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Honduras: Where the Blood Flows and the Rivers are Dammed August 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Honduras, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: As a life-long Latin Americanist I have taken a deep interest in the Honduras coup and have posted several analyses.  What is particularly of interest and concern to me has been the role of (former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and likely Democratic Party standard bearer in 2016).  Her foreign policy stance towards Bolivia, Ecuador and especially Venezuela represents a continuation of the Bush Administration’s and the United States’ historic hegemonic relationship with Latin America, dating from the days of the Monroe Doctrine.  But the role she played in legitimizing the military coup against the democratically elected Zelaya government, takes us back to the days of gun boat diplomacy, albeit using surrogate gun boats (and one is reminded of the white washing of the coup that has just happened in Egypt).  The allies of the Clinton family and the Democratic party have had a direct role in supporting the illegitimate Honduran regime.  Here is one link: http://prospect.org/article/our-man-honduras.

 

 

Dams funded by foreign investors are threatening the cultural heritage and livelihood of Honduras indigenous peoples.

 

On July 3, Hondurans demonstrate demanding a halt to crime and violence. (Photo: EPA)

It is all too easy for one’s eyes to glaze over at the headlines of yet another murder in Honduras, the country that earned the dubious moniker of the world’s murder capital. Forty-nine year-old Tomas Garcia was shot dead on July 15, just one of thousands of victims. Violence marches on unabated as observers become desensitised to the mounting human toll, comforted by the illusion that the carnage is associated with, and perhaps even justified by anti-social behaviour, a convenient misconception that provides a buffer between us and the grief for the fallen.

Yet Garcia’s murder is not the result of unrestrained gang or narcotrafficking violence, corruption or random crime, and its inclusion as a statistic obscures his murder’s political motivation and the tragedy it leaves in its wake. The unarmed Lenca indigenous community leader was shot at close range in front of a crowd of witnesses. Garcia’s 17-year-old son Allan was seriously injured. The act was not random but was instead part of a pattern of systematic and calculated repression by Honduran authorities.

Garcia was killed because he stood at the front of a peaceful protest against the Agua Zarca hydro-electric dam, which is largely financed by foreign investors and threatens the cultural heritage and livelihood of his community.  Well aware of the danger he faced but unable to turn away from his community’s struggle, Garcia’s courageous stand leaves his widow to care for their seven children.

His assassination was preceded by escalating intimidation – threats and harassment, and menacing security personnel. Garcia’s community is resisting the hydro-electric project that was enticed by Honduras’s “open for business” slogan engineered in the wake of the coup that deposed democratically-elected president Mel Zelaya.

Indigenous communities have been objecting to the illegal sale of their territory to transnational companies who seek to extract profits by harnessing and privatising communally-owned water.  Yet in September 2010, the Honduran National Congress awarded 41 hydroelectric dam concessions, during a time when the government of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo’s legitimacy was still questioned by the majority of Latin American governments.

A month later, a coalition of indigenous groups, including members of the Tulupanes, Pech, Miskito, Maya-Chortis, Lenca and Garifuna peoples, convened a meeting to organise in resistance to the illegal concessions, many of which were granted on indigenous territory without proper consultation and consent of the groups.

These omissions violate International Labor Organization Convention 169, which requires that “Consultation with indigenous peoples should be undertaken through appropriate procedures, in good faith, and through the representative institutions of these peoples” and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous groups have also noted that various international mechanisms designed to address climate change have contributed to the exploitation and degradation of the land for which they have served as rightful and responsible stewards for generations. These include the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism and the Program of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). The rights of indigenous communities to prior informed consultation and consent are being bulldozed, just like their ancestral land.

The Agua Zarca Dam project in Garcia’s community is one of the disputed concessions, part of four interconnected dams along the Gualcarque River. The project is coordinated by a partnership between the Honduran company Desarrollos Energeticos S.A. (DESA), which owns the concession, and the Sinohydro Corporation of China, which seeks to develop the hydro-electric power. The web of investor friendly legislation and support from the Lobo administration empowers the companies to violate human rights with impunity.  According to Berta Caceres, General Coordinator of the indigenous coalition COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations) that seeks to defend indigenous territories, the companies are supported and protected by the Honduran security forces.

Lenca residents of Rio Blanco claim that the dam threatens to degrade the surrounding environment, deplete the local water supply, diminish their livelihood and destroy the spiritual connection to the land that is foundational to the community’s history and survival.  The Lenca communities are engaging in peaceful resistance to the construction by blocking the access road, action that has drawn a swift and brutal response from the government, along with a campaign to vilify the protestors.

The conflict escalated on May 23, when police ended 50 days of peaceful community resistance by forcibly removing protestors. A day later, the repression took an ominous turn when Caceres was arrested on the spurious charge of illegally possessing a weapon, shortly after she criticised the police eviction action. Although the charge was provisionally dropped following an international outcry, the local prosecutor is appealing the dismissal, and the case is far from over.

Business friendly, taken to an extreme

The Lobo administration signaled its embrace of a neoliberal development model when it convened an economic conference in May 2011, entitled “Honduras is Open for Business”. The government sought to reassure investors that risks would be minimised and profits maximised, promising unprecedented access to the country’s exploitable resources, many of which are located within indigenous territory that is subject to the protection of various international protection schemes. The intervening years have witnessed an ambitious and far-reaching legislative agenda that gives primacy to corporate rights.

Human rights observers fear that the recently passed “Law for the Promotion of Development and Reconversion of the Public Debt” will only intensify the exploitation of resources for the benefit of foreign investors and the country’s own economic elites and exacerbate the illegal dispossession of indigenous and campesino communities. The law authorises the Lobo administration to employ the nation’s natural territory and the “idle” resources it contains as collateral to investors who can then exploit concessions for future profits.

Critics of the law note that it was pushed through with little debate and even less transparency, as the details of implementation remain shrouded in secrecy. Observers contextualise the rush to pass the law in advance of November’s national presidential election as a bold effort to entrench protections for business interests, fearing that Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed president Mel Zelaya, and head of the newly formed Libre party will implement democratic reforms.  President Lobo has tacitly acknowledged as much in recent days, opining that a Libre party victory would be a disaster that would not be well received by the business community.

