Tags: Canada, cartagena summit, china, Cuba, democracy, Humor, oas, political satire, president obama, roger hollander, satire, saudi arabia, Stephen Harper, trade embargo, white houe correspondent
1 comment so far
In one of the most bizarre moments ever witnessed at a presidential news conference, President Obama was taken aback when confronted by the former doyenne and rare iconoclast amongst White House correspondents Helen Thomas. The latter, who had lost her credentials for anti-Israel comments, apparently was able to enter the presidential briefing disguised as New York times columnist David Brooks. Just returned from his highly successful Cartagena Summit, where only a handful of his Secret Service protectors got caught underpaying Colombian hookers (in violation of the principles of the proposed US Colombia free trade agreement and the War on Sin), the President re-iterated his opposition to Cuba’s participation in the OAS (where only 33 Latin American presidents stood up against the US and Canada, in other words, a technical minority).
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Cuba, unlike the other countries that are participating, has not yet moved to democracy, has not yet observed basic human rights. I am hopeful that a transition begins to take place inside of Cuba. And I assure you that I and the American people will welcome the time when the Cuban people have the freedom to live their lives, choose their leaders, and fully participate in this global economy and international institutions.
It was at this point that Thomas qua Brooks went where no White House correspondent had gone before and asked the President how Cuba was any different on human rights violations and democracy than major US trading partners China and Saudi Arabia. President Obama, a legal scholar and a man known for transparency, honesty and loose change you can believe in, responded with: “Oh my God, you’re right. I hadn’t noticed.”
The President then surprised everyone by postponing the rest of the conference so that he could confer with his economic advisors to consider this new information.
Several hours later the President returned to announce trade sanctions against the undemocratic and totalitarian regimes of China and Saudi Arabia. In his statement Obama belittled the loss of Saudi oil, saying that it only represents 11% of US imports and that could be made up by draining more oil from our loyal Canadian neighbors, where the Harper Conservative government (a government with an absolute majority in parliament despite only 40% of the popular vote — a singular strength of Canadian democracy) was the only support against the Latin American ingrates ganging up against North American largesse in Cartagena. The President added that he had his eyes on all that Canadian fresh water as well.
The President admitted, however, that the Chinese embargo might present more of a problem for Americans in that amongst China’s major exports to the United States included apparel, footwear and toys and sports equipment. “As with our successful interventions to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan”, the President noted, “the American people have shown themselves to be more than willing to make sacrifices in the name of democracy.” The President added that he was particularly concerned about the loss of toys for American children, the vast majority of which come from totalitarian, undemocratic, Communist China (thanks to that notorious pinko Richard Nixon). He therefore announced that his government would be buying up all the toy outlets from the nation’s number one toy retailer and renaming it Democracy “R” Us. Children from every nook and corner of America will be invited to learn about democracy in sessions where they will debate and vote on resolutions authored by lobbyists from the military and major corporations including arms manufacturers, big Pharma, Dick Cheney’s oil buddies, the prison-industrial complex, major HMOs and other paragons of American democracy.
When asked for a comment, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stated that he was too busy trying to find a way to convince Evangelical Christians that Mormonism is not a cult and that his grandparents probably were not polygamists to be able to make a statement at the moment. He added, however, that we could count on hearing at least two conflicting opinions from him in the near future.
Tags: Evo Morales, roger hollander, Latin America, Hugo Chavez, foreign policy, oas, monroe doctrine, U.S. imperialism, benjamin dangl, daniel ortega, celac
add a comment
Rain clouds ringed the lush hillsides and poor neighborhoods cradling Caracas, Venezuela as dozens of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state trickled out of the airport and into motorcades and hotel rooms. They were gathering for the foundational summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a new regional bloc aimed at self-determination outside the scope of Washington’s power.
Notably absent were the presidents of the US and Canada – they were not invited to participate. “It’s the death sentence for the Monroe Doctrine,” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said of the creation of the CELAC, referring to a US policy developed in 1823 that has served as a pretext for Washington’s interventions in the region. Indeed, the CELAC has been put forth by many participating presidents as an organization to replace the US-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), empower Latin American and Caribbean unity, and create a more equal and just society on the region’s own terms.
The CELAC meeting comes a time when Washington’s presence in the region is waning. Following the nightmarish decades of the Cold War, in which Washington propped up dictators and waged wars on Latin American nations, a new era has opened up; in the past decade a wave of leftist presidents have taken office on socialist and anti-imperialist platforms.
The creation of the CELAC reflected this new reality, and is one of various recent developments aimed at unifying Latin America and the Caribbean as a progressive alternative to US domination. Other such regional blocs include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) which has successfully resolved diplomatic crises without pressure from Washington, the Bank of the South, which is aimed at providing alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the Bolivarian Alliance of Latin America (ALBA), which was created as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a deal which would have expanded the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout Latin America, but failed due to regional opposition.
The global economic crisis was on many of the leaders’ minds during the CELAC conference. “It seems it’s a terminal, structural crisis of capitalism,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech at the gathering. “I feel we’re meeting at a good moment to debate … the great unity of the countries of America, without the United States.”
The 33 nations comprising the CELAC make up some 600 million people, and together are the number one food exporter on the planet. The combined GDP of the bloc is around $6 trillion, and in a time of global economic woes, the region now has its lowest poverty rate in 20 years; the growth rate in 2010 was over 6% – more than twice that of the US. These numbers reflect the success of the region’s social programs and anti-poverty initiatives.
