Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Greetings, My Musings, A Honduran Family's Life, The Nature of Human Rights

Happy New Year, Feliz Ano Nuevo

In a random survey by a local Spanish-language paper, those questioned about Honduras (nationality not identified) all considered the question settled by Lobo’s election, resolving what they saw as a standoff or personal rivalry between Zelaya and Micheletti. The military, the constitution, and democratic principles were not mentioned.

Just saw some stats reporting that New York City’s murder rate continues to fall, standing now at 6 per 100,000 population. Six is still six too many, but in comparison to Honduras, which has at least 100 murders per 100,000, it’s pretty good. The mayor has said that the count would be even lower if neighboring states had stricter gun laws. Here in DC, the citizenry voted for a strict gun law, but the Supreme Court invalidated it and now we are forced to allow gun sales and more gun possession. That was a big victory for the IRA, which argues against the licensing of gun owners when guns have only one purpose, to harm or kill someone. But driving automobiles, whose purpose is merely transportation, does require licensure. Food safety is regulated, as is drug manufacture. Food, cars, drugs, are all considered potentially dangerous, but not guns? What about paying gun manufacturers not to make guns, much as farmers are paid not to grow crops? It would reduce the murder rate, not only here but in Mexico, where narco-traffickers rely on US-made weapons. A reduction in the voracious appetite of North Americans for illegal drugs would help there too.

And while I’m on my soapbox, forcing DC to allow more handguns and other firearms in circulation is just one of the indignities foisted on a jurisdiction that not only is the capital of the nation and “free world,” but has a bigger population than Wyoming and one close to that of some other small states, yet we have no voting representation in Congress. Of course, DC voter registration is more than 90% Democratic, which makes Republicans resistant and they also fear that Puerto Rico might want to follow suit, providing another Democratic stronghold.

Heard an announcement that starting Jan. 4, after brief initial detention, asylum seekers will be allowed supervised release, no longer enduring months of detention with parents separated from children and husbands from wives, aggravating the trauma of whatever led them to ask for asylum to begin with.

To readers in the DC area, I recommend a new exhibit at the Holocaust Museum called from Memory to Action about genocide in Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia, with additional information on DRC and Chechnya. Exhibits are interactive and allow visitors to place a pledge in huge plexiglas container, saying what they personally plan to do. The container is filling up with pledges. Portions of the exhibit are also displayed on the museum’s website in many other languages, including Spanish, Farsi, and Mandarin.

On e-Bay, saw my book for sale for $24.83! Someone is trying to make a pretty penny on my book, which can be purchased new on Amazon for $18.99. Again I've often wondered what’s happened to all the free review copies I’ve sent out into the void? Enterprises offering to review my book and give it more publicity in their online or print publication often ask for a copy, sometimes two. So, keeping my fingers crossed, I send them the book, which I have to purchase myself and also pay almost $3 in postage. And what happens? Usually nothing. The book may end up on eBay or back on Amazon as a used copy. It’s quite a racket. The only free copies that have come through for me were to the Washington Post and Peace Corps Writers, both of which gave me nice reviews, and Peace Corps Writers also gave me an award for best Peace Corps Memoir of 2009.

After my recent run-in with Google, I will certainly be more careful from now on in quoting from other sources, making sure they are fully public first. I'm not famous in the blogosphere (otherwise, my book would be a best seller), but the woman (see previous) originally named by me in my errant message may be more famous than she wants to be. Also, I'm wondering if whoever found her on my blog after inputting her name may have actually triggered Google to search electronically for her? Maybe her name wasn't on their radar before? Apparently, there is a deep web that brings up more information than the regular web and there are also advanced searches. I'm not sure how all that works. Anyway, it's a different world now and information can go viral. No wonder my sister and a few other friends steadfastly avoid the Internet. They’d like to keep their private lives and activities private.

The Internet is a two-edged sword that has spawned much erroneous information, such as that Obama is a Muslim and born in Kenya or that health reform is a plot to kill old people. The Internet has been instrumental in making Sarah Palin a millionaire. I also think that it created the mammogram tempest. None of us is immortal, resources to keep us alive are not infinite, and, unless there is some extra risk factor, it may not be the best use of medical resources to screen every woman every year between ages 40 and 50. What about screening them every 2 or 3 years instead? But no, because of all the hue and cry, now it’s going to be every year anyway, even though putting that money to other medical uses might be more cost-effective. Or what about diverting the same funds to better nutrition for malnourished kids? Or screening women between ages 30 and 40? An infinitesimal number of them may turn up with breast cancer. A few men also get breast cancer. I don’t know the statistics, but women I’ve known whose breast cancer was discovered before age 50, sometimes by a mammogram, often have had a very aggressive disease and have died anyway. But I suspect that a PR lesson has been learned by policy makers who won’t dare suggest reducing prostate cancer screening or pap smears. People have now been convinced of the value annual screenings and will think they are being short-changed if they don’t get them, even though early detection may have little impact on actual survival. Probably at least some of the vehement mammogram reaction was triggered by clinics performing these tests not wanting to lose patients and revenue. Much of the opposition to health care reform has been fomented by those seeking to protect their economic turf, especially if health care dollars are shrinking

On the other hand, the Internet and instant communication have many benefits, as we all know, allowing the opposition in Iran to flourish, despite persistent government efforts to control it. Cuba has taken a lesson from Iran in prohibiting widespread use of cell phones, laptops, and the Internet—the very technology being distributed by an American now jailed in Cuba. Still, young Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has a worldwide following despite great difficulty in sending out her posts and has won journalism prizes abroad, although prohibited from leaving the country to collect them, and both she and her husband have lately been beaten up on the street by unknown persons. But she has still managed to get her message out and her international fame, acquired through her blog, has protected her from arrest so far.

Talking with another woman who also lost her son just before Christmas, I told her about the ritual held on the anniversary of a loved one’s death in Honduras. A card with the person’s photo on one side and a prayer on the other is passed out at an annual memorial held at the family home, where friends and neighbors congregate, bringing flowers and food. The loved one’s life is celebrated and remembered, tears are shed anew, then for the rest of the year, everyone carries on with life as usual. Mourning is saved only for that special day.

Haven’t heard from my Latin American commentator lately. He may be right that the Obama administration’s unpredictable and inconsistent handling of the Zelaya affair has angered and disappointed many in Latin America, but I suspect that attitude is less widespread than he originally thought and limited to certain heads of state and intellectuals. (Many left-leaning Americans and some Hondurans in the US have felt the same way.) Most ordinary Latin Americans either don’t care or haven’t had a visceral anti-American reaction. A recent survey in Chile, for example, found Obama and Brazilian president Lula high on the list of admired leaders, while Chavez and Fidel Castro ranked toward the bottom. Lula is certainly no capitalist, but not a dyed-in-the-wool socialist either. Both he and Obama tend to be more centrist and pragmatic. But the romantic lure of revolution still burns brightly in some circles, especially among some young university students. In Venezuela, it takes the form of anti-Chavismo, while in other countries, Che and Fidel may be the models and heroes. Indeed, it is not well-known, but many of those killed over a year ago in the Colombian raid on the FARC camp across the Ecuadorian border were Mexican university students who had joined the rebels, a fact little advertised. I know only because a Mexican human rights activist was staying at my home at the time.

In Honduras, an identifiable political and economic elite does run everything, corruption is rampant, and there are vast inequalities of wealth and poverty, with poor people vastly outnumbering the rich. Labor unions and a few budding organizations supporting Zelaya may have been genuine admirers of Chavez and the Castro brothers. But most poor people I knew either had no opinion or a negative view. Yet, novels of the late Honduran author Ramon Amaya Amador, writing in the 1960s, are still popular, depicting brave socialists and admirers of Fidel confronting evil capitalist bosses. Individual attitudes are often not clear cut and contradictory. I find myself hewing more to the middle-of-the-road as I get older.

And there is little doubt that for most Latin Americans, the USA is still the promised land, even as many have returned from there after recent job losses. So, I must respectfully disagree with the Latin American commentator’s argument that lack of strong support for Zelaya universally alienated Latin Americans and was a huge mistake on Obama’s part.

Finally, I'm wondering if Cuba has stopped sending physicians to Honduras in the wake of the Zelaya affair? I’ll find out when I go to Honduras in Feb. Honduras has really come to rely on Cuban doctors, who, by and large, have provided very skilled and much needed care and have also benefited themselves from experiencing life in another country.

See two articles below, one about the current privations of life in Honduras, the other an editorial discussion on the nature of human rights—are civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights all equal and of a piece, or are there divisions and priorities among them?

December 27, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, If anybody knows Pati Castillo in Houston, please tell her to phone home.

Pati is a 30-year-old Honduran whose children and other family members live in a gang-ridden slum here in the Honduran capital. Her mother, tearing up, says that nobody has heard from Pati in two months. Pati’s cellphone number never answers.
This family’s troubles offer a reminder that the most grievous victims of the global economic crisis — triggered in large part by American banking excesses — aren’t just Americans. They include residents of slums and villages in places like Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador — people who had nothing to do with derivatives or subprime mortgages.

The United Nations calculates that because of the economic crisis and continuing high food prices, the number of people going hungry around the world has risen to about one billion. Often, they include the 13 members of Pati’s family here.
The family members, including Pati’s four children, live in a one-room home on a steep hillside in the El Pastel slum. When I arrived a week ago, gang members were selling drugs on the street. And when I left, a boy was sniffing glue outside. Gang members have set up checkpoints and demand payment of a “war tax” to pass.
(A local priest, the Rev. Augustín Vásquez, escorted me in and glared his way through one gang checkpoint. “You ask money from a priest?” he asked indignantly. And he charged on through. Final score: God, 1; gangsters, 0.)

Pati’s mother, Iris, has a job at a music school that brings in about $100 a month, after commuting expenses. But that isn’t enough to keep everyone fed and clothed. So three years ago, Pati decided to sacrifice for her children’s future: She set out across Central America and Mexico for the United States.

After what her mother described as a brutal journey, Pati reached Houston. She found a job as a waitress in a restaurant there and shared a cheap apartment with several other Central American women. Every month, her mom said, she sent home $200 through Western Union.

