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What Now for a Post-Coup Honduras? May 19, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: this appears to me to be a well balanced analysis of the political situation with respect to Honduras.  My personal opinion is that at the end of the day, the US will not allow any settlement that in any way could lead to the restoration of any semblance of democracy or improvement in the human rights situation in Honduras.  I hope that I am wrong.
 
Published on Thursday, May 19, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
 
Will the Cartagena mediation process help resolve the crisis in Honduras?
 

by Alexander Main

Many Latin America watchers were thrown for a loop last month when a bilateral meeting in Cartagena, Colombia between Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia suddenly metamorphosed into a trilateral encounter that included Porfirio Lobo, the controversial president of Honduras.  It was hard enough grappling with the image of Chavez and Santos, considered to be arch-enemies only a year ago, slapping one another on the back and heralding warm relations between their countries.  Now it appeared that Chavez had also warmed up to Lobo, the leader of a government that Venezuela and many other South American countries had refused to recognize since the coup of June 28, 2009 that toppled democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Various media outlets were quick to suggest that, as a result of the friendly meeting, Chavez was prepared to back the return of Honduras to the Organization of American States (OAS).  Since Venezuela had been the most outspoken critic of Honduras’ post-coup governments, it seemed conceivable that in no time the country would recover the seat that it had lost by unanimous decision of the OAS’ thirty-three members following the 2009 coup.

But soon more details emerged from the meeting that suggested that there were still significant hurdles ahead for Lobo.  Chávez had not in fact agreed to support Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS.  Instead the three leaders had drawn up a road map for Honduras’ possible return with the direct input of exiled former president Mel Zelaya, who was reached by phone during the meeting.   As had occurred in previous negotiations, a series of conditions were put forward with the understanding that their fulfillment would open the door to OAS re-entry.

According to the Venezuelan government, four basic conditions, formulated primarily by Zelaya, were discussed during the closed-door meeting: the secure return of Zelaya and other officials exiled during and after the 2009 coup; an end to the persecution of members of the anti-coup National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP, by its Spanish initials); human rights guarantees and the investigation of human rights violations since the coup; guarantees for the holding of a future constituent assembly; and the recognition of the FNRP as a political organization.  This set of conditions went further politically than the recommendations made in a July 2010 report by a High-Level OAS Commission in which Venezuela was notably absent and the U.S. and a number of right-wing Latin American countries played a dominant role.  The report’s recommendations were meant to pave the way for Honduras’ return to the OAS, but appeared to be unacceptable to both Zelaya and the Lobo regime (see “Will new report pave the way for Honduras’ reincorporation into the OAS”.)

Though the trilateral meeting caused surprise and consternation – indeed, some groups in the FNRP expressed deep suspicions regarding the negotiations – it seems that it had been in the works for weeks and that President Zelaya had been consulted early on by representatives of the Colombian government.  The fact that the sponsors of this new round of negotiations were the pro-Lobo government of Colombia and pro-Zelaya government of Venezuela generated optimism throughout the region.  On April 27th, the foreign ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean, convened in Caracas for a preparatory meeting of the new CELAC regional group, issued a statement of support for the Cartagena mediation process.

No such statement was made by the U.S., however.  Although the Obama administration has been heavily invested in a regional lobbying effort to try to secure Honduras’ return to the OAS before the organization’s June 5th General Assembly in El Salvador, it has refrained from showing any public support for the Cartagena process.

Soon after Lobo’s return from Cartagena the media began reporting on his efforts to have various criminal charges against Zelaya lifted by the Honduran judiciary.   Charges of corruption had been filed against Zelaya and other exiled government officials following the coup and were considered by many to be politically motivated and designed to keep the former president and his closest allies out of the nation’s politics and out of the country period.

On May 2nd, Honduran officals triumphantly announced that an appeals court had dismissed all of the remaining criminal charges against Zelaya.  Honduran law experts, however, including the widely respected former Attorney General Edmundo Orellana, were quick to point out that, as Zelaya had not been exonerated of the crimes for which he stood accused, nothing prevented the charges from being reintroduced at a later date.  Zelaya himself made the same point and was subsequently accused of being a victim of “mental persecution” by Lobo.

These legal nuances failed to dampen the enthusiasm of either the U.S. administration or OAS Secretary General Jozasé Miulguel Insulza.  In fact, on the very day that the charges were dropped, Insulza announced that the “principal condition for Honduras’ return to the OAS has been met” and that he would proceed with consultations of member states to see whether to hold an extraordinary session of the OAS General Assembly in which to deliberate on the issue of Honduras’ return.  Though none of the four conditions outlined in Cartagena had actually been met by the Honduran government, the Secretary General seemed confident that the situation was ripe for Honduras’ re-entry.

The State Department concurred with an exuberant statement issued the following day: “the United States believes the suspension of Honduras should be immediately lifted and supports OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s intention to initiate consultations with member states on this issue.”  For good measure, the statement noted that “since his inauguration, President Lobo has moved swiftly to pursue national reconciliation, strengthen governance, stabilize the economy, and improve human rights conditions.” Human rights groups and the FNRP have argued that, on the contrary, Lobo has made little concrete effort to advance these objectives and that the human rights situation remains as bad as ever.  As Santa Cruz professor Dana Frank points out in the Nation: “to this day no one has been prosecuted or convicted for any of the politically-motivated killings of 34 members of the opposition and 10 journalists since Lobo took office, let alone for the over 300 killings by state security forces since the coup, according to COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras), the leading independent human rights group.”

While Insulza, the U.S. administration and some Central American countries like Panama and El Salvador have insisted that there are no more obstacles to Honduras’ OAS reincorporation, the tone has been much more cautious in South America.  Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolás Maduro has continued to declare that “there are four points” that are at the center of the negociation, and that “more work is needed on each of these points.”  His Brazilian colleague, Antonio Patriota echoed the Venezuelan position, stating that “there should be no rush” and that it was important “to take the necessary time to reach a firm agreement.”

It is clear that regional divisions that have emerged around the Honduras question remain deep. On the one hand, the U.S., right-wing Latin American governments and smaller countries more dependent on the U.S. are strongly backing Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS.  Meanwhile, most governments of South America – a continent that has grown much more politically independent over the past decade – continue to consider that more needs to be done to restore democracy and protect the rights of opposition activists.

In mid-May these divisions came to a head when a diplomatic tussle took place at the OAS.   Early on May 13th, the media reported that Insulza had convened a private meeting of the OAS Permanent Council (where representatives of all member countries participate) in which Honduras would be discussed.  El Salvador, with backing from the U.S. and Central American countries, intended to use the meeting to press for the holding of an extraordinary session of the General Assembly which would vote on lifting Honduras’ OAS suspension.  Within hours, however, the media announced that the meeting convened by Insulza had been unexpectedly canceled.

According to a reliable source at the OAS, several Latin American countries had asked for the Permanent Council meeting to be called off on the grounds that it was “premature.” These countries – which apparently included Colombia – felt that it was necessary to give more time to the mediation effort being led by Colombia and Venezuela.

As this diplomatic wrangling was unfolding, Zelaya issued a communiqué that appeared to echo the sentiment of many South American nations.  The United States, he said, had made “diplomatic statements that undermined the possibilities of success of the [Cartagena] process…” He called on the U.S. to revise its position and acknowledge and support the mediation process, in order “to achieve a real and viable solution to the Honduran political situation.”

Indeed, why has the U.S. administration refused to back or even acknowledge the Santos-Chavez mediation process?  And why does it seem to be intent on bypassing the process altogether in favor of deliberations carried out strictly within the framework of the OAS, a venue that has so far shown itself incapable of resolving Honduras’ political crisis?

One of the primary reasons, no doubt, is the fact that the Chavez government has a starring role in the mediation effort.  Ever since George W. Bush’s administration, one of the U.S. government’s key priorities in the region has been to try to isolate and undermine Venezuela’s international influence at every opportunity.  This re-baked containment strategy has backfired and, if anything, generated solidarity for Venezuela in the region; yet, there is no sign that the administration is prepared to reassess its policy.

Perhaps more than anything, the U.S. is not prepared to accept a political mediation in Honduras in which it doesn’t play a leading role.  The U.S. has traditionally been deeply involved in the internal affairs of Honduras, a country once dubbed the USS Honduras because of the important US military presence there and because the tiny nation served as a springboard for U.S intervention in other Central American countries.  As the recent bilateral agreements to expand the U.S. military presence in Honduras show, the country continues to be of great strategic importance to the U.S.
 