The Rio Blano conflict is emblematic of broader struggle

Similar struggles are percolating across Honduras as the dispossessed seek to protect their livelihoods and their lands from the agro – and business oligarchs who partner with the military and police in meting out repression for acts of resistance to their absolute power. In the Bajo Aguan, over a hundred campesinos have been killed resisting eviction by agro-oligarchs led by Dinant Corporation’s Miguel Facusse.

The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people along the Caribbean coast are struggling to protect their land from ecotourism and “model cities” that will strip local control and displace ancestral communities.  Human rights defenders are criminalised throughout a country with a notoriously corrupt judicial system that consistently fails to vindicate their rights.

This repression reinforces centuries of historical exploitation and suffering, but occurs in the context of a surprisingly vibrant and resilient popular movement struggling for a more inclusive, participatory and egalitarian future for Honduras. As with the rest of Latin America, foreign influence is ubiquitous, and should be held to account.

International financial institutions, including multilateral development banks, provide development aid and impose structural adjustment policies that advance the neoliberal agenda. Governments provide aid to military and police who have supported the economic and political status quo and have been complicit in the repression. Counter-narcotics efforts are increasingly militarised, and private foreign investors demand obscenely favourable conditions and returns, irrespective of the human costs.

Hondurans deserve a brighter future, free from unfettered repression, intractable corruption, stark inequality and pervasive poverty. The international community must stand in solidarity with the Honduran popular movement and its courageous leaders and demand that the country’s future be determined by the free, democratic and fair election of a government that advances the interests and rights of all Hondurans, not just its economic and political elites.

Lauren Carasik is a Clinical Professor of Law and the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic and the Legal Services Clinic at Western New England University School of Law.

Message to Washington, DC: Let Honduras Live! December 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights.
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http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=4IRzDKV2NjB/HTzDE58uKdJKPBE2/8+5 Hundreds of Hondurans have been assassinated by Honduran security forces, many of whom are trained, equipped and vetted by the U.S. Tell Washington: No more money for Honduran military and police! Click here to send a message to Congress and the White House.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=k68QtixAdg+djkGQz4XGgNJKPBE2/8+5 SOA-WHINSEC graduates are once again stealing the lives of innocent Hondurans, this time with the aid of equipment, funds and vetting by the U.S.military. Honduran soldier Josue Sierra, a 2011 graduate of WHINSEC has been charged with killing and covering up the May murder of fifteen year old Ebed Yanes. Further cover up was ordered by Lt. Col. Reynel Funes, also a graduate of the SOA.
Three years after SOA graduates toppled democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, Tegucigalpa has become the murder capital of the world. Honduran police and military have made significant contributions, not to the prevention, but to the perpetration of such murders. Over the past 23 months, the deaths of 149 youth have been linked to Honduran security forces that are trained, vetted and equipped by the US military. U.S. agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency have also been connected to recent murders.
After 94 members of Congress signed a letter calling on the U.S. to stop military aid to Honduras, the Obama administration temporarily halted $50 million of military aid in August. This is a concrete victory because people like you took the time to ask. But the halt is temporary.
Please take one more minute of your time to send a letter to White House, to your Senators and to your Representatives, asking them to stop all training and funding of Honduran security forces, and to ask President Obama to close the School of the Americas by Executive order. We are also working with our partner groups to send an organizational sign-on letter to White House aide Denis McDonough, to educate him about the reality in Honduras.
HONDURAS ON THE HEART: REPORT BACK FROM SOA WATCH VISIT TO 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF COFADEH (Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras)
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=aCbovGPPW0zfKxWkHIqBI9JKPBE2/8+5 Backyards are such convenient places. That’s where I keep my compost pile, hang out my clothes, start plants in old sardine cans and step out in my old sweats to do my morning exercises. I can’t imagine adorning my front yard with a similar display of drying underwear, rusted cans, rotting tomatoes and sagging hips.
Honduras is our back yard, so it seems. It’s where we dump things and do things there that we never would with front-yard friends. We dump tax-evading fast food joints and cheap-labor-seeking maquilas there. We sprew the land with military bases, and DEA agents, offer rest stops to military commanders overthrowing democratically elected presidents. We vet soldiers and give them trucks to hunt down and shoot young teens who sneak out for dates.
Wait, that last part must be made up, right? Actually, no. A few days ago I found myself sitting in the Yanes family living room in Tegucigalpa, sipping coffee, and looking at family photos. Mostly of their teenaged son Ebed. A good kid who rarely ventured out alone from his gated community. But, being fifteen and in love, one night he snuck out on his motorcycle to see his girlfriend.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=U1ATaly0sG1mPBi5dkId8dJKPBE2/8+5Upon return he encountered a road block where men with ski masks and automatic weapons stood by an imposing truck. Like most teens in this situation, he skirted the scary scene, dashing for home. Truck and soldiers took off after him and within minutes he was dead.
That tale wouldn’t probably have gotten much mileage in a country that holds the world record for murders. One more dead delinquent. Except that his dad, Wilfredo, knew this wasn’t the case, and became a driven man in his pursuit of truth. Risking his own life, he found witnesses who described soldiers shooting from the truck, collected the bullet shells, and secretly photographed the truck and soldiers in the same place his son had come across.
Pressing on, he discovered that the Ford 350 truck was one of dozens provided by the US military and that the bullets had come from guns given to troops that had been vetted by the US for respecting human rights. Specifically, the first bullets shot came from the gun of Honduran soldier Josue Sierra, a recent 2011 graduate of WHINSEC, the new name for the School of the Americas. The cover up was ordered by Lt. Col Reynel Funes, also a graduate of the SOA.
Ebed was just one of hundreds of young people have been killed since the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya. In the past 23 months, 149 of them were killed at the hands of Honduran police themselves. Add to the mix the assassinations of over a hundred who have dared to resist the post-coup government: farmers, lawyers, journalists, LGBT activists, teachers and students The murder of four people returning to their remote village of Ahuas by boat might have been ignored had not villagers seen DEA agents firing.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=MWxDTLG4LMhSHmg4W/LZQdJKPBE2/8+5 One of those powerful bullets blasted through the hand of another young teen, Wilmer Morgan Lucas Walter. I had lunch with Wilmer and second mom, Mery Agurcia,one of the devoted staff of COFADEH, whose 30th year anniversary drew us to Honduras. When a fellow COFADEH staffer traveled to the village to investigate last May, she not only brought back notebooks of testimony, but Wilmer himself. He needed medical attention to save his hand, only available in the capital.
While we were having lunch with Wilmer, President Obama’s aide Denis McDonough was in town, sharing snacks with President Porfirio Lobo. Although McDonough did make a reference to the problems of human rights in the country, he said in the same breath that the US and Honduras have never had more robust relations.
McDonough did not meet with Wilfredo or Wilmer or any family members of victims of government repression, or more importantly, with victims linked to US complicity. He did, however, recently meet with a group of SOA Watch activists at the White House to hear their concerns about the School of the Americas. According to McDonough, the SOA was not a current day problem.
So, let’s remind McDonough what life looks like in a country where SOA graduates have helped to change the hopeful dreams of a new society for that of murder capital of the world. Remind him of the pain in the living room of the Yanes family, or in Wilmer’s hand. He will probably actually listen. Already the Obama administration is temporarily suspended $50 million in military aid to Honduras, thanks in great part to folks like yourself who pressured your member of congress to stop military funding to Honduras. Over 94 signed on. Now, please help make sure that not one more young life be taken, and ask that the US immediately stop ALL training and funding of Honduran security forces.
Last night I told my kids that this year we should decorate the front yard with Christmas lights. Maybe I’ll change my mind. I think I’ll decorate the backyard, with lights of justice. Join me.