With this regular windfall, the Castillo family began to live a better life — and overextended themselves. They bought a stove and refrigerator on an installment plan, assuming that Pati’s money transfers would continue indefinitely. “That was a big mistake,” Iris admits ruefully.

Then the economic crisis hit, and jobs began to disappear worldwide. Honduran, Salvadoran and Mexican garment factories that export to the American markets were crushed. Remittances, which amounted to about 22 percent of the Honduran economy, tumbled.

Pati lost her job in June. As an illegal immigrant, she found it impossible to find a new one, so she stopped wiring money home. “My daughter decided she will probably have to come back by herself,” Iris explained.

The last anybody heard from Pati was two months ago. Maybe she couldn’t afford her cellphone anymore; maybe she is en route back home; or maybe desperation pushed her to try something unsavory and to take risks — although her mom doesn’t believe that. “She’s well brought up,” Iris said. “I don’t think that she would do anything bad.”

In the meantime, the Castillos are adjusting to a two-thirds drop in family income. They are bracing themselves for their stove and refrigerator to be repossessed, and they have cut back sharply on food. The adults and older kids get just beans and rice; only Pati’s baby niece gets milk; and the younger children get a few eggs for protein.“Sometimes the kids go hungry, but I work as hard as I can to prevent that,” Iris said grimly.

Father Vásquez confirmed the Castillos’ story and said it is common since the fall in remittances and the collapse in the economy (in Honduras’s case, greatly aggravated by political instability after a coup last summer). “The recession in the U.S. is felt at a grass-roots level here,” he said. “I see a lot of kids who don’t get breakfast now before going to school.” Many children cope, he said, by sniffing glue.

Similar dramas are playing out in slums and villages around the world. In Haiti, I’ve seen a school nearly emptied of children because remittances stopped coming from relatives in Miami.

“One-sixth of the people on earth are hungry,” said Josette Sheeran, director of the United Nations World Food Program. “We’re seeing epidemics of child malnutrition.”
Ms. Sheeran notes that evidence has mounted that babies who are malnourished in their first two years of life are likely to suffer lifelong intellectual impairments that later feeding can never overcome. Yet just as global needs are surging, the crisis is causing a faltering in the commitment to help.

So, Pati, wherever you are, good luck finding a job — and call home. Your family, and so many others, need comfort and help.
Redefining human rights
Washington Post, Editorial, Sunday, December 27, 2009

THE OBAMA administration's commitment to the traditional American cause of promoting democracy and human rights has been widely questioned, and not without reason. So some rights advocates were pleased by an address that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered at Georgetown University, in which she laid out "the Obama administration's human rights agenda for the 21st century." We're not so happy.
Ms. Clinton said that the administration, "like others before us, will promote, support and defend democracy." She pledged that it would publicly denounce abuses by other governments and support dissidents and civil society groups. While saying that "principled pragmatism" would govern human rights discussions with "key countries like China and Russia," Ms. Clinton went on to spell out specific U.S. concerns with those nations, including Beijing's persecution of peaceful reformers and the murders of journalists in Russia.

As Ms. Clinton herself suggested, such pledges have been the common currency of American governments. But she did not limit herself to past principles. She offered an innovation: The Obama administration, she said, would "see human rights in a broad context," in which "oppression of want -- want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact" -- would be addressed alongside the oppression of tyranny and torture. "That is why," Ms. Clinton said, "the cornerstones of our 21st-century human rights agenda" would be "supporting democracy" and "fostering development."

This is indeed an important change in U.S. human rights policy -- but the idea behind it is pure 20th century. Ms. Clinton's lumping of economic and social "rights" with political and personal freedom was a standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked. In fact, as U.S. diplomats used to tirelessly respond, rights of liberty -- for free expression and religion, for example -- are unique in that they are both natural and universal; they will exist so long as governments do not suppress them. Health care, shelter and education are desirable social services, but they depend on resources that governments may or may not possess. These are fundamentally different goods, and one cannot substitute for another.

Ms. Clinton said that in adding "human development" to human rights and democracy, "we have to tackle all three simultaneously." But there are two dangers in her approach. One is that non-democratic regimes will seize on the economic aspect of her policy as an substitute for political reform -- as dictators have been doing for decades. Another is that the Obama administration will itself, in working with friendly but unfree countries, choose the easy route of focusing on development, while downplaying democracy.

Judging from Ms. Clinton's own rhetoric, that is the approach the State Department is headed toward in the Arab Middle East. In a major speech last month in Morocco, she said that U.S. engagement with Islamic countries would henceforth focus on education, science and technology, and "entrepreneurship" -- all foundations of "development." She made no mention of democracy. If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sudan Peace in Peril, Zelaya Spends Xmas in Embassy, Surprise Blog Reach

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.

While distant from Honduras, the main subject of this blog, nonetheless Sudan—at least the south— is also close to my heart. I was on a mission to southern Sudan in 2006 and wrote an article about it (America, Oct. 1, 2007). In my three weeks there, although I don’t speak Arabic, I got a very strong impression that southerners did not want to remain connected with the north in 2010, when a referendum on their future status would be conducted. This was part of the peace accords signed between the northern Khartoum government (the same folks responsible for fighting in Darfur) and southern rebels. My travel documents for the south were issued by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), not Khartoum. Now the PLA has walked out of a parliamentary session because the Khartoum government’s efforts to wiggle out of the referendum commitment.

Obviously, the north doesn’t want to give up the oil-rich south. I foresaw that happening and now fear that all the progress made in the south—the return of refugees from neighboring countries; the building of homes, schools, and hospitals; the removal of landmines; and the revival of agriculture will be destroyed and civilians killed once again. People in the south are mostly black, not Arabic; most are not Muslim and those who are do not adhere to Sharia law; and nearly all desperately want to be free of the arbitrary dictates of the Khartoum government. Sounds like Khartoum might be willing to continue to allow the south some autonomy, but wants to jettison the promise to allow a referendum, knowing the referendum would go overwhelmingly in favor of secession. I’m very sad about this development, as I don’t see the southern rebels giving in to this double-cross without a fight after so many years of patient and peaceful waiting.

Innocently, I had imagined this blog with few regular readers. I’m not keeping track, but doubt it’s more than 20 or 30, maybe even less. So I never dreamed that Google had my blog address in its sights. However, I have found out otherwise. Last time, I had posted material about a pro-Zelaya supporter and labor activist whose life had been threatened in very specific ways, quite credible and emblematic. I somehow thought this was a report from a human rights organization. However, it turns out it was a confidential report and, only hours after my posting, someone searching for information on the person involved Googled her name and was directed to my blog. He then saw that I had posted part of the report. Google must have acted practically instantaneously, which only shows the power and peril of the Internet, no secrets from Big Brother Google! The concerned reader immediately informed me and warned that my posting might further endanger the woman involved, so I removed it right away. I’m still astounded that Google knows about my blog and surveys it so regularly that it was able to pluck that woman’s name right out of the blog, just as soon as it was posted. Here I thought I was communicating with only a select few readers; instead, it was with the whole world! If the woman’s situation ever gets resolved, I may tell you more about her later.

Poor Zelaya, seems as though he and his family celebrated Christmas inside the Brazilian Embassy with no firm end date in sight for his stay there. Christmas is a really huge holiday in Honduras, so is New Year’s, with everything shut down between, even more than in the US, so I wouldn’t expect any movement until after New Year’s, at the earliest.

Honduras' Zelaya stuck in embassy for Christmas
By Gustavo Palencia
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA- Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will spend Christmas with his family stuck inside the soldier-ringed Brazilian Embassy where he has been holed up for months after being toppled in a June coup. The more than 100 troops surrounding the diplomatic compound in Tegucigalpa will allow Zelaya's relatives to bring him a Christmas meal of traditional dishes from his native Olancho province, where he made his name as a logger and rancher. "For Christmas, the army has told me they will let my mother and my children in and we will be here saying a prayer for the Honduran people," Zelaya told Reuters in a phone interview from the embassy complex where he has spent the last three months.

Zelaya, who was toppled on June 28 when soldiers roused him from bed and flew him to exile, has been mired in political limbo since he snuck back into Honduras in September. His future is unclear since Honduras elected a new president in November. The de facto government appointed after the coup and the military strictly control who and what is allowed inside the embassy sheltering Zelaya, his wife and a diminishing band of supporters. No Christmas tree, decorations or festive lights have been brought in to brighten their spirits for the holiday season. "No family would want to go through what we are going through unless they were perverse, cruel or heartless," Zelaya said. His children will likely bring him a meal of pork and a local variety of tamales -- corn cakes wrapped in banana leaves -- accompanied by a traditional wine made in Olancho from a tropical palm tree called coyol, an aide said.

Zelaya was ousted after he angered business leaders and more conservative members of his party by moving closer to Venezuela's firebrand leftist president, Hugo Chavez. His critics accused him of seeking to change the constitution to extend his term in office, which was to end in January, and the Supreme Court and Congress ordered his ouster.

In November, Honduras elected opposition leader Porfirio Lobo as president in a vote that some European and Latin American countries refused to recognize as it had been organized by an internationally shunned de facto government. The United States, which tried and failed to push for a negotiated settlement between Zelaya and the de facto leaders, said the election was an important step toward ending the crisis.

Lobo, who will be sworn in as president on January 27, has said he would extend a vague political amnesty to Zelaya and everyone involved in the coup without giving specifics on how Zelaya will be allowed to leave the embassy. The Honduran Congress voted against Zelaya's return to office and talks this month to give him asylum in Mexico broke down.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays, Great Eastern Snow, IHS Brigade Needs 2nd Physician, Honduras Political Situation Still on Hold

Feliz navidad. Happy holidays, my gentle and faithful readers. Keep warm and safe and close to friends and family.

Folks not living in the northeast missed a spectacular snowstorm last weekend. Such storms are both beautiful and scary. This was one of the biggest that I’d experienced in years. Washington has not completely dug out yet.