It’s interesting to note that, back in July of 2009, it was the Obama administration which took the key discussions on Honduras out of the OAS by initiating its own mediation process together with then Costa Rican president Oscar Arias.   The outcome of the process – known as the San Jose-Tegucigalpa agreement – satisfied the U.S. despite the fact that it failed to restore democracy in Honduras.  It didn’t, however, satisfy the majority of the hemisphere’s governments, who refused to recognize the elections which brought Lobo to power; and it failed to satisfy Zelaya and the FNRP, who remained politically marginalized and were confronted with constant intimidation and attacks.

This is not to suggest that the Colombia/Venezuela mediation is necessarily destined to bring a just, peaceful solution to Honduras’ political and social crisis.  There are fears that if Zelaya does return soon to Honduras, as has been announced, the other prerequisites involving human rights and a possible revision of the country’s profoundly conservative and non-inclusive political system will be swept aside.

As a response to these fears, a joint Colombian/Venezuelan verification commission has been proposed as a mechanism of enforcement to ensure that the Lobo government would follow through on the conditions outlined in Cartagena.  But given the short shrift that popular demands have received in Honduras in the past, there is understandable skepticism regarding the likelihood of real follow-up from Lobo once Honduras is back in the OAS.
 

Both human rights groups and Honduran social movements argue that once the suspension of Honduras’ OAS membership is lifted, there will be little to no incentive for the Lobo government – already under enormous pressure from ultra rightwing sectors – to address the grave human rights situation or work to bring the country back on the path of democracy and the rule of law.  Unfortunately, though dozens of members of Congress and international human rights organizations have sought to bring this issue to the attention of the Obama administration, the U.S. and an increasing number of other governments in the region continue to disregard the dire situation in Honduras and push for the country’s immediate reincorporation into the OAS.

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Alexander Main is a policy analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (www.cepr.net).

The Policeman Cometh:Yesterday’s insurrection by the police is over, but the results are far from certain. October 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Gerard Coffey

http://lalineadefuego.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/the-policeman-comethyesterday%e2%80%99s-insurrection-by-the-police-is-over-but-the-results-are-far-from-certain/#comments

Quito . 1st October

Yesterday’s insurrection by the police is over, but the results are far from certain.

It felt strangely like a film, a very long film. It was exciting, at times dangerous, and had a good ending. The good President (Rafael Correa) was rescued after a gun battle between the army and the police, returned triumphant, and denounced the evil ex President (Lucio Gutierrez) as being the influence behind police units that took him hostage. So at ten o‘clock, when it was all over, I switched off the television and went to bed.

This morning it doesn’t seem quite so clear cut . On the radio I can hear talk about the next time, about the police and the military joining up with the civil servants affected by the new legislation that supposedly sparked yesterday´s insurrection. A friend warns me: “in Latin America “, he says “these semi coups are often followed by real ones”. He’s probably thinking about Chile in 1973. It was a long time ago though, and things have changed. Maybe. His words are worth pondering.

On the radio I can hear a repeat of yesterday’s  pronouncements by  the head of the joint military command, General Ernesto Gonzalez. He’s saying that the fault lies with the imposition of the legislation. Correa is not mentioned by name, but it’s evident that he’s the one implicated. General Gonzalez also suggests that the legislation be amended or shelved. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the government or a condemnation of the police. On another station, someone asks why the military took so long to act. We don’t know. It could have been nothing more than logistics. But the question is valid. It took from the time for the General’s declaration, around three in the afternoon, until about eight at night for the special forces to get to the hospital where the President was being held.

Once there, it has to be said that they did their job well. There was a lot of shooting. A lot. In total the confrontation lasted about five hours. Some members of the military were taken hostage by the police. But there was little bloodshed  (only two police and one soldier died- More recent figures but the overall total at 8 dead and 193 injured). The president was successfully rescued, ‘carried out like a corpse’ as he put it later. And if anyone seriously doubted that this was an attempted coup (at least by some elements of the police), then the long drawn out gun battle needed to get Correa out of the hospital must have put those reservations to rest. There seems no other explanation. This was not the result of a dispute over piece of legislation.

Today, there is some police presence on the streets, but little evidence of the military apart from the odd helicopter flying overhead. Things are quiet. Relief is the general sentiment. People are talking, exchanging stories. commenting on the events of the day before: the looting and bank robberies in Guayaquil; the robberies in Quito, where two banks were also broken into; the aggression of the police. A friend who took part in the march to the hospital where Correa was being held, says he´s never seen so much tear gas. I had my own stories. I was knocked over when I tried to intervene to save a man who being attacked by about ten police; I later had to escape when police charged with guns drawn and firing live ammunition into the air, as far as we could tell. There wasn’t much point in hanging about to make sure.  So we all ran, like hell.  I saw one man lying on the ground surrounded by a few friends. He looked seriously injured (he now appears to have died). There was no way to know; at that moment the police reinforcements arrived: a phalanx of motorcycles that chased the crowd into the park. I took shelter on the other side of the street.  My neighbor has his own account. He’s about 65, works as a carpenter´s assistant and can only be described as having humble origins. He tells me he was in the main square until eleven at night listening to the President when he returned triumphant. “We said we were going to stay and die there or wait till Correa came back” he tells me.

I was also there, but earlier in the day. The square was full, and most of the people were like my neighbour, working class, although that’s a bit of a misnomer. Most of them likely don’t have full time work, are sub employed as they say. The same thing couldn’t be said for the people I met a little later outside the National Assembly. They were evidently protesting and the red flags led me to think, somewhat naively, that they were Correa supporters. But no. These were judicial workers, also affected by the new Civil Service legislation, and they were also angry, and all well dressed. The flags belonged to the Marxist Leninist party and its political wing, the MPD, which seemed to be behind the demonstration. I asked one woman if they supported the police. She said yes. The world was off its axis. I shook my head and walked away. On television  I saw images of other MPD supporters confronting  ‘a palos’ as they say, a group of Correa supporters.

For Correa this is part of the problem. In his four years in office he has made a lot of changes , mainly for the good, but also a lot of enemies. He has never courted the social movements and they’re not on his side. Despite what the woman said to me outside the National Assembly it seems unlikely that the unions, the indigenous groups, the environmentalists , the majority of teachers , or even the majority of civil servants, actively support the police. There is general agreement that they are dangerous, often in league with thieves and recently the subject of accusations of Human Rights violations made by the Truth Commission. But these groups definitely don’t like Correa that much.  His major support is amongst the poorest least organized sectors, and that could be a bit of problem if it comes to another confrontation.

A lot of people have been affected by Correa’s confrontational, steamroller style. He´s a man in a hurry. And that causes problems. But because of it there have major positive changes. He far outshines the other do-nothing governments I’ve know. The country is no longer the banana republic it was for example in the time of President Bucaram, in the mind nineties. But the opposition, of whom many previously spent a lot of time calling for governability, doesn’t seem to understand that in a democracy the ruling party implements its agenda, and there is little the rest can do about it except shout. Or maybe they do understand. They just don’t like it. Which is fine, but even for them actions such as yesterday’s can hardly be called democratic. The police have no business taking control of the streets.

For their part the media are calling for more democracy, more dialogue, although it’s hard to understand what that means, unless you take it as a call for Correa to implement what the opposition wants. And for better or worse, ´dialogue´ is not Rafael Correa´s strong point.  As for the agents of law enforcement, no one seems sure of what will happen. What do you do with a group of armed and dangerous people in uniform?  In the long term the rebellious elemants, the kidnappers, have to cleared out and dealt with. But  in the short term it’s hard to imagine thatmuch can, or even should, be done. No one wants a repeat of yesterday, and that is still a possibility. It´s still a delicate situation. There is undoubtedly a lot of resentment. There is also the question of relations between the police and the military. The police will undoubtedly feel aggrieved that their ‘legitimate’ protest was put down by the army. But if the police do decide to take to the streets again, there is a feeling that the support of the military may not be that firm the next time around.

The most important point is that government is back in control. Plans will likely include a large scale march of support for the President, bringing people in from all parts of the country.  Correa himself is still very popular nationally, with approval ratings over sixty percent , and this may help to dissuade any further troublemaking.  But things do need time to cool down.  And for the time being at least, a more rational, less confrontation approach would seem the wisest course of action.