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Carbon Blood Money in Honduras March 10, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Saturday, March 10, 2012 by Foreign Policy in Focus

  by  Rosie Wong

With its muddy roads, humble huts, and constant military patrols, Bajo Aguán, Honduras feels a long way away from the slick polish of the recurring UN climate negotiations in the world’s capital cities. Yet the bloody struggle going on there strikes at the heart of global climate politics, illustrating how market schemes designed to “offset” carbon emissions play out when they encounter the complicated reality on the ground.

Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé, who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The contrast between the promise of “clean development” and this violent reality has made Bajo Aguán the subject of growing international attention — and a lightning rod for criticism of the CDM.

The Coup and Its Aftermath

In June 2009, a military coup in Honduras deposed the government of Manuel Zelaya, stymieing the government’s progressive social reforms and experiments with participatory democracy. “It was not only to expel President Zelaya,” says Juan Almendarez, a prominent Honduran environmental and humanitarian advocate. The coup happened “because the powerful people in Honduras were acting in response to the people’s struggles in Honduras.”

The result has been social decay and political repression. The homicide rate in Honduras has skyrocketed under the Porfirio Lobo regime, registering as the world’s highest in 2010. Human rights groups highlight the ongoing political assassinations of regime opponents. In this small country of 8 million people, 17 journalists have been killed since the coup. LGBTI organizers, indigenous rights activists, unionists, teachers, youth organizers, women’s advocates, and opposition politicians have also received death threats or been killed. Those responsible are rarely punished by the justice system, which instead devotes its energies to prosecuting social and human rights activists. Protests are often met with teargas canisters and live ammunition.

The coup has also proved a setback for campesino activists seeking to halt the encroachment of large landowners on their farms.

The Struggle for Land in Bajo Aguán

Highly unequal land distribution has long been an issue in Honduras, and genuine land reform has been evasive. However, partial agrarian reform in 1961 made the rainforests of Bajo Aguán available for cooperatives of farmers who migrated there from other parts of the country. Clearing the forests to make the land suitable for farming was extremely difficult work, but the farmers’ perseverance turned it into one of the most desirable and fertile agricultural lands in the country.

However, under pressure from international financial institutions, Honduras’s government passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization in 1994, allowing large producers to extend their territories beyond the maximum legal property limits. As a result, large landowners began to buy up the land of small farmers, effectively reversing whatever limited land reform had been achieved. The human costs were immense. According to Juan Chinchilla of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA), “it forced masses of farmers to migrate to the cities and to the U.S. under terrible conditions.”

An older movement, the MCA (Campesino Movement of Aguan), has organized several dramatic acts of resistance to this dislocation. In May 2000, the collective orchestrated a remarkable mass occupation of a former U.S. military base on a large tract of arable land controlled by agro-industrialists. Coordinating with landless farmers from all over the country, the MCA organized 50 trucks and, early one morning, entered the former base and tore down its fences. This occupation continues today, despite threats and persecution.

In 2008, MUCA occupied one of Miguel Facussé’s palm oil processing plants and subsequently entered into negotiations with then-President Zelaya to have occupied lands legally transferred to small farmers. When the coup occurred and jeopardized these hard-won gains, landless farmers mobilized against it, with MUCA officials travelling to the Nicaraguan border to meet Zelaya on his second attempt to return to Honduras. It was there that MUCA decided to organize a mass land occupation starting on December 9, 2009.

But despite this resistance, aggressive landholders buoyed by the coup have continued their onslaught against the farmers of Bajo Aguán. According to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 42 farmers were assassinated between September 2009 and October 2011 in Honduras. More recent reports have the numbers in the 50s by 2011. In one surprisingly brazen incident in November 2010, after five farmers were killed in El Tumbador, Facussé gave a press statement acknowledging that it was his hired security guards who were responsible.

A community member from the Marañones settlement in Bajo Aguán described an eviction of small farmers from the Guanchía cooperative on 8 January 2010, carried out by a contingent of 500 police and soldiers with teargas and guns: “It was a violent eviction where they had nothing legal to show us; the first greetings they gave us were the weapons. They began to shoot at us, to capture and beat our compañeros. There were captured children, nine of them…compañeras were raped…our homes were destroyed, our food – they took part of it and destroyed the other parts.”

Almost every farmer I interviewed said that it was unsafe to leave their settlements. The countryside is dotted with military checkpoints, and farmers have been killed travelling to or from their settlements. “The way we see it, it has become a crime to be a farmer here,” Heriberto Rodríguez of MUCA explained. There have been at least four military operations in the area since 2010.

Palm Oil and Power

Bajo Aguán’s small farmers are already under siege. But carbon trading with the global North could help to fuel in this aggression even further under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Set up under the current UN climate treaty, the CDM is supposed to encourage “clean” technology in the South and to provide Northern actors with the most efficient (i.e., cheapest) way to reduce global pollution. The basic equation is simple: a project in the global South that ostensibly reduces carbon emissions generates carbon credits. These credits can then be bought and sold by companies in the global North, who can use them to meet government requirements to reduce pollution without actually reducing emissions in their factories or power plants.