In an interview with Telesur, Evo Morales said the space opened by the CELAC provides a great opportunity to expand the commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean in a way that does not depend on the precarious markets of the US and Europe. In this respect he saw a central goal of the CELAC being to “implement politics of solidarity, with complementary instead of competitive commerce to resolve social problems…”
While the US is the leading trading partner for most Latin American and Caribbean countries, China is making enormous inroads as well, becoming the main trade ally of the economic powerhouses of Brazil and Chile. This shift was underlined by the fact that Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a letter of congratulations to the leaders forming the CELAC. The letter, which Chávez read out loud to the summit participants, congratulated the heads of state on creating the CELAC, and promised that Hu would work toward expanding relations with the region’s new organization.
The US, for its part, did not send a word of congratulations. Indeed, Washington’s official take on the CELAC meeting downplayed the new group’s significance and reinforced US commitment to the OAS. Commenting on the CELAC, US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said, “There [are] many sub-regional organizations in the hemisphere, some of which we belong to. Others, such as this, we don’t. We continue, obviously, to work through the OAS as the preeminent multilateral organization speaking for the hemisphere.”
Many heads of state actually saw the CELAC meeting as the beginning of the end for the OAS in the region. This position, held most passionately by leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, was best articulated by Venezuelan President, and host of the CELAC meeting, Hugo Chávez. “As the years pass, CELAC will leave behind the old OAS,” Chávez said at the summit. “OAS is far from the spirit of our peoples and integration in Latin America. CELAC is born with a new spirit; it is a platform for people’s economic, political and social development, which is very different from OAS.” He later told reporters, “There have been many coup d’états with total support from the OAS, and it won’t be this way with the CELAC.”
However, the presidents involved in the CELAC vary widely in political ideology and foreign policy, and there were differing opinions in regards to relations with the OAS. Some saw the CELAC as something that could work alongside the OAS. As Mexican chancellor Patricia Espinosa said, the OAS and the CELAC are “complementary forces of cooperation and dialogue.”
A test of the CELAC will be how it overcomes such differences and makes concrete steps toward developing regional integration, combating poverty, upholding human rights, protecting the environment and building peace, among other goals. The final agreements of the two day meeting touched upon expanding south to south business and trade deals, combating climate change and building better social programs across the region to impact marginalized communities. In addition, the CELAC participants backed the legalization of coca leaves (widely used as a medicine and for cultural purposes in the Andes), condemned the criminalization of immigrants and migrants, and criticized the US for its embargo against Cuba.
Various presidents at the CELAC spoke of how to approach these dominant issues. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said the CELAC should “monitor and rate” the US anti-drug efforts. As long as the US continues its consumption of drugs, Ortega said, “All the money, regardless of by how much it’s multiplied, and all the blood, no matter how much is spilled” won’t end the drug trade.
Yet there are plenty of contradictions within the CELAC organization itself. The group is for democracy but includes the participation of Porfirio Lobo from Honduras, the president who replaced Manuel Zelaya in unfair elections following a 2009 military coup. The CELAC is for environmental protection, yet its largest participant, Brazil, is promoting an ecologically disastrous agricultural model of soy plantations, GMO crops and poisonous pesticides that are ruining the countryside and displacing small farmers. The group is for fairer trade networks and peace, yet various participating nations have already signed devastating trade deals with the US, and corrupt politicians at high levels of government across the region are deeply tied to the violence and profits of the transnational drug trade.
These are some of the serious challenges posed to Latin American and Caribbean unity and progress, but they do not cancel out the new bloc’s historical and political significance. The creation of the CELAC will likely prove to be a significant step toward the deepening of a struggle for independence and unity in the region, a struggle initiated nearly 200 years ago and largely led by Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, whose legacy was regularly invoked at the CELAC conference.
In 1829, a year before his death, Bolívar famously said, “The United States appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.” Yet with the foundation of the CELAC under the clouds of Caracas, the march toward self-determination is still on.
Benjamin Dangl attended the CELAC conference.
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is the author of the new book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). For more information, visit DancingwithDynamite.com. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com
Honduras: Wealthy Landowners Attempt to Quash Farming Collectives September 16, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: andrew kennis, cartagena accords, farming collectives, fnrp, Honduras, honduras assassination, honduras collectives, honduras corruption, honduras coup, honduras land, honduras land grab, honduras paramilitaries, honduras repression, honduras violence, human rights, land disribution, Latin America, oas, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, zelaya
1 comment so far
The Bajo Aguán region of Honduras is a rich, fertile valley that comprises land that is worth nothing less than millions upon millions of dollars. It was not even two months ago that Secundino Ruiz, 44, proudly boasted to Truthout: “this valley is numero uno for agriculture in Central America; there’s corn here, beans, rice, fantastic African palms and everything that a human being would need.”
Hospitable and friendly, Ruiz extended a personal invitation to Truthout: “I’m going to propose you something, I would like for your colegas and you to all come to Bajo Aguán to see for yourselves just how beautiful it is here.”
Several masked men prevented Ruiz’s offer from ever being realized, as they shot him to death on August 20, and also seriously injured Eliseo Pavon, who suffered head wounds. Ruiz’s killers approached the taxi that he and Pavon occupied shortly after they had exited a bank with $10,260 of organizational funds in their possession.
The government and authorities have painted the event as nothing more than a robbery, but local farmers, researchers and activists do not agree with that perspective. Given Ruiz’s position as the vice president of the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) and Pavon’s role as its treasurer, they argue that the killing was just one of many politically motivated killings that have been occurring on a regular basis in the region throughout the year.
