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.

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