Dinant, Facusse´s palm oil company, has set up one of these projects. In the past, the company’s palm oil mill pumped its waste into large open pits, a process that produces large quantities of methane. Dinant’s project involves capturing this greenhouse gas and using it to power the mill. The project’s blueprint claims that it will reduce pollution in two ways: first, by not letting the methane from open pits escape straight into the atmosphere, and second, by preventing pollution from burning the fossil fuels that were formerly used to power the mill.

Dinant’s approval is obviously problematic for a number of reasons.

First, with the expanding palm oil industry contributing to massive deforestation in sensitive tropical regions, it’s ironic that Dinant would be rewarded for environmentally sound practices. Moreover, its CDM approval essentially endorses a business model of producing palm oil for export—instead of food for local consumption—in a country where one in four children suffers chronic malnutrition. As Heriberto Rodríguez argued, “We don’t need palm oil here. We need what we can eat.”

Finally, if Wikileaks cables detailing some of Facussé’s more unsavory dealings—including but not limited to his potential links to drug traffickers (to say nothing of his documented violence against local farmers)—are any indication, Facussé’s misdeeds are no secret to the North. And yet one CDM board member told a journalist that “we are not investigators of crimes” and that there is “not much scope” to reject the project under CDM rules.

As rights groups have brought these problems to light, Northern companies associated with the project have pulled out one by one, including a consultant that contributed to the project application, the German government bank that had agreed to give a loan to Dinant, and the French electricity company that had agreed to buy the credits. This has left Miguel Facussé and Dinant out on a limb. However, the struggle to stop European carbon market money from flowing to Bajo Aguán is not finished: the CDM board has re-approved the project, and the British government has not withdrawn its support, which means that new buyers could still appear.

Not for Sale

At an international human rights conference held in Bajo Aguan in February, MUCA signed an agreement with the Lobo regime that included a financing plan for the farmers to pay the large landholders for occupied land. But critics say that even if the government can be trusted (itself a questionable proposition), the crucial issues of assassinations and impunity were ignored. Facussé´s company is now accusing farmers of new “invasions.”

Needless to say, the situation in Bajo Aguán continues to be incredibly dangerous. Local rights groups have called for a Permanent Human Rights Observatory to witness, document, and discourage the ongoing violence against farmers in the region.

Although growing international condemnation has made it more difficult for Dinant to access carbon market money, the project remains officially sanctioned, and loans from international development banks have not been cancelled. Heriberto Rodríguez, speaking from his roadside hut in an Aguán settlement, had no doubt about the impact of this international support: “Whoever gives the finance to these companies also becomes complicit in all these deaths. If they cut these funds, the landholders will feel somewhat pressured to change their methods.”

MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Alvarez rejects the idea of carbon trading projects altogether. “To get into these deals is like having [our land] mortgaged,” he said. “So to this we say no; this oxygen, we don’t sell it to anybody.”

© 2012 Institute for Policy Studies

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Rosie Wong has accompanied the anti-coup movement in Honduras since 2009, visiting Honduras three times and doing organizing work in Sydney, Australia. She compiles monthly updates at http://www.sydney-says-no2honduras-coup.net and can be contacted at latinamerica.emergency@gmail.com. Kylie Benton-Connell, currently based in Brazil, provided research support.

Honduras in Flames February 16, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Thursday, February 16, 2012 by The Nation

  by  Dana Frank

Tuesday night, February 14, at least 357 prisoners died in a fire at La Granja penitentiary in Comayagua, Honduras, in one of the worst prison fires in the past century. The fire, though, is only the latest deadly outcome of the larger politically-driven firestorm that is Honduras today. The Comayagua fire must be understood in the context of the near-total breakdown of the Honduran state since the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew democratically-elected President José Manuel Zelaya.

Relatives of inmates stand outside the prison in Comayagua, Honduras, Wednesday Feb. 15, 2012.  A fire late Tuesday tore through the jail killing 382 inmates. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Honduran authorities were quick to insist that the dead were hardened criminals and blame the fire on a crazy inmate who set his own mattress on fire. But human rights advocates, prison experts, and the opposition media have been quick to underscore that the biggest criminals in this story are the police and the Honduran state.

Daniel Orellana, director of prisons until he was suspended in the fire’s aftermath, was the mastermind managing the Honduras police during and after the military coup, according to the July 2011 report of the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation convened by the coup government of President Porfirio Lobo. Héctor Ivan Mejía, currently the police spokesperson reporting to the public about the Comayagua fire, was previously fired as Chief of Police of the nation’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, in part because he issued the notorious order to tear gas a peaceful opposition demonstration on September 15, 2010, including a high school marching band.   When the fire broke out just before 11:00 pm, the prisoners were locked into spectacularly overcrowded cells, in some cases sixty to a room. Their guards, ordinary police, in many cases didn’t have keys or refused to use them and fled, abandoning the screaming prisoners. Rubén García, a survivor, has testified that guards shot at the prisoners before fleeing. Outside, police held back firefighters for thirty minutes before allowing them to enter.

Although some of the inmates were, indeed, gang members and drug traffickers, as the media has reported, the Comayagua penitentiary is a second-tier prison, housing ordinary criminals from the area; the most dangerous are housed in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Many of them had never been convicted and were awaiting court dates that would never arrive, in a country widely acknowledged to have no functioning judicial system.

When the fire broke out, their family members rushed to the prison, only to be met by bullets and tear gas. All the following day the Jesuits’ opposition radio station, Radio Progreso, read out the names of the dead, and the incantation of their classic Honduran names underscored the magnitude of the blow to the Honduran people.

This is the country’s third major prison fire in recent years. In 2003, police deliberately set a fire killing 69 gang members in El Porvenir. In 2004, 104 inmates died in San Pedro Sula, unable to escape. In both cases the government called for dramatic reform; yet conditions worsened.

Over 300 people have been killed by state security forces since President Lobo came to power in a November 2009 election boycotted by most of the opposition and almost all international observers. At least forty-three campesino activists have been killed by police, members of the military, and private security guards.

This past fall the country was further rocked by a massive scandal when authorities revealed that on October 22 police officers had allegedly killed the son of the university rector, Julietta Castellanos, and a friend of his, and then the culprits were allowed to go free. Throughout the fall former government officials and others came forward to denounce widespread involvement of the police at in drug trafficking and assassinations, at the highest levels. The most prominent of the critics, former Congressman and Police Commissioner Alfredo Landaverde, was himself assassinated on December 6.