Marcelino Lopez, a fellow MARCA activist and friend of Ruiz’s, described the loss: “He was a very accessible and dedicated activist filled with solidarity, who was a fantastic representative of the movement, who is going to be a tremendous loss to the movement.”
While 2011 has been a year filled with killings of activist farmers in the conflict-ridden region, August was an exceptionally violent month during what has been an exceptionally violent year.
Just one day following Ruiz’s murder, Pedro Salgado of the Unified Movement of Campesinos of Aguán (MUCA) and his wife were both shot and killed in their own home. Teenagers have been among the August victims as well: 17-year-old Javier Melgar was killed in the Rigores community on August 15, while 15- year-old Roldin Marel Villeda and 18-year-old Sergio Magdiel Amaya were slain just three days later in the municipality of Trujillo. Marel’s and Magdiel’s deaths occurred in the same incident that brought an end to the life of Victor Manuel Mata Oliva, aged 40. All were part of the Campesino Corporation of San Esteban, one of the two dozen cooperatives that form the base of MUCA. Examples of more teenager victimization included 17-year-old Lenikin Lemos Martinez and 18-year-old Denis Israel Castro, who were beaten by police, arrested and charged with murder (which residents claim were trumped-up charges). The beating occurred in the community Guadalupe Carney, which is home to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán and located near the eviction-riddled Rigores community (earlier this past summer, police evicted Rigores farmers by burning down well over 100 homes, as reported by Honduras-based journalist, Jesse Freeston and confirmed by international human rights observers).
Why is this violence occurring? What is the root of the conflict? Is the depiction of the situation in Aguán given by the Honduran government – only recently recognized internationally by the Organization of American States – an accurate reflection of what is going on? Bajo Aguán campesinos, as well as researchers and activists who have been visiting the region for decades worth of collective time, provided Truthout first-hand testimony in an effort to shed light on an otherwise largely overlooked, underreported and ongoing human and land rights catastrophe.
Plantation-Like State of Affairs Long Existent in Bajo Aguán
Annie Bird has been visiting Honduras for the last dozen years and is the co-director of Rights Action, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization, which funds community efforts in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Bird explained to Truthout that the campesinos first started organizing farming collectives and cooperatives back in the 1960s and ’70s. Those same groupings form the bedrock of most of the organized collectives in the region today.
By the 1990s, however, a temporary change to a previous law preventing land purchases of over 300 hectares devastated the farming cooperatives of the region. Among those that pounced on the opportunity to take advantage of the law was one of the wealthiest businessmen of Honduras, Miguel Farcusse, owner of Exportadores del Atlantico (Atlantic Exporters).
The 1990s land grab was shrouded in corruption and violence, according to Bird: “literally through kidnappings, at gunpoint and through corrupt methods and practices, much of the land was ‘sold’ to wealthy individuals.”
Those wealthy individuals were at the heart of an initiative by former President Zelaya. His administration had forged ahead with a decree announced on June 12, 2009, which contained the intention to return much of land to the campesino groups via a commission formed to do so. The process of investigating land titles to determine authenticity and validity had just begun when the coup which overthrew Zelaya occurred, completely interrupting the process.
As a result, the plantation-like land distribution and labor arrangements continued. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief found that some one-third of the most desirable agricultural lands in Honduras are owned by just 1 percent of its populace.
MUCA first started issuing demands for a return to its land and eventually resorted to occupying lands (from December 2009 to February 2010).
Many of the landowners hired armed security guards, with Farcusse being the most prominent among them. The impunity enjoyed by the armed guards is what is chiefly responsible for the continuing violence in the region, Bird has argued, as no less than four dozen farmers have been killed by the guards since the latter’s training first began in January 2010.
While the government has accused the farmer collectives of using foreign firepower, there is little evidence to support such allegations – which have been roundly denied by the groups themselves. Further, some reports have indicated that it was Farcusse himself who had resorted to hiring 150 Colombian paramilitaries as the basis for his private army.
“We can assume that the recent violence is a means of terrorizing the farmers. After all, the people who have died are important farmer activists and not just random people; clearly, they have been targeted,” explained Gilberto Ríos, the director of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN) Honduras, an organization that has been following the situation closely.
Negotiations Continue to Flounder, Related Frustrations Lead to Increased Violence
The violence in the region has been a continuing source of embarrassment and concern to state authorities, who finally managed to broker a deal in April 2010. In the agreement, some 11,000 hectares of land would have been returned and distributed to the MUCA and MARCA farming collectives. Further, the arrangement included provisions for additional social services, such as additional education and health care facilities, as FIAN’s Claudia Pinera pointed out to Truthout.
The agreement’s implementation, however, was marred by violence, evictions, arrests and a general lack of follow-through. When Farcusse and other wealthy landowners got in on the act and negotiated their own arrangement with select MUCA representatives, the resulting June 2011 agreement had reduced the land to be distributed down to 4,000 hectares, not even half the total included in the April accords.
The farming representatives who negotiated the more recent agreement, however, were limited to farmers hailing from the northern bank. According to Bird, Farcusse and his landowner colleagues took on a divide-and-conquer strategy: “Since most of the leadership is comprised by northern bank representatives, the perception is that the landowners have been deliberately dividing the movement by favoring them in negotiations.”
Of the 28 most important farming collectives in the region, some 24 belong to MUCA, with about four associated with MARCA. Of those two dozen MUCA collectives, around two-thirds belong to the southern bank region of Aguán. None of their representatives, however, were present during the talks which led up to the June accord.
At the end of July, the southern bank representatives of MUCA re-emphasized its opposition to these arrangements.
Marcelino Lopez of MARCA revealed to Truthout that some breakaway farming collectives were retaking land above and beyond the June agreements, out of frustration from their exclusion and in opposition to the trajectory of the talks: “there are some unaffiliated farmers who are starting to recover lands that are outside of the scope of the agreements, as they are completely opposed to the way matters have developed.”
Lopez speculated that these breakaway groupings and their respective attempts to recover and reclaim land may have provoked the additional violence from the landowners’ security guards in August.
Nevertheless, Lopez expressed hope about forthcoming unity: “There is a little division in the MUCA, because of misunderstandings, but there are some indications that there is growing unity between the two wings [the northern and southern banks] and talks between them are ongoing.”
In the meantime, the armed guards employed by Farcusse and other landowners, continue to operate at will, a situation which has only worsened with the passage of time.
“There have been paramilitaries and death squads operating since January 2010 and the army started moving in around March 2011,” remarked Bird.
Organization of American States Recognition Pointed to as Exacerbating Factor, as Campesinos Continue to be Killed in September
Back in June, the lead Amnesty International researcher on Honduras, Esther Major, expressed some hope and cautious optimism to Truthout about the Organization of American States’ (OAS) decision – long lobbied for and supported by the US – to finally officially recognize Honduras: “We were hoping that Honduras would have made more progress before its admittance, but hope that they seize this opportunity to improve matters and likewise, that the OAS tracks matters so that this can be accomplished.”
Gerrardo Torres, who is the international representative of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), offered a contradicting prediction to Truthout: “The Honduran regime has gained a legitimacy that it does not deserve and from our perspective, this will likely raise – not decrease – the level of violence present both in Aguán and beyond.”
As the month of September begins after a bloody August, the prediction by Torres is largely being borne out, as yet another killing was announced by MUCA and relayed by FIAN on Friday, September 2: “Olvin David González Godoy, a young 24-year man – married and with an eight-month-old baby girl – was assassinated today in the early morning hours. He was a member of the July 21st Cooperative, affiliated with MUCA … the organizers of the cooperative don’t have any doubt that his death was related to the agrarian conflict that continues without a solution.”
The cooperative also expressed its opposition to a continually escalating military and police presence in the region, as 600 more soldiers and 400 more police were dispatched to Aguán in the wake of August’s violence.
Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University who specializes in research on Honduras, and has regularly visited the country since 1997, criticized the OAS and US policy on Honduras, linking the stances taken to the continuing abuses:
The State Department’s lobbying efforts to bring Honduras back into the fold and recognized in the international community were successful. But the Cartagena Accords, which re-inserted Honduras into the global community as a legitimate state, means that there’s less pressure from international institutions such as the OAS. The implicit and explicit agreement was that the State would be recognizing human rights. But any of us who was following this with a critical eye, didn’t believe a word of it. Now, we’re seeing the results of that.
Elaborating on US support for the regime and non-action on internal abuses, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy told Truthout that the March 2010 restoration of military aid by the US to Honduras prompted “widespread criticism.” Alexander Main of the Center for Economic Policy and Research echoed such sentiments, pointing out that “full throttle support for the regime” dated back all the way to November 2009, with the decision to support the election which elected the Lobos regime, an election that was not recognized by most of Latin America.
Will impunity for hired “security” agents of wealthy landowners against the long-running struggle of Aguán’s farming collectives continue to reign? Whatever the outcome, Aguán will certainly continue to be a central part of crafting the future of a country still reeling from the effects of the July 2009 coup and the subsequent coup-supported Lobos regime. For the time being and as Torres told Truthout, “the police and the military continue to terrorize the population with impunity.”
Tags: dana frank, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras killing, honduras military, honduras oppression, honduras paramilitary, honduras resistance, human rights, Latin America, manuel zelaya, oas, porfirio lobo, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
1 comment so far
The return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya to Honduras doesn’t mean democracy, civil liberties and the basic rule of law are returning to that country any time soon. Far from it.
The very same oligarchs who launched the coup remain in power, and in the past two months the government’s repression has accelerated. That’s why more than 70 members of Congress are calling for a suspension of U.S. military and police aid to Honduras.
On May 22, Zelaya and the current president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, signed a pact permitting Zelaya to return free of the trumped-up charges the coup makers leveled against him when the Honduran military packed him onto a plane to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009. Lobo also promised to allow plebiscites and to recognize the National Front of Popular Resistance, the broad coalition uniting labor, women’s groups, peasant organizations, gay alliances and Afro-indigenous movements.
But both of these “concessions” are already legally on the books, and grant nothing concrete to the opposition.
Zelaya’s return itself does have enormous popular significance. For hundreds of thousands of Hondurans, including those who are quite critical of him, he is the grand symbol of resistance to the ongoing military coup. He represents constitutional order, the rule of law and a hope for a different Honduran future based on social justice.
But neither Zelaya’s return nor the pact address the horrific human rights situation in the country. Lobo appointed the same officers who ran the coup to control the armed forces, the state-owned telephone company, the airports and the immigration service. And the government’s authoritarianism in the past two months now exceeds the period right after the coup.
Police and the military now routinely shoot tear gas canisters directly at peaceful demonstrators at close range. Paramilitary gangs have killed more than 40 peasant activists since Lobo took office, including four in the last three weeks. Since Lobo came to power in the coup, more than 300 opposition members have been killed, according to human rights groups. Impunity reigns. You can drive by and shoot a teacher, an indigenous activist or a trade unionist, and nothing – nothing — will happen to you.
