Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere November 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: democracy, foreign policy, hillary clinton, honduran dictatorship, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras dictatorship, honduras election, honduras military, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, mark weisbrot, monroe doctrine, rio group, roger hollander
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A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”
Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”- if we can get away with it.
“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.
On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.
Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.
Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.
Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.
Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.
What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!” It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.
Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
Tags: bachelet, colombia bases, foreign policy, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, Hugo Chavez, james jones, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, Lula, Mexico, mexico politics, miguel tinker salas, military bases, obama administration, plan colombia, plan merida, right wing, roger hollander, u.s. imperialsim, u.s. military bases, UNASUR, uribe, Venezuela, zelaya
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The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.
Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.
But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.
The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.
Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!
The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.
All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.
None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.
Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.
Obama and Clinton Nix Change in Honduras July 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: cristina kirchner, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras constitution, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras referendum, Hugo Chavez, latin america government, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, oas, obama administration, oscar aries, roberto micheletti, roger burbach, roger hollander, uribe
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Can the US and Bolivia get along? February 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy.
Tags: Bolivia, bolivia healthcare, bolivia trade, bolivia water, bush administration, cuba embargo, DEA, Evo Morales, foreign policy, International law, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, latin america relations, mark weisbrot, obama administration, privatization, roger hollander, Venezuela, war on drugs, wto
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Photo: Dado Galdieri, AP
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 February 2009 19.00 GMT
Perhaps – but first the Obama administration must settle differences over drug enforcement, diplomacy and trade
With the Obama administration‘s policy toward Venezuela pretty much decided, and the embargo on Cuba considered untouchable because no one is willing to risk losing support among Cuban-Americans in the swing state of Florida, that leaves Bolivia as a left government in the region where the hostility of the Bush administration could be quickly reversed.
However, there are a number of outstanding issues between the two countries. The United States and Bolivia currently do not have ambassadors. Bolivia expelled the US ambassador on 10 September, on the grounds that he and Washington were intervening in Bolivia’s internal affairs. Among other offences, the US embassy was caught trying to use Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar for spying; US ambassador Phillip Goldberg had met privately with opposition leaders at a time when elements of the opposition were engaged in destabilising violence; and the US seemed to lend tacit support to the Bolivian opposition by not condemning this violence or even offering condolences when dozens of government supporters were massacred in Pando on 11 September.
The Bush administration responded to the expulsion of the US ambassador by expelling Bolivian ambassador Gustavo Guzmán. But there are also other important issues for Bolivia. On 26 September, the Bush administration suspended Bolivia’s trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. The official reason was that Bolivia had not been cooperating sufficiently in the war on drugs. But according to the UN’s 2008 report, Bolivia’s coca cultivation had increased by just 5 per cent, compared to a 27% increase in Colombia, the biggest beneficiary of US aid in the region.
The Bolivians are eager to begin a new chapter of improved relations with Washington. To demonstrate this willingness, the Bolivian government refrained from filing a complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the United States for the suspension of its trade preferences. Their legal case is quite solid: under WTO rules, countries are allowed to establish rules for preferential access to their markets, but the rules must be applied equally to all countries receiving the preferences. Before filing a complaint at the WTO, however, Bolivia wanted to see if the new administration is interested in improving relations.
Then there is another holdover from the Bush administration: Bolivia’s new constitution declares that healthcare, along with water and other necessities, is a human right and cannot be privatised. In keeping with their constitutional law, Bolivia asked the WTO for permission to withdraw the previous government’s commitment to open up its hospitals and healthcare sector to foreign corporations. According to the WTO’s procedural rules, if there are no objections to such a request within 45 days, it is approved. The EU, home to some of the big healthcare corporations that might have an interest in the issue, responded that it had no objections. On 5 January, the last day of the waiting period, the Bush administration objected.
The Obama team has not yet decided whether it will rescind the Bush administration’s objection to Bolivia’s WTO request. Presumably they will – if not, it would be an unmistakable signal of continued hostility. Far from being an arcane detail of constitutional or international law, it has real meaning to millions of Bolivians. The struggle against water privatisation was a significant part of the movement that brought Evo Morales to power. This is the political origin of the constitutional provisions establishing these essentials as human rights that cannot be infringed upon by private interests: many poor Bolivians had found themselves unable to afford water after it was privatised and user fees tripled.
Bolivia has also kicked out the US drug enforcement agency, and it does not look like they are coming back. To the Bolivians, the US is using the “war on drugs” throughout Latin America mainly as an excuse to get boots on the ground, and establish ties with local military and police forces. They see the whole process as destabilising and a threat to their sovereignty and democracy.
Despite all of these differences, it is still possible that Washington might choose to normalise relations with Bolivia. There are apparently some divisions within the administration over tactics. The “doves” apparently include Thomas Shannon, the current top state department official for the western hemisphere, and a holdover from the Bush administration. These officials can see that there is a public-relations problem in abusing Bolivia, the poorest country in South America and more importantly one led by the country’s first indigenous president, Morales. To most of the world, he is the Nelson Mandela of Bolivia, with his government bringing an end to centuries of apartheid-like exclusion of the country’s indigenous majority.
For the “doves” in the new administration, it would be better to avoid a public fight with Bolivia, so as not to distract from the guy who is sitting on what may be the largest petroleum reserves in the world – in Venezuela – and whom they have already successfully vilified in the media. On the other hand, there are hard liners who feel the need to “lay down the law” with Bolivia. We will soon know who has prevailed
Bolivia sets new global high mark for indigenous rights January 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
Tags: aymara, Bolivia, Bolivia constitution, bolivia election, Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, humala, indigenous rights, land reform, Latin America, latin america government, mas, menchu, native rights, pachamama, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, sara miller llana, zapatista
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BOWLERS IN BOLIVA: Aymara women went to the polls to vote on a new constitution Sunday. It passed.
