

But some say Zelaya might have done just enough to awaken a leftist movement in Honduras - either led by him or someone else. "I can see Lobo setting something up and smoothing over things with Zelaya because he wants to ensure Zelaya won't be a nuisance," said Heather Berkman of the Eurasia Group. "I don't think his political career is over. I can see him coming back in some shape or form."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Peace Corps News, Cuba HR Documentary, Honduran Congress: No Zelaya Decision Until After Nov. 29 Presidential Election

Aaron Williams, new Peace Corps director (African-American, former volunteer), has been visiting South Africa now, looking in on volunteers there and meeting with PC country directors from several African countries. From there, he is going on to Bangkok to meet with Asian directors. Nothing about plans to visit Latin America. In an interview in South Africa, Williams reported that there are now 7,500 volunteers in 74 countries, a slight increase since my time. In related news, a bill just passed in the House includes a modest budget increase for the Peace Corps for a change, thanks in part to the efforts of Congressman Sam Farr, once a PCV in Colombia and whose administrative assistant was a volunteer in Honduras overlapping with me, though I don’t remember ever meeting him.

Last Friday evening, I was a judge in a write-off contest taking place at a fall convention sponsored by the Journalism Education Association. Some 6,400 high school journalism students from around the country and the world participated. After listening to a speaker, the students I was judging wrote up editorials on the No Child Left Behind program, based on what they had heard. All write-ups were hand-written and identified only by a number, not a name. We judged them according to a check-list with numerical rankings for various features. Each “editorial” had at least 2 judges. The submissions were then categorized according as outstanding, runners-up, honorable mention, or no mention. A wide range of abilities was exhibited. I noticed that the program included a number of writers speaking about the craft of journalism and their own books on the subject, on topics like how to take newsworthy photos, write columns, and even write poetry. Never heard of this organization or its activities before, but they might be ripe at a future gathering for a talk by me on the promise and perils of self-publishing, something becoming more common, as well as on association journalism, based on my career writing for a weekly magazine for the OT association. Unfortunately, their next conventions are not taking place anywhere near Washington, DC.

I’m very excited that the previously mentioned Cuban documentary, “Women in White,” will be shown at a Dutch human rights film festival being held next March and that the Dutch Amnesty group is going to invite a couple featured there, Raul and Blanca Rivero. I’ve gotten in touch with them and they have greeted me very warmly by e-mail. They haven’t forgotten me, even though I last saw them back in 1997 and much has happened to them since, including Raul’s imprisonment and eventual exile to Spain, where he is now a newspaper columnist. They have invited me to visit them in Spain. I only wish…

I understand that the US TV show “Ugly Betty,” based on a popular Colombian soap opera I sometimes watched in Honduras, “Betty La Fea,” has a gay character. Hard to imagine that in the original version.

In our local Spanish-language press, there were articles about Chavez’s saber-rattling because of alleged threats from Colombia, Zelaya’s followers vowing to boycott the Nov. 29 presidential election in Honduras even if their guy is restored beforehand, and the murder of two officials of the Nationalist Party, one of two main parties, whose presidential candidate, Pepe Lobo, appears to be ahead in the polls. Lobo and Zelaya ran against each other in the last election, where Zelaya prevailed by a slim margin, in part because of tactical advice and financial support from American investor Andersson.

From the Honduran doctor married to a former Peace Corps volunteer, called Loni in my book, comes this message: Las elecciones van a ser muy pronto, esperamos al menos que eso resuelva un poco las conecciones mundiales que mi pais necesita para sobrevir. [The elections are coming up very soon. Let’s hope that will resolve somewhat the world connections that my country needs to survive.]

As for the high murder rate in Honduras, reported previously, with two new victims from the Nationalist Party just mentioned, if my calculations are right, it comes out to be about 100 per 100,000 annually, compared to 5 per 100,000 in the US, which is already twice that of most developed countries. So just being present in Honduras is a hazard to life and health. What factors contribute to this high toll? Lack of adequate law enforcement, a Wild West mentality, a proliferation of guns, an active drug trade mostly headed toward the US, and extreme poverty. Gangs are at war over the drug trade, much like gang wars in the US.

