Exactly 30 years ago (1979) the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick wrote a famous, though controversial, article in Commentary that for a group of conservative foreign-policy analysts guided policy toward Latin America during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. The basic thesis of the argument was that as autocratic regimes differed, so should U.S. policy toward them. On the one hand were totalitarian regimes, more encompassing in their control over society and the state and thus more oppressive and durable. On the other were traditional authoritarian regimes, less complete in their domination over politics and society, less suffocating, more temporary. (Not coincidentally the former were also often of the Left and opposed to U.S. interests; the latter often more rightwing and shared the U.S.’s anti-communist orientation.) The implication was that the U.S. should weigh human rights abuses differently under these two different dictatorial systems.
Today we’re seeing a similar cognitive and moral dissonance over Latin American democracy in the rhetoric around Venezuela and Honduras. This time, though, it comes from both the Left and the Right. Commentators, activists and writers are holding democracies to double standards based on their ideological orientation. The assumption for each is that a human rights abuse under one government is worse than under another. They aren’t. They’re the same.
The victims of this repolarization or return to Cold War discourse are the basic liberties and principles of democracy. If this continues the basic consensus that has undergirded our policy toward the hemisphere from the administration of President George H.W. Bush until the end of the administration of President Bill Clinton may soon join the dustbin of history.
This can be seen no more clearly than in the arguments marshaled to defend the shuttering of the freedom of expression in Venezuela and more recently in Honduras. In both cases, supporters of the respective governments cite the political and ideological biases of the targeted media—in the case of Venezuela a TV station and in the case of Honduras a radio station—to defend the governments’ illiberal actions. In neither case, as despicable as the positions of the stations may have been (and I’m not judging here) were the actions taken by the governments defensible.
This Saturday the eyes of much of the hemisphere will be on
In soccer terms, the game is important because a victory by the
A valid case can be made that the game should be played at a Central American venue outside Honduras (or even in the United States: to be honest, the last time Honduras played in the United States it was a virtual home game for los catrachos given the number of national supporters in the stands). Be that as it may, the key now will first and foremost be to ensure the safety of the players and spectators. It will also be to ensure that the excitement surrounding the game remains self-contained. As the brief "soccer war" between Honduras and El Salvador showed in 1969 (also in a World Cup qualifier prior to the 1970 World Cup finals held in Mexico City), soccer games have the potential to ignite passions that simmer over other issues, causing an eruption of popular emotion that could potentially get out of control if not adequately contained. Anyone seeking to stir things up in Honduras—from within or without—might-well attempt to use the passions surrounding the game as a way to provoke an over-reaction by the security forces, which will quickly be condemned by the international community and give the de facto Micheletti government yet another black eye while deepening the crisis further.
The political crisis has brought out the worst of Honduras. The media has already documented many of the country’s ills since June: the reliance on the military to address internal political problems and the sharp polarization with Cold War echoes as well as political violence, repression and censorship. One nasty phenomenon, however, has slipped under the radar: the frightening nationalist sentiment, xenophobia and racism that have been on display since June 28—the day of the coup. Hondurans on both sides of this crisis have continually failed to recognize that substantial domestic support exists for both Manuel Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, and that these domestic forces are willing and able to mobilize themselves. They have proceeded by first defining “us”—the true Hondurans who “love their country”—and then using racial and national markers to identify a blameworthy “them.”
Since the coup, Hondurans have been crying for leadership from “people who really love their country.” Honduran politicians, media pundits and radio-show callers have repeated this banal phrase ad nauseum. They suggest that “true” Hondurans would never have gotten into this mess and that love of country is sufficient to ward off political crisis. That both Micheletti and Zelaya supporters utter this phrase reveals the patent absurdity of such arguments. People with widely divergent interests can all profess to “love their country.” Democratic politics is about aggregating and balancing interests and developing representative institutions to mediate these interests and protect citizens’ rights; it is not about who can be the loudest cheerleader for the nation.
Unfortunately, these “love of country” statements are not simply vacuous. In addition to being unhelpful, nationalist rhetoric since June 28 has gone hand-in-hand with troubling expressions of xenophobia and racism.
Xenophobia has plagued the rhetoric of both the Micheletti and the Zelaya camps. On Micheletti’s side, condemnation of outside influences and a rejection of multilateralism has become commonplace after the international community’s condemnation of the coup. This is bad news, but it’s not quite xenophobia. Instead, xenophobia has reared its ugly head in the continuous references to “outside agitators”— Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Colombians (from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC)—stirring up the Zelaya supporters. The Honduran Right claims that their country has been infiltrated by Leftist, Communist and Marxist (any Cold War adjective will do, actually) rabble-rousers from all of these nations.
