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 Fern├índez, 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. Fern├índez’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.

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