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.

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