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.

No comments: