Monday, June 29, 2009

Everything old is new again

Pleasant surprise: A coup is taking place in Central America and the U.S. government is not backing it (now). Nor is anyone else.

Seriously, I was impressed and pleased with the U.S. government response. See my comments here, in response to understandable kneejerk cynicism skepticism of a kind found widely througout the left end of the blogs today.

Not that there's anything wrong with cynicism if it's funny: My favorite post so far is from the guys at BoRev, who take apart the zombie lie of this news cycle (ZOMG the leftist president is trying to make himself dictator for life!).

For coverage of the issues involved, see coup vet Al Giordano and reporter Karen Bricker at NarcoNews.

The rightists' line is that this is all perfectly legal, not a coup, but a "democratic transition." The Supreme Court openly says it ordered the troops to kidnap Pres. Zelaya out of his bed in the early morning -- so it's legal! The usurper Micheletti (Congressional speaker) showed up with a laughably phony "resignation letter" supposedly signed by Zelaya (on Thursday yet), got voted in, and put his hand on the Bible -- so it's Constitutional! The "democratic transition" was made especially smooth because none of the leftish members of Congress showed up, for fear of being taken prisoner. Like the eight members of Zelaya's administration on whom there is little to no information. Oh, and the fake president promptly declared an indefinite period of martial law, because how else would you kick off such a festival of democracy?

Here's hoping the international isolation has the desired effect: a climbdown in which no one is killed, and the return of normal political life, which can be pretty dangerous on its own in Honduras. Via CISPES, a rundown of what's made Pres. Zelaya so unpopular among the ricos he grew up with:

The proposal to draft a new constitution is the culmination of a series of controversial measures undertaken in his presidency, which include a significant raise in the minimum wage, measures to re-nationalize energy generation plants and the telephone system, signing a bill that vastly improves labor conditions for teachers, joining the Venezuelan Petrocaribe program which provides soft loans for development initiatives via petroleum sales, delaying recognition of the new US ambassador after the Bolivian government implicated the US embassy in supporting fascist paramilitary groups destabilizing Bolivia...

You can see why the Washington Post and New York Times editorial staffs are a bit thrown by the Obama administration's failure to accept the gift of this "democratic transition" gracefully. [Hint: It's the tanks; so nineties eighties seventies over.]

Update: noon, 30 June - The beginning of the end: Two military battalions have turned against the coup plotters, the popular movement has blockaded major highways, and Honduras' neighbors have sealed the borders for 48 hours, shutting down trade. Micheletti's illegitimate government has blocked international media channels, including CNN and Venezuela's TeleSur, and has arrested AP and TeleSur correspondents.

Update 2: 1:40pm, 30 June - Mexico, Brazil, and Chile have withdrawn their ambassadors. Pres. Zelaya has announced that he will return to Honduras accompanied by the president of the Organization of American States after speaking before the UN in New York (at the invitation of General Assembly president Miguel d'Escoto). The UN General Assembly has just unanimously passed a resolution demanding that the coup plotters step down and that Zelaya be returned to his office.

Update 3: 11:45am, 2 July - The OAS has given a 72-hour deadline to the coup government that expires Saturday morning, and Zelaya has agreed to postpone his return until then. Within hours of Zelaya's announcement, the Honduran Congress yesterday afternoon passed a decree suspending indefinitely during curfew hours the five articles of their constitution that most resemble our Bill of Rights. Clearly, they're planning to try to use the night to arrest and intimidate enough popular leaders to prevent a big showing of support for Zelaya's homecoming.

It's remarkably convenient for the Obama administration that these events will be buried in a holiday weekend. More than ten countries and the European Union have withdrawn their ambassadors; the U.S. has not, saying that Amb. Hugo Llorens, a Cuban-born economics specialist who was the State Dept's Andean advisor to the Bush administration during the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela, will be needed to help reach a peaceful solution. Nor has the U.S. government cut off aid, despite being required to do so by the Foreign Assistance Act. (However, the Defense Dept. has suspended all operations with the Honduran military indefinitely and the World Bank has "paused" aid). The administration has put a big emphasis on working through the OAS, so the test will be Saturday: if the coup government hasn't stepped down by then, the U.S. response needs to include an immediate aid cutoff. But don't just wait and watch: call State at 202-647-4000 and leave a message reminding Sec. Clinton that U.S. law requires an immediate end to U.S. aid to Honduras.

