Thursday, August 27, 2009

Honduras: beat the clock

Finally, the State Department ends its six-week charade of "legal review":
U.S. State Department staff have recommended that the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya be declared a "military coup," a U.S. official said on Thursday, a step that could cut off as much as $150 million in U.S. funding to the impoverished Central American nation.

This move was heavily foreshadowed in the press backgrounder by two State Dept. officials on Tuesday that accompanied the baby step of suspending non-emergency travel visas:

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We have said from the very beginning, what we do know is that the legitimate government, the legitimate president, was taken out of office in a way that was not prescribed, in a way that was unexpected and forced. And we call that a coup, a coup to the head of the government.

There are specific ... laws ... that deals with ... the way we can handle assistance and the way we can handle our relationship with a country if there is a military coup, if the person in charge of, leading, and then taking over the government after the coup are the military. And we are examining to determine whether or not that’s the case here.

QUESTION: Thank you. One last question. Just when would you expect to finish that inquiry?


Stories appeared as soon as Tuesday afternoon reporting that the U.S. government was considering the formal coup declaration, and the backgrounder was released yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday the military and police high command huddled with coup backer Jorge Canahuati. Yesterday Cardinal Rodgriguez met with the officials of COHEP, the business council. Micheletti increased the guard around his house. Yet the oligarchs did not seem to have been willing to take the broad hint the U.S. was dropping: to push Micheletti aside. So today, a day before the two-month mark of the coup regime, the other shoe drops. Monday the election campaigns formally begin.

We await news of further meetings in Tegucigalpa and will update.

Update: 4:00pm, 28 August - Twenty-four hours later, and two months into the coup, no action by Sec. Clinton. I've expressed the idea that yesterday's leak was a big signal to the coup backers to act so the U.S. wouldn't have to take this step. Clinton is clearly reluctant to take it, and apparently even a laughable "new" proposal from Micheletti is enough to stay her hand. Don't let her get away with it:

Call* and write the State Department. Urge Sec. Clinton to:

- immediately formally declare the coup a military coup.

- denounce the continuing human rights violations by the coup regime.

- announce U.S. support for an Organization of American States resolution declaring that the November elections will not be recognized unless the Zelaya government is restored by September 1.

*202-647-4000; wait through recordings for operator, ask to leave message. The calls and messages can go on all weekend, so take action and pass this on to friends. Two months is appalling; this shouldn't have lasted two days.

Update 2: 8:00pm, 4 September - Scorecard a week later: 0 for 3, with a lot of gestures and spinning. The glass-half-full perspective, that the government "formally cut off millions of dollars in assistance to Honduras because of the coup that occurred two months ago, and threatened to withhold recognition of the new president who emerges from elections scheduled in November" can only be maintained by ignoring the unpleasant details:

This is the same money that was suspended two months ago, not the much more substantial cutoff that a formal coup designation would require. The non-recognition threat was couched like this: That election must be undertaken in a free, fair and transparent manner. It must also be free of taint and open to all Hondurans to exercise their democratic franchise. At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections.. Charles of Mercury Rising correctly translates this as: "Put enough lipstick on the pig and we'll kiss it."

Sec. Clinton is demonstrating her formidable capacity for "going deaf." President Zelaya said on Wednesday he intended to focus his talks with her on the severe and continuing human rights abuses of the coup regime. Presumably he did so, but she still hasn't said a single word on the subject. Rep. Howard Berman, chair of the House Foreign Relations committee and one of the most powerful figures in the Democratic party, forthrightly urged her in an LA Times op ed to formally designate the military coup and invoke the sanctions that go with it. She ignored him.

Berman's op ed is unusually good. He invokes the multiple credible reports of human rights abuses, the impact on the rest of the elected governments in the hemisphere, and decency and common sense against letting the coup stand. Use it and its arguments to get your member of Congress to put pressure on Sec. Clinton, to write letters to the editor, and to continue to needle the State Department.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Simple answers to simple questions

Glenn Greenwald: Looking back several decades or more from now, who will possibly be able to understand how that happened: the almost perfect inverse relationship between one's culpability and the price they paid for what they unleashed?

A: People who've been alive long enough to see the same thing happen again and again to the 'unleashers': Henry Kissinger, George H.W. Bush, all the Iran-Contra criminals who came right back into policy-making positions under Bush II...