US Bases in Colombia Rattle the Region March 19, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, War.
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(Roger’s note: this article testifies to the seamlessness of the BushObama policy with respect to Latin America.  Anyone who may have doubts can be assured that the Monroe Doctrine and US imperial imperative towards Latin America are alive and well.  Another lie to the false promise of change we can believe in.)
Published on Friday, March 19, 2010 by The Progressiveby Benjamin Dangl

On the shores of the Magdalena River, in a lush green valley dotted with cattle ranches and farms, sits the Palanquero military base, an outpost equipped with Colombia’s longest runway, housing for 2,000 troops, a theater, a supermarket, and a casino.

Palanquero is at the heart of a ten-year, renewable military agreement signed between the United States and Colombia on October 30, 2009, which gives Washington access to seven military bases in the country. Though officials from the U.S. and Colombian governments contend the agreement is aimed at fighting narcotraffickers and guerrillas within Colombian borders, a U.S. Air Force document states the deal offers a “unique opportunity” for “conducting full spectrum operations” in the region against various threats, including “anti-U.S. governments.”

The Pentagon sought access to the bases in Colombia after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa canceled the lease for the U.S. military base in Manta, Ecuador. The U.S. capability in Colombia will now be greater than at Manta, which worries human rights advocates in Colombia and left-leaning governments throughout the region.

“The main purpose of expanding these bases is to take strategic control of Latin America,” opposition senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Polo Democrático Alternativo told me over the phone from Bogotá.

Every president in South America outside of Colombia is against the bases agreement, with Hugo Chávez of neighboring Venezuela being the most critical. Chávez said that by signing the deal the United States was blowing “winds of war” over the region, and that the bases were “a threat against us.”

“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United States,” said Chávez in a televised meeting with government ministers. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country. . . . It is a kind of colony.” The Venezuelan president responded by deploying troops to the border in what has become an increasingly tense battle of words and flexing of military muscle.

Correa in neighboring Ecuador said the new bases agreement “constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”

Colombian President Alvaró Uribe dismissed critics and said the increased U.S. collaboration was necessary to curtail violence in the country. Uribe told The Washington Post, “We are not talking about a political game; we are talking about a threat that has spilled blood in Colombian society.”

But plans for the expansion of the bases show that the intent is to prepare for war and intimidate the region, likely spilling more blood in the process.

The Palanquero base, the largest of the seven in the agreement, will be expanding with $46 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money. Palanquero is already big enough to house 100 planes, and its 10,000-foot runway allows three planes to take off at once. It can accommodate enormous C-17 planes, which can carry large numbers of troops for distances that span the hemisphere without needing to refuel.

The intent of the base, according to U.S. Air Force documents, “is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost. . . . Palanquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”

The United States and Colombia may also see the bases as a way to cultivate ties with other militaries.

“The bases will be used to strengthen the military training of soldiers from other countries,” says John Lindsay-Poland, the co-director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “There is already third-country training in Colombia, and what the Colombia government says now is that this agreement will strengthen that.”

“This deal is a threat to the new governments that have emerged,” says Enrique Daza, the director of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, currently based in Bogotá. These new governments are “demanding sovereignty, autonomy, and independence in the region, and this bases agreement collides directly” with that, he says.

The Obama Administration, with the new agreement, is further collaborating with the Colombian military in spite of that institution’s grave human rights abuses in recent years.

In a July 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd wrote: “What are the implications of further deepening our relationship with the Colombian military at a time of growing revelations about the widespread falsos positivos (“false positives”) scandal, in which the Colombian military recruited many hundreds (some estimates are as high as 1,600) of boys and young men for jobs in the countryside that did not exist and then summarily executed them to earn bonuses and vacation days?”

The military base agreement needs to be understood in the context of two other U.S. initiatives in Colombia.

First, Plan Colombia, which began under President Clinton, committed billions of dollars ostensibly to fight the war on drugs but also to fighting the guerrillas, intensifying the country’s already brutal conflict in rural areas. This has led to increasing displacement of people from areas that are strategically important for mining multinationals.

Second, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which was signed in 2006, could pry open the country to more U.S. corporate exploitation. But it has been met with opposition in the United States, delaying its ratification. Daza says the signing of the bases deal is part of “a military strategy that complements the push for the free trade agreement.” The trade accord will serve “transnational corporate investments,” and these investments, he says, “are sustained by a military relationship.”

Opposition to the military bases agreement is vocal in Colombia. In a column written in July 2009, Senator Robledo denounced it, saying, “There is no law that allows bases of this type in Colombia.” One struggle, Robledo said, is on the legal and political front. The other is among social movements in Colombia and beyond. “It is important to organize a type of democratic citizens’ movement, a national campaign against these foreign bases, as well as a continental social alliance that promotes the denunciation of this agreement,” he says.

Daza is working with Mingas, a cross-border solidarity organization consisting of activists in Colombia, Canada, and the United States. Mingas wrote a letter to Obama, condemning the President’s decision to go forward with the deal on the bases. “At the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 you promised to foster a ‘new sense of partnership’ between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” the letter states. “But your Administration has yet to address the grave concerns expressed by national leaders throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean regarding the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.”

By signing this bases agreement, and by equivocating over the coup in Honduras, Obama has sent ominous signals to Latin America.

“Obama has not renounced the policies of Bush,” Robledo says. “Speaking in economic and military terms, on the fundamental issues, the similarities between Bush and Obama are bigger than the differences. Obama has not produced a change.”

© 2010 The Progressive

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press) and Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

History Repeats: Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Honduras February 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by James Rodriguez   
Thursday, 11 February 2010 16:28
Source: MiMundo.org 

Photos by James Rodriguez

“The so-called 80’s were characterized by a wave of violence in several countries in Latin America. Our country, Honduras, was not an exception. Even though the phenomenon of ‘disappearances’ occurred mostly during the military dictatorships, many people also vanished during democratically elected governments.” (1)

“A forced disappearance can be defined as: The illegal detention of a person by a State security agent or a force acquiesced by it, without the appropriate legal procedure, and in which the act is denied without any further information regarding the location or wellbeing of the detainee.” (2)

“An important characteristic of forced disappearances is that ultimately the victim is executed and the body hidden for good, hence disappeared. In all cases, the main objective is to avoid that the remains be found. Or, if the body is found, to make sure the victim cannot be identified due to grave disfigurement. This important aspect differentiates forced disappearances from another tragic human rights violation: the extrajudicial execution.” (3)

“The victims are not only those disappeared, but also the parents, spouses, offspring, or any other close friend or relative. These secondary victims are placed in a situation of uncertainty and anguish that can last for many years. Due to these reasons, forced disappearances tear open deep wounds within the social fabric of a nation-wide community which ultimately affect political, social and professional circles, and thus weaken the fundamental institutions of a country.” (4)

“By 1982, sixty-nine families were victims of forced disappearances. On November 30th of that same year, twelve families came together to form the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The organization’s primary objective was to recover alive, if possible, their family members disappeared by State forces. As sometimes the victims were held in clandestine jails for weeks or months before being irreversibly disappeared, COFADEH’s main objective was accomplished in a few cases. But most of the victims’ remains were never recovered. Between 1980 and 1989, one hundred and eighty-four people were disappeared by the State of Honduras without any due course of legal action followed by the authorities against those responsible.” (5)

“Halfway through the 90’s, COFADEH proceeded with attempts to exhume bodies found in clandestine cemeteries, where some of the disappeared were brutally dumped… Beginning in 1998, a new series of objectives are included in the organization’s formal mission: To defend collective rights, the right to a healthy environment, and liberty of expression. In addition, COFADEH has contributed to demilitarize Honduras, build democratic processes, and act as a human rights watchdog over State security forces.

