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 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.


bla-bla-blas said...

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?

Barbara Joe said...

Hello bla-bla-blas, Thanks for your comment. Brazil has given mixed signals on this, but you are probably right, they want him out of there eventually. I will post your comment on my next blog, Barbara