Lobo, in the accord, promised to create a new ministry overseeing human rights. But his promise means nothing. Indeed, three days after the accord, his police launched live bullets and tear gas against a group of high school students protesting the suspension of their math teachers.
Despite growing congressional recognition of the crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keeps insisting that “democracy has been restored” and that Honduras should be readmitted to the Organization of American States at its June 5-7 meeting.
Rather than join Clinton in whitewashing a repressive regime, we should unite with members of Congress in demanding an immediate suspension of U.S. military aid to Honduras — and an end to support for the ongoing coup government of Porfirio Lobo.
Dana Frank is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of “Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America,” which focuses on Honduras, and Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism. She is currently writing a book about the AFL-CIO’s Cold War intervention in the Honduran labor movement.
|Agreement signed for democratic rights in Honduras|
|Written by Felipe Stuart Cournoyer and John
Riddell SOA Watch
|On May 22, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa and former president José
Zelaya Rosales signed an agreement ‘For National Reconciliation and
the Consolidation of the Democratic System in the Republic of Honduras.’
Lobo was elected in November 2009 in a rigged vote organized by the regime
The present agreement, finalized in Cartagena, Colombia, also bears the
This agreement opens the door to significant changes in the Central American
An earlier article, “Freedom for Joaquín Pérez Becerra!” discussed the context that
The Resistance welcomes the agreement
The FNRP also expressed “thanks for the process of international mediation”
Terms of the accord
By the terms of the
U.S. disruption attempt
Notably absent from discussions leading to the Cartagena Agreement was the
Alexander Main, an analyst for the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
“For good measure,” Main says, “the [U.S.] statement noted that ‘since his
In fact, according to the Committee of Family Members of Disappeared
Showdown at the OAS
The U.S. canvassed energetically among Central and South American countries
In Main’s opinion, “the U.S. is not prepared to accept a political mediation
The OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, called a meeting of the OAS
The failure of this U.S.-inspired maneuver opened the road for the signing of
The Cartagena agreement, and the process that facilitated it, marks an
The Cartagena accord’s impact in Central America was immediate and far
In a joint
Need for continued solidarity
Whether the Honduran government will fully carry out the Cartagena agreement
The establishment of the Colombia-Venezuela monitoring commission will be
Toni Solo, “Varieties of
Ida Garberi, “El
What Now for a Post-Coup Honduras? May 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: alexander main, hondruas resistance, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras democracy, Hugo Chavez, human rights, imperialism, insulza, jose manuel santos, Latin America, latin america diplomacy, latin america politics, monroe doctrine, oas, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, Venezuela, zelaya
1 comment so far
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.
IACHR EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT AMNESTY DECREE IN HONDURAS February 14, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Foreign Policy, Honduras.
Tags: roger hollander, Latin America, human rights, oas, zelaya, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras repression, porfirio lobo, honduras amnesty
add a comment
(Roger’s note: few remember the first 9/11. September 11, 1973. That was the date of the CIA inspired and financed coup in Chile, led by notorious war criminal Augusto Pinochet, murdered the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende, and instituted a brutal dictatorship. The US supported Pinochet regime was characterized by disappearance and torture. But that was in the era of Nixon, one might say; it couldn’t happen again today in the era of Barack Obama. Wrong.
The script in Honduras for regime change occurred in a slightly less violent manner, but the results are the same. The democratically elected Preside Manuel Zelaya, was taken from his bed at gunpoint by Honduran soldiers and flown out of the country. An interim government led by politicians who had engineered the coup then held a bogus election in which the majority of the country abstained in protest, and a new “president, Porfirio Lobo, naturally one who had supported the military coup, took power. The same murders, disappearances and other human rights violation as had occurred in Chile are happening today in Honduras. Right under our noses, so to speak. They are sanctioned by the United States government, which couldn’t wait to recognize the phony Lobo government while the rest of the world, apart from US client states such as Colombia and Mexico, has rejected the farce that calls itself democratic in Honduras. Anyone familiar with the long history of US interference in the domestic affairs of Latin American and Caribbean nations knows that the sole foreign policy criterion is support by any means only of governments that are friendly to US geopolitical interests and protective of US corporate giants that plunder the nation’s natural resources and brutally exploits its labor. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are no less guilty than were Nixon and Kissinger when it comes to supporting brutal dictatorship in Latin America.)
Washington, D.C., February 3, 2010 — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern with respect to the ambiguity of the Amnesty Decree approved by the National Congress of Honduras on January 26, 2010.
The Commission has stated repeatedly that the application of amnesty laws that hinder access to justice in cases involving serious human rights violations contravenes the obligation of the States parties to the American Convention to respect the rights and freedoms recognized therein and to guarantee the free and full exercise of those rights and freedoms by all persons subject to its jurisdiction, with no discrimination of any kind.
Likewise, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has established a clear doctrine to the effect that an amnesty law may not serve as a justification for failing to comply with the duty to investigate and to ensure access to justice. Specifically, the Court has found that States “may not invoke existing provisions of domestic law, such as the Amnesty Law in this case, to avoid complying with their obligations under international law. In the Court’s judgment, the Amnesty Law…precludes the obligation to investigate and prevents access to justice. For these reasons, [the] argument that [the State] cannot comply with the duty to investigate the facts that gave rise to the present case must be rejected.”
In practice, the application of amnesty laws has obstructed the clarification of grave human rights violations and the prosecution and punishment of those responsible, leading to impunity. As a consequence, based on the obligations established in the inter-American system, several States in the region have had to review and invalidate the effects of their amnesty laws.