The importance and quantity of COFADEH’s work increased dramatically after the military coup d’état removed democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28th, 2009. During the following seven months of de facto governance by Roberto Micheletti, the COFADEH’s offices served as a central headquarters for documentation and analysis of the human rights situation. Human rights violations carried out by the illegal regime continue to be compiled and recorded here on a daily basis, and numerous foreign delegations and alternative media members head here first for last minute information. Just between June 28th and October 10th, 2009, COFADEH has documented 4,234 human rights violations. (7)

For more information on the coup d’état carried out on June 2009, please view these previous photo essays:
Mel, Our Friend, the People are with You!
Tragedy at Toncontin: Army Shoots and Kills Protesters

Shortly before Micheletti’s de facto regime carried out a dubious national election on November 2009, Bertha Oliva de Nativí, director of COFADEH, declared: “I believe we are experiencing a dictatorship without precedents, even worse than in the 80’s. Back then, while we lived under the military boot, paramilitary groups and death squads would assassinate and disappear people in a clandestine manner, so that it was difficult to point them out as the criminals. Today, they do it in broad daylight, openly challenging all national and international structures of human rights and governance.” (8)

Tomás Nativí, founder of the People’s Revolutionary Union (URP), was abducted from his home, in Tegucigalpa, before dawn on June 11th, 1981. His wife, Bertha Oliva, three months pregnant at the time, witnessed the illegal abduction and recognized one of the assailants as Alexander Hernández, leader of Intelligence Battalion 3-16. Mr. Nativí was forcibly detained-disappeared by State forces and 30 years later, his corpse has still not been found. (9)

During the 80’s, General Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez was primarily responsible for the organization of the death squads in Honduras. First as Chief of the Public Security Forces (FUSEP) and eventually as Chief Commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, Álvarez Martínez established “an elite counterinsurgency force [in Battalion 3-16] that became the spearhead of the dirty war in Honduras.” The whole setup emulated the Argentinean counterinsurgency structure and was assessed by military personnel from Argentina, the U.S. and former Nicaraguan Elite Guard members (pro-Somoza dictatorship). (10)

“The information acquired from witnesses, surviving victims, family, and press regarding the forced disappearances, clearly indicates that special units such as the National Direction of Investigation (DNI) and Intelligence Battalion 3-16 were [directly] responsible for the atrocities… This latter unit specialized in vigilance and the production of intelligence regarding specific Honduran citizens who were suspected of subversive acts by the Armed Forces.“ (11)

As in other countries, powerful elites in collaboration with the armed forces nurtured the dirty war in Honduras economically and ideologically. These national elites – who have historically controlled the government in order to protect its economic interests—literally felt threatened by the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in neighboring Nicaragua. This powerful oligarchy allied with foreign corporate and political interest groups, helped finance the dirty war through an entity named the Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH).

“The APROH was the sole creation of two men: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez and [U.S. ambassador to Honduras] John Dimitri Negroponte [in 1982]. Its origins go back to secret meetings held by Álvarez with elite businessmen, bankers, industrialists, commerce moguls, public administrators and [right-wing] intellectuals.” (12) The APROH gained legal status through a presidential resolution issued by then-President Roberto Suazo Córdoba and its board members were: “President: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez; Vice-president: Miguel Facussé; Secretary: Oswaldo Ramos Soto; Treasurer: Bernand Casanova; Finances and Membership: Rafael Ferrari… [in addition to] Paul Vinelli, Leonardo Callejas Romero, Osmond Maduro, Benjamín Villanueva, Abraham Bennaton, Edgardo Sevilla and Emín Barjún.” (13)

Leticia Salomón, researcher from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, states: “The coup [against Mel Zelaya on June 2009] was planned by a loose association of businessmen lead by Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé, former President of Honduras (1988-2002). Flores Facussé’s ‘La Tribuna’ newspaper, in cahoots with two other major newspapers ‘La Prensa’ & ‘El Heraldo’, and TV channels 2, 3, 5 and 9, were the main pillar behind the coup… This group of businessmen, who control 90% of the country’s wealth, also includes Jaime Rosenthal and Gilberto Goldstein (directors of the Continental Group, a conglomerate that monopolizes the Honduran banking system, agro industry, and owns mass media outlets like ‘El Tiempo’ and channel 11), José Rafael Ferrari, Juan Canahuati, financier Camilo Atala, lumber mogul José Lamas, energy industrialist Fredy Násser, Jacobo Kattán, sugar baron Guillermo Lippman, construction tycoon Rafael Flores, and real estate and African palm magnate Miguel Facussé”. (14)

The similarities between the APROH from the early 80’s and the elite businessmen association identified by Leticia Salomón are remarkable. Aside from the fact that some men are found on both lists (Ferrari, Facussé), the two groups represent and defend the same economic interests. And, just as in the 80’s, these economic elites are once again fueling repression via death squads run by the criminals of yesteryear. During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, ousted president Zelaya confirmed that Billy Joya Améndola, former member of Battalion 3-16 who has been accused of numerous human rights violations during the 80’s, served as advisor for Micheletti and has lead terror and torture campaigns for the de facto regime.

Recently-inaugurated president Pepe Lobo has wasted no time in revealing his firm associations with the coup plotters. “His first presidential act consisted of ratifying a political amnesty law proposed by the National Congress, intended to clear all crimes related to the political crisis stemming from Zelaya’s forceful removal from power.” (16) Such bold action awards full impunity to the hundreds of criminals who committed thousands of human rights violations against members of the civic resistance movement.” (16)

In addition, Lobo immediately set forth his strategy of containment against the ever-growing popular resistance catalyzed by last June’s events, by naming Oscar Álvarez as his Minister of Security. Having already served this post during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), Álvarez has been highly criticized for his evasion of legal procedures, disregard for human rights, and hard-line approach, all reminiscent of his uncle, the aforementioned Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez. “Less than 24 hours after having been sworn in, Minister Álvarez carried out one of his infamous madrugones, or pre-dawn raids. These illegal forced-entry procedures, which often violate national laws, were rather common during his stint under Maduro. On this occasion, he sent a clear message to the Popular Resistance Movement.” (17)

Researcher Robinson Salazar Pérez analyzes: “The coup d’état in Honduras on June 28th, 2009, clearly marks a turning point in the future path of Latin American politics. Three issues in particular, have been clearly signaled and appear to be the target of right-wing hardliners: Avoid any economic alternative [i.e. ALBA] that may block the markets of multinational corporations, detain the progressive advance of the nationalist governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and sow the seeds of fear among Latin American leaders, by reminding them that extra-national interests are well above legitimate internal governance, even if this latter one is backed up by votes.” (18)

The powerful Hall of Living Memories, inside COFADEH’s headquarters, reminds us that certain chapters in history must not repeat themselves. Nevertheless, in Honduras, the oppressors of the past, using proven methods, once again apply their tyrannical despotism in 2010. A concerned Bertha Oliva concludes: “I am convinced that this is a project they want to emulate throughout Latin America. If they succeed in Honduras, they will also try to do so in other countries that have already been identified.” (19)

Version en español aquí.

Spanish-English Translation: MiMundo.org

1 Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Los hechos hablan por sí mismos: Informe preliminar sobre los desaparecidos en Honduras 1980-1993. 2a. Edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Editorial Guaymuras, 2002. P. 19
2 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 20.
3 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 21.
4 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 19.
5 http://www.cofadeh.org/html/historia/index.htm
6 Ibid.
7 Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Violaciones a Derechos Humanos en el marco del Golpe de Estado en Honduras: Cifras y Rostros de la Represión. Segundo Informe. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 22 de octubre de 2009. Full report can be downloaded here (in Spanish only):
http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/documentos/segundo_informe_situacional_cofadeh.pdf
8 Trucchi, Giorgio. “Esta dictadura es peor que la de los 80”. Rel-UITA, 29 de Noviembre, 2009.
(http://www.honduraslaboral.org/leer.php/4659112).
9 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Pp. 267-8.
10 Becerra, Longino. Cuando las tarántulas atacan. 11a edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 2008. Pp. 390-1.
11 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 258
12 Op. Cit. Becerra. P. 404.
13 Ibid. P. 285.
14 http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=89427
15 http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/30/exclusive_ousted_honduran_president_manuel_zelaya
16 http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/69434
17 “Oscar Alvarez inicia gestión con prepotencia y soberbia amenazando a la Resistencia”. El Libertador. 28 de enero, 2010. http://ellibertador.hn/Nacional/3726.html
18 Salazar Pérez, Robinson. “Honduras factor estratégico que cambió el rumbo de América Latina”. America Latina en Movimiento. Golpe de Estado en Honduras: ¿Laboratorio de dictaduras siglo XXI?. Publicada por la Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI). Agosto 2009. P. 9. (http://alainet.org/publica/447.phtml)
19 Op. Cit. Trucchi.

From Coup-lite to Truth-lite: US Policy and Death Squad Democracy in Honduras January 4, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Hilary Clinton making nice with Lobo (wolf in Spanish),  the illegitimate president of Honduras
Published on Monday, January 4, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Andrés Thomas Conteris

In the Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government is On With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras, Mark Weisbrot correctly illustrates U.S. backing for the coup regime and its lack of support for democracy.  For more than 100 days, I have been holed up inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, accompanying President Manuel Zelaya and covering the story for Democracy Now! and other independent media. In case Mark’s points were not convincing, here are 10 more ways to help you decide.

10. The resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on June 30th strongly condemned the coup in Honduras. The United States, however, prevented the UN Security Council from taking strong measures consistent with the resolution.