Last Friday evening, my 21-year-old granddaughter Natasha was driving me and some other folks to Gates, NC, where her mother lives. We were going there to celebrate her mother’s (my daughter’s) birthday, which also falls on the anniversary of my son’s death, as readers of my book are aware. About 9 pm, heavy snow began falling, making visibility very difficult. My granddaughter persevered, avoiding other skidding cars that ended up in snow banks and accidents occurring before our very eyes. She stopped frequently at rest stops for coffee. At Williamsburg, Va., the snow turned to rain and the going got a lot easier. Finally we arrived at my daughter’s house at 4 am, 9 hours for a trip that normally takes 3 ½, but we were glad to be there all in one piece. In Gates, the temperature was 45F and we went out for my daughter’s birthday dinner Saturday evening without incident. What a difference a few miles can make.

Our February International Health Services medical brigade to Honduras has only one physician signed up and we really need two. If anyone reading this is a doctor or knows one who is willing to donate two weeks of service and pay his or her own way to Honduras in mid-February, please let me know. Living conditions will be primitive (see my report of last February’s brigade), sleeping in a tent, using a latrine, bathing in a solar-heated shower, and seeing scores of patients of all ages every day, usually for routine problems like aches and pains, lice and athlete’s foot, infections, respiratory and intestinal ailments, and perhaps a few cases remediable by minor surgery. We will be at a high altitude, so no tropical weather, but it won’t be freezing either, which is good because we’ll probably be sleeping outdoors. Any potential volunteers should contact me by e-mail (address shown on this blog).

A new Amnesty International secretary general has been chosen, Salil Shetty, an Indian national and director for the last six years of the UN’s Millennium Campaign. He takes office next June, in time to prepare for the 50th anniversary. The Peace Corps is also preparing for its 50th in 2011.

Democracia Participativa, a Spanish-language blog cited earlier, reports that the ALBA meeting was devoted mostly to castigating the US. Honduras, it said, has dropped out of ALBA. Meanwhile, Chavez has accused the US of planning to launch military attacks against Venezuela from neighboring Colombia and Dutch Caribbean Islands. “Venezuela is being surrounded,” Chavez was quoted as saying. Hasn’t he heard about the boy who cried wolf? Now, Venezuela has named a new ambassador to the US and launched a PR-lobbying campaign to improve its image here, though its image might improve most from muzzling Chavez.

Local Spanish-language papers from last Fri. Dec. 18, report that neither Zelaya nor Micheletti is planning to step down from the presidency before Lobo takes office on Jan. 27. Meanwhile President-Elect Lobo is reported to be trying to distance himself from them both, promising to start over with clean slate, while also offering to meet with Zelaya if the latter agrees. An opinion piece appeared in El Tiempo Latino called “Elecciones, miedo y confusion” [Elections, fear and confusion], by Omar Zelaya, not identified as relative of the deposed president, although the surname Zelaya is not common in Honduras. He argues that the presidential election was a maneuver to legitimate “the first coup of the 21st century.” For the moment, there seems to be little movement on Zelaya, though maybe he will get a Christmas surprise? Nothing about Honduras in the mainstream press.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Brazil and US Pledge Honduras Cooperation, Lobo Offers to Meet with Zelaya, Honduras and Climate Change

As far as I know, Honduras has not been a big player at the Copenhagen climate change conference, or even a player at all. With only 7+ million in population, its carbon footprint is small. Yet, the impact of scores of small countries can add up, especially in the future. When I was in Peace Corps, there was a growing awareness in Honduras that tree cutting contributed to drought. As a volunteer, I distributed tree seeds and tree cutting of any kind without permission was prohibited, so that any Christmas trees were artificial. My friend Gilberto Flores, now living in the DC area, was an environmental activist.

One of the most pernicious practices is the almost universal burning of trash. Polluting diesel fumes also abound. And, of course, everyone aspires to have electricity and, eventually, a vehicle, which, if and when it happens, will add to fossil fuel use. Houses, even the coldest areas, are not heated now, except by wood-burning stoves using wood gathered, not cut, in the forest. When Chavez was providing cheap oil during the Zelaya years, pressures to conserve went down, but since Honduras does not produce oil, fuel prices are now as high, or higher, than in the US in absolute terms, while the monthly minimum wage—not enforced—is less than $300 per month. People mostly hitch rides, as I often did, and ride buses. Vehicles are relatively few, but generally old and not fuel efficient. One lasting legacy of Zelaya’s term is the presence of fuel-efficient bulbs in every home, donated by Venezuela. So, it’s a mixed picture. Environmentalism, not a priority for many in the US, is even less so in Honduras.

Well, Raul Castro spoke at the ALBA meeting in Havana last Sunday, but not Fidel, despite rumors that he might be planning a surprise appearance. Hugo Chavez, vociferous at ALBA, is now in Copenhagen, loudly blaming “rich” nations for climate change and for failing to address it properly. He may be partly right, but since he seems to have a single message wherever he goes, it’s easy to tune him out. He likes to take center stage, but doesn’t seem to be much of problem-solver or tactician.

Just a note on my interpretation assignment earlier today. Unlike my previous mention of wondering if DMV was the right venue and finding I was due at a senior center instead, today, my assignment really was at Motor Vehicles in suburban Gaithersburg, Md., at quite a distance from my home. And, as luck would have it, there was a delay on my second metro train, so I missed the bus at the end of the line and had to take a taxi to DMV. While en route, my driver was speaking in Spanish on his cell phone all the way (is that’s legal in Maryland?—it shouldn’t be for cab drivers), evidently setting up a date with a lady not his wife, as he mentioned that his wife was busy and unsuspecting. He told his lady friend to take a bath and get ready. I tried to interrupt in Spanish, to let him know that I understood the conversation, but he just smiled at me and continued talking. When he finally hung up, he asked me where I had learned Spanish and I asked him where he had learned. He said he had been born of Latino parents in Chicago, but had grown up all over South America. After he dropped me off, I interpreted for four non-English speakers appealing license suspensions either for drunk or careless driving. The outcomes were that they either remained in suspension, had have a breathalyzer installed in their vehicle, or were required to attend good driving and alcohol treatment sessions.

I do have a problem in such hearings, which are all recorded, with remembering a long string of numbers sufficiently to interpret them correctly—the numbers for statutes, case numbers, and such. It’s hard enough to remember a lot of consecutive numbers in English, much less to immediately translate them. Heck, I can’t remember phone numbers in English very well unless they are repeated. Regular words, sentences, oaths, I’m fine with, but I do have trouble with interpreting numbers. which don’t make any particular sense. If I had been prepared, I would have written them down as I was hearing them said in English, but I had no paper with me. I noticed that the judge was reading them from written documents, not citing them from memory as I was expected to do.

At the bus stop before arriving there, when I realized that the bus must have already come and gone, somehow, in my distress, I lost my reading glasses, which fortunately are from the drugstore, not prescription. The last time I recall having them was when I was scanning tiny print on a bus schedule posted next to the bus stop. Then riding in the cab, I noticed that I didn't them. So, no glasses with me for the hearings, a further complication. While I am a fan of public transportation and want to do my bit for the environment by not having a car, I must confess that I’ve previously lost glasses, keys, scarves, farecards, and umbrellas on metros and buses, often while transferring from one crowded place to another, trying to exit or enter before the door closes, and going up and down escalators, or even having to walk up or down because the escalator isn’t running—and always in hurry to make the connecting train or bus. When I did have a car, it was uncommon for me to lose personal belongings, which I often just left inside. But enough on that subject.

In Honduras, Democracia Participativa reports on a “national dialogue” summit convened by President-Elect Lobo last Monday, with most sectors of civil society in attendance, but with Mr. Zelaya and his followers conspicuously absent. Lobo has offered to meet with the deposed president, but Zelaya has not responded.

Now Brazil and the US seem to be cooperating on getting Zelaya out of the embassy and out of Honduras. Having Brazil on board is a real coup—if you’ll pardon the expression—for the US. The logistics of Zelaya’s actual exit and departure will be tricky. Meanwhile, both Brazil and the US are saying that Micheletti should step down. He probably is anxious to do that himself—he’s become such a lightening rod for criticism—but who would want take his place in the waning days of the Zelaya presidency? Everyone seems to be getting tired and just wants to get this matter over with and move on.

One of our regular correspondents writes: I’m agreeing with you rather than the LAC [Latin American commentator cited last time], who continues to think that the opinion of “the Latin American street” has more than minuscule influence on U.S. foreign policy or on how the big boys view this country. Medvedev probably couldn't find Honduras on a map.

I don’t know about the range or capabilities of helicopters, either. I would be surprised if there were no models that could be used to cross sub-Himalayan mountains, though; maybe they fly between the peaks. That would be the most dignified means of egress. But failing that, put Zelaya in a laundry basket, throw some dirty sheets on top, wheel the thing out to the loading dock, transfer it to a truck, . . . & then what? You would still need a destination.

I’m not sure the present government is on solid ground in saying that Zelaya can’t go into exile in Central America. That does seem harsh, even unreasonable, plus do they have standing to make such restrictions in the first place? Would Tierra del Fuego suit them, do you suppose? Why don’t we invite him to settle in Tampa? Far enough from action central (aka Miami) to keep him out of mischief and to hinder access from cash-strapped Honduran populists, but nevertheless a fairly warm place with a large Spanish-speaking population, homey-type food, and surrounding ranchlands.

My reply: If helicopters could make it (and they do operate in wartime in uneven terrain), that's what they should have tried when that small plane wasn't allowed to land during Zelaya's first attempt at returning. Of course, the interim government doesn't want Zelaya hanging around the border of another Central American country, most particularly Nicaragua, I suspect. But even if he is deposited elsewhere, what's to prevent him from returning to Central America, unless that’s part of the deal? I doubt Zelaya would agree to any such strictures on his movements.