Enrique Castro-Mendivil/ Reuters
Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the January 27, 2009 edition
La Paz, Bolivia – Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, easily won his campaign for a new constitution Sunday – promising vast new powers to the country’s indigenous majority and bolstering his political clout.
Critics say Mr. Morales is dangerously dividing the nation and merely following in the footsteps of populist leftist allies Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who have also rewritten their constitutions to invest the executive branch with more power.
True or not, something more is happening: This is a victory for Latin American indigenous groups marginalized since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, say analysts, and some see it as a global human rights and racial-equity landmark.
“Bolivia’s successful referendum process is precedent-setting with respect to indigenous empowerment worldwide,” says Robert Albro, an expert on social and indigenous movements in Latin America at American University in Washington.
Exit polls show that almost 60 percent of Bolivians voted in favor of a new magna carta that recognizes 36 different indigenous groups and secures a place for them in Congress.
“It is really an unbelievable moment in Bolivian history,” says Mr. Albro.
He attributes Morales’s success in Bolivia, starting with his election in 2005 and capped by this referendum, to the urbanization of Bolivian society and the growing political clout of the indigenous, which has created an indigenous elite.
The obligatory vote on Sunday was peaceful, free of the sometimes deadly confrontation that has marked other moments leading up to constitutional reform in Bolivia – with Morales and his opposition, mainly based in the mineral-rich, tropical lowlands, locked in battles over regional autonomy and control over gas reserves.
The new constitution contains over 400 articles but its centerpiece is the effort to “decolonize” Bolivian society.
The indigenous comprise the majority of the poor, in the poorest nation in South America, and were only granted the right to vote less than 60 years ago.
The new constitution reserves seats in Congress and in the Constitutional Court for smaller indigenous groups, and grants all of them autonomy that will, among other things, allow them to practice community justice, according to their own customs.
In one of the more controversial articles, Bolivia now guarantees freedom of religion, extending the same recognition to the Andean god Pachamama, the Earth god of the Andes, as it does to the Christian God.
The current Constitution “recognizes and supports” the Roman Catholic church.
Sunday’s vote included another referendum that asked Bolivians if they wanted limit the size of land holdings to no more than 5,000 or 10,000 hectares – in a government effort to more equitably distribute land. Official polling results aren’t expected until Feb. 4.
Still, Morales supporters expressed jubilation at the outcome. “We are getting back everything we lost: money and culture,” says Paulina Quiñonez, an Aymaran street vendor in La Paz. “They have robbed so much from us.”
This vote comes as other nations in Latin America have moved, since the 1990s, toward constitutional revisions that recognize “plurinational” states, beginning with Colombia in 1991, says Albro.
The Zapatista movement in Mexico, which emerged in 1994, gave rise to a transnational movement, and presidential candidates Ollanta Humala in Peru and Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala have also given the movement a boost.
Around the globe, countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have also gone a long way toward recognizing the “cultural rights” of native peoples. But Albro says that Bolivia’s new constitution sets a precedent because of its degree of detail to guarantee the political, cultural, and economic rights of the majority indigenous population by a president of indigenous descent. “Usually such constitutional reforms have been carried out to better ‘recognize’ indigenous peoples but by largely nonindigenous governments,” he says.
It was a goal that teetered on the brink of failure.
At one point, Bolivian opposition groups boycotted the process and protests turned deadly. In the end, a final draft constitution was only made possible via a series of negotiations and concessions made on the part of Morales and his political party (MAS). Of more than 400 articles, more than a quarter of them were modified.
Morales remains widely popular despite a strong opposition. He won 67 percent of support in a recall referendum in August, higher than the passage of the constitution. But the new constitution allows him to run for another consecutive term, which would end in 2014.
Some worry that the changes are simply a tool to hold onto power. Critics compare Morales to Mr. Chávez in Venezuela, who is holding a referendum next month to allow indefinite reelection for heads of state. “This is a clear victory for the poor,” says Hugo Campos, a retired businessman in El Paz. “But this is too much like Chávez. They are just trying to dominate, and create divisions between [Bolivian] society and even with the US so they can dominate more.”
Opposition forces say that the new constitution is further dividing Bolivian society. “This creates two types of citizens, one that is of [indigenous] origin and one that is not,” says Luis Eduardo Siles, a former congressman and fierce Morales critic. “There was not this hatred in our society before.”
And he says battles are bound to continue. For starters, it is unclear how the constitution, which leaves vast space for more protest and wrangling, will be implemented. “This doesn’t solve any of the real problems. It will just create more fights,” says Mr. Siles.
Indeed, to impliment the reforms outlined by the new constitution will require the passage of dozens of new laws. To get those through Congress, Morales will have to work with the oppostion.
Miguel Centellas, an assistant political science professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland who writes a blog on Bolivian politics, says that not only will the sides dig in their heels, but new factions have arisen out of the process.
The opposition parties have splintered over negotiations over the constitution.
Some Morales supporters are angered by the concessions.
“I see this as yet another crisis in a series of crises,” Mr. Centellas says. “I don’t think the referendum will solve anything. … The country will remain just as polarized.”
CHÁVEZ, CASTRO, AND MORALES: A Bolivian woman walks past an Evo Morales campaign poster that includes the leftist leaders of Venezuela and Cuba. Morales denies any financial support from Venezuela.