9. When President Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on September 21st, Lewis Amselem, the U.S. representative at the Organization of American States (OAS), called it “foolish” and “irresponsible.”  Amselem, whose background is with the U.S. Southern Command, is known in the halls of the OAS as “the diplomator.”  He led the charge for validating the Honduran elections, while most countries opposed recognition of elections held under the coup regime.

8. The U.S. Southern Command sponsored the PANAMAX 09 joint maneuvers from September 11-21 off the coast of Panama with military forces from 20 countries.  Even though the U.S. publicly stated that ties had been severed with the Honduran military, the invitation for Honduras to participate in these maneuvers stood firm.  The Honduran armed forces finally said they would withdraw from the exercises, only after several Latin American countries threatened to boycott them.

7. Key members of the Honduran military involved in the coup received training at the School of the Americas (which changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — WHISC), including Generals Romeo Vasquez and Luis Javier Prince.  Even after the June 28th coup, the Pentagon continued training members of the Honduran military at WHISC in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

6. The negotiating teams for both sides of the conflict reached an Accord on October 30th. Days later, when the U.S. made it clear it would honor the November 29th election whether or not he were reinstated as president, Zelaya declared the Accord to be a “dead letter”.  In spite of the U.S. claim that they only recognize Zelaya as the president of the country, they refuse to accept that he withdrew from the Accord.  The practice of ignoring the will of the Honduran president is also evidenced by the failure Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama to respond to letters he sent them.

5. Although U.S. officials continue to sing the praises of the Accord, they have been cherry picking around which parts of the agreement to underscore and which to ignore.  The Verification Commission mandated by the Accord only came together on one occasion for a photo-op.  The Accord stipulates the need for international aid for the Commission to function, but the U.S. provided no economic or political support.  Had the Verification Commission been activated, it would have denounced the November 5th deadline passing without the formation of a government of national unity.  It would have to consider rebuking coup leader Roberto Micheletti for assuming he would preside over this new government. Given these violations, the Commission would have to rule whether or not the November 29th elections should have proceeded, or be recognized.

4. The U.S. supports a comprehensive amnesty, a component intentionally left out of the Accord. The coup regime filed 24 criminal charges against President Zelaya, yet he is willing to face all of them in an impartial court of law.  He has called for an independent international tribunal and rejected the option of amnesty for himself and the coup perpetrators.  If amnesty is declared, impunity will be enshrined for the “golpistas,” as well as for the U.S. Pentagon and civilian officials complicit in the crimes of the coup.

3. The Accord calls for the establishment of a Truth Commission during the first half of 2010.  U.S. officials say they favor this; however, “truth-lite” seems to be what they prefer.  In recent decades, most Truth Commissions have limited truth-telling to circumstances within their country’s borders.  One exception occurred in Chad where the role of foreign governments in funding and training the perpetrators of human rights crimes was investigated.  If Honduras followed Chad’s example, its Truth Commission could examine the U.S. role before, during and after the coup.  Some possible questions: What role did those formerly employed by the U.S. government, like John Negroponte, Otto Reich, and Lanny Davis, play before and after the coup? Why did the plane carrying the kidnapped president on June 28th land just 60 miles away from the capital at the airbase where the U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo is headquartered? (U.S. officials claim it was to “refuel”). Why did the U.S. allow aid to continue to flow to the coup regime while not declaring that a “military coup” took place against the advice of the State Department’s legal advisors?  Top U.S. officials labeled what happened in Honduras as a coup; but given their actions, it’s more like “coup-lite.”

2. In August 2009, at the Summit of North American Leaders in Mexico, President Obama had harsh words for opponents of his policy by declaring, “The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening. . . I think what that indicates is that maybe there’s some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations. . .”

The ongoing U.S. intervention and hypocrisy in Honduras goes well beyond what Mark Weisbrot and I have described.  Aid continues to flow to the de facto regime, despite U.S. law that mandates cutting aid to military coups; that is intervention. Lifting the symbolic sanctions temporarily imposed on the dictatorship after the Accord was signed but not implemented; that is intervention.  Bestowing harsher criticism on President Zelaya and his nonviolent supporters rather than on the perpetrators of gross human rights crimes; that is hypocrisy.

1. Here in the Brazilian embassy, death threats are part of the psychological warfare directed against those who continue to accompany President Zelaya.  Elsewhere in Honduras: resistance leader Carlos Turcios was kidnapped and beheaded on December 16th; two members of the United Peasant Movement of Aguan were abducted by four hooded men on December 17th; resistance member Edwin Renán Fajardo, age 22, was tortured and murdered on December 22nd.  In an open letter to fellow Central American Presidents on December 28th, President Zelaya cited over 4,000 human rights violations by the coup regime, including 130 killings, over 450 persons wounded, over 3000 illegal detentions, and 114 political prisoners.

The silence of the U.S. government over the last six months regarding the ongoing human rights atrocities by the “golpistas” in Honduras confirms that the Obama regime has sought to support a death-squad democracy, rather than reinstating its elected leader.

That is intervention. That is hypocrisy.

Andrés Thomas Conteris is Program on the Americas Director for Nonviolence International, and works with Democracy Now! en Español.

On Presidents and Precedents: Implications of the Honduran Coup December 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Joseph Shansky   
Thursday, 10 December 2009, www.upaidedownworld.org
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President Obama was elected partly because of his promise to a large Hispanic constituency to give both new attention and new respect to Latin America. Judging from the US role in the military coup in Honduras, he must think that one of the two is enough.

A REGIONAL DIVIDE

Throughout the coup, Zelaya had overwhelming verbal support from the majority of his counterparts in the region.

Upon his bold return to Honduras in late September, Brazil’s President Lula opened the doors of his Tegucigalpa embassy to shelter the president, journalists, and supporters as his “guests”. That was the moment that things might have turned around for those fighting for his restoration. The populace had grown weary of struggling since late June demanding Zelaya’s reinstatement and protesting peacefully against the violations of so many basic rights. Zelaya’s homecoming was a move which energized them once again. But thanks to endless delay tactics on the part of US officials, his position in the embassy soon grew to resemble less that of a president than a prisoner.

Additionally, the US position may have drawn a line in the sand among other Latin American governments.

Over the past 5 months, of all Latin American countries, only Columbia, Peru and Panama (all strong US allies and economic dependents) rejected Zelaya’s status as the rightful leader of Honduras. But since the elections, others seem to be falling into line behind the US. El Salvador’s newly-elected FMLN President Funes agreed with the US line, stating that the elections will “end the crisis and lead to a unity government, the restoration of constitutional order and reconciliation in the brother country”. Now even Brazil appears to be adjusting its stance.

“There is a new situation,” Brazil’s Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff said recently. “There was an election. That process will be taken into account. We cannot turn a blind eye to the coup, but we can also not turn a blind eye to the election.”

At a Special Meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) on December 4, conflicting views were clear. US Ambassador Carmen Lomellin confirmed the US position to recognize the election results regardless: “The TSE and the Honduran people conducted remarkably free, fair and transparent elections.”

Costa Rican Ambassador Jose Enrique Castillo Barientes concurred: “Any position against the elections means crushing the solution.”

However, Bolivian Ambassador Jose Pinelo vehemently disagreed: “Under no circumstances will my government accept this objective. Recognizing a government formed like this means recognizing coup plotters.”

ELECTION DAY- VIOLENCE AND ABSTENTION

The Nov. 29 election passed with predictable results. For most Hondurans, Election Day in Honduras was never seen as a turning point. Rather, it followed a familiar rhetoric that democracy can be always gained, or restored, in the ballot box. That this simple action could clean up the violent elimination of democratic order is a profound lie.

On the contrary, it provided opportunity for an escalation of abuse under the guise of protection. This is nothing new for Honduran citizens. Armed forces dispersed throughout the country to ensure a climate of fear and intimidation leading up to and especially on Election Day. As of  Nov. 29, not only were national independent media banned from the airwaves, but as Laura Carlsen, the director of the Americas Program, recently reported, even international journalists became subject to vicious harassment and threatening to the point of fearing for their lives.

Most of the violence was kept out outside of the capital on election day, but the repression was intense in smaller towns and especially in the second largest city, San Pedro Sula. Micheletti’s claim that an additional 30,000 armed forces for this particular week was for the citizens’ “protection” is absurd. Reports of all kinds of abuses by police and military poured in from human rights delegations and journalists stationed all around Honduras that day. A Real News video clearly shows police officers deliberately smashing windows of cars, beating protesters with batons in the street, and hitting journalists who dared to do their job. Again, these tactics were for the most part not unique to that day. They were consistent with the regime’s behavior throughout the coup and represented the usual degree of violence against its own citizens.