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Honduras elections in the U.S.

From Prensa Latina; my translation:
Coup government continues with illegal elections

Tegucigalpa, 19 August (PL) - Despite rejection internally and by the international community, the de facto government of Honduras continues to prepare for the general elections scheduled for this November.

Members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the National Registry of Persons (RNP) are in the United States to process voter registration for Hondurans living there. Reports in local media reveal that the delegation now in the U.S. is headed by the director of elections, Carlos Humberto Romero, and that his intention is to get help from associations of Honduran emigrants to promote the expatriate vote, for which they lack the support of the consular offices.

These diplomatic offices reject elections conducted under the de facto government, installed here by the [mob] military on June 28. According to the daily El Heraldo, the group headed by Romero dismisses the possibility of going through the consular offices.

The technical deputy director of the RNP, Luis Fernando Suazo, said that their presence in the U.S. is for the purpose of processing changes of address, taking applications for identity cards for youths who will vote for the first time, and preparing the infrastructure for setting up voting locations. The coup government is trying to organize voting in the North American cities of Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, New York, and New Orleans, Honduran papers reported.

The National Front Against the Coup reiterated in several communiques its complete opposition to recognizing any election taking place under current conditions. The international community maintains a similar position, according to statements by the United Nations, the countries belonging to the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Organization of American States (OAS).

On Tuesday [8/18] the foreign ministers of Argentina, Jorge Taiana, and of Mexico, Patricia Espinosa, said that Latin America would not recognize any government created under the de facto regime in Honduras.

The OAS has not, as far as I know, made an official joint declaration that they will not recognize the results of elections taking place under the coup government. Our government could exert some real pressure and walk its multilateral talk by proposing such a resolution, which would be all but certain to pass unanimously if it had U.S. support.

Latin Americanist blogger Boz says there's nothing stopping one of the other OAS governments from introducing that proposal. What may be stopping them is the fear that the U.S. would block or abstain, making any resolution considerably less meaningful and risking the exposure of divisions in the organization (Canada, Colombia, and/or Peru might take the opportunity to follow the U.S. lead).

That concern isn't imaginary, to judge from recent State Department briefings and Amb. Llorens' response to a visiting U.S. delegation that asked about a possible election boycott. The official line appears to be that U.S. rejection of the Honduran election results now (or any other actual pressure on the coup government) would "harm the climate for negotiations" -- as if any real negotiations were happening now or are likely to in the absence of such pressure.

Deadlines are approaching: Official campaigning begins August 31, and the ballots are to be finalized for printing on September 5. If our government doesn't clearly state in the next few days that it won't recognize the results of elections conducted under the coup regime, then one of the OAS member governments that has already taken that position will have to force the issue in the OAS to get the U.S. on the record.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission will have completed its investigative visit to Honduras by August 22. In the face of their preliminary findings [Sp. link added 24 Aug, Eng. 20 Sept.], the Amnesty International report, and the report of the earlier independent international human rights observation mission, it should be impossible to avoid recognizing that the conditions for legitimate elections don't exist, and cannot exist unless Zelaya is restored to office.

Update: 4:30am, 20 Aug - Late night thought: No visa problems for functionaries of a coup government that our government supposedly doesn't recognize, who come here to arrange election infrastructure explicitly designed to bypass the offices that represent those voters' legitimate government. This really is a free country.

Update 2: 7:30pm, 20 Aug - Carlos Reina, Zelaya's minister of government and head of Liberals Against the Coup, mentions in an interview [Sp.] a UN resolution being discussed this week that would put the General Assembly on record as not recognizing the elections unless Zelaya is restored to office by September 1. Excellent if it happens; every little bit helps.

Update 3: 11:40am, 24 Aug - Support for my speculation about the OAS maneuverings from Mark Weisbrot. Noting the existing resolutions against recognition of the elections, he projects:

The next step would be for the Organization of American States, where all countries in the hemisphere – except Cuba – are represented, to take this position. But it operates mainly by consensus, and the United States is reportedly blocking that move. Of course, Washington can’t be seen to be the sole opposition, so it has recruited some right-wing governments, according to sources involved in the OAS discussions: Canada and Panama, along with a couple of other small country
governments that can be bribed or bullied into joining Washington’s rapidly shrinking regional coalition of the willing.

I'd much rather be proved wrong by a unanimous OAS vote this week...