Here’s a lengthy comment from a regular blog reader: Shocking about the murder rate in Honduras; as you say, it’s got to be underreported. Did you ever see that map of Central America showing the roads throughout the region and the areas of most intense drug action? I remember when I saw it, being surprised at the concentration of illegal activity in Honduras, which I’d become accustomed to thinking of a little country where not much happened.

Still shaking my head that Zelaya continues to operate from the fantasyland of “I am the president; I need only express my will.” How else to explain his ham-handed attempt to counter his opponents’ foot-dragging by unilaterally withdrawing from the pact? Did he not foresee when he signed the agreement that the Supreme Court would take its time rendering the necessary opinions and that the Congress would decline to vote until the rulings were in hand? I suppose it’s possible that he was led to believe that the U.S. had additional leverage to use against his foes and would act forcefully to propel him back into power. Then the questions become, “Is Zelaya as dumb as he appears to be? Or is the U.S. being devious, perhaps even mendacious, the pledges of the new administration notwithstanding?” Anyway, good for Obama’s rep to the OAS. I imagine it was quite unprecedented for the U.S. delegate to talk to his colleagues like a United Fruit executive of yore, not very subtly suggesting that they move the discussion back to the real world.

Another commentator observes (and I’m not sure I fully understand what she is saying): A complicated dilemma for us now - but one that I hope can be salvaged. The fact that Honduras violated the OAS charter is significant. And, they seem to waver on the deal with the US, although claiming that the agreement did not guarantee Zelaya’s reinstatement prior to the elections - but that seems to be a very bad point of contention, as it signifies that should the elections go on with the current governing party, then Zelaya's reinstatement becomes lame duck anyway. Which is the result that they want prior to the elections........

I think that this will be difficult to claim unless there can be some unanimity with the accord participants and following the accord to the letter of its intent rather than reinterpreting it for one's own political benefit. It’s complicated to see thru the murkiness now, but the call for valid elections and support for monitors seems to be vitally necessary. So Insulza backing away from the monitors doesn't appear to be helping either but contributing to a hands-off approach - that's not engaging a solution or supportive either and I believe plays right into the Chavistas who are trying to buy votes there.

It would seem like a very delicate negotiation now but the Davis piece [in the Wall St. Journal] was helpful. The importance of a consistent message being sent is relevant, but if Zelaya proves to be unmanageable and not workable himself for a democratic process and too difficult to deal with, then it’s proper to reverse the administration policy as such. The lack of an independent election report that is guaranteed under these circumstances seems to be contributing to an early "forfeit" of a truly democratic process there.

The Nov. 16 Wall St. Journal includes a column reporting on an interview with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, where he supports Zelaya’s removal, but also acknowledges widespread political corruption and insufficient attention given to the needs of the poor. On that same date, on the front page of the Miami Herald, an article appeared about Hondurans living in the US who want a chance to vote. Since the constitution doesn't include a mechanism for impeachment, it appears likely that there is no provision for absentee ballots.

I recently received lengthy phone call from my Latin American correspondent living in another city. He thinks the US double-crossed Zelaya and that the US will come to regret it when the whole of Latin America turns against us. Actually, Latin America has split into two increasingly polarized camps on either side of the Honduras debate, though most favoring Zelaya. While the OAS is apparently not sending election observers for Nov. 29, according to Democracia Participativa, a Spanish-language website, the Liberal International, a European organization, is sending observers.

Again, from Democracia Participativa: [Here is Micheletti asking for support from the international community for recognition of the Nov. 29 presidential election, referring to the legitimacy of the Oct. 30 accord signed by both sides.]

Honduras: Micheletti pide apoyo a la comunidad internacional para elecciones

Nov. 9-TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) - El gobierno de facto hondureño solicitó a la comunidad internacional que apoye los comicios del 29 de noviembre, cuya legitimidad se ve cuestionada por el retiro de un candidato de izquierda y las amenazas de boicot de partidarios del presidente derrocado Manuel Zelaya.