Again, the same commentator: What's to prevent Zelaya from returning to Honduras from Lake Baikal, or wherever he winds up? Desire to preserve his sorry ass! If there's one person who believes all the propaganda about the rich, evil oligarchs who are so set on continuing to feed off the people that they'll go to any means to stop him, it's Zelaya himself. In our time, military leaders who become politicians, from Eisenhower to Fidel, command the respect of the electorate initially, no matter where their actual policies turn out to be. Even a former terrorist like Menachem Begin can get elected because people believe he put his butt on the line. Politicians who are perceived as physical cowards can surround themselves with bodyguards and lead only if, as in Arafat's case, the people are landless internees. But even the saddest, sorriest Honduran, for whom campesino status would be a step up, is better off than those poor bastards in the Palestinians' camps…A hat and a mustache are no substitute for balls, especially among Latins.

Blog readers should not expect another posting here before next week, as on Friday, am traveling with my granddaughter to my daughter Melanie’s home in NC for her birthday which, as I may have mentioned, is also the anniversary of my son Andrew’s death. We won’t be returning until Sunday evening.

The following article about a man killed in a drive-by shooting in Teguc may have had more to do with his gay rights activism than with his support of Zelaya. Anti-gay feeling in Honduras is pretty open and vehement, so anyone advocating gay rights, unfortunately, is at risk.
Rights activist who protested Honduras coup killed
Associated Press
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduran police promised Tuesday to thoroughly investigate the killing of a gay rights activist who joined in protests against the June coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The anti-coup National Resistance Front said gunmen in a car shot Walter Trochez on Sunday as he walked in downtown Tegucigalpa. Friends rushed him to a hospital, where he died. "Trochez was an active militant in the resistance and an example of the fight against the dictatorship," the group said in a statement released on the day the victim was buried.

The front, which until recently staged daily protests to demand Zelaya's restoration to the presidency, blamed the attack "on the repressive forces that the oligarchy uses to stop the demands of the Honduran people for liberty and democracy."
Police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said the case was "being exhaustively investigated." He named no suspects but dismissed the possibility that police were involved. The front claimed that Trochez, 27, was often harassed and threatened by police and soldiers because of his activism on behalf of homosexuals.

A Honduran rights group said Trochez was briefly kidnapped Dec. 4 by four masked men who beat him. The assailants threatened to kill Trochez because of his participation in the anti-coup movement, the International Observatory on the Human Rights Situation said.

International rights groups have denounced widespread repression under the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti, the former congressional leader who took power after soldiers ousted Zelaya on June 28. The coup came after the president continued a campaign to change the constitution despite the Supreme Court ruling his effort illegal.

Several anti-coup activists have been killed during protests, while security forces have raided the offices of groups opposed to the Micheletti government. Police say the raids are part of investigations into homemade bombs that have periodically exploded in the Central American country since the coup.

There also have been a string of killings of government security officials and relatives of politicians, including a nephew of Micheletti, but there is no indication those slayings related the coup. Political assassinations are not uncommon in Honduras, which has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America, much of it related to the drug trade.

Months of international pressure failed to restore Zelaya to finish his four-year term, which ends Jan. 27. Diplomats are now focused on producing a deal that would allow Zelaya to leave Honduras without being arrested on treason and abuse of power charges. On Monday, the United States and Brazil urged Micheletti to step down, saying his resignation would allow Zelaya safe passage out of Honduras.

Micheletti dismissed that idea Tuesday. He told HRN radio he planned to stay in power until the new president-elect, Porfirio Lobo, takes office next month. Lobo, a wealthy conservative rancher, won the Nov. 27 presidential election, which had been scheduled before the coup.

Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, vowed in a statement not to renounce his claim to the presidency. Last week Micheletti's government stopped two attempts by Zelaya to leave Honduras because the ousted leader refused to concede he is no longer president.
Brazil, U.S. find common ground on Honduras: official
Monday, December 14, 2009

BRASILIA - The United States and Brazil agree ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya must have safe passage to leave Honduras and want the country's de facto president to step down to pave the way for national reconciliation, a senior Brazilian official said on Monday. "We believe that (de facto) President Michelleti should leave, it's the first important step," Marco Aurelio Garcia, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's foreign policy advisor, told reporters.

"It's also fundamental that a safe passage be given to (ousted) President (Manuel) Zelaya," Garcia said after meeting with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela. Both sides played down differences on Honduras. Unlike Washington, Brazil did not recognize the legitimacy of Honduras' presidential elections last month.

"We coincide in something: for the Brazilian and the U.S. governments the election is insufficient to normalize democracy," Garcia said, adding that they still had a "small difference" over the results of the election.

Brazil had previously warned that Washington would become isolated in the region by recognizing an election much of Latin America considered illegitimate because it was born of a coup. "We really agree on some of the fundamental aspects of our relationship, and we have a similar view of many of the issues in the hemisphere," Valenzuela said when asked about the differences with Brazil over Honduras.

Soldiers grabbed Zelaya from his home in June and threw him out of the country in his pajamas, sparking Central America's worst political crisis since the Cold War. He later sneaked back into Honduras to take refuge in the Brazilian embassy and conduct a campaign for his return to power. Attempts for Zelaya to leave the country following the November election have failed. Last week he said the de facto government would allow him to leave the country only if he signs a letter dropping his demand to be reinstated as president. His term in office was scheduled to end on January 27.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington last week that it was up to Zelaya to decide whether to stay at the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras or move to another country. Washington and Brasilia agreed to set up a permanent dialogue to help end the Honduran crisis, Garcia said.
President-Elect of Honduras Offers to Meet With Zelaya
Monday, December 14, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA--The president-elect of Honduras said Monday that he was willing to meet anywhere with the country’s ousted leader, Manuel Zelaya, to help end the political impasse over the coup in June.The president-elect, Porfirio Lobo, said he was ready to talk with Mr. Zelaya outside the country or at the Brazilian Embassy, where Mr. Zelaya took refuge after sneaking back into Honduras on Sept. 21. “I’m totally and absolutely willing to start a dialogue with Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy or anywhere else,” Mr. Lobo told Radio HRN.

The president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, said last week that he expected Mr. Lobo to meet with Mr. Zelaya in the Dominican Republic on Monday, but he said Sunday that the session had been delayed because the Honduran authorities had not given permission for Mr. Zelaya to attend. Mr. Lobo said that the Honduran de facto government, which took power after Mr. Zelaya was ousted, had not received a request for Mr. Zelaya to be granted safe passage out of the country. He is facing charges of treason and abuse of authority for repeatedly ignoring court orders to drop plans for a referendum on rewriting the Constitution. Mr. Fernández’s effort to have Mr. Zelaya travel to the Dominican Republic was the second recent attempt to get him out of Honduras.

Last week, the Mexican government sent a plane for Mr. Zelaya, but the de facto government refused to grant him safe passage unless Mr. Zelaya promised to stop his efforts at being restored to the presidency. Mr. Zelaya rejected that condition.
The de facto government of Roberto Micheletti took over after the army removed Mr. Zelaya on June 28. It is scheduled to transfer power to Mr. Lobo on Jan. 27, when Mr. Zelaya’s term ends.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Negotiating Zelaya’s Departure

Hear, hear, my book now has 18 reviews on Amazon.com, 16 five-star and 2 four-star. Not bad. I’m aiming for at least 20, just in case any fan of the book should be reading this and would like to post another review.

From our local Spanish-language press comes news that a Venezuelan university student was killed in a street protest, evoking none of the international outcry that accompanied the few killings of demonstrators in Honduras over the last several months, not to belittle those killings, but to put them in perspective. And Hugo Chavez, photographed with the presidents of Paraguay and Brazil at ALBA, a meeting of South American presidents, accused Colombia and the US of planning aggression against other nations from US military bases located in Colombia. Chavez also chided the presidents of Colombia and Peru for not rejecting the election of Porfirio Lobo in Honduras. However, according to the article below, Peru joined Brazil in criticizing attempts to restrict Zelaya if he leaves the country. The Miami Herald’s Spanish edition also reports a rumor that Fidel Castro himself may appear at the ALBA meeting.

Our erstwhile Latin American commentator is back: As was to be expected, Obama's about-face will be tried to be used by the Alba group to set off a new wave of anti-Americanism in the continent. Alba wants to get Zelaya out of the Brazilian embassy to enthrone him as a martyr of US imperialism and reduce Obama's prestige in Latin America. The US is now not only being criticized for the about-face, but also being openly accused of plotting his overthrow. The effort will be made to turn the Zelaya affair into an anti-American cause celebre like the 1954 CIA invasion of Venezuela. The fact that there is no proof of US involvement in the original coup will be explained away by saying that the CIA did a much better job covering up its tracks. The new Latin American left knows how to counterpunch and will seek to maximize the adverse propaganda value of Zelaya's non-return to power.

From the articles below, it appears that the task now is less one of restoring Zelaya to office, but, rather, of getting him out of the Brazilian Embassy and then, presumably, out of the country safely, with no arrest or judicial procedure and with his dignity intact, while at the same time maintaining order and making sure he doesn’t try to commandeer his followers or the army to return him to the presidency by force. A helicopter hovering over the Brazilian Embassy, putting down a ladder might be the safest method, but whether a helicopter could make it across the border, I don’t know. What is the usual travel distance and altitude for a helicopter? Teguc is ringed by mountains and mountains exist throughout the country. Just a speculation, no crazier than a blocked runway back in July or sneaking across the border in a closed vehicle; stranger things have happened during this whole saga. I just hope he makes it in one piece and without more bloodshed.