Who, then, is to blame for the Comayagua maelstrom? Former police commissioner María Luisa Borjas, herself a target of ongoing death threats because she has criticized police corruption, charged the next morning that the fire was a “criminal act” by the Honduran government. Attorney Joaquin Mejía called it the “institutionalized violence of the state.”

They know that the Lobo administration is still riddled from top to bottom with coup perpetrators, drug traffickers, and those responsible for the repression of the opposition. The danger, now, is that the Honduran police and military will take advantage of the prison fire to further justify a rapidly increasing militarization of Honduran society, as Oscar Estrada, who has studied the Honduran prison system, warns. Indeed, the government already passed a controversial law in November 2011 allowing the military to take over ordinary police functions.

This militarization is being fueled by the US State Department, which continues to throw its financial and diplomatic support behind the corrupt and illegitimate Lobo regime. Obama in his 2013 budget proposed to double the funding for Honduras, despite growing Congressional pressure to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras. US military funding has increased every year since the coup, and the United States is currently pouring $50 million into expanding its strategically important Soto Cano Air Force Base in Honduras, using the fight against drug trafficking as a pretext to expand both its military presence and its direct control of the Honduran police.

The Honduran human rights community and opposition are clear, though: they want the United States to cut the aid—”stop feeding the beast,” as the university rector has famously asked—and they want to clean up the state security forces themselves. They do not want the United States, whether itself or through its puppets, to take over their country further through an alleged cleanup operation in service to the very coup regime into which it continues to pour millions of dollars.

© 2012 The Nation

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Dana Frank

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.

Honduras: Wealthy Landowners Attempt to Quash Farming Collectives September 16, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Friday 16 September 2011
by: Andrew Kennis, Truthout | News Analysis
 

 

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.”

Exclusive Interview with Manuel Zelaya on the U.S. Role in Honduran Coup, WikiLeaks and Why He Was Ousted May 31, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I have posted below only the DemocracyNow! interview with Maneul Zelaya.  For related stories on DemocracyNow! you can go to the following links:

Also, on the DemocracyNow! web site (www.democracynow.org) you will find a blog with Amy Goodman accompanying the Zelaya return flight, with fascinating photos and interviews.

DemocracyNow! May 31, 2011

Shortly after Manuel Zelaya returned to his home this weekend for the first time since the 2009 military coup d’état, he sat down with Democracy Now! for an exclusive interview. He talks about why he believes the United States was behind the coup, and what exactly happened on June 28, 2009, when hooded Honduran soldiers kidnapped him at gunpoint and put him on a plane to Costa Rica, stopping to refuel at Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras. “This coup d’état was made by the right wing of the United States,” Zelaya says. “The U.S. State Department has always denied, and they continue to deny, any ties with the coup d’état. Nevertheless, all of the proof incriminates the U.S. government. And all of the actions that were taken by the de facto regime, or the golpista regime, which are those who carried out the coup, favor the industrial policies and the military policies and the financial policies of the United States in Honduras.”

 

AMY GOODMAN: Manuel Zelaya, the former president of Honduras, returned home on Saturday after 23 months in exile. At a news conference Sunday in his living room, Zelaya said the coup was the work of an international conspiracy that should be investigated. It was the first coup in Central America in a quarter of a century. The military kidnapped Zelaya from his home at gunpoint, put him on a plane to Costa Rica, stopping to refuel at Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras—this after he tried to organize a non-binding referendum asking voters if they wanted to rewrite the constitution. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos brokered the agreement between ousted President Zelaya and the current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. It was called the Cartagena Accord, paving the way for Zelaya’s return.

Democracy Now! flew with President Zelaya from Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, to Honduras. On Sunday, we sat down with him at his home in Tegucigalpa. I asked President Zelaya to talk about what happened the day of the coup, June 28th, 2009.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] A president who was elected by the people was taken out of his home at gunpoint in the early, early morning wee hours in his pajamas and taken and abandoned in Costa Rica, in the airport of Costa Rica.

AMY GOODMAN: But first, can you tell me what exactly happened here? What time was it? What did you hear? How did you wake up?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I arrived to my home at 3:30 in the morning. The next day, we were going to have a referendum, public referendum, throughout the whole nation. It was only an opinion poll, basically, and it was not legally binding—14,000 polls placed all over the country. And there was an international conspiracy in order to say that communism was entering into this country and that the Caracas plan was going to enter in to destroy the United States and that we are destroying the U.S. empire, if they would let that opinion poll take place. Many who were business leaders and others, high society folks, they fell into that trap. This coup d’état was made by the right wing of the United States.

Those early morning hours, in the wee hours of that morning, they started to pressure the honor guard. They came here at 5:15 in the morning. There were isolated shots that were fired in the neighborhood, some in this street over here and others in the back part of the house. You can see that this is a small house, middle class. It’s easy to assault this house. I was woken by the gunshots. I went downstairs in my pajamas to the first floor, on the patio on the outside. At that very moment, the gunshots were impacting on the door in the back. My first reaction was to hit the floor and to cover myself from the gunshots. That is the moment in which the military entered into the patio in the back.

They threatened me with their rifles, M-16 machine guns. They said that it was a military order. And they were shouting at me, and they were ordering me to give my cell phone, because I was talking on my phone. There were more than 10 military, who were hooded, who entered into the house, actually. But outside there were 200 to 300. The only thing you could see were their eyes. Everything else was covered. And they surrounded me. They threatened me, that they were going to shoot. And I said to them, “If you have orders to shoot, then shoot me. But know that you are shooting the president of the republic, and you are a subalternate, you are an underling.” And so, they did not shoot at me.

And so, they forced me to go to their vehicles outside with my pajamas on. We landed in the U.S. military base of Palmerola. There, they refueled. There were some movements that happened outside. I don’t know what conversations took place. About 15, 20 minutes, we waited there in the airport of Palmerola. And then to Costa Rica, and everything else is public after that.