Update 4: 4:55pm, 7 July - Negotiations begin in Costa Rica Thursday, with Arias mediating. Restoration looks likely, with Zelaya agreeing to drop effort for constitutional reform. Cracking of ice internally in Honduras has been quite visible: the National Party candidate for President backed Zelaya's return, the head of the Supreme Court has proposed amnesty for the collection of charges against Zelaya, and today even bozo Micheletti toned down the bluster in accepting the negotiations.

Obama and Clinton get to distance themselves politically from Zelaya while getting multilateralist and democratic cred for backing his return to office through regional efforts. The tepid response, the failure to cut off aid ("pausing" it instead), and the indisputable and continuing U.S. role in funding right-wing elites as "democracy promotion" will encourage pessimists to conclude that nothing has changed. But I think the popular movement's pressure for a constitutional assembly provoked the military and the rightists in Congress to overplay their hand badly. The Liberal Party has discredited itself for some time to come as a path to any real reform. Honduras' majority understand that their determined actions helped force the restoration -- although at a high cost.

The distorted accounts in U.S. media and punditry of what led to this crisis are hard to dispel partly because so few people know much of anything about Honduras. Blogger RAJ has stepped into that breach with very useful information. [Update edited and links added at 6:15 pm.]

Update 5: 11:00am, 9 July - Finally! U.S. suspends military aid. That's the right tone to set as Zelaya enters the talks. This will be the last update to this post unless the situation's resolved within a day.

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At 3:25 PM, June 30, 2009, Blogger Darlene said...

I have enough trouble trying to understand politics here in the U.S. without trying to understand the ever changing political climate South of the Border.

At 1:27 PM, July 02, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

Fair enough, Darlene. Get the nickel version from me:

Decades of popular struggle for more equality and true democracy in the region are finally paying off.

Central and Latin American governments are cooperating with each other and strengthening their own regional institutions. They're not going to be so easily picked off by U.S.-supported coups and assassinations as they used to be. And the U.S. government is no longer willing to openly back the crude methods of the past.

At 3:05 PM, July 02, 2009, Blogger Darlene said...

Thanks for the nickle version. That's how I get most of my information. I guess I'm too lazy or tired to do the research anymore.

My comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, by the way. I should have added this ~;-)

At 2:24 PM, July 04, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

But is the President isolated within his own administration?

"What has not been reported is that Obama, leaving his advisers behind, held lengthy private conversations with Chavez where only an interpreter was present."

At 2:00 PM, July 05, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

@Ovid: No.

Since when do one-on-one discussions with the other hemispheric leader most capable of having an effect on the Americas-wide strategy in responding to the coup indicate "isolation" on the part of the president conducting them?

Who in the U.S. administration has taken any stand that indicates disagreement with Obama's public stance (i.e., that the coup government is illegal and that the OAS Democratic Charter must be respected by the immediate restoration of Pres. Zelaya to the office for which he was elected)?

Right-wing loons like Sen. Jim DeMint and the authoritarian warmongers who now run the Washington Post editorial page support the coup.

This puts them to the right of the entire rest of the world. It takes a special kind of delusion to see private conversations between two presidents who are major players in the hemisphere, whose unity is vital if the OAS countries are to act in concert, as a hint that Obama has somehow gone out on a limb that others in his administration are seeking to saw off.

That form of delusion has a name: Chavez Derangement Syndrome.

At 4:16 PM, July 05, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

I guess opaque comments are easily misunderstood.

My general point is that "the U.S. government" is not one thing.