Lobo and Zelaya may soon meet, perhaps in the Dominican Republic, according to that country’s president, Leonel Fernandez. Maybe that will be Zelaya's destination whne he leaves Honduras. Interestingly enough, I met Fernandez at a campaign rally in the DR in 1996, when I was there as an election observer. He won the presidency for the first time then and was allowed to run again because his terms were not consecutive, an option still available, I believe, to Zelaya under the current Honduran constitution, so look for Zelaya’s comeback in the future.
Zelaya gets green light to leave Honduras
Associated Press
Saturday, December 12, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA-- The interim government of Honduras says it would allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to seek asylum outside Central America. The announcement appears to seek a compromise with Zelaya allowing him to emerge from the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa without fear of arrest on the charges of treason and abuse of power that led to his June ouster. He took refuge there after sneaking back into Honduras Sept. 21.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman says Honduras will grant Zelaya safe passage to any country that offers him asylum outside Central America. Milton Mateo said Saturday the decision comes from the "very highest government level." Zelaya representative Rasel Tome said only that Zelaya does not plan to leave Honduras this weekend.
Brazil, Peru condemn Honduran limits on Zelaya
Saturday, December 12, 2009

SAO PAULO -- Brazil and Peru on Saturday condemned the refusal by the de facto government of Honduras to allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to leave the country unless he drops his demand to be reinstated. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Peruvian President Alan Garcia criticized the de facto government's stance in a joint statement issued by Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Relations. Zelaya, deposed in a June 28 coup, has taken refuge in Brazil's embassy in the Honduran capital. "The presidents strongly condemn the unacceptable refusal by Honduras' de facto government's officials, totally defying the international rights, to allow the departure of constitutional president Jose Manuel Zelaya to Mexico," the statement said.

Zelaya said on Thursday the de facto government would allow him to leave the country only if he signs a letter dropping his demand to be reinstated as president. His term in office was scheduled to end on January 27.

Soldiers grabbed Zelaya from his home in June and threw him out of the country in his pajamas, sparking Central America's worst political crisis since the Cold War. He later sneaked back into Honduras to take refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and conduct a campaign for his return to power.

Honduran voters chose a new president, Porfirio Lobo, in elections on November 29, but many countries including regional power Brazil have yet to recognize the vote. Lobo is due to take power in January. Zelaya had planned to leave his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy on Wednesday for Mexico but the trip was aborted because of disagreement over whether he would accept political asylum.

The administration in power since Zelaya was ousted wants Zelaya to take political asylum in another country, which would restrict his political activities. However, Zelaya has rejected asylum in favor of a looser status that would allow him to campaign fully for his return. The de facto government's foreign minister Carlos Lopez said Zelaya should respect a decision by the Honduran Congress last week that he not return to office.
DomRep: Ousted Honduras leader, successor to meet
Associated Press
Friday, December 11, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA--The leader of the Dominican Republic said Friday that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will meet with his elected successor next week in his Caribbean nation. There was no indication, however, that a deal for allowing such a meeting had been reached with the interim government that replaced Zelaya after a coup June 28.

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez told reporters he expected Zelaya and President-elect Porfirio Lobo to meet Monday in Santo Domingo to talk about ways for resolving the political crisis that has gripped Honduras since Zelaya was deposed. "As of Sunday and Monday, we will have both figures of the Honduran political world in the Dominican Republic," Fernandez said, adding that Zelaya would arrive on Sunday and Lobo on Monday morning.

Fernandez told reporters he expected to meet with both men separately and then bring them together for discussions.

But in Honduras' capital, information minister Rene Zepeda said the interim government had not received a petition from Zelaya or from officials in the Dominican Republic asking that Zelaya be granted safe passage to leave the country.
Honduran officials and Zelaya have been at odds this week on terms of a deal that would let him emerge from the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa without fear of arrest on the charges of treason and abuse of power that led to his ouster. He has taken refuge in the embassy since sneaking back into Honduras on Sept. 21. The government insists he must concede he is no longer president, although his term runs to Jan. 27. Zelaya says he won't do that. Zelaya also did not confirm that a meeting is set with Lobo. He told The Associated Press only that he was grateful to Fernandez for seeking to arrange a meeting.

"We are thankful for President Fernandez's gesture because it shows his intention to solve the Honduran crisis in an effort to benefit Central America. We are analyzing his proposal and we are in communication with President Fernandez," Zelaya said.
There was no immediate comment from Lobo, who won the Nov. 29 presidential election that Honduras had scheduled before Zelaya was removed from office and sent out of the country at gunpoint. Lobo, who says he wants to start a national reconciliation process once he takes office, said earlier this week that he supports granting amnesty both to Zelaya and to all of those involved in the coup. His options are limited, though. Even after he becomes president he won't have the power to give Zelaya amnesty from prosecution. That power belongs to the same Congress that voted 111-14 early month against restoring Zelaya to office to serve out his term.

Before Fernandez's announcement, Zelaya said he would leave the Brazilian Embassy by the end of his presidential term Jan. 27. Zelaya said in the telephone interview with Globo TV that he wanted to leave soon but did not say where he might go. Mexico's government sought this week to negotiate safe passage for him, but that effort stalled in the dispute over whether Zelaya would agree to leave Honduras as an ordinary citizen and not the president.

Francisco Catundo, the top-ranking Brazilian official at the embassy, told Globo TV that Zelaya must leave by Jan. 27. But later in the day, Marco Aurelio Garcia, chief international adviser to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said there is no time limit. "There is no problem with (Zelaya staying) at the Brazilian Embassy," Garcia told reporters in Peru, where Silva was making an official visit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Sales Up Slightly, Day in an Interpreter’s Life, Successful Human Rights Day Gathering, Zelaya Announces Jan. 27 Exit from Brazil Embassy

If anyone reading this blog has ordered my book or recommended it, thanks, perhaps you’ve contributed to a slight uptick in orders made recently on Amazon.com after a dismal showing in November. Or maybe it’s just the economy recovering slightly?

Some readers have expressed interest in topics other than Honduras, which, at a distance, may not seem such a pressing problem and has tended to become rather repetitious, though, no doubt, Hondurans don’t see it that way. So, I’ll change the subject briefly. As an interpreter, I participated in a meeting yesterday at Children’s Hospital with an entire team of ten, including doctors, nurses, nutritionist, social worker, child welfare workers (altogether a rather intimidating line-up), and a Hispanic family whose son with congenital kidney problems has had a failed transplant, now undergoes dialysis 3 times a week, and the parents, who are separated and have 3 other children, both work and are having trouble keeping the son on the proper meds and diet. The parents already must take time out of work to take the boy to dialysis and pick him up afterward and they expressed resentment at having to attend this long meeting, which they felt was blaming them for his poor blood stats. They acted really stressed out and defensive and tried to attribute the problems to his condition, but his physician said, if that were the case, there wouldn’t be such extreme fluctuations. Their son, who was present in the meeting, stood up for them, calling them good parents. A youngster like that needs very precise monitoring and, perhaps, because they couldn't do it properly, his transplant failed (just a guess). At least, I felt that was the unspoken undercurrent in the room. Now, his blood counts for potassium and other dangerous substances were fluctuating wildly, unlike before, perhaps threatening his very survival. Finally, the parents, who share custody, agreed to allow a Spanish-speaking home health aide (also present) visit over the next two months to see if she could regulate the situation. The boy himself, a young teen but very small for his age, was told that he must also take responsibility for his meds and for avoiding harmful, but perhaps attractive foods being eaten by his peers and siblings, such as bananas, French fries, and sodas. It must be incredibly hard for separated parents taking time away from work on an ongoing basis to tend properly to their son, while also facing economic hardship and the need to care for three other kids. I appreciated that at least they seemed willing to work cooperatively on their son’s behalf.

Last evening, we had an overflow crowd in the upstairs section of the combination bookstore and eatery Busboys & Poets at its downtown location. There was standing room only at our Amnesty International Human Rights Day event, which featured speakers, the signing of letters and postcards for our prisoners of conscience, and general conversation. But it was cold outside at the end, really the first real below-freezing cold we’ve had this season, our recent mushy snowfall notwithstanding. A friend and I looked around for a bus and got one only part way to our destination, as we live near one another on Capitol Hill. We ended up walking about 12 blocks, which would have been more pleasant in balmier weather and if I had been more appropriately dressed. My friend at least had gloves.

Back to Honduras: there was a flurry of excitement when it was announced that Zelaya would be going to Mexico, then that he was not going after all. His presence must be a royal headache for the Brazilian Embassy and the Brazilian government and Zelaya himself must be getting cabin fever. Now Zelaya is saying he will leave the embassy by Jan. 27, 2010, the end of his term, but going exactly where has not been specified, maybe he doesn’t plan to go anywhere? The risky part will be when he actually steps outside the embassy. Sounds like he may be planning to leave the country and I just hope he makes it safely to a safe haven and doesn’t try to stick around. Haven’t seen any reports about the demonstration that Zelaya’s followers were planning for today.

Zelaya will leave Brazil Embassy by Jan. 27
Associated Press
Friday, December 11, 2009

BRASILIA-- Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says he will leave the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras by Jan. 27, when his presidential term ends, according to an interview broadcast Friday. Zelaya said in the telephone interview with Globo TV that he wants to leave soon but did not say where he will go. He has been holed up in the embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa for three months under threat of arrest if he sets foot outside the building.

Zelaya's comments aired a day after Honduras' coup-installed government said he is free to leave the country, but not as president. The top-ranking Brazilian official at the embassy also told Globo TV that Zelaya must leave by Jan. 27. Francisco Catunda did not say where Zelaya might go, saying only that it would be "another destination." Officials at Brazil's presidency and at the nation's foreign ministry did not immediately return telephone messages left Friday seeking comment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Peace Corps Budget Increased, Resistance Plans Dec. 11 March, Honduran Drug Czar Assassinated

Word is out that the Peace Corps budget for 2011, the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps, contains a substantial increase. Good news!

Tomorrow evening, Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, DC-area Amnesty International groups, including my own, are holding a write-in for political prisoners at Busboys & Poets locations. B & P has promised to donate 5% of the evening’s proceeds to AIUSA.

Here’s something from a friend in Mexico, who says she only knows what she reads in the paper about Honduras, but it looks to her very much like a coup when a legitimately elected president is taken out by the army, however, in a poor country, always the poorest of the poor suffer the most. Sólo sé de la situación de Honduras lo que sale en el periódico, pero yo sí tengo la impresión de que fue algo muy parecido a un golpe de estado: un presidente, legítimamente electo es "defenestrado" por un personaje que se apoya en el ejército para (y la clase hegemónica del país) para echar al presidente en turno. ¿De qué otra forma se puede llamar eso? Bueno, pero tu irás y verás por tí misma cuál es la situación; es cierto, el país es tan pobre y siempre, los más pobres de un país pobre, son los más perjudicados.