AMY GOODMAN: Why were you brought to the U.S. military base? It is not that far to fly from Tegucigalpa airport to Costa Rica. Why would you be brought to the U.S. military base? And they must have had the U.S. military’s permission.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The U.S. State Department has always denied, and they continue to deny, any ties with the coup d’état. Nevertheless, all of the proof incriminates the U.S. government. And all of the actions that were taken by the de facto regime, or the golpista regime, which are those who carried out the coup, and it is to make favor of the industrial policies and the military policies and the financial policies of the United States in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: Was your daughter Pichu in the house?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In my house, there were three people. The woman who cleans the house and who works here, and she has 10 years working with us, she is a woman of great trust. And she continues to work here. Her name is Suyapa. She was taken out, and they dragged her by pulling out her hair, because the military, after they captured me, they entered into each one of the rooms, and they broke into the rooms through using their rifle butts, looking for my wife and for my daughter. My daughter is very thin, and so she went underneath the bed. Suyapa, the cleaning lady, she’s a little overweight, and so she could not hide. So they grabbed her by her hair, and they took her away. Pichu, whose real name is Xiomara Hortensia, she hid under the bed, and they didn’t find her.

AMY GOODMAN: The M-16s, where were they made, that the hooded Honduran soldiers used?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] All of the arms that the Honduran military uses are U.S. weapons. And the high command of the military of Honduras is trained at the School of the Americas.

AMY GOODMAN: After the coup, did the U.S. stop the weapons flow to Honduras?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] This week, there were 85 members of Congress of the United States, they sent a letter to the State Department, Hillary Clinton, and this letter speaks to the necessity of controlling the support, and they speak of paralyzing, which is given to the armed forces of Honduras. And so, they point to the high rates of violations of human rights that take place in Honduras. In other words, after the coup d’état in this country, the U.S. has increased its military support to Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you support the call of the Congress members?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] All who defend human rights and who are against the armaments and war making, they have my support.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that the coup was a conspiracy. And you talked about the right wing in the United States. Explain exactly what you understand. Who fomented this coup against you?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The conspiracy began when I started to join what is ALBA, the Latin American nations with Bolivarian Alternative. So, a dirty war at the psychological level was carried out against me. Otto Reich started this. The ex-Under Secretary of State Roger Noriega, Robert Carmona, and the Arcadia Foundation, created by the CIA, they associated themselves with the right wing, with military groups, and they formed a conspiracy. They argued that I was a communist and that I was attacking the security of the hemisphere, because I’m a friend of Fidel, I’m a friend of Chávez, and I had declared my government as a government which is progressive.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, WikiLeaks released that trove of U.S. government cables, and in it was a cable from then-U.S. ambassador—the then-U.S. ambassador to Honduras to the State Department, saying that—I think it was titled “Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,” and it was saying it was illegal, it was unconstitutional. It was written by U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Hugo Llorens cooperated in order to avoid the coup d’état. He knew everything that was happening in Honduras. And I am a witness to the effort that he made to stop the coup. But when he perceived that he could no longer stop it, then he withdrew. I don’t know if he had orders to withdraw, but he allowed everything to happen. He did help my family a great deal after the coup. And I am grateful to him now. He showed me that he is someone who believes in democracy and not in the coups d’état. But a great part of the Pentagon does not believe this, nor does the Southern Command.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the Southern Command have to do with this?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The link that Ambassador Ford, who was the ambassador from the United States before Llorens, he said that I could not have a friendship with Hugo Chávez. He wanted me to give political [asylum] to Posada Carriles. He wanted to name who my ministers of my cabinet of my government should be. He wanted his recommendations to become ministers of my government.

AMY GOODMAN: Posada Carriles, he wanted him to be able to take refuge in Honduras, the man who was alleged to be the mastermind behind the Cubana bombing that killed scores of people?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] After eight days of my becoming president of the country, the ambassador, Charles Ford, asked me if I could give political asylum to Posada Carriles in Honduras. And of course, I sent him to outside. He spoke to my foreign minister, my secretary of state, about that—the same ambassador who prohibited me from becoming a member of the ALBA. And this ambassador, who just left Honduras, who left the country with a political profile of myself, the ambassador, Ford, left this letter as a profile of the president, and when you read it, you can tell that it is the precursor of the coup itself. WikiLeaks published this document. They published the profile that Ambassador Ford made of me to give to Hugo Llorens, saying that the United States needs to make decisions about what it will do the following year in order to detain me, because I am tied to narcotrafficking and to terrorism and to many, many other things. So, he prepared the ambiance, situation. And he was transferred from the embassy to the Southern Command. And that is the tie. And if you ask today, where is this Ambassador Ford? He is in the Southern Command. And so, he left here in order to prepare the coup d’état.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the coup d’état took place under President Obama, not before.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] We’re talking about the United States, so it’s an empire. The United States is an empire, and so Obama is the president of the United States, but he is not the chief of the empire. Even though Obama would be against the coup, the process toward the coup was already moving forward. The most that they tell a president like President Obama, that there’s a political crisis going on. But they do not talk about the details that they were involved in in terms of the conspiracy.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama early on called it a coup. But then the administration seemed to back off, both he and Hillary Clinton.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They gave themselves up before the coup itself. That is the proof, in fact, that the coup came from the north, from the U.S. So they are even able to bend the arm of the President of the United States, President Obama, and the State Department, and they impeded my restitution as president of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ousted President Manuel Zelaya, sitting in his home in his living room in Tegucigalpa for the first time in 23 months, kidnapped at gunpoint by Honduran soldiers as his daughter Pichu hid under her bed upstairs. He was then flown to Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras, supposedly to refuel, and then on to Costa Rica. It was the first military coup in Latin America in more than a quarter of a century.

We leave you today with Zelaya’s address to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Hondurans upon his arrival home on Saturday.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Your presence here this afternoon shows the support of the international community, that the blood was not shed in vain, because we’re still standing, keeping our position valid. Peaceful resistance. Fellows, resistance is today the cry of victory, of the return to Honduras of all the rights and guarantees of the Honduran democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow, in part two of our interview, President Zelaya will talk about his plans for the future. We’ll also speak with his wife, former First Lady of Honduras Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. We ask her if she plans to run for president next. Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Hany Massoud for his remarkable camera work and Andrés Tomas Conteris for translating, and to both for making this broadcast possible. Also thanks to Channel 11 in Tegucigalpa.

Triumphal return of Honduran ex-leader Zelaya May 28, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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According to reports, he was greeted by enthusiastic thousands at the Tegucigalpa airport.  The single US journalist who accompanied his return was DemocracyNow!’s Amy Goodman.