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Honduras: What about those elections?

As the days peel away, it's time for a closer look at that festival of democracy, the Honduran elections, and what approach the popular movement will take to them.

The big spike in repression against anti-coup demonstrators of the last two weeks, combined with the clear signals by the U.S. government that it's content to sit by silently and pretend that the November 29 elections will wipe the slate clean, presents supporters of genuine democracy with the decision of whether to boycott the elections or participate in them.

The choice might seem obvious, but is complicated by several factors. One of the biggest is the presence on the ballot for the first time in many years of an independent candidate who is a long-standing leader of the popular movement, Carlos Reyes. In addition to succeeding in having his 70,000 signatures accepted by the election authorities, Reyes lucked into [Sp.] the 'end spot' on the ballot, the next best thing to being first. There is also another left candidate, Cesar Ham of the Unificacion Democratica (positioned next to Reyes on the ballot); the UD has gotten about 2% of the presidential vote in the last several elections.

Honduras holds elections for president, Congress, and mayor at the same time, every four years. Voters mark different ballots for president, legislature, and mayor (of the two big cities), and place them in separate ballot boxes (urnas; hence, the hypothetical fourth ballot asking Congress to call a constitutional assembly, the 'Cuarta Urna'). For president, a voter marks an X below the picture and party symbol of his/her chosen candidate. The mayoral vote works the same way.

On the Congressional ballot, voters don't directly choose candidates, but vote for a party. [See update at end of paragraph.] Before the election, party bosses draw up a list of Congressional candidates for each department (the equivalent of states here), and the proportion of the votes each party receives in that department determines how many of those candidates become members of the next Congress. Position high on the party list is obviously crucial, and is determined in secret by the people who run the party. Like I said, a festival of democracy. Update: 6:40pm, 23 Oct - The Congressional ballot contains a row of candidates for each party, with pictures and names. In theory, voters can pick and choose among the members of different slates; in practice, they tend to vote for those of the same party as their choice for president. In the Liberal and National parties, the congressional slates are chosen in the primary elections. Each presidential candidate puts forward a slate for his/her "movement". The tendency to straight-ticket voting is even more intense in the primary, so a good number of congressional incumbents who signed up with the losing presidential candidates' slates find themselves out in the cold this November.[End update]

The National and Liberal parties that have dominated Honduran politics for decades represent two wings of the economic elite who run the country [link added 3:05pm, 16 Aug]. This explains the backing of big funders of both parties for the coup, and their outrage at Zelaya's increasing closeness to the popular movement, particularly during the second half of his term. The movement for constitutional reform, the coup that was intended to stop it cold, and the resistance to the coup have begun to forge a possible realignment: an informal coalition of reformist and genuinely liberal Liberal Party members, UD partisans, supporters of the mildly social democratic indigenous party PINU, and the large group of poor and working-class Hondurans who don't trust the big parties and don't usually vote (turnout runs less than 50%), but who might be inspired to support an independent reform candidate.

Before the coup, organizations backing Reyes' candidacy were hoping to use the November elections to expand the voter pool and build pressure for constitutional change, since both major party candidates, Zelaya's 2005 National Party opponent Porfirio Lobo and his own former vice president, Elvin Santos, opposed the 'Cuarta Urna' campaign.

Now? Both major party candidates also supported the June 28 coup, whatever they may say now or in the future. Many governments in the hemisphere (but not yet, shamefully, our own) have explicitly refused to recognize the winner of elections held under the coup regime. Conditions for free and fair elections simply don't exist. Reyes himself has been arrested in anti-coup demonstrations, and on July 30, at the roadblock at Durazno in northern Tegucigalpa, was seriously injured when the police beat and charged after participants. After surgery ten days ago, his doctors advised him not to go in the street again for another month. Police have refused to guarantee his safety.

The National Party is the clear front-runner entering the campaign; Zelaya only narrowly beat Lobo in 2005, and the Liberal Party is severely split and discredited as a vehicle for change. As the probable winners, Lobo and his backers have the most to lose from the delegitimizing effects of an election boycott. This could explain the recent article in the National Party pro-coup newspaper El Heraldo that talks up a possible left-liberal voting coalition in November. More evidence that an election boycott is a highly unpleasant specter for the powers-that-be was the reaction of U.S. Ambassador Llorens when confronted with the idea by popular movement leaders he'd invited for a chat.