Someone posting on my blog says: Brazil will recognize the new Honduran government eventually, but first they must insist on non-recognition in order to close the embassy in Tegucigalpa and get Zelaya out of their embassy and out of their hair. Mel has already caused them enough embarrassment. Imagine keeping him there permanently?

An American observer asks: I really wonder why they don’t just let Zelaya back in for these few weeks? The results were accepted by us and a few other countries; the rest of the world is holding out unreasonably, imo. So at this point, why not go ahead and make them happy? Or call their bluff, as the case may be. The only reason I can think of is that the interim government is extremely worried about security for Zelaya once he leaves Brazilian territory and figures that the status quo is better than being blamed for an assassination or attempted hit that (worst case) kills innocent Hondurans.

There’s been all this talk about how arrogant and controlling Micheletti is; but there are also assertions that “the oligarchs” want to eliminate Zelaya permanently. Both may be true, but I suspect that neither Micheletti personally nor anyone else in the interim government would be able to thwart an assassination undertaken by well-funded experts at the behest of persons accustomed to buying their way, who are worried about the handwriting on the wall. If any such plot or plots exist, or are credibly rumored to exist, Micheletti has got to sit tight.

Assassinations are certainly common, as I’ve said before; witness below the killing of Honduras’ drug czar. It’s pretty hard to protect public officials; it’s not quite as bad as in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, but I doubt the Honduran government could guarantee protection for Zelaya. By the way, drug trafficking through Honduras has been estimated to have increased since Zelaya’s ouster and since the partial withdrawal of US aid.

Other articles recount the end of the Venezuelan students’ hunger strike; Brazil’s reiteration that it doesn’t plan to recognize the Honduran election, despite earlier equivocal statements; that Zelaya supporters are planning a march on Dec. 11; and that Amnesty International is asking that the books not be closed on human rights abuses occurring since Zelaya’s removal. And it’s not only Latin Americans who have objected to US support of the Honduran presidential election. Many here in the US agree, as witnessed by the following e-mail, just received.

Fri. Dec. 11, 2009--Call out Hillary Clinton and the State Department - The State Department's role in the Honduran coup has been terrible. The State Department refused to recognize that a military coup had taken place, Hillary Clinton denounced attempts by the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras, and the State Department went against the majority of governments in the Americas when they backed the illegal elections in Honduras and betrayed the process to restore the constitutional order. The U.S. Department of State is hosting a public engagement conference. The conference will focus on the issues and challenges of U.S. relations with Latin America. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Under-Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela,
and other senior State Department officials will be attending. Register for the event and try to use the opportunity to call out Clinton and the State Department for their actions against democracy in Honduras.

December 9, 2009
Honduras: Gunmen Kill Drug Official

Gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Honduras’s top antidrug official Tuesday as he rode in his car in the capital, Tegucigalpa. The official, Julian Aristides González, a retired general who planned to leave his post in two months, had told reporters at a news conference Monday that drug trafficking had been increasing in Honduras and pointed to a number of landing strips that authorities said were being used for drug trafficking. Honduras has become an important transit point for South American cocaine.
9 December 2009

(CNN) -- Twenty-one Venezuelan students and supporters on Tuesday ended an 18-day hunger strike over the government's treatment of what protesters call political prisoners. The students called off their strike after a visit by a three-member delegation from the Organization of American States who traveled from Washington to talk with them. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza had written a letter to the protesters last week asking them to stop the fast.

Hunger striker Julio Rivas announced an end to the protest Tuesday, saying the visit by the OAS delegation had helped the students accomplish their goal of having an international body focus on the issue of political prisoners in Venezuela. "This only a step," Rivas said. "We will keep taking steps."

Brazil: No recognition for new Honduras governmentBy MARCO SIBAJA, Associated Press
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

BRASILIA-- Brazil's presidential spokesman has reiterated that the country does not plan to recognize the incoming Honduran administration and denied that Brazil's president and chief of staff have made contradictory statements about the Central American nation's elections. Marcelo Baumbach said Monday that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has made it clear he does not intend to recognize the outcome of Honduran elections that gave Porfirio Lobo the presidency after Manuel Zelaya was ousted and ended up holed up in the Brazilian Embassy there. Baumbach made the comments three days after Brazilian presidential chief of staff Dilma Rousseff said Honduras' Nov. 29 elections "will have to be considered."

"One thing is dealing with the fact that there were elections and another is recognizing the legitimacy of the elections," Baumbach told reporters. "And for now, Brazil does not recognize that legitimacy."

"The president's position is clear," Baumbach said. "Brazil does not intend to recognize a government elected in a process that was organized by an illegitimate government."

Honduran activists last week ended months of daily protests demanding the reinstatement of their president since he was ousted in a June coup, saying they were moving on now that Congress has voted to keep Manuel Zelaya out of office.
Lobo has said that when he takes office in January, he will finally end the political crisis that has isolated one of Latin America's poorest countries. Some countries, including the United States, have recognized Lobo's election. But others, including Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina, say they won't unless Zelaya is restored to office.
Honduras: resistance plans new strategies
WW4 Report
8 December 2009

At a meeting on Dec. 3 at the headquarters of the Union of Workers of the Brewery Industry and the Like (STIBYS) in Tegucigalpa, 300 members of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup d'Etat, a coalition of Honduran grassroots organizations, agreed not to end a five-month struggle that they started on June 28 when the military removed President José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales from office. "We're going to continue the struggle, but only for the Constituent [Assembly], not for the restitution [of Zelaya]," general director Juan Barahona told the Agence France Presse (AFP) wire service, referring to demands for a convention to rewrite the country's 1982 Constitution. The Resistance Front also said it would institute a "pause" in its daily street demonstrations, although it was planning a march for Dec. 11.

Like the Honduran resistance, the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) rejected what it called a "return to 'business as usual.'" "The crisis in Honduras does not end with the election results," Javier Zúñiga, head of the AI delegation in Honduras, said in a Dec. 3 statement. "There are dozens of people in Honduras still suffering the effects of the abuses carried out in the past five months. Failure to punish those responsible and to fix the malfunctioning system would open the door for more abuses in the future."

AI called on the "future government" elected on Nov. 29 to "[r]epeal all legislation, decrees and executive orders issued by the de facto authorities"; take law enforcement powers away from the military; "[e]nsure that all members of the security forces are held accountable for human rights abuses" under the de facto regime; and "[d]evelop a National Plan for the protection of human rights." The organization urged activists to send letters supporting these demands by going to their Appeals for Action page.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Gift Suggestion: My Book! Zelaya Stays Put in Brazil Embassy

While the holidays are usually an occasion for celebration, in our family, they are muted by the December anniversaries of the deaths of my son and foster son, just days apart on two successive years, 1994 and 1995. My readers who have not experienced the terrible loss of a child, please count yourselves lucky and count your blessings.

As a shopping suggestion, loyal blog readers, if you have read and liked my book, why not order copies on Amazon.com to be sent directly to friends as holiday gifts? The book is intended to inspire, interest, and inform readers of all ages and circumstances, not solely would-be Peace Corps volunteers.

This morning at a local hospital, where I was working as an interpreter, the nurse on duty was thrilled that her military son had returned from a year in Afghanistan, just in time for Thanksgiving. Now, he has a year stateside and won’t be participating in the upcoming surge. My patient today was from Colombia, where I lived two years as a teenager and where my adopted son, Jonathan, was born. I haven’t been back there since 1985, when I took Jon and my other kids there for a visit. The patient’s granddaughter, who accompanied her, was born and grew up in Venezuela. The granddaughter said she left because Chavez had simply made life intolerable. Everyone, she claimed, is intimidated because their jobs, pensions, housing, and other benefits all depend on demonstrating unflinching loyalty to Chavez. “Now he’s taken over the banks. Our country is getting like Cuba,” she said, “you can’t say or do anything against him.”

I did a really stupid thing at that hospital, entering the MRI chamber with my patient still wearing my wristwatch.We are supposed to take off all metal and I’ve never gone in with my watch before. There I was, translating instructions to my patient: “take in a breath, blow it out, hold your breath” when I glanced down at my watch. My watch, egads, I wasn’t supposed to be wearing a watch! I yelled to the technician to stop while I rushed my watch outside. She warned that the exposure might have drained the batteries or messed up the internal mechanisms. So far, this evening, the watch is still running, though it had stopped while I was inside the chamber. I’ve gone inside before with a metro farecard in my pocket, not thinking of it as metal, which, of course, erased everything, as it’s magnetic.

This just came into my personal e-mail from a reader I’ve never heard from before. I told him that I do like to hear all points of view, appreciate his feedback, and that his observation may well be right: With all due respect, I think your government has made a lot more mistakes during the Honduras crisis than Mr. Zelaya. You and your powerhouse diplomacy are worth nothing in Latin America.

He certainly reflects a point of view common among university educated Latin Americans, for whom anything the US does is suspect, perhaps a more common theme in this case among those from other countries than among Hondurans themselves. Zelaya, in my opinion, has made mistakes that undermine his own cause, like not bringing more of his political colleagues and collaborators on board before undertaking his actions. He certainly has had more at stake than has the United States, so his own mistakes have been more costly to him personally and to his aims than any mistakes the US has made in this case. However, admittedly, the US has wavered and flubbed and officials have not spoken with one voice, in part because Honduras was not a sufficient priority.

However, it’s doubtful that the US could have pleased Latin American leftist presidents and their partisans whatever position it took on Honduras. Their political fortunes and public image require them to take an unyielding anti-US stance. However, the initial US unconditional support of Zelaya did throw them off for a while.

Something now has to be done to facilitate Zelaya’s dignified and peaceful exit from the Brazilian Embassy. Some sort of national reconciliation is in order. Honduras’s government remains in the world spotlight, unlike some other regimes that have behaved much more arbitrarily. And Zelaya seems not to be in a very cooperative mood, so is likely to resist any such efforts. President-Elect Lobo has his work cut out for him and who knows what sort of political skills he may possess?