Amnesty International has now called for an independent investigation into all human rights violations since the coup, including “killings following excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests of demonstrators by police and military, indiscriminate and unnecessary use of tear gas, ill treatment of detainees in custody, violence against women, and harassment of activists, journalists, lawyers and judges.”

Lobo has announced that he wants political amnesty for all parties involved in the coup, effectively requesting that all of the above violations, still unacknowledged, now also go unpunished by their perpetrators. If this was to happen, it would represent the final elimination of almost all legal processes in Honduras since Zelaya’s ousting.

While the coup government claims to have seen the highest electoral turnout in Honduran history, the National Front against the Coup (or Frente) claims the lowest. They cite an enormous victory in their much-promoted nonparticipation, claiming that 65-70 percent stayed away from the polls.

On the other hand, the coup government claimed a 62 percent turnout. However, a new investigation by Jesse Freeston of the Real News has revealed that this figure, which was distributed and repeated by almost every major media outlet in the world, appears to have been an arbitrary creation by one of the heads of the Supreme Tribunal Electoral (TSE). According to TSE’s own numbers, in reality less than half of the country voted that day.

Both the regime and the Resistance know the importance of keeping their supporters energized beyond the elections. Some of the international community (led by CNN headlines that evening boasting “high turnout” and saying the day was “calm and without incident”) are inclined to accept the idea that the elections are a healthy step forward. To believe that they are a clean break from the recent troubles is a convenient but dangerous assertion.

A NEW PRECEDENT

By most accounts, the coup was a surprising success for its leaders and backers. It now sets an alarming example that military coups can be sustained with backing of the world’s leading power. But many Latin American leaders are warning of a dangerous model.

“What is at stake is whether we validate or not a new methodology of coups d’etat,” said Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana at the recent Ibero-American Summit. His Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, agreed: “To recognize the spurious government emerging from these illegitimate elections will betray principles of peace, democracy and justice.”

Fidel Castro wrote in a recent editorial: “I hold the view that before Obama completes his term, there will be from six to eight right-wing governments in Latin America that will be allies of the empire.”

It’s not an outrageous prediction. Threatening signs are appearing all over the region. In Columbia, the United States just signed an agreement to expand its military presence by building new bases, igniting a feud between the US ally and Venezuela. In Paraguay, coup rumors were stirred when leftist president Fernando Lugo fired top military officials last month. In Guatemala, Obama’s fellow Nobel Peace laureate, indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchu, warned of plans amongst the Bolivian oligarchy against President Evo Morales.

However, on the same day of the fraudulent Honduran elections, Uruguayans selected José Mujica, a leftist and former guerilla, as president. And in Bolivia, Evo Morales just won another term in a landslide victory. The tide has not yet turned.

Most disturbing is that even amongst US officials there is now no dispute that what happened in Honduras was a military coup d’état. When I met with US Ambassador Hugo Llorens in Tegucigalpa in August, he was able to reluctantly confirm this when pressed. In his first State Department briefing on the day after the elections, Arturo Valenzuela, the new Assistant Secretary for the US Bureau of Hemispheric Affairs, described what took place as a “military coup” twice, marking the first time US officials have officially admitted this.


THE CONSTITUYENTE AND THE FUTURE

Those who’ve been fighting against the regime and against the elections have done so primarily for the return of legal order to Honduras. The Honduran Resistance, which formed in response to Zelaya’s expulsion, became a social movement no one could have predicted. In many ways, the level of repression by the regime throughout the coup was a direct response to the surprising force of the Resistance movement. It is also a testament to the movement’s strength.

While some right-wing forces are doubtlessly watching to see how far Micheletti and his cohorts can get, others are taking notes from the Resistance in preparation for what comes next. The demands of the people are not limited to the restitution of President Zelaya. They want to ensure all Hondurans that the systemic injustices they’ve lived under for so long will be one day turned around. Their ultimate goal is a new Constitution for Honduras.

The project they seek to implement is a large one, and is designed to follow a successful model already in place in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. It will not be easy. The constituyente (constituent assembly) is an effort to rewrite the outdated Honduran constitution with new cultural, economic, and social reforms. After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proved it was possible to gain mass support for the idea in 1999, Bolivia adopted a new constitution in 2007. The following year, the people of Ecuador approved a draft constitution which guaranteed among other radical ideas, “free education through university and social security benefits for stay-at-home mothers” and “inalienable rights to nature”.

Likewise, Manuel Zelaya proposed reforms for Honduras which focused on land re-distribution, an increase in the minimum wage, and new rights for women and the poor. It was partly because these ideas were so popular with economically-disadvantaged Hondurans that he was overthrown. But his supporters are moving on with an eye to the future.

Now Resistance leaders have called for the people of Honduras to “close that chapter” of their struggle. They are turning their focus to the constituyente and to the 2013 elections.

It’s uncertain what form their action will take. But they are still riding the momentum of their struggle. Emboldened by almost unanimous international support, Hondurans are now re-awakened to just how fragile a democracy can be.

For those who closely followed the coup and its aftermath, a tiny fear sat in the back of our minds. Eventually it was confirmed. As the State Department position shifted from condemning to condoning the illegal government, the outline of a bigger picture became clear. If this violent takeover were really to be approved by the US, it would mark a frightening new focus on the region.

In late June, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and forced out of the country. For the next five months, an illegitimate government, headed by Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti, suppressed the outrage of many Honduran citizens against this regime through a number of violent means including murder, torture, and detention of citizens.

Throughout this time, the US response to these allegations was silence.

Even though it was impossible for a free or fair election to take place under these circumstances, the US endorsed what is internationally recognized as a fraud. After months of stumbling through embarrassing press conferences dominated by contradictory statements, doublespeak, and back-pedaling, the US appeared firmly committed to helping overthrow democratic order by blessing the Honduran elections as the way out. It has deliberately chosen sides in the battle between the popular struggle for social justice in Latin America and the assured continuation of its own economic interests with the election of coup-supporting conservatives like Porfirio Lobo.

Honduran Coup Regime Erects Superficial Reality Around Elections December 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Belén Fernández   
Thursday, 10 December 2009www.upsidedownworld.org

 

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Porfirio Lobo

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

 

 Presumably in order to avoid having to discuss why popular consultations could not be reconciled with the interests of the Honduran elite, the golpista regime transformed the survey issue into a bid by Zelaya to install himself as eternal president of Honduras in violation of Constitutional articles prohibiting leaders from serving more than one 4-year term. These articles had appeared less important in 1985 when current coup president Roberto Micheletti, then a member of Congress, attempted to prolong the presidency of Roberto Suazo Córdova; other neglected articles included Article 102 prohibiting the expatriation of any Honduran—which did not prevent the armed forces from depositing the elected Honduran president in Costa Rica on the morning of June 28—and Article 2 establishing the Honduran people as the true rulers of Honduras, an honor which still did not enable public opinion surveys.

Additional holes in golpista rhetoric consisted of Zelaya’s ineligibility to run in the November 29 elections whether or not the public opinion survey had been carried out and my failure over the past 4 months to encounter a single member of the Honduran anti-coup Resistance who has been more concerned with the fate of Zelaya than with the fate of the constituyente (National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution).

Outside the Espresso Americano drive-through, Varela insisted that Lobo would bring about change by eliminating gang culture in Honduras—either via the death penalty or by imprisoning gang members for a sufficient number of decades so that they were unable to reproduce, he said—but did not explain how such agendas were more beneficial to his person than, for example, the acquisition of shoes. Subsequent evidence of efforts by political elites to graft their own concerns onto the citizenry surfaced at the December 2 session of Congress, convened to reject the restitution of Zelaya, during which a prohibition of the terms “the Honduran people,” “the poor,” “democracy,” “god,” and “Hugo Chávez” would have reduced golpista discourse to a bare minimum.

Professed Congressional concern for a “reconciliation of the Honduran family” did not meanwhile appear to take into account potential obstacles to familial reconciliation processes based on elections in which the majority of the family had abstained from voting. As for repeated proclamations by pro-coup Congress members that “this country does not belong to Chávez,” this was seconded by anti-coup Congressman César Ham of the Democratic Unification party, who wagered that 10 percent of the Honduran population controlled 90 percent of the wealth.