Stay-away boycotts can be effective for very large, well-established mass organizations that have already shown their strength at the polls. But an election boycott is a really tough way for a still-emerging, fragile coalition to start out. A movement that's building for long-term constitutional change, that depends on expanding the electorate, would benefit from giving supporters something to do at the polls that sends the message of rejecting the coup-supporting major parties and supporting change, while not actually legitimizing the election by casting a valid ballot. After all, they're going to want those new and infrequent voters voting for real in the not-too-distant future, and the experience of participating is invaluable preparation.

I'm not in on the discussion that is starting to happen among the organizations involved, and I'm sure there are many strategic and tactical considerations of which I have no inkling. But I do have one thought, a suggestion to offer for what it may be worth: A campaign to have voters circle the two candidates on right-hand end of the ballot. It wouldn't count as a vote for either one; the result would be a spoiled ballot. But it will be unmistakable, and recorded, in the voting results; each party is allowed to have representatives present when the ballots are opened and counted. The symbolism is also perfect: a circle that encompasses independents, the traditional left, and (depending on the size of the circle) a little slice of the Liberal Party.

Food for thought, offered in humility and the full awareness that my ignorance of the situation probably blinds me to the many problems with the idea.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

August 11: Global Day of Action for Honduras

Since last Wednesday, thousands of Hondurans have been walking along the highways toward Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Tomorrow the plan is for them to converge into demonstrations against the coup in the country's two largest cities.

They've called on supporters everywhere to join in by making tomorrow, Tuesday, August 11, a global day of action for Honduras. The resistance on the part of grassroots Hondurans has been tireless for the last month and a half, a phenomenal achievement in the face of assassinations, mass arrests, beatings, and commercial media lies and silence. Support them tomorrow by attending local actions where they exist (as in DC and Boston [added 9:20pm, 10 Aug]), and by demanding that our government back up its words with action.

It's not just Hondurans' democracy that's at stake. The integrity of every elected government in the region is at risk if this coup is allowed to stand. Letting the clock run out, pretending as if November's presidential elections will erase this violent step backward into the dark but not distant past, sends the clear message that grassroots pressure for real change is "off the table," in the United States as well as Honduras. Our government is sending that message by its inaction.

President Obama has twice recently made what he thinks is a clever dig at those who call for more pressure on the illegal coup regime, noting "the irony that the people that were complaining about the U.S. interfering in Latin America are now complaining that we are not interfering enough." "Interference" is what fake president Micheletti and the coup supporters call Obama's verbal backing of Zelaya's presidency. To equate following our own laws (which forbid continued foreign aid to countries that have undergone a military coup) with our past active support for coups -- real and lethal interference -- isn't clever. It's insulting.

The President and Secretary of State claim to be dealing with the problem of the coup regime "in an international context", but they're referring to Arias-mediated negotiations that they set up, that failed, and that now exist only in their imagination. The Organization of American States' biggest member is not actively supporting that body's efforts to get the coup regime to face reality, and as a result Micheletti feels free to jerk them around.

The economic pinch, which of course falls most heavily on the Honduran majority, the poor and workers who form the basis of the resistance, is beginning to be felt by the coup's backers. The economic slowdown is the result of a combination of pressures: the resistance's strikes and road blockades, brief trade shutdowns by neighboring countries, the "pause" of World Bank and Inter-American Development lending, the cutoff of Venezuelan oil with its favorable payment terms, and a severe drop in tourism resulting from the recession and the coup. Cracks are forming in the coup coalition, as some of the businessmen and politicians try to distance themselves from the military. [Update: 9:30pm, 10 Aug - More cracks appear: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on the illegality of the military's actions on June 28. It could be more delaying tactics, or the beginning of a way out for the coupmakers.]

Now is the moment when action can make a difference.

Email the State Department [link fixed 7:35 pm, 11 Aug; click 'email a question/comment' tab] and White House to tell them to:

- Recognize and condemn the human rights violations being committed by the coup regime in Honduras.

- Formally declare it a military coup to trigger the Foreign Assistance Act: cut off U.S. economic aid and withdraw Ambassador Llorens.

- Revoke the diplomatic visas of all coup participants and supporters.

- Freeze the U.S. assets of all coup officials and funders.