In any case, Zelaya says he will be staying in the Brazilian Embassy for now, according to the article below. The same article hints that Brazil may recognize Lobo’s election victory after all. If that happens, it will be a big win for the interim government.

Whatever happens, despite Honduras’s straitened economic circumstances, more attention must be paid to the needs and aspirations of the poor. Presumably, a fair proportion of poor people voted for Lobo. Lobo is not going to be able to please everyone, no matter what, but he has to make the effort to reach out to all sectors. The problem is, he is not yet in office, and something should be done about Zelaya before Lobo is sworn in. That might help blunt continuing international opposition. By the way, as my book readers may recall, in courts of law, Hondurans swear on a copy of their constitution, not on a Bible. It’s probably the same for the president, which would be especially appropriate under the circumstances.

Although my Nov. 30 copy of the New Yorker arrived late, I’ve now read William Finnegan's article on Honduras, entitled “An Old-Fashioned Coup.” I still contend that it was at most a semi-coup, which wouldn’t make a very good headline. The definition of a coup is that it’s a military takeover of a civilian government, which is not what happened in Honduras. The military has always been acting under civilian command; in fact, a general first turned the disputed referendum ballots over to President Zelaya when ordered to do so, then later the military acted under orders from the successor civilian president, Micheletti. Just slapping a “coup” label on what happened doesn’t make it so. I do agree with Finnegan and have said before that the political establishment had become disenchanted with Zelaya long before his referendum caper, as he apparently often acted without consulting others in the government, relying mainly on the outside advice of his pal Hugo Chavez. Whether the referendum was just an excuse or the last straw for other lawmakers, Finnegan is right that opposition to Zelaya had been building up for some time.

Additionally, as Finnegan emphasizes, and as I have shown in my book and said here, there are great disparities of wealth and poverty in Honduras—as indeed exist in the US and all over the world. Perhaps in Honduras, the extremes are more visible, because the small wealthy elite lives in ostentatious luxury side-by-side with shanty towns and because their servants and employees come mainly from the poorer classes. Also government corruption is endemic. These are longstanding challenges that need to be dealt with and only time will tell whether Lobo is willing and able to confront them. But, Lobo is right, the task is now his, not Zelaya’s. And he will encounter opposition, whatever the logic of his efforts, just as Obama has here at home, running into knee-jerk opposition on health care reform and climate change. Those benefiting from the status quo, or who imagine they are benefiting, will fiercely resist changes designed to help others or even the entire populace.

Having been modestly involved in journalism myself, both an a editor of an occupational therapy magazine and as a freelance writer, I realize that an article written for popular consumption, such as Finnegan’s, while striving to be factual, also often expresses a point of view and uses facts selectively to increase readability and drama. Such an article is not an academic treatise or legal document, after all. Finnegan may be correct in citing certain abuses by military and police. I will try to find out more about that when I go to Honduras, though, since I’ve not been an eyewitness myself, probably I’ll get different versions, depending on who I talk to.

And I speculated here earlier that Shannon’s apparent about-face in Honduras might have been influenced by his eagerness to assume his post as ambassador to Brazil, an appointment that Republican Rep. DeMint had been holding up indefinitely. Finnegan agrees with that observation. Of course, now Brazil may not receive Shannon as warmly as it might have previously. However, it’s also possible that Shannon was at least partially swayed by facts on the ground, such as the failure of Zelaya’s call for an election boycott, and the sheer intransigence of the interim government, whose tactics seem to have paid off, at least in the short run. (By the way, the New Yorker, unlike other publications, is typo-free as far as I can see. That’s no small feat.)

Honduras' Zelaya to stay in Brazil embassy
Sunday, December 6, 2009 10:52 PM

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' deposed President Manuel Zelaya said on Sunday that he would stay in the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital for as long as Brasilia allowed him to and that he would be willing to talk to the new president-elect. Leftist Zelaya, who was ousted by the army in a coup on June 28, slipped back into Honduras in September and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, from where he has been demanding his reinstatement.

The United States and Brazil have been pushing for Zelaya's return to power but his fate remains uncertain after the Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow him to finish his term that ends in January. "As long as I have Brazil's support, I will be here," Zelaya told Reuters by telephone from the embassy, which is ringed by Honduran soldiers around the clock.

Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo won a presidential vote last weekend and could allow Honduras, which is suffering from an aid freeze following the coup, to overcome the five-month crisis. Regional power Brazil has said it does not recognize the election because it was organized by the de-facto government. But it signaled late on Friday it may consider Lobo's victory as separate from the coup and potentially legitimate.

Zelaya has also rejected the elections as a sham, but told Reuters he did not rule out talking to Lobo, a sign that he too may be willing to compromise. "I am a democrat ... I always talk," he said when asked about holding talks with Lobo.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Big Reconciliation Challenge for Pres.-Elect Lobo, Snow in DC

About midday today, as predicted, light snow began falling, though not sticking because the temperature is above freezing. Still, the first snow fall of the season is always exciting. It’s a tribute to the change of seasons that they jog our sensibilities, get us thinking about and doing something different. Variety is indeed the spice of life.

In today’s paper, read that Teodoro Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s president since 1979, has been reelected with 95% of the vote. Most readers are probably unaware that Eq. Guinea is a rare Spanish-speaking African country. Not so long ago, for Amnesty International, I translated an extensive and horrendous human rights report of abuses there. Though I claim no expertise on that country, that report was enough to make me doubt that the president’s recent reelection was free and fair. In any case, I would find a 95% vote for a president in power for 30 years highly suspect. Yet, there was apparently no international outcry about his victory, while Honduras is being put under the microscope and publicly castigated by many nations despite holding, by most accounts, a basically free and fair election.

Our local Spanish-language press reports that Hondurans in this area who had registered to vote totaled over 3,000, but only 500 showed up to cast a ballot last Sunday and, of those, only 389 could be found on the registry and were actually allowed to vote. Outside the voting place, demonstrators gathered, carrying signs in Spanish saying “No to Coup Elections.” Some were dressed as soldiers and others lay on the ground with their mouths taped in protest. Another article cites President-elect Lobo saying that it’s time for reconciliation and looking to the future, since Zelaya’s tenure is over.

A number of nations seem to expect Honduras to do penance before it can be forgiven. Lobo needs to make some credible gesture toward them, as well as toward the disaffected in his own country.

Meanwhile, Miami’s El Nuevo Herald cites Arturo Valenzuela, Undersecretary of State for Latin America, expressing disappointment over the decision of the Honduran congress not to reinstate Zelaya. Yes, perhaps disappointment, but not exactly surprise. Certainly the US stance on Zelaya’s return to office has run a zigzag course. Another article reports that President-elect Lobo is traveling to Costa Rica to consult with President Oscar Arias who is promoting amnesty for Zelaya. The latter’s supporters have reportedly called off their daily marches and demonstrations and are looking forward instead to 2014 when they hope to have won enough seats to then mount a constitutional assembly to modify the Honduran constitution and run either Zelaya or a like candidate again.

Since Obama has announced a surge in Afghanistan, I wonder if Lobo will send Honduran troops there, perhaps in gratitude for the (tepid) US support of his election? That’s only a speculation because Honduras was one of the first nations to commit troops to Iraq, where my village health promoter Blanca’s son served as an officer, as mentioned in my book. If it happens, remember, you heard it here first.

In response to the previous blog entry, a regular reader made this comment: What can we say about Honduras at this point? It looks as though the interim government has painted itself into a corner. Even so, what difference does it make that Zelaya was illegally exiled, taken by surprise and transported under duress? The candidates for last week's election had already been nominated back in June. Apples & oranges. Zelaya and the people and governments supporting him are making a category error; & some of them will be very well aware of what they're doing. But they play the "Illegal!" card anyway.

I thought my Latin American correspondent was being unusually quiet lately, but he has popped up again. As I told him: I thought you had given up on this whole matter. But the saga continues, as does life on this planet. Meanwhile, Zelaya has pretty much flubbed it. Now his priority is how best to exit the Brazilian Embassy and deciding whether to stick around or leave Honduras. Here’s our correspondent again in his own words, showing that he hasn’t backed down that much on his predictions: I continue to stand with what I said before. If he makes no mistakes (which is doubtful due to his lack of political intelligence), Zelaya is destined to become the great absent political idol of the Honduran masses. All he has to do to earn this is to remain inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa or abroad in friendly foreign countries and to take an occasional poke at the policies of the Honduran administration, criticizing its inability to do anything for the poorer population. However, to try to avoid making political errors he should distance himself somewhat from the day to day political scenery and leave this field to his subordinates. His activity should be to set general guidelines and adopt a certain mysterious distance a lo De Gaulle, Peron, or Arnulfo Arias and wait for his opponents to make mistakes and for Honduras to reach a crisis in which the population via revolt or via the vote will bring him back to power. Oriental patience, distance, mystery, generalized in occasional pinpricks and a well organized and active opposition party to keep him in the public memory are his best weapons. If he tries to remain in the center of the struggle and to make many declarations, he risks making mistakes, showing his weaknesses, and wearing his countrymen out. He must box from the outside and then retreat out of range like an intelligent boxer waiting for an opening to throw a decisive punch and knock his opponent out. If he does this, he has a chance to win. If he perseveres in idle chit chat and endless calls for public protests, he is destined to be the eternal loser who slowly drifts out of the public memory. The most intelligent policy that his opponents could follow would be to amnesty him and to let him out of the Brazilian embassy so that he could take charge of his new fangled opposition movement. If they did so I believe he would either make the Honduran population weary or commit political errors. If neither of these things occurred and his political actions were effective and he was gaining more political support, then his enemies could always try to assassinate him. This would be much easier to carry out in Honduras than inside the Brazilian embassy or abroad. Keeping him inside the Brazilian Embassy or forcing him to live abroad only helps to make him into a political martyr and to reinforce his appeal to the Honduran masses. I believe that the majority of the Honduran oligarchy favor the first policy. However, I have my doubts about Pepe Lobo. He studied in the Soviet Union and had some contact with the communists in his youth and he seems to have some political intelligence. So, there is some possibility that when he becomes president, he may opt for the second approach to foster national reconciliation and to give Zelaya an opportunity to destroy himself politically or to be more accessible to political assassination. If I knew the guy personally. or if I had access to what other Honduran politicians thought about him, I could try to predict the possibilities. But for the time being, it is only possible to state the two broad policies that he may choose and to wait for him to act and hint or show his intentions. I do think that Zelaya is overblown and that he is much less than his followers make him out to be and that one way or the other, by making political mistakes or through assassination, he will ultimately be unsuccessful. Up to now, he has not shown that he has the exceptional political talents necessary to be successful in an environment like the Honduran. His probable political destiny will be to be the prophet for a coming Messiah whose memory the future successful leader of the Honduran populist movement will invoke to reach power and try to implement leftist policies.December 5, 2009

Honduras: U.S. Urges Support of Neighbors for New Leader By GINGER THOMPSON

The United States urged members of the Organization of American States to put the coup in Honduras behind them and support the efforts of the newly elected president to heal the politically divided country. At a meeting on Friday in Washington, Ambassador Carmen Lomellín told her counterparts that the presidential election Sunday showed that Hondurans “wish to move forward and re-establish democratic normality.” Most other countries were not convinced, saying they would not recognize elections held by an illegitimate government. “In our judgment, Honduras is not free,” Ambassador José E. Pinelo of Bolivia said. “In our countries leaders govern, not puppets.”