In that respect, the Commission observes with concern that the Amnesty Decree approved by the Honduran Congress on January 26, 2010, contains concepts that are confusing or ambiguous. The Commission observes, along these lines, the doctrinaire reference made to political crimes, the amnesty for conduct of a terrorist nature, and the inclusion of the concept of abuse of authority with no indication of its scope. Although the text contemplates certain exceptions in terms of human rights violations, the language is ambiguous, and the decree does not establish precise criteria or concrete mechanisms for its application.
Due to the foregoing, the Commission urges Honduran authorities to review the decree, taking into account the State’s obligations in light of international treaties, especially the obligation to investigate and punish serious human rights violations.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.
Honduran amnesty and truth February 8, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: Honduras, honduras amnesty, honduras coup, Latin America, micheletti, oas, pepe lobo, roger hollander, terrorism, zelaya
1 comment so far
iday, February 05, 2010
The Honduran National Congress approved the amnesty decree, as demanded by the United States of America, on the morning of Pepe Lobo’s inauguration. The decree covers acts committed from January 1, 2008 until January 27, 2010.
A copy of the explanation of motives and final decree (in Spanish) was provided to me by a Honduran congressman. A Google translation of that document to English is here. It is far from a perfect translation but should give you an idea of the background and the decree.
Specifically excluded from amnesty are all actions which constitute crimes related to corruption, misappropriation of public funds, illegal enrichment and other crimes against humanity (which relates to the alleged human rights violations).
Though news reports implied that all acts of treason, sedition, abuse of authority, violation of duties, usurpation of functions were granted amnesty, the decree specifies only certain paragraphs under each of these categories of the penal code. A copy of the Honduran penal code can be found here (in Spanish).
Related article: El Heraldo: Amnistía es por 40 años
Terrorism is forgiven
Incredibly, ‘terrorism’ is among the acts that will be forgiven. Specifically, these acts defined in the penal code are covered (my rough translation):
“335.6 Those who integrate armed groups who invade or assault the population, farms, roads, hospitals, banks, commercial centers, work centers, churches, or other similar places, causing death, fires, or property damage, or exercise violence over persons…..”
“335.7 Those who provoke property damage using bombs, explosives, chemical substances, flammables, or similar.”
“335.8 Those who, through threats or violence or by simulating public authority or false orders of the same, ….. obligate another to submit, send, deposit, or put at his disposition property, money, or documents capable of producing judicial effects. Likewise, those who by these same means obligate another person to sign or destroy documents in his possession.”
Attorneys have opined that victims of terrorism could file civil suits against the government of Honduras for restitution. The government has already been stuck with the bill for millions for repairing several electrical towers which were sabotaged.
Can you understand my dismay (to put it mildly) that the USA − while it continues its own unforgiving war on terrorism − forced this amnesty business on Honduras? Expressing political differences is one thing; burning buses, cars, and restaurants, throwing bombs and grenades at radio stations and newspapers, and endangering lives and property of innocent people is something else.
The Nacionalista party (Lobo’s party) holds the majority of the congressional seats, 71 of 128. Though it was reported that the Nacionalistas voted in block, one congressman said that he and another Nacionalista voted against amnesty. There are no statistics, but many say that the majority of Nacionalista party members are against amnesty and feel betrayed by the congressional approval.
The Liberal party (Zelaya and Micheletti’s party) congressmen abstained from voting because the public wasn’t consulted and they felt that the facts should be known to the Truth Commission before granting amnesty, but El Tiempo reports that five Liberal congressmen were against amnesty and three were in favor.
Four PINU congressmen abstained as well, logically saying that the Truth Commission should be installed and the congress should know who was being pardoned and for what acts.
Two DC congressmen voted in favor. Four UD (formerly pro-Zelaya and pro-Resistance) voted against amnesty.
Corruptos need to go to jail
“Corruptos need to go to jail, period,” said Lobo during his inauguration speech, to wild cheering of the audience. What is the point of a Truth Commission if the verdict − amnesty − has already been given?
Hondurans hope that the Truth Commission will not be a farce and will not only explain the facts leading up to June 28, but will also expose the errors of the USA and OAS (Organization of American States) involvement. But, since it appears that the USA and OAS will be in charge of the Truth Commission (though they deny it) and will be working very hard to cover up their part in worsening the situation, there isn’t much chance of that happening.
The Unión Cívica Democrática (UCD), which represents a large portion of civil society, has strongly objected to the OAS taking any part in the Truth Commission on the grounds that they are not impartial. Here is UCD’s original open letter in Spanish. A translation to English is here.
Victor Rico was sent to Honduras by the OAS a couple of days ago. He gave a press conference yesterday to clarify that the OAS was only here to help. The tone of his press conference was a little defensive. It was clear that he had gotten an earful from someone.
Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government Is on With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras December 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Foreign Policy, Democracy, Honduras.
Tags: roger hollander, Latin America, democracy, human rights, Amnesty International, foreign policy, oas, hillary clinton, monroe doctrine, obama administration, mark weisbrot, zelaya, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras election, honduras repression, honduras aid
add a comment
by Mark Weisbrot
At dawn on June 28, the Honduran military abducted President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint and flew him out of the country. Conflicting and ambiguous statements from the Obama administration left many confused about whether it opposed this coup or was really trying to help it succeed. Here are the top ten indicators (with apologies to David Letterman):
- The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy. Since U.S. officials have acknowledged that they were talking to the Honduran military right up to the day of the coup – allegedly to try and prevent it – they had time to think about what their immediate response would be if it happened.