"Respetuosamente solicitamos a la OEA y a los miembros de la comunidad internacional el apoyo particularmente a los contenidos en el punto número 3 sobre las elecciones generales y el traspaso de Gobierno y el número 7 sobre la normalización de las relaciones", anotó un comunicado oficial.
Los dos puntos se refieren al Acuerdo Tegucigalpa/San José Diálogo Guaymuras firmado el 30 de octubre entre el gobierno de facto y Zelaya, bajo la égida de Estados Unidos.

According to a subsequent posting on Democracia Participativa dated Nov. 17, Zelaya renounces the previous accord, declares the Nov. 29 election illegitimate, and, in a letter to Obama, accuses the Micheletti government of failure to live up to its promises. He is using all the force he can muster from inside his Brazilian Embassy hideaway.

Honduran Congress to vote on Zelaya fate after poll

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduran lawmakers will wait until after a November 29 election to decide whether to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya, delaying a vote that had been expected earlier this month.

The poor, Central American nation was plunged into political turmoil in late June when the military exiled Zelaya and a de facto government took charge. A U.S.-brokered deal to end the crisis reached in late October stipulates a congressional vote on reinstating Zelaya, who said he expected that vote within days of the agreement. The pact, however, collapsed when the rival sides failed to agree on forming a unity government.

"We've decided to convene sessions for December 2," Congress head Jose Saavedra told reporters, adding that lawmakers expected the Supreme Court to give an opinion next week on whether Zelaya should be returned to power until a new president is sworn in January after the November 29 election. Zelaya, who has been living at the Brazilian embassy since sneaking back into the country in September, had initially welcomed the pact, which he said was meant to reinstate him. But he said on Saturday he would refuse to return to the presidency as part of any negotiated deal, saying to do so would legitimize the coup.

With less than two weeks left before the election, Congress has been dragging its feet on debating Zelaya's return. Many members of Congress are running for re-election and are hesitant to air their opinion on an issue that has split the nation. "It's absolutely not in their best interests to vote before the election because none of them want to be punished one way or the other on Zelaya's restitution," said Honduras-based political consultant Patrick Ahern.

South American leaders have called for Zelaya's immediate reinstatement but Washington seemed to weaken his position by saying it would recognize the presidential election simply on the basis of the signing of the accord.

Zelaya is a logging magnate and a leftist who angered powerful business leaders and members of his own political party by moving the coffee and textile-exporting country closer to Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez. Critics accused him of trying to illegally change the constitution to allow for presidential re-election, a charge he denies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cuba Human Rights Film in Dutch Contest, US Attempts to Revive Honduran Pact

Readers may recall that a few months ago, I mentioned a documentary by a Norwegian film maker entitled “Women in White” (Damas de Blanco) about the movement organized by wives and mothers of Cuban POCs, who hold silent Sunday marches carrying flowers on behalf of their imprisoned men. The film runs about 55 minutes and includes a cameo appearance by yours truly.

I just got the following message from the Dutch Section of Amnesty International, where I had sent a copy of the film: Hi Barbara, Good to have the DVD Damas de Blanco. Movies That Matter, a Dutch Film Festival, will most likely select the movie for this year's A Matter of Act, a programme at the festival that focuses on HRD's.[Human Rights Defenders]

When I told the film maker about this, she replied: Thank you so much, they already told us we are on the short list, and have invited Andy Garcia to be there, didn't know it was your efforts that led to this. Thank you.

Now the Dutch group wants to invite a Cuban couple featured in the film (whom I met in Havana in the 1990s) to the festival. He is a former Amnesty prisoner of conscience and his wife was a member of the Women in White. After the husband was freed, they moved to Madrid, where the husband, Raul Rivero, is now a columnist for the newspaper El Pais.

On Honduras, a new blog commentator speculates: If there is information on Zelaya perhaps that we don't have but that is bad, bad, bad, then maybe this [recognizing the Honduran Nov. 29 election] is the right thing to do. I am not in agreement that the US looks bad, but there needs to be a coalition of leaders from Latin America and elections orgs. that speak out about it and if there can be an elections incentive package perhaps that would help.