December 5, 2009
The Honduras Conundrum

There is wide agreement that last week’s presidential election in Honduras, won by the conservative leader Porfirio Lobo, was clean and fair. But it doesn’t settle the country’s political crisis, nor the question of how the world should treat Honduras.The military ousted President Manuel Zelaya in June. At the time of the vote, Mr. Zelaya was hiding in the Brazilian Embassy. He still is.

The Obama administration started off strong. It resisted the importunings of some Congressional Republicans who considered democracy far less important than Mr. Zelaya’s cozy ties to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Then Washington faltered. Its effort to broker a deal to return Mr. Zelaya to power, if only briefly, was filled with mixed messages (at one point the top American negotiator said Washington would accept the vote with or without Mr. Zelaya’s return). Over all, it betrayed a disturbing lack of diplomatic skill.

There is little point in ostracizing Honduras — one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. Rather, the United States, other countries in the region and Europe should take the election as a starting point to try to patch back together a democratic government.

Two aspects of the proposed deal, which have also been ignored so far, could help heal some of the wounds and restore some legitimacy. It called for the establishment of a unity government until the January inauguration and the creation of a truth commission to investigate events around the coup. The de facto government of Roberto Micheletti and other coup supporters must step down and be replaced by a unity government that includes high-level appointees from Mr. Zelaya. That unity government should create the truth commission. Civil liberties must be restored, including freedom of the press. And when the Lobo government takes office, it must clearly demonstrate its commitment to democracy.

Until then, donor countries and the United States should not fully restore aid to Honduras. The Organization of American States, which expelled Honduras, should hold off on fully restoring its membership. Despite all the missteps, Honduras’s military and militaries across the region need to know that coups will not be tolerated. Hondurans need to be able to move on and rebuild their democracy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

As Expected, Honduran Congress Votes “No” on Zelaya; Special Challenges in Interpretation Work

Before turning to events in Honduras, let me share something about my interpretation work. Most of the time, a big plus of the work is its variety; each assignment is different and a surprise. Unless the client is a repeat customer, I never know exactly who or what to expect. By e-mail, my main agency merely sends me a time, date, address, and a name or names. Of course, if I’ve been there before, I know how to get there and what sort of enterprise it is. But, if not, sometimes the surprise factor makes it rather challenging. For example, on Wed., I was given four names and an address in suburban Silver Spring, Md., 2120 Industrial Parkway. I don't own a car, so I called transit information and was told to take two metro trains, get off in at the Silver Spring station, and then take the #10 bus.

I started out early, as I usually do for a new address. It was cold and misty with a light rain falling. But at the Silver Spring station, no #10 bus stop was in evidence. Finally, I inquired of the driver of another bus, who told me that #10 did not come in there; I would need to take Z6. (It’s not usual for transit information to be wrong.) So I waited for Z6. That bus wound around several highways in semi-rural Md. until I finally came to where I was suppose to get off, the intersection of Industrial Parkway and Old Columbia Pike. If any of my readers have been out there, you know it’s rather a desolate, unpopulated location.

Since I knew this assignment had come from the State of Md., I looked around and decided to investigate the most prominent building, located behind a huge parking lot. It turned out to be the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. I had been sent to other DMV locations, where my task turned out to be interpreting at appeal hearings of license suspensions or revocations. But this DMV had no hearing rooms. I inquired at several offices there and was sent all around the building. It seemed this was not the right location after all, but there were no other state buildings in the vicinity.

I was about to give up when I decided to cross the highway to a small shopping center displaying signs for a Gold's Gym and a Christian Center. I rang the bell at the center, but, no, they had not requested an interpreter. However, they suggested I try around the side of that warehouse-like building, where I found a well-hidden locked door. There, I rang another bell and asked if anyone inside had requested a Spanish interpreter. Well, it turned out that was a senior day-care center and, yes, they were expecting an interpreter. So, I was let inside and, as it turned out, Md. examiners soon arrived to interview Medicaid recipients, among them my four Spanish-speaking oldsters. So I was glad I had persevered in my detective work.

OK, back now to Honduras. Zelaya has reportedly sent out a letter asking Latin American leaders not to recognize what he characterized as a fraudulent election held under a coup government. Not surprisingly (see article below), the Honduran congress voted against restoring Zelaya to the presidency. And while there has not been a groundswell of Latin American support for the recent Honduran presidential election, so far, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Peru have recognized it. The question still remains, what to do about Zelaya now? Most of the political establishment seems in no mood to include him in a government of national reconciliation and Zelaya himself appears to reject that possibility, declaring even before the congressional vote that he wouldn’t resume the office of president even if the vote was “yes.”

Although Facusse and other members of the ruling elite may find indeed find Miami a closer destination than Brazil, as quoted last time, the US must first restore their visas before they can make that trip again.

The woman called Honey in my book (the Odd Couple) sent me a long message expressing high praise for conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, one of my least favorite pundits. He’s a clever wordsmith and, as a wheelchair user, deserves credit for not playing the disabled card. However, he twists the facts so as to get people riled up against Obama, the government, taxes, gun control, gays, etc. and, of course, he’s 100% behind a far-right agenda. I am certainly no “bleeding-heart liberal,” but Krauthammer completely distorts the facts. I’m not surprised that “Honey” likes him.

Honduran lawmakers say 'no' to restoring Zelaya
Associated Press
Thursday, December 3, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA--Honduras' Congress ended hopes of reversing a coup that has isolated one of the poorest countries in the Americas, voting against reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya despite intense international pressure to do so. The vote Wednesday was part of a U.S.-brokered deal to end Honduras' crisis that left it up to Congress to decide if Zelaya should be restored to office for the final two months of his term - and lawmakers voted against the idea by a resounding 111-14 margin.

Zelaya, who listened to the proceedings from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, said even before the vote that he wouldn't return for a token two months if asked. He said he should have been reinstated before Sunday's presidential election and urged governments not to restore ties with the incoming administration of Porfirio Lobo. "Today, the lawmakers at the service of the dominant classes ratified the coup d'etat in Honduras," Zelaya said in a statement released after the vote. "They have condemned Honduras to exist outside the rule of law."

The Obama administration and some Latin American governments had urged Honduran lawmakers to reinstate Zelaya, who was seized and flown out of the country on June 28, generating worldwide calls for his reinstatement, foreign aid cuts and diplomatic isolation. But Honduras' interim leaders have proven remarkably resistant to diplomatic arm-twisting since the June 28 coup, rejecting near-universal demands that Zelaya be restored to his office before the previously scheduled election. Now lawmakers have even snubbed international demands that he be allowed to serve the final two months of his presidency.

Lawmaker after lawmaker insisted Wednesday that they were right the first time when they voted to oust Zelaya for ignoring a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum on changing the constitution. That vote happened hours after soldiers stormed into Zelaya's residence and flew him into exile in his pajamas. Zelaya opponents accuse him of trying to hang on to power by lifting a ban on presidential re-election, as his leftist ally Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela. Zelaya denies such intentions.
"My vote is (a lesson) for anyone who pretends to perpetuate himself in power. My vote is so that my son can look at me and say 'Dad you defended democracy,'" said Antonio Rivera of Lobo's conservative National Party.

Lawmakers loyal to Zelaya expressed dismay. "How can we call this a constitutional succession when the president's residence was shot at and he was taken from his home in pajamas?" said Cesar Ham, a lawmaker from a small leftist party that supports Zelaya. "This is embarrassing. He was assaulted, kidnapped and ousted by force of arms from the presidency."

While legislators debated, 300 Zelaya supporters protested behind police lines outside Congress. Zelaya had won over many poor Hondurans with his initiative to rewrite the constitution, promising he would shake-up a political system dominated by two traditional parties with little ideological differences and influenced by a few wealthy families. Congress is dominated by Zelaya's own Liberal Party, which largely turned against him in the dispute over changing the constitution. Many Liberals voted against him Wednesday.

The Supreme Court and three other institutions submitted opinions to Congress all recommending that Zelaya not be reinstated because he faces charges of abusing power and other infractions. Honduras' interim leaders insist the victory by Lobo, a wealthy rancher, in the regularly scheduled presidential election shows their country's democracy is intact.

However, many Latin American countries, especially those led by left-leaning governments, said recognizing the election would amount to legitimizing Central America's first coup in 20 years.

That stance wasn't unanimous in the region, though. Washington urged Zelaya's reinstatement but it stopped short of making that a condition for recognizing Lobo's government. Costa Rica, Peru, Panama and Colombia backed the U.S. view.

Zelaya's reinstatement was not required by a U.S.-brokered pact that was signed by both the deposed leader and interim President Roberto Micheletti. The pact requires only that a unity government be created for the remainder of Zelaya's term, leaving the decision on restoring Zelaya to office up to Congress.