Don't you think it's a little odd to cut the State Department out of the loop in the private conversation with Chavez? Why would Obama do that other than because of a lack of confidence in the bureaucracy, and perhaps Secretary Clinton too? Heads of state talking off the record alone has some limitations and raises those questions.

The US military is unquestionably to the right of Obama on this, even if they haven't said so. When or how they want to strike against Chavez I don't know, but that they would like to do something about him I would say isn't in question. They also view the Honduran President as Chavez's ally, and so their enemy.

I doubt Obama agrees with those views. And I'm sure the Pentagon doubts that he agrees with those views. (They are basically right wing.) Someone will probably debrief the interpreter, if they aren't also listening in through technological means, if that was possible where that private meeting occurred. (Beats me.)

Nice blog.

At 8:45 AM, July 06, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

Thanks for clarifying your comment, Ovid.

It's just not that unusual for there to be private conversations between heads of state; this one took place at an event whose purpose is to bring them in contact with each other, and at an early point in the Obama administration. The restoration of ambassadors had not happened yet at the time that Obama and Chavez spoke. No leader in the hemisphere was more important to engage directly and personally than Chavez.

Your description of the military's views of the Venezuelan and Honduran governments makes it sound as if our government is a civilian front for military rule. Despite the huge economic and political weight of the contractor-security complex, and the way in which military spending is not treated as elective, the military does not in fact set foreign policy at that level of detail.

Granted, the habits and attitudes of decades of support for military coups are not tossed aside in a moment. But until someone provides evidence of internal dissent or distancing, I'm not going to assume that Obama's decision to work with and within the OAS on the Honduran crisis has in any way isolated him.

From the p.o.v. of the State Department, this week has put the U.S. government in a much better position to work with Latin American governments on other issues across the board. There was repair to be done, and so far the administration response has done a lot of that.

At 10:47 PM, July 06, 2009, Anonymous Jenny said...

I found this too:

At 12:16 AM, July 07, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...


Very thoughtful and informative. You know more than i do about the circumstances under which Obama met Chavez mano a mano with only the interpreter. But talking to Chavez alone is not the same as talking to some other head of state alone. i would note that. i'm sure that didn't go unnoticed.

We don't have military rule, but our military is the most powerful political actor we have. And it long has been. i really didn't mean to suggest that obama's reaction to honduras isolates him. What isolates him is that he is mistrusted by large components of the military, if not most of it. That's always potential trouble.

Honduras isn't nearly consequential enough to drive a wedge between obama and the bureaucracy and military. Chavez could be. But maybe not even him. Obama is doing what he was hired to do in afghanistan, though perhaps with too much distaste for the drone attacks. i may be projecting there, but i have seen some signs he doesn't favor that.

we aren't ruled by the military. i'd say we are ruled by oil companies and banks. but the military we have considers its mission to be protecting those interests. so i'm not sure it matters. as for the state department, obama should watch his back. as should those latin american populists. But they know that.

At 10:47 AM, July 07, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that everyone has an opinion to share, and so I'll share mine too.

Standing back and looking at this as simply an observer, I believe this is simply XXI century tug of war between two outdated 19th century ideologies that the world should have surpassed long ago.

Marxism and Capitalism being anologous to the left and right cheeks of your ass, while Socialism is right in between.

yes, it's easy to get caught-up in the bandwagon of wild-eyed lemmings and Kool Aide drinkers.

Try look at Hugo Chavez as the new messiah for a bunch of frustrated leftist who simply missed the boat back in the 70's and 1980's, and who is giving them a second chance.

I can understand and at the same time, pity these Bolivarian hold outs who are definitely stuck in a Che Guevara type time warp.

Imagine yourself realizing that your missed the Rapture, then along comes these 800 pound gorilla, a messiah offering you a second chance...

This is it in a nut shell, everything you see and hear is simply bull shit or hype. Realize that these countries are all on the verge of bankruptcy, and talk is cheap.

At 12:44 PM, July 07, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

"talk is cheap."

is it ever!


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