Yes, possibly there is intelligence about what Zelaya and his followers (and Chavez) have planned to do that has not been made public. Latin American governments and, most notably, the Brazilians have not been vociferous about restoring Zelaya. Honduras is now surrounded by leftist governments, of which, I would guess that Ortega is the most anti-US, pro-Chavez. All are getting cheap oil. The opposition to Ortega and the Sandinistas has always been fragmented in Nicaragua, which allowed him to win last time with only 33% of the vote and now, in seat of power, he has managed to change the constitution so he can run again, just as Zelaya was trying to do in Honduras. Meanwhile, perhaps as a distraction against internal dissent, Chavez has become bellicose against Colombia, mobilizing, he says, for a military threat from Colombia as a puppet of imperialism (i.e. the US).

In the Nov. 10 edition of the Wall St. Journal, Lanny Davis, an attorney and former adviser to Pres. Bill Clinton, now representing a Honduran business council, argues that Zelaya unilaterally declared the accord null and void because, although he had signed, it was not to his liking. If so, that may explain apparent US “waffling.” The accord apparently calls for international monitoring of the Nov. 29 election, but time is growing very short to organize that.

Another blog commentator has this to say: The actual governments of South and Central America have rationally enough had their doubts about whether the U.S. will put its hand in the fire for them and keep it there. For all his goodwill and eloquence, I doubt that Obama ever had a whole lot of cred in the region in the first place. Hope, yes; anything that could be taken to the bank, no. I’m surprised by your finding that Micheletti prohibited the morning-after pill. It does look as though once in power, he couldn’t resist doing stuff. Perhaps, however, he’s a strict Catholic and believes that he would have been morally wrong to have stood by and done nothing when he was able to strike a pro-life blow.

Meanwhile, as per the articles below, the US is making a last-ditch effort to salvage the accord, apparently sending a new negotiator—at least we haven’t heard about him before. Although I knew that Honduras had a high homicide rate (see end of second article below), I didn’t know it was quite so high. Honduras has a population somewhat lower than that of NYC, yet over 7,000 people per year are murdered (and that could be an undercount). Can you imagine the hue and cry in the NYC if 7,000 murders annually took place there? And New York is not considered the safest place to be.

U.S. Tries to Salvage Honduras Accord
By GINGER THOMPSON November 11, 2009, NY Times

WASHINGTON — Under fire from allies in Latin America and on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration moved Tuesday to try to salvage the American-brokered agreement that had been billed as paving the way for a peaceful end to the coup in Honduras. Instead, the accord seems to have provided the country’s de facto government with a way to stay in power until a presidential election scheduled for the end of this month.

The State Department sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly to Honduras on Tuesday for meetings with Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted from power as president more than four months ago, and with the head of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti. Senior administration officials said Mr. Kelly would try to get both men to abide by the terms of an Oct. 30 agreement that called on them to form a coalition government to run the country while the Honduran Congress prepares for a vote on whether to return Mr. Zelaya to power.
he deal began to unravel last week when the Congress announced it would postpone a vote on Mr. Zelaya’s return to power until after the election. In protest, Mr. Zelaya then refused to submit names for the coalition government. And the United States, breaking with its allies in Latin America, announced it would recognize the results of the coming presidential election, even if Mr. Zelaya were not reinstated. While the announcement was celebrated by Republicans as a “reversal” of the administration’s policy, it ignited a storm of criticism from Mr. Obama’s allies at home and across Latin America.

Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, telephoned Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg to express his concerns about the administration’s handling of Honduran crisis. An aide to the congressman said, “It was not a feel-good phone call.”
Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the senator believed that the State Department’s “abrupt change” of policy toward Honduras “caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate.”

On Tuesday, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, said that he would not send observers to monitor the presidential election, scheduled for Nov. 29. And many of the organization’s 34 members said they would not recognize the election winner unless Mr. Zelaya was reinstated to complete his term. “Paraguay is not only not going to accept the outcome of the elections, it will not even accept that the elections are held,” said Hugo Saguier Caballero, Paraguay’s ambassador to the O.A.S. “These elections for us simply will not exist.”