These phantom foreigners have taken the blame for organizing violence and funding insurrection. Some even blame them for the wave of pro-Zelaya graffiti that’s gone up throughout Tegucigalpa. As one Micheletti supporter told me, “Hondurans have never put up graffiti like this. It’s being done by people from those other countries.” Meanwhile, first-hand experience at pro-Zelaya protests reveals that it’s primarily adolescent Hondurans putting up the graffiti.
Perhaps the nastiest case of such “othering” came when the de facto government stripped Catholic priest Father Andrés Tamayo of his citizenship. Tamayo, a naturalized Honduran citizen born in El Salvador, has been an outspoken Zelaya supporter while the historically conservative church sided with Micheletti. The response from the Right: he’s Salvadoran, he’s not one of us.
The contempt for certain sectors of the Latin American Left has both long-term and short-term causes. Historically, Hondurans have always been relatively conservative for the region—the two dominant parties have been right-of-center, and leftist ideology never really took hold here. Widespread distrust remains for the leftist politics of other Latin American countries. The Right’s reaction to Zelaya’s alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the other Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) countries brought this into relief.
People may be right to condemn Chávez’ influence in Honduras and his bellicose rhetoric over these past few months. But this condemnation has fed a bilious blame game, where “true Hondurans” respect the government, while “foreign meddlers” sow instability. Those who use this language deny that Zelaya has substantial support in Honduras; instead of trying to understand and communicate with those on the other side, they simply deny their existence and blame it on foreigners.
Zelaya’s supporters are equally guilty of xenophobia and racism, though with different targets. Their first targets are Honduran Arabs, whom they identify as a crucial part of the Honduran “oligarchy,” owning major businesses and pro-Micheletti media outlets. Merchants of Arab origin have long occupied a place in Honduras; ironically, in the early- and mid-twentieth century they played a critical role in challenging the dominance of the United Fruit Company and even supporting labor organizing. As Dario Euraque’s work has shown, this sector was critical in opposing caudillo rule and modernizing the brutal enclave economy, even if these businessmen were primarily driven by self-interest to improve conditions for capital. But few people here remember (or ever knew) this part of the country’s history. Instead, Zelaya supporters have taken to blanket condemnations of the Arabs that, as the argument goes, control this country’s economy and polity. Never mind that these people are Honduran citizens whose families have been in Honduras for generations; their last names mark them as enemies of the nation.
Ironically, Zelaya supporters have unleashed equally vigorous rhetorical attacks against Israelis and Jews. This was initially motivated by Israel’s recognition of the Micheletti government (the only other country to do so was Taiwan). Things turned ugly, however, when Zelaya and his supporters started blaming Israeli commandos for chemical attacks on the Brazilian embassy. And they reached their apogee when a pro-Zelaya commentator, David Romero, shamefully denounced Israelis and Jews as “people who damage the country” and wondered aloud why the world had not “allowed Hitler to complete his historic mission.”
The U.S. ambassador, Hugo Llorens, issued a public condemnation of this unconscionable diatribe, but no one has taken on the deeper issue: the ease with which Hondurans have reached for both foreigners and domestic “others” as the cause of the crisis. The Latin American Public Opinion Project recently noted the low levels of political tolerance—namely, the low respect for the rights of those with unpopular or contrary views—among Honduran citizens. In the last few months, however, Hondurans have displayed a different type of intolerance—this time for those of different nationalities, faiths and skin colors. This second type of intolerance is always deplorable, but in this crisis it has also had the unfortunate effect of displacing blame and curtailing honest debate about the causes of this crisis and the sharp polarization within Honduran society.
As Honduras hopefully moves toward resolving this crisis, leaders on both sides should condemn the xenophobic rhetoric coming from within their ranks. Both sides must own up to the fact that substantial sectors of Honduran citizens—all of whom “love their country”—support both Zelaya and Micheletti. And when the dust settles, Honduras’ new leadership must also reflect on the roots of—and potential remedies for—the troubling xenophobic and racist sentiments that this crisis has brought to the fore.
*Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org conducting research in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He is a Rhodes Scholar and doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, and his research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.
The initial public offering (IPO) today in the Brazilian unit of Spain’s Banco Santander raised $8.1 billion for its parent company—the world’s largest IPO this year. But shares in Santander (Brazil) fell 3.7 percent in its first day of trading due to concerns that the stock was overvalued.
“Santander is giving investors something they want, which is exposure to Brazil… there’s an element of Brazil being in fashion,” said Inigo Lecubarri of London’s Abaco Financials Fund.