- The Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations General Assembly, and other international bodies responded by calling for the “immediate and unconditional” return of President Zelaya. In the ensuing five months, no U.S. official would use either of those two words.
- At a press conference the day after the coup, Secretary of State Clinton was asked if “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.
- On July 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced President Zelaya’s attempt to return to his own country that week as “reckless,” adding that “We have consistently urged all parties to avoid any provocative action that could lead to violence.”
- Most U.S. aid to Honduras comes from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency. The vast majority of this aid was never suspended. By contrast, on August 6, 2008, there was a military coup in Mauritania; MCC aid was suspended the next day. In Madagascar, the MCC announced the suspension of aid just three days after the military coup of March 17, 2009.
- On September 28, State Department officials representing the United States blocked the OAS from adopting a resolution on Honduras that would have refused to recognize Honduran elections carried out under the dictatorship.
- The United States government refused to officially determine that there was a “military coup,” in Honduras – in contrast to the view of rest of the hemisphere and the world.
- The Obama administration defied the rest of the hemisphere and the world by supporting undemocratic elections in Honduras.
- On October 30th, U.S. government representatives including Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. State Department official for Latin America, brokered an accord between President Zelaya and the coup regime. The agreement was seen throughout the region as providing for Zelaya’s restitution, and – according to diplomats close to the negotiations – both Shannon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave assurances that this was true.
- Yet just four days later, Mr. Shannon stated in a TV interview that the United States would recognize the November 29 elections, regardless of whether or not Zelaya were restored to the presidency. This put the United States against all of Latin America, which issued a 23-nation statement two days later saying that Zelaya’s restitution was an “indispensable prerequisite” for recognizing the elections. The Obama administration has since been able to recruit the right-wing governments of Canada, Panama, and Colombia, and also Peru, to recognize the elections. But its support for these undemocratic elections – to which the OAS, European Union, and the Carter Center all refused to send observers – has left the Obama administration as isolated as its predecessor in the hemisphere.
- President Zelaya visited Washington six times after he was overthrown. Yet President Obama has never once met with him. Is it possible that President Obama did not have even five minutes in all of those days just to shake his hand and say, “I’m trying to help?”
- The Obama administration has never condemned the massive human rights violations committed by the coup regime. These have been denounced and documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as Honduran, European, and other human rights organizations. There have been thousands of illegal arrests, beatings and torture by police and military, the closing down of independent radio and TV stations, and even some killings of peaceful demonstrators and opposition activists.
- These human rights violations have continued right through election day, according to Amnesty International and media reports, and beyond, including the killings of two activists opposed to the coup – Walter Trochez and Santos Corrales García – in recent days.
- The United States government’s silence through more than five months of these human rights crimes has been the most damning and persistent evidence that it has always been more concerned about protecting the dictatorship, rather than restoring democracy in Honduras.
The majority of American voters elected President Obama on a promise that our foreign policy would change. For this hemisphere, at least, that promise has been broken.
The headline from the latest Time Magazine report on Honduras summed it up: “Obama’s Latin America Policy Looks Like Bush’s.“
Honduras: The Truth November 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Foreign Policy, Honduras.
Tags: School of the Americas, roger hollander, Latin America, democracy, human rights, soa, oas, carter center, soa watch, latin america politics, human rights abuses, zelaya, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras election, micheletti, honduras repression, latin america democracy, lisa sullivan, honduras resistance, honduras boycott, honduras police, vasquez valeaquez, prince suazo, honduras whitewash
add a comment
Elections in Honduras
Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors
After being asked by Honduran human rights leader Bertha Oliva, SOA Watch’s Latin America Coordinator Lisa Sullivan returned to Honduras to accompany the social movements who just entered the 5th month of resisting the SOA graduate-led militray coup.
Lisa and some 20 U.S. Citizens have traveled throughout Honduras over the past 4 days to cities and communities such as Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Tocoa, Santa Rosa de Copán, Choluteca, Comayagua, Siguatepeque y Puerto Grande. In addition, they have visited police stations, hospitals and jails, and held a protest and a press conference in front of the U.S. embassy to denounce the U.S. support for the illegitimate elections.
In each of the communities they visited, the delegation observed the systematic abuse of human rights as evidenced by raids, detentions, threats, physical abuse, intimidation and persecution on the part of state security agents. These actions have been mostly directed against citizens identified with the Resistance movement.
Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors
by Lisa Sullivan
I came to Honduras to participate as a human rights observer of the electoral climate in a delegation organized by the Quixote Center. Several delegations converged, connecting some 30 U.S. citizens with dozens more from Canada, Europe and Latin America. In the days prior to the elections we scattered to different cities, towns and villages, meeting with fishermen, farmers, maquila workers, labor leaders, teachers and lawyers, as well as those who were jailed for carrying spray paint, hospitalized for being shot in the head by the military, and detained for reporting on the repression. It was, most likely, a bit off the 5-star, air-conditioned path of most of the mainstream journalists who are filling your morning papers with the wonders of today´s elections.
But by the evening of the day of the elections, what we had witnessed in previous days pushed those of us from the U.S. directly to the doors of our embassy in Tegucigalpa. We realized that this place, not the polling stations, was where this horrific destiny of Honduras, and perhaps all of Latin America, was being determined. And so the U.S. citizens among us took our statements and signs and determination there.