Honduran former President Manuel Zelaya speaks before he boards his plane to return to Honduras at the international airport in Managua May 28, 2011. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas<br/>

Supporters of Manuel Zelaya (C,R, with hat) surround him upon his arrival
(AFP, Rodrigo Arangua)

Manuel Zelaya speaks upon his arrival in Tegucigalpa (AFP, Rodrigo
Arangua)

A supporter holds a statue of Honduras’ ousted President Manuel Zelaya in a crowd gathered to wait for his arrival in Tegucigalpa, Saturday May 28, 2011.  The return of the former president from exile Saturday brings Honduras’ nearly two-year political crisis to an end. Zelaya’s comeback will also pave the way for Honduras to re-enter the international community, which near-unanimously rejected the June 2009 military-backed coup that forced him from office. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

 

upporters wait for the arrival of Honduras’ ousted President Manuel Zelaya at the airport in Tegucigalpa, Saturday May 28, 2011.  The return of the former president from exile Saturday brings Honduras’ nearly two-year political crisis to an end. Zelaya’s comeback will also pave the way for Honduras to re-enter the international community, which near-unanimously rejected the June 2009 military-backed coup that forced him from office. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

 

 

 

By Francisco Jara (AFP) – 3 hours
ago

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iO7ougk8kBWWafVmRKI4Bb86v3Rw?docId=CNG.86cef52d30e13b28b2d80598a38bfa1d.d21

TEGUCIGALPA — Former president Manuel Zelaya made a triumphal return to
Honduras Saturday as tens of thousands of people cheered and waved banners to
welcome him home nearly two years after his ouster from power in a coup.

Zelaya, wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, landed in Tegucigalpa with
his wife and aides aboard a Venezuelan plane on a flight from Managua, and
immediately went to a nearby plaza to rally his supporters.

“We arrive full of optimism and hope to search for an exit to this crisis. At
one moment we had almost lost it all, but they never defeated us,” he told his
supporters.

Zelaya, 58, thanked his supporters and paid homage to those “who spilled
their blood in this plaza,” including an 18 year-old shot dead during a protest
a week after the coup.

“Their blood was not spilled in vain because we are here still engaged in the
struggle,” he told the enthusiastic crowd.

Several people fainted in the heat waiting for the former president, who was
several hours behind schedule.

The end of the former cattle rancher’s 16-month exile was part of a deal
brokered by several Latin American governments that will end Honduras diplomatic
isolation and give the government of President Porfirio Lobo access to foreign
investment and aid.

The ousted former president is returning to lead the National Popular
Resistance Front (FNRP), a movement formed after the June 2009 coup to challenge
a two party system that has dominated Honduran politics since the early 20th
century.

“He was the only president that remembered us, the poor,” said Maria Elisa
Ferrufino, a 75 year-old farmer who got up at dawn Friday to catch a bus to
Tegucigalpa for the rally.

Zelaya “helped the poor people — no president had done that before,” said
Arnulfo Mendez, 62, who traveled from a town 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of
the capital for the rally. “There is hope that with his leadership we can do
something with the Resistance Front.”

Zelaya’s return will allow Honduras to rejoin the Organization of American
States (OAS) and gain access to international aid, vital in a country where 70
percent of a population of nearly eight million live on four dollars or less a
day.

The deal included a promise that all legal action against Zelaya would be
dropped.

The ex-president arrived in the Nicaraguan capital on Friday from the
Dominican Republic, where he had spent most of his time in exile.

Lobo and Zelaya signed a reconciliation agreement in Colombia last week, and
the two will meet at the presidential palace along with the head of the OAS,
Jose Miguel Insulza, and Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin.

Zelaya was a conservative rancher when he was elected in January 2006, but
took a political turn to the left once in office.

He was ousted in a military coup sanctioned by the Honduran legislature and
the supreme court after calling for a referendum to rewrite the constitution.
His opponents feared he would use it to extend his term in office as his ally
Hugo Chavez had done in Venezuela.

Zelaya secretly returned to Honduras before the de facto regime could hold
elections, holing up at the Brazilian embassy surrounded by regime police in an
impasse that lasted four months.

Meanwhile, the interim regime that ousted Zelaya held elections and Lobo took
office in January 2010.

Despite his broad popular support Zelaya cannot run in the 2013 presidential
elections because the constitution limits presidents to a single term in office.
Supporters want his wife to run instead.

In an interview just before departing Managua broadcast on Telesur television
network, Zelaya said his return from exile was “the result of an effort of all
the countries of Latin America.”

“Today we begin the true reconciliation in Honduras,” Zelaya’s wife Xiomara
Castro said, adding that they were committed “to continue the struggle to
transform” the country.

Ousted President’s Return to Honduras Doesn’t Mean Repression is Over May 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Published on Friday, May 27, 2011 by The Progressive

  by  Dana Frank

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.

© 2011 The Progressive

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Dana Frank

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
Manuel
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
installed through the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew Zelaya. The
majority of Latin American and Caribbean nations refused to recognize the
legitimacy of the Lobo government, despite the strong support it received from
the United States and Canada.

The present agreement, finalized in Cartagena, Colombia, also bears the
signatures of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan Foreign
Minister Nicolás Maduro (on behalf of President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías) as
witnesses.

This agreement opens the door to significant changes in the Central American
political landscape and to the re-entry of Honduras into the Organization of
American States (OAS) and SICA (Central American Integration System).

An earlier article, “Freedom for Joaquín Pérez Becerra!” discussed the context that
led Colombia and Venezuelan presidents to join in sponsoring this
initiative.

The Resistance welcomes the agreement

In
a May 23 statement
, the Political Committee of the National Front for
People’s Resistance (FNRP), the main organization coordinating popular
resistance to the coup inside Honduras, noted that “this agreement for
international mediation enables us to put an end to our exile [and] reinforce
our process for the refoundation of Honduras.” It issued a “call to all members
of the resistance inside and outside Honduras to unite in a great mobilization
to greet and welcome our leader and the General Coordinator of the FNRP, José
Manuel Zelaya Rosales, at 11 a.m., May 28, 2011, at the International Airport.”
The statement noted that the agreement complied with the four conditions set by
the FNRP.

The FNRP also expressed “thanks for the process of international mediation”
carried out by the Venezuelan and Colombian presidents.