With more than 2,000 branches already in Brazil, Santander plans to open 600 more branches by 2013 with some of the money raised. The IPO sale gives Santander’s Brazil division a market value equivalent to that of Deutsche Bank and Société Générale of France.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
OAS Sends Mission to Honduras
It’s been over two weeks since deposed Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya snuck back into his country and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Three months after his removal from power and with the clock ticking down to the November 29 presidential elections, a stalemate drags on between Zelaya and the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti. The Organization of American States (OAS) will give talks another try starting October 7, when a delegation arrives in Honduras. The OAS mission includes high-level officials from Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Canada, Jamaica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, and Spain. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza leads the delegation. The mission also includes Thomas Shannon, who continues to serve as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs while awaiting his stalled confirmation to become U.S. ambassador to Brazil.
Read AS/COA analysis on the Honduran crisis, including coverage of related rifts in Washington.
Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Gabriel Silva, announced on Tuesday that he is preparing to present evidence of new FARC camps in Ecuador to his counterpart, Ecuadorian Defense Minister Javier Ponce.
This most recent disclosure comes amidst a recent thaw in Colombian-Ecuadorian relations more than a year and a half after the countries broke off diplomatic ties following a Colombian incursion into Ecuador during a combat mission against FARC forces in March 2008.
Mr. Silva indicated that Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe has requested the full disclosure of Colombian intelligence on the alleged camps. As a sign of the delicate diplomatic negotiations currently under way, he also insisted that, “The Colombian government has never said it has suspicions of links between the government of Ecuador and the FARC.”
Rafael Ángel Calderón led Costa Rica from 1990 to 1994 and had planned to run in the February 2010 presidential elections, but is now facing the possibility of five years in jail. The sentence—delivered on Monday—is expected to be appealed.
Under house arrest since 2004, Calderón was found guilty of embezzling at least $8.6 million from a $40 million Finnish loan for the country’s social security fund. The money was then distributed among government employees, businesspeople and politicians.
He is the country’s first former head of state to be tried for corruption.
Intervencionismo o mediación. Según el espejo con que se mire, el papel del Presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez en la política doméstica colombiana, tiene tantos detractores y seguidores como en su propio país.
Su cercanía con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)—que según los computadores del extinto Raúl Reyes y miembros de la inteligencia colombiana incluye financiamiento y tráfico de armas para la guerrilla—ha causado que mientras Estados Unidos lo considera una figura desestabilizadora para la región, el gobierno colombiano de Álvaro Uribe haya tenido que aceptar a regañadientes sus buenos oficios para dialogar con el grupo insurgente y así lograr liberaciones de secuestrados.
No obstante, la necesidad de mantener relaciones diplomáticas con un vecino con el que se comercian más de 7.000 millones de dólares anuales y con el que se comparten 2.219 kilómetros (1,379 millas) de frontera—límites ,en donde dicho sea de paso, es innegable la presencia de grupos armados ilegales, contrabandistas, narcotraficantes y miles de refugiados expulsados por el conflicto—se ha dejado de priorizar recientemente por las atrevidas declaraciones de Chávez en lo que a la política nacional se refiere.
Luego de llamar a los colombianos “traidores” e invitarlos a sumarse a la “doctrina bolivariana”, Chávez fue denunciado ante la Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA) por su “intervencionismo” e “injerencia” en asuntos internos. Sus declaraciones motivadas por el convenio firmado entre Estados Unidos y Colombia para la instalación de siete bases militares en el país, impulsaron a cuatro ciudadanos a convocar por las redes sociales Facebook y Twitter a una marcha contra el mandatario que finalmente se desarrolló en más de 100 ciudades del mundo con miles de participantes vestidos de blanco que gritaban al unísono "Chávez, Colombia no te teme" y "¿Por qué no te callas?".
The announcement today by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Rio de Janeiro will be the host of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games is a fitting acknowledgement by the international community that Brazil’s time has arrived. It is also a bouquet to the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and an effort to get the Games—finally—to South America. Beating out Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago (my hometown), the Rio selection was immediately hailed by many across the region and offers the opportunity for Brazil to showcase itself to the world, much as China used the 2008 Games in Beijing.