The alleged expansionism of Venezuelan socialism was invoked by Lobo supporter Oscar Izaguirre on election morning in Colonia Estados Unidos, a district by the name of The United States on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, which was characterized by mangled dirt roads and limited infrastructure. Izaguirre went beyond typical golpista warnings of the dangers posed by the Chávez-backed Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA)—an initiative guaranteeing more affordable fuel and medicines, among other items, for Honduran citizens—and reminded me of the necessity of intervention in Vietnam by his colonia’s namesake. The decreased necessity of the US in present times was, however, implied by Honduran Army Commander Miguel Angel García’s announcement in August that the Honduran armed forces had prevented the arrival of socialism to “the heart of the United States,” and Izaguirre’s announcement that he wished to rename his colonia as punishment for current “US intervention in Honduran affairs”—the golpista codename for the post-coup US policy of nominally admonishing the Honduran coup regime while nonetheless permitting its consolidation of power.

Izaguirre’s abrupt transition from his analysis of Vietnam to an analysis of the “war between the Tutsis and the other negros” was not accompanied by an analysis of the transition itself, and it was not clear whether he was proposing that Chávez intended to ignite a civil war in Honduras or that the name of the colonia be changed to “Rwanda” in order to discourage US interference. Also not clear was why prominent golpistas had not classified US use of Honduras as a launch pad for the contra war against Nicaragua in the 1980s as “intervention”; Izaguirre meanwhile progressed to an analysis of internal Honduran meddling, and declared that the Liberal Party—traditional rival of the National Party—”has screwed us and wants to continue screwing us,” despite the fact that the two parties were largely indistinguishable in substance.

According to a handful of Nacionalistas that gathered outside the school where voting was taking place, the Liberales employed at the polling station were deliberately altering the voting table numbers assigned to opposing party members. An election observer belonging to the Liberal Party assured me that “this sort of thing happens in all countries of the world” and asked if I worked for The Miami Herald, although he failed to specify whether this was an example of other places in the world where manipulation of data regularly occurred.

As for complications in the transmission of electoral results that evening, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a technical failure somewhere in the midst of the 20,000 cellular phones that had been purchased for nearly half a million dollars such that electoral tables across Honduras could phone their results in to the TSE’s main computing center. How the TSE had determined that oral reporting of election results was pragmatic in a country in which the phrase “cell phone reception” bordered on oxymoronic was never established, nor was how the TSE had calculated a voter participation rate of over 60 percent despite the technical failure and despite calculations of 30-35 percent participation by organizations that had not reported such failure.

US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens had appeared in a November 29 La Tribuna article suggesting that Hondurans who did not want to vote should be respected anyway and that, although the present elections were characterized by “a lot of legitimacy,” the US would wait to issue a final judgment on whether or not they would be recognized. The wait did not prevent US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela from congratulating Lobo on his victory; Llorens was meanwhile categorized on Honduran Radio America as the “sometimes controversial” figure who had nonetheless been the recipient of applause at the Tegucigalpa voting center where he had accompanied a member of his security team to vote.

Other examples of inverse security relationships consisted of the fact that the Honduran military and police had been tasked with keeping the peace on election day, which they did by repressing a peaceful Resistance march in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Violence was however averted in the city of El Progreso, home of coup president Roberto Micheletti, despite a November 25 article in La Prensa containing a subsection entitled “They want to kill him,” in which Micheletti claimed that the police had revealed a plot to assassinate him when he went to vote. Proof of the plot consisted of the reported discovery in El Progreso of an arsenal of items such as assault rifle bullets; according to La Prensa, “Micheletti also spoke of night-vision equipment,” the utility of which was questionable based on the fact that voting only took place in daylight hours.

The coup president’s worries thus appeared to have multiplied since August—when he had assured La Prensa that no coup-related regrets were keeping him up at night—and now in addition to being the potential target of night-vision goggles he had also recently been to the mall to view the film 2012, which he admitted to the golpista television program Frente a Frente had scared him. Micheletti expressed his hopes that reality did not follow the movie script, failing to recognize that an apocalyptic scenario would resolve once and for all the problem of presidents allegedly wishing to remain in power indefinitely; he meanwhile demonstrated his own lack of such aspirations by taking a vacation from the presidency for a week around election time—which did not alter the fact that he had decreed in September that only an invasion by the US might succeed in removing him from power.

Micheletti had thus far refrained from proposing a name change for Colonia Estados Unidos or Colonia Kennedy, a main district of the capital which I visited on the afternoon of election day. Seated on a bench across the way from the voting center at the John F. Kennedy School was a small group of middle-aged Resistance members, who had begun to chant “Dignity, dignity” after being challenged by onlookers disapproving of their comments to an Univisión television camera regarding the illegitimacy of elections. The exchange resulted in two pickup trucks full of police being called in to monitor the Resistance members, who resumed sitting on the bench.

The Honduran coup regime, which has focused on presenting elections as a panacea for political, social, and economic injustice in the country, has been aided in its construction of a superficial reality by a number of factors. These range from the onset of the Christmas season to US willingness to support a “Honduran solution to the Honduran problem”—which happens to coincide with US interests in the region—to Honduran media obsequiousness, not least observable in tunes lauding the Honduran electoral process played on national radio and accompanied by such thoughtful commentary by radio personalities as: “What a nice song.”

The untenable nature of such a reality was recently summed up by Resistance member Jeremías López, a primary school teacher in the Honduran department of Olancho, who credited the coup with having provided the impetus for an unprecedented level of spontaneous and large-scale social organization in the country. The fact that slogans like “NO TO ELECTIONS” still abounded on the façades of voting centers on election day suggests that a regime that is not capable of erasing graffiti will be even less adept at erasing a collective experience of resistance.

Belen Fernandez has been reporting from Honduras since July. Her book Coffee with Hezbollah, a political travelogue based on a hitchhiking trip through Lebanon conducted in the aftermath of the 2006 war, is due for publication shortly. She can be reached at belengarciabernal@gmail.com.

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Porfirio Lobo

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

The Speed of Change: Bolivian President Morales Empowered by Re-Election December 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Latin America.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Monday, 07 December 2009, http://www.upsidedownworld.org
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MAS Victory Celebration in La Paz, Bolivia (ABI)

Bolivian President Evo Morales was re-elected on Sunday, December 6th in a landslide victory. After the polls closed, fireworks, music and celebrations filled the Plaza Murillo in downtown La Paz where MAS supporters chanted “Evo Again! Evo Again!” Addressing the crowd from the presidential palace balcony, Morales said, “The people, with their participation, showed once again that it’s possible to change Bolivia… We have the responsibility to deepen and accelerate this process of change.” Though the official results are not yet known, exit polls show that Morales won roughly 63% of the vote, with his closest rival, former conservative governor Manfred Reyes Villa, winning around 23% of the vote.

The Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Morales’ political party, also won over two thirds of the seats in the lower house and the senate, meaning the MAS administration will have an easier time passing laws without right wing opposition.

Many of Bolivia’s indigenous and impoverished majority identify with Morales, an indigenous man who grew up poor and was a grassroots leader before his election as president in 2005. Many also voted for Morales because of new government programs aimed at empowering the country’s marginalized people.

“Brother Evo Morales is working for the poorest people, for the people that are fighting for their survival,” El Alto street vendor Julio Fernandez told Bloomberg reporter Jonathan Levin on election day.

“He’s changing things. He’s helping the poor and building highways and schools,” Veronica Canizaya, a 49-year old housewife, told Reuters before voting near Lake Titicaca.

During his first four years in office Morales partially nationalized Bolivia’s vast gas reserves, ushered in a new constitution written in a constituent assembly, granted more rights to indigenous people and exerted more state-control over natural resources and the economy. Much of the wealth generated from new state-run industries has been directed to various social and development programs to benefit impoverished sectors of society.

For example, Inez Mamani receives a government stipend to help her care for her newborn baby. The funding is thanks to the state-run gas company. Mamani, who also has five other children, spoke with Annie Murphy of National Public Radio about the program. “With my other children, there wasn’t a program like this. It was sad the way we raised them. Now they have milk, clothing, diapers, and it’s great that the government helps us. Before, natural resources were privately owned and there wasn’t this sort of support.”

In addition to the support for mothers, the government also gives stipends to young students and the elderly; the stipends reached some 2 million people in 2009. “I’m a teacher and I see that the kids go to school with hope, because they get breakfast there and the subsidies … I ask them how they spend the hand-outs and some of them say they buy shoes. Some didn’t have shoes before,” Irene Paz told Reuters after voting in El Alto.