Terms of the accord

By the terms of the
Cartagena agreement
, the signatories commit themselves to:

  • Guarantee the return to Honduras in security and liberty of Zelaya and all
    others exiled as a result of the crisis. (Over 200 other exiled leaders of the
    resistance are also now able to return under the terms of the agreement.)
  • Assure conditions in which the FNRP can gain recognition as a legal
    political party.
  • Reaffirm the constitutional right to initiate plebiscites, particularly with
    respect to the FNRP project of convening a National Constituent Assembly. (It
    was President Zelaya’s move to hold a non-binding plebiscite on calling a
    Constituent Assembly that the organizers of the 2009 coup cited to justify their
    action.)
  • Create a Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights to secure human rights in
    Honduras and invite the UN Human Rights Commission to establish an office in
    Honduras.
  • Constitute a Monitoring (Verification) Commission, consisting initially of
    the Colombian and Venezuelan presidencies, to help assure the successful
    implementation of the agreement.

U.S. disruption attempt

Notably absent from discussions leading to the Cartagena Agreement was the
United States, which has long been the arbiter of Honduran politics. Washington
kept silent on the Cartagena mediation process, while in fact attempting to
torpedo it.

Alexander Main, an analyst for the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
noted on May 19 that when, as part of the mediation process, Honduran courts
dropped charges against Zelaya, the U.S. State Department issued an “exuberant
statement” the following day calling for the suspension of Honduras from the
Organization of American States (OAS) to be “immediately lifted” – a move that
would have cut short the Cartagena mediation process. This suspension, enacted
in protest against the coup, was one of the factors driving the illegitimate
Honduran regime to seek mediation. (See “What Now for a Post-Coup
Honduras
“)

“For good measure,” Main says, “the [U.S.] 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.’”

In fact, according to the Committee of Family Members of Disappeared
Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), politically motivated killings have taken the
lives of 34 members of the resistance and 10 journalists since Lobo took office.
No killers have been prosecuted either for these crimes or for the 300 killings
by state security forces since the coup.

Showdown at the OAS

The U.S. canvassed energetically among Central and South American countries
subject to its influence for support for immediate reinstatement of Honduras –
prior to the conclusion of the mediation process. “In mid-May these divisions
came to a head when a diplomatic tussle took place at the OAS,” Main
reports.

In Main’s opinion, “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,” and “the country
continues to be of great strategic importance to the U.S.”

The OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, called a meeting of the OAS
Permanent Council that was to consider readmitting the de facto Honduran regime.
According to a reliable source at the OAS, Main reports, several Latin American
countries, apparently including Colombia, demanded cancellation of the meeting
on the grounds that it was “premature.” Within hours, the meeting was
cancelled.

The failure of this U.S.-inspired maneuver opened the road for the signing of
the Cartagena agreement nine days later.

Regional sovereignty

The Cartagena agreement, and the process that facilitated it, marks an
important victory for the Honduran resistance. More broadly, it reinforces the
process of Indo-Latin American and Caribbean efforts to shape their own national
and regional policies free from imperialist domination. (See “Honduras
se reintegra al CA-4
.”) It developed outside the OAS framework, and will
help to strengthen and consolidate the new Community of Latin American and
Caribbean States (CELAC) that will meet this coming July in Caracas, Venezuela,
under the joint chairmanship of that country and Chile.

The Cartagena accord’s impact in Central America was immediate and far
reaching. Lobo and Zelaya flew from Cartagena to Managua the same day of the
signing ceremony for a special meeting of the SICA (Central American Integration
System) at which Honduras was welcomed back by three other Central American
presidents – Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Mauricio Funes (El Salvador), and Alvaro
Colom (Guatemala). At the meeting Ortega announced the re-establishment of
diplomatic relations between Nicaragua and Honduras.

In a joint
statement
, the four presidents called on the OAS to re-admit Honduras, and
new agreements were also announced regarding a Customs Union of the four
countries. These measures mark a defeat for those forces in Central America
inimical to the regional integration process, including the Costa Rican
government and its hostile campaign to isolate Sandinista Nicaragua
diplomatically and economically.

Need for continued solidarity

Whether the Honduran government will fully carry out the Cartagena agreement
remains to be seen. In particular, the coup has produced an entrenched pattern
of systematic repression and unrestrained operation of death squads in Honduras.
Experiences in other countries, including Colombia, show that such right-wing
repression can run rampant, with under-the-table support from security forces,
despite formal statements of government disapproval.

The establishment of the Colombia-Venezuela monitoring commission will be
vital to keeping the pressure on the Lobo government. Friends of Honduran
democracy in North America will need to do some monitoring as well, as an
expression of continued solidarity with the Honduran people.

Further reading:

Toni Solo, “Varieties of
Imperial Decline: Another Setback for the U.S. in Latin America
,” May 23,
2011

Ida Garberi, “El
regreso de Mel Zelaya es un deber, el retorno de Honduras en la OEA es
indigno
,” May 24, 2011

Bienvenidos

Zelaya Returns! May 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Tomorrow, on Saturday, May 28, almost two years after having been ousted as
president in an SOA graduate-led military coup and flown out of the country in
his pajamas, Manuel Zelaya will return to Honduras.

SOA Watch has been
invited to join President Zelaya on his plane flight back into his home
country.
Father Roy Bourgeois and I will join other human rights advocates
and political leaders in accompanying Manuel Zelaya on his flight back to
Honduras. We are deeply humbled and grateful for the invitation to represent the
SOA Watch movement at this historic moment in this struggle for
justice.

The Honduran National Resistance Front against the Coup (FNRP)
is planning a massive mobilization to celebrate Manuel Zelaya’s return and will
meet our plane at the international airport of Toncontin in Tegucigalpa. After
the landing, we will converge on the Plaza Isy Obed Murillo, south of the
airport, where we will honor the martyrs who fell after the military coup.
Zelaya’s return was made possible after the governments of Venezuela and
Colombia brokered an agreement
between Porfirio Lobo, the head of the current regime in Honduras and President
Manuel Zelaya.

It is a privilege to accompany the people of Honduras in
this moment. Their brave commitment to return their nation to democracy has come
at a terribly high price: that of dozens of lives lost. The return of President
Zelaya is an enormous first step, but we are mindful that much remains to be
done to guarantee the protection of human rights for the people of Honduras. SOA
Watch supports the tireless work of Honduran human rights defenders such as
those of COFADEH, the Committee of Families of Detained and Disappeared of
Honduras.

We join in the joy of the people of Honduras and reaffirm our
commitment to continue to support and accompany
the Honduran social movements
in their struggle for justice.

Un
abrazo,

Lisa
Sullivan
Latin America Coordinator
SOA
Watch

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

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
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).

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