Ruy de Lima Casaes e Silva, Brazil’s ambassador to the organization, said the situation in Honduras seemed like a “badly written soap opera, with sinister characters played by the de facto regime, which history will judge.”

The Obama administration’s representative to the O.A.S., W. Lewis Amselem, said that the agreement signed in Honduras two weeks ago did not guarantee Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement, but put that decision in the hands of the Honduran Congress. Mr. Amselem said it was not possible to translate Latin America’s position on the coup into policy, noting that most of its countries had used elections to establish democratic order after coups. And he urgently pressed for a more pragmatic line. “I’ve heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras,” Mr. Amselem said at an O.A.S. meeting in Washington. “I’m not trying to be a wiseguy, but what does that mean? What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?”

US diplomat in Honduras trying to revive pact
Associated Press
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- A senior U.S. diplomat flew in Tuesday to try to revive a U.S.-brokered pact between Honduras' deposed president and the coup-imposed government ahead of elections this month. Ousted President Manuel Zelaya declared the accord a failure last week when interim President Roberto Micheletti announced the creation of a national unity government even though Zelaya had not proposed any candidates.

Time is running out for a solution, with less than three weeks until the election. Zelaya is urging the international community not to recognize the outcome of the Nov. 29 presidential election. The Organization of American States said Tuesday it would not send election monitors unless the political impasse is resolved first.

The newly arrived U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly, who helped broker the pact two weeks ago, said he came to Tegucigalpa to help advance the implementation of the accord. "There is an accord and we want it to advance because we think it is important for the country and the region. It's urgent and we have to advance," Kelly said after meeting with Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy, where the ousted president has been holed up since sneaking back into the country Sept. 21.

Kelly talked first with Micheletti. The interim leader's negotiator, Vilma Morales, said Kelly told Micheletti that "the important thing for the government of the United States and the international community is for things to continue the framework of the agreement."

Washington initially joined other Western Hemisphere countries in warning that they would not recognize the elections if Zelaya was not restored to the presidency. But after brokering the pact, U.S. diplomats indicated Washington would support the elections, which had been scheduled before the June 28 coup, as long the deal was implemented. The deal, signed more than a week ago, calls for a unity government to be installed and for the Honduran Congress to vote on whether to restore Zelaya to the presidency.

Congressional leaders say they are waiting for an opinion from prosecutors and the Supreme Court, which ordered Zelaya's arrest before the coup for refusing to drop plans for a referendum on constitutional change that the court had ruled illegal. Legislative leaders have indicated Congress might not vote on Zelaya's reinstatement until after the elections. Congressman Carlos Lara Watson told reporters Tuesday that National Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio had turned in a report outlining "all the complaints that he, as human rights commissioner, has filed" regarding Zelaya and his administration. He did not provide details of the report.
Zelaya accuses Micheletti of maneuvering to stay in power by naming the unity government before Congress voted.

But Micheletti said that he named the new government to meet a deadline imposed by the pact and that Zelaya failed to submit a list of proposed members. In a letter to OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, Micheletti insisted the pact was being fulfilled and the elections should be recognized.

Insulza said the OAS would not send observers under the current circumstances.
"There are no negotiations under way. So, from a political point of view, the conditions are not there to send an electoral observation commission," Insulza said during an OAS meeting in Washington.

Morales said the interim government has asked the OAS to keep supporting the accord they helped mediate. "We have told them that the OAS can't back down because it confirmed and offered its commitment to respect whatever we Honduras decide," Morales said.

Meanwhile, two homicides stoked tensions in Honduras. Gunmen killed the brother of a former president on Tuesday, a day after assailants fatally shot the mayor of the central city of Jocon. There has been a series of shooting attacks on public officials. Honduran authorities say they are investigating, but there is no indication yet the attacks are related to the strife over the coup.

Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America, with 7,235 people killed in the country of 7.7 million last year, much of it related to the drug trade.