Thanks to such far-reaching government programs and socialistic policies, Bolivia’s economic growth has been higher during the four years under Morales than at any other period during the last three decades, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“None of this would have been possible without the government’s regaining control of the country’s natural resources,” said CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot. “Bolivia’s fiscal stimulus over the past year was vastly larger than ours in the United States, relative to their economy.”

During Morales’ new term in office, with over two thirds control in both houses of congress, the MAS government should be able to further apply the changes established in the new constitution, a document passed in a national vote this past January. The MAS base is eager for land reform, broader access to public services, development projects and more say in how their government is run. The mandate and demands for massive changes are now greater than ever.

As Bolivian political analyst Franklin Pareja told IPS News, “In the past four years, the change was an illusion, and now it should be real.”

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Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press) and the forthcoming book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail.com

Obama’s response to Honduran election disappoints December 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION

By: Ana C. Perez

4/12/2009 1:00 AM |

THE U.S. response to the recent presidential election in Honduras shows that not much has changed under President Barack Obama.When military leaders overthrew the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya back in June, the Obama administration responded ambivalently. Obama himself denounced it as coup, but the State Department refused to do so.

As a result, Washington continued to send development and military aid to the country weeks after the military installed the dictatorship.

Then the Obama administration appeared to have brokered a deal to reinstate Zelaya, but when the de facto government declined to follow through, Obama let it slide.

Zelaya and his supporters boycotted the presidential election on Nov. 29. When Porfirio Lobo, one of the wealthiest men in the country, was declared the winner, many Latin American countries refused to recognize the results. And with good reason: There were massive reports of human rights violations before and on election day, in a country under a state of emergency and with the ousted president under siege in the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital.

But the Obama administration called the election “a step forward.”

This looks and smells like traditional U.S. policy toward Latin America. It is a policy that traditionally supports power-hungry elites that control most of the wealth at the expense of the majority of the population.

For decades, Washington has carried out this policy by supporting repressive governments, taking the side of the wealthy in civil wars and rubber-stamping elections marred by rampant civil and human rights violations, repression of the press and military intimidation.

The administration’s approach to the Honduran crisis is not the only disappointing policy direction Obama has taken when it comes to Latin America.

He has maintained the draconian embargo on Cuba, criticized progressive governments in Latin America and cemented ties with the repressive government in Colombia.

But his weak response to the Honduran coup is his worst move yet in the hemisphere, and the Honduran people are paying the price.

The day before the elections, more than 50 heavily armed soldiers and police officers ransacked the office of COMAL (Alternative Community Marketing Network). That’s a network of women who are small farmers. Their crime? Educating local peasants about the current political crisis in Honduras.

On the day of the election, more than 500 unarmed protesters staged a peaceful sit-in in front of tanks and troops — and were attacked with water cannons and gas.

Rule by gunpoint is not democracy — nor is it a step forward.

Ana C. Perez is executive director of the San Francisco-based Central American Resources Center. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.

–McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2009 A15

Election Report From Honduras: The People Say “We Didn’t Vote!” December 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Jackie McVicar
Wednesday, 02 December 2009

http://www.upsidedownworld.org

Tegucigalpa, Honduras – After a long bus ride back from the north eastern part of the country and the department of Colon, we arrived in the capital today just in time to join a massive caravan organized by the Popular Resistance Front. Like the other demonstrations held since the coup d’etat on June 28, the mobilization winded through the “barrios”, the neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa where supporters left their homes to show their support.

This time, instead of walking, organizers decided to drive their cars in a caravan, to avoid confrontation or repression that they feared by the State security forces. Hundreds of cars and people drove through the streets honking their horns, with flags, horns and music. Both those in the caravan and people yelling support from the streets, “I didn’t vote!” showed their ink-less fingers, to show they had not been registered at a polling station where a finger print as part of your id is normally taken.

Though the media is reporting record high turnouts for Sunday’s election, no one is buying it. One woman I interviewed who didn’t want to be identified because of fear (“if they see my picture, they [the military] will come after me”), said, “I have over 150 people in my [extended] family and not one went out to vote.”

Another man, when asked what the streets of Tegucigalpa looked like yesterday, said with pride, “The streets were deserted. That is the reality. Those who went to vote were just a few…I didn’t go out to vote, precisely because we don’t support the de facto regime. And conscious people who didn’t vote in Honduras, is 65%. It’s the majority who didn’t go vote and the Tribunal [Supreme Electoral Tribunal - TSE] wants to cheat us by saying the majority went to vote. In Honduras, people are conscious after the 28th of June. And it’s the majority who won, it’s the popular resistance.”

On election day at 3pm, the TSE announced that they were having a large turnout and didn’t have enough paper and ink so were going to extend voting by an hour. Others suggest that they extended the voting hour precisely because there wasn’t a large turnout and there are reports that police started going into neighbors’ houses announcing that all citizens must vote.  Despite this, many didn’t. One taxi driver I asked from Tocoa, in the department of Colon, said, “I didn’t leave my house yesterday. I shut the door and didn’t open it all day. Who knows what they [State forces] would’ve done.”

This driver had reason to be nervous. Five members of our delegation were in Tocoa the day before the election and we saw at least five unmarked trucks and SUVs with tinted windows driving through the small town, reminding those on the streets they were being watched.  Some didn’t even bother taking the National Party banner off the vehicles as they drove past folks walking on the streets or pulling up in front of the homes of resistance leaders homes.

When our delegation met with the Sub-Chief at the National Police Station in Tocoa on election day, after receiving a call that up to eight people had been illegally detained, he said that the police were, “doing all they could to ensure the safety of citizens.” He noted that the police register any unmarked cars they see to ensure they do not have dangerous materials inside and that they are registered to the right people driving the car. When I asked why the police hadn’t stopped the unmarked vehicles we saw, despite the fact that every other car was being stopped and registered at the police check point, he simply didn’t answer. Later that night, a pipe bomb exploded in the Liberal Party Headquarters in Tocoa and the eight missing still have not been found or the story cleared about their whereabouts.

Outside of Tocoa, in the municipality of Trujillo, we visited the community of Guadalupe Carney (named after an Irish American Priest who worked there and who was killed in the 1980s), who had heard the night before that military were encircling the community from both directions. Thankfully, they never raided the community, but they sent a message loud and clear: be careful, we’re not far away. We heard reports that the military in part were camped out a Colonel’s hacienda near by. The police had Guadalupe on their radar and had been “prepared for the worst” in that community, according to Officer Sauceda. When we visited, we saw signs posted: Don’t vote!

Of the over 800 families living in the community, they suspect only a handful went to vote.  The campesinos in this community know this will be a long battle, but one man, Augustin, age 75, said proudly, “I have seen a lot in my life time. We continue the struggle because it is part of who we are, we are conscious and we believe in the struggle.”

In other polling stations, we saw political hype but not too many voters. In Corosito, Colon, we visited the polls with members of the Coordination of Popular Organizations of Aguan (COPA) and saw many empty rooms in the school where the poll had been set up. Military and police guarded the door, the first time for this kind of security during a civilian election. In other parts of the country, including San Pedro Sula where people in resistance had planned a peaceful march to show opposition to the election process, tear gas and water bombs served to control the crowds.

Back in Tegucigalpa, there are many unknowns: will Mel Zelaya leave the Brazilian Embassy this week and fulfill his term as President before Pepe Lobo of the opposing National Party takes power at the end of January? What political alliances will be made now that the vote has taken place? Will Canada, the US and other nations go ahead and accept these unfair, unfree elections and accept a highly militarized state and a President elected during a coup d’etat as trade partners and go ahead with business as usual?  Will the newly elected National Party be able to convince the world that Honduras’ “problems” are a thing of the past, part of Liberal Party squabbling that have ended?

One issue isn’t in question: the strength and courage of the Honduran people. As the caravan ended tonight in front of the Brazilian Embassy, in an act of solidarity with President Zelaya held captive inside, chanting, singing and dancing (there was even a Mariachi band!) could be seen and heard while the police and military called in reinforcements and pointed their 50 mm machine gun at the celebrating crowd.  So when it was time, people left – peacefully, just as the caravan had started. They weren’t about to enter a conflict with the military, a physical fight is not what they want.

When I asked a young woman in the crowd why she was there, what she wanted, she didn’t surprise me with her answer, “la constituyente” – the constituent assembly that many believe could one day lead to real change in Honduras. Until then the people keep singing, “The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!”. Just as the graffiti says throughout Honduras, “The Power Is In The Streets.”

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