We were, indeed, greeted by many: dozens of guards with cameras, some 30 journalists, Honduran police with guns and also cameras, as well as a low flying helicopter that at least made us feel important. While the journalists let us read our entire statement of why these elections should be not be recognized by our government because of the egregious repression, the embassy guards wouldn´t even let us leave our slip of paper. That, in spite of the fact that the embassy´s human rights officer, Nate Macklin, told our delegation leader to make sure to let him know if there were any human rights abuses.
Any? In each of the many corners of the country visited by the 70-plus international observers, we witnessed the fear, repression, intimidation, bribery and outright brutality of the government security forces (note: we were there to observe the electoral climate, not electoral observers, since we consider the elections to be illegal. Likewise, the UN, OAS, and Carter Center and other bedrock electoral groups boycotted “the event” as many Hondurans called the day.)
As elections were in full swing in the morning, our delegate and nurse practitioner, Silvia Metzler visited Angel Salgado and Maria Elena Hernandez who were languishing in the intensive care unit of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa . Both had been shot in the head at one of the many military checkpoints, no questions asked. Doctors give Angel a zero possibility of survival and he leaves behind a 6 year old son. Maria Elena has a better chance of recovery, but it will be a long road. She was selling snacks on the side of the road to support her teenage children when caught by military bullet.
Tom Loudon was on the streets of San Pedro Sula when police tanks and water trucks and tear gas canisters attacked a peaceful march of the resistance movement. It took him a long time to find other members of his delegation who had scattered in the frenzy, but they were luckier than two observers from the Latin America Council of Churches who were detained or a Reuters photographer who was injured in the massive display of repression. Dozens of cells phones captured the police beating anyone they could catch with their billy clubs.
The first person I thought of as I awoke on election day was Wlmer Rivero, a fisherman in a small town with the big name of Puerto Grande. I kept thinking of the fear in his eyes as he relayed how the police have been visiting his house and asking for him, ever since he trekked 6 days on foot to greet a returning President Zelaya. Each local mayor has been asked to put together a list of resistance leaders, and his name was one of 22 from his town. We suggested to Wilmer that he not sleep at home during the electoral days. He called the next day to thank us for our advise. The police had ransacked his home, and that of many of his neighbors, the night before elections, threatening his life. But, he wondered, what will he do now.
I also thought of Merly Eguigure who I had visited 2 days earlier in a cold and crumbling jail cell, reeking of human waste. She had been captured for having a can of spray paint in her car. Though she was released shortly before elections, she will face trial and probably prison for defacing government property. Merly claims that the spray paint was to be used in an activity to raise awareness of violence towards women. Perhaps authorities worried that the paint was destined to add a new message to the city walls. Every square inch of blank wall space in the city is covered with powerful graffiti against the coup. In spite of government to whitewash over it, the blank spaces are filled in again within hours.
So, now I wonder what the Honduran people will do to overcome the massive whitewash that just took place in their country. Not of walls, but of coups. The military coup led by SOA graduates Generals Vasquez Velasquez and Prince Suazo first had a quick bath of whitewash by placing a “civilian¨” leader as the figurative head of government: President of Congress and business mogul Roberto Micheletti. The whitewash used at the moment was mixed ahead of time, and quite abundant. It was the excuse that Zelaya was preparing a vote to call for his re-election and had to be removed quickly. (Never mind that the consultative vote actually had nothing to do with a re-election. It was a consultative vote to ask Honduras whether they wanted to vote on convening a Constitutional Assembly). I call this first whitewash the “transformation from military coup to civilian coup”.
And now, the second bath of whitewash was even more challenging, especially since the first whitewash proved to be kind of thin and exposed the words from below. Thus, it didn´t really convince many. As a matter of fact, it didn´t convince anyone except the United States government (or woops, maybe they actually helped to stir the first batch), Now, the challenge of November 29th whitewash was to transform the civilian coup into a shining electoral display of freedom, fairness and grand participation so that all the world would say, “wow, that Honduran coup is gone. Now Honduras has a real and wonderful democracy, End of story”.
Except that it´s probably the beginning of a story. One that we thought had been left to rest in Latin America years and years ago. One of fear and repression and deaths and disappearances. We know the litany all too well, and we remember the names of its thousands of victims each November. This year we had to add too many new names from Honduras. And, if our government chooses to recognize these elections, this massive whitewash, I fear that many more names will be read from the stage in front of Ft. Benning next year. And perhaps not just from Honduras.
So, when I said that I wonder what Hondurans will do in the face of this whitewash what I really wonder is what I will do, what we will do U.S. citizens. Because, this whitewash will only have the formula to whiten and brighten this military dictatorship if our government chooses to accept the results, as they have indicated that they will likely do.
Today the headlines in most of the U.S. media reiterate the official Honduran statistics that 60% of Hondurans went to the polls yesterday. Our delegates visited dozens of polling stations, finding them almost empty, in most places counting more electoral monitors and caretakers than voters. The resistance movement puts abstention at 65-70%. Which statistic do we prefer to believe?
I have lived in Latin America since 1977. I was called to stay in this land when I saw how young and idealistic youth such as myself at the time, were being taken from their homes, never returned. Somehow, I felt called to continue the steps they would never take. And so I stayed 32 years. I have witnessed hope rising from the South in the past 10 years, in ways I never dreamed. I have seen efforts of building dignity and sovereignty rise high, inspire millions, and make a difference.
And so, maybe this explains the anger that rose from within me yesterday, in front of the embassy. That anger surprised even me. I am ashamed of our government. Ashamed that we are in great part to blame for pushing this country back 30 years into dark and deadly times. And I worry that Honduras is just the beginning.