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.