- Join with other governments in the hemisphere to pledge not to recognize the results of the November elections unless they're held under the legitimate elected government headed by Pres. Zelaya.

[A different version of the above is guest-posted at A Tiny Revolution].

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Media suppression: a human rights abuse

The coup regime in Honduras has just ordered the shutdown [Sp.] of Radio Globo, which has consistently provided the most complete coverage of the resistance to the coup. Honduran media that have managed to keep functioning have done so by extensively self-censoring.

This is an outrage, a crime, and a violation of human rights.

Venezuela's attorney general has recently proposed a new media law whose broad language would allow the government to shut down hostile broadcasters and publications; it's to be introduced to the Venezuelan legislature sometime this fall. Yesterday, a group of Chavez supporters attacked the offices of Globovision, a private television broadcast channel that is, like most of the private media there, anti-Chavez. This, too, is an outrage.

Media suppression is bad, mkay? It's bad when legislated by elected governments, bad when it's done by thugs purportedly acting on their own, and bad when done by military-installed, illegitimate regimes whose police are beating up and arresting peaceful protestors. It would be bad at any time, but it's particularly damaging at this moment. People inside and outside Honduras are working hard to make public the abuses on the part of the Honduran coup regime, including media suppression, and to get some acknowledgement and criticism of the repression by U.S. government spokespeople. The silence has been deafening so far.

Actions to intimidate and shut down media by leaders who've provided concrete support for Zelaya's restoration threaten both to overshadow the Honduran coup regime's actions and provide a ready distraction for right-wing U.S. coup supporters in Congress who already see Zelaya and coup opponents as Chavez pawns. A recent LA Times feature on Daniel Ortega's attacks on press enemies will come in handy for others who insist on framing this military coup as a regrettable but understandable defense of "democracy" against the spreading menace of "socialist strongmen" in Latin America.

The situtation in Honduras is not about Hugo Chavez or Daniel Ortega. It's about the attack on an already seriously weak democracy there in the face of popular demands for real participation. It's about the determination of a tiny stratum of rich business families and their military henchmen to maintain their traditional monopoly on power. They can't stop the protests, they can't stop the news from getting out to the world on the internet, but they will do whatever they can to keep Hondurans, most of whom do not have internet access, from hearing what's going on in their own country.

I have to go; will add links later, but wanted to post the urgent news about Radio Globo. Update: 8:30pm, 4 Aug - Edited and links added.

Update 2: 6:00pm, 5 August - Radio Globo is defying the order to shut down, which was produced by the military and executed by a military judge. Good for them, and good news for Hondurans. Al Giordano has the details along with another piece of good news: The mayor of San Pedro Sula, who was driven out by coup supporters on July 2, is safe in exile, and the municipal workers have since that day prevented the attempted usurper, Micheletti's nephew William Hall Micheletti, from taking office. National marches are planned for San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa early next week.

Do your part to support them: If you're in Boston or Chicago, attend and/or promote the events of the Honduran speaking tour. Wherever you are, call on Sec. Clinton and Pres. Obama to do more to increase the pressure on the coup regime: freeze U.S.-held assets of coup backers and participants, revoke more diplomatic visas, start withdrawing U.S. military from the base at Soto Cano (Palmerola), denounce the regime's media suppression and the beatings and arrests of peaceful protestors, and make clear that the U.S. will not recognize a government resulting from elections held under the coup regime. Get your representative to sign the Congressional letter to Pres. Obama with the same message.

Soldiers today attacked students and administrators at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, in the capital, using batons, tear gas, and live bullets. Hundreds may be wounded. [Update 3: 4:00pm, 13 August - Dozens, in the event, but the rector of UNAH, who had been keeping the university neutral on the coup, is suing the police over the invasion of the campus, where she was one of those beaten.]

Update 4: 4:50pm, 13 August - The Venezuelan legislature will not be taking up the legislation proposed by the Attorney General anytime soon. This news is at the end of a hostile item on the legislature by AP reporter Christopher Toothaker. The people who wreaked havoc in the Globovision offices were arrested (via, no link). The people who ordered the shutdown of Radio Globo in Honduras continue to severely beat [Sp.] members of Congress and others peacefully demonstrating against the coup, and no one in the U.S. executive branch seems to be a bit bothered. Huh.

[Image: Eduardo Maldonado, director of Radio Globo.]

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