The Olympics are part of a strategic approach to sport that Brazil has recently employed as yet another means to raise its international profile. Starting with the XV Pan American Games in 2007, also held in Rio, and the upcoming World Cup soccer championship in 2014, the Olympics offer Brazil the crown jewel of international sport, a trifecta only accomplished once before over such a short period of time (the United States also achieved the feat, with the Pan Am Games held in Indianapolis in 1987, the World Cup in 1994 and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics).*
Much will be made of the fact that President Lula’s star power apparently eclipsed that of President Obama, as well as the new Prime Minister of Japan and the King of Spain and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, all of whom dutifully traveled to Copenhagen to implore the IOC to select their respective bid cities. And, indeed, President Obama’s riding in on Air Force One to rescue the bid for Chicago was a high-risk strategy that, had it not been his own home town, the White House might very well have chosen to bypass.
The bill introduced on Thursday by the Liberal Party and backed by the opposition, including the Polo Patriótico party, would fund up to 40 percent of campaign expenses for parties that include more women on their political lists. Five percent of those funds would be distributed according to the exact number of women elected.
The first debate over this bill and the newly introduced law on political reform has placed both the Liberal Party and opposition in agreement that the existing Law on Quotas is insufficient. It provides increased funding if a party puts forward a list with more than 30 percent female candidates, but only 10 percent of women actually participate.
But opposition to the bill exists. For example, Senators Armando Benedetti (La U) and Luis Fernando Velasco (Liberal Party) argue that the percentage of women should not be raised beyond the current levels.
If passed, this would be the first step toward a potential constitutional reform that would introduce a 50 percent female requirement for the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, a considerable advancement for female legislative representation in the Americas.
Events in Honduras have taken a turn for the worse in the past ten days, and, sadly, there have been no capable leaders from whom Hondurans can expect progress. Roberto Micheletti and Manuel Zelaya have shown themselves to be political novices without the maturity and intellect to guide this country out of this crisis.
De facto President Roberto Micheletti can’t seem to make up his mind about whether he wants to be a good democrat or a good autocrat. First, last week, Micheletti let the military and police run amok in the capital. The result: hundreds of people detained and injured and as many as 10 killed. Then, on Sunday, Micheletti declared a state of exception in the country, suspending for up to 45 days (with the possibility of renewal) the inviolability of personal freedom, freedom of assembly, free speech, freedom of movement, and due process. He then proceeded to raid and shut down the two national television and radio outlets that supported Zelaya. Micheletti’s government also refused to allow entry to an Organization of American States (OAS) delegation to enter the country and demanded that Brazil define Zelaya’s status as visitor.
So far, good autocrat, right? But Micheletti hasn’t even been able to get that part right. Less than one day after declaring the state of exception, Micheletti turned on his heels, apologized to Hondurans and said he would try to lift certain provisions this week. Why? First, he received heavy international criticism. As a State Department spokesman lamented, “I think it's time for the de facto regime to put down the shovel. With every action they keep on making the hole deeper.” Second, Honduran congressmen and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal informed Micheletti that the state of exception would leave only two weeks for free campaigning before the scheduled elections, for which they desperately want international legitimacy. Shockingly, it seems that Micheletti—Honduras’ loudest election cheerleader—had not even considered this.
A giant park in the center of Colombia’s capital city has come to symbolize the ongoing struggles of the nation’s internally displaced people. For more than four months, Bogotá’s Tercer Milenio Park was the de facto squatting grounds for over 1,000 families who left their homes because of internal violence, land seizures and overall insecurity throughout Colombia.
On September 9, the Bogotá Institute of Sport and Recreation (IDRD) announced a $200 million plan to restore the park, hoping to transform what resembled a refugee camp into a space that could be enjoyed by the public. The IDRD plan is the final chapter of a back-and-forth saga between the government and representatives of the displaced people in Tercer Milenio Park, under the mediation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
After rounds of negotiations in late July and early August, representatives from the government and leaders of the displaced communities in the park agreed that 1,250 families would move in exchange for humanitarian aid, $493 per family (COL$ 945,000 pesos), sustainable work, safety, the right to dignified living, and relocation to the countryside should they wish to return.
By late August, when the government hadn’t lived up to its end of the bargain, the same communities threatened to re-occupy the park. Tensions eventually cooled, and according to UNHCR, the government should be ready to dispense funds and provide aid by the end of this month.
Already facing the rest of his life in prison, former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori, 71, received an additional six years on Wednesday for charges of corruption. At Fujimori’s fourth and final trial in two years, the Lima court also fined him $9 million for authorizing wiretapping and bribes during his 10-year rule that ended in 2000.
Fujimori had plead guilty to the corruption charges on Monday, cutting short a trial at which 60 Peruvians were prepared to testify against him. By pleading guilty, critics believe Fujimori sought to avoid further embarrassing his daughter Keiko Fujimori, considered a frontrunner in the country’s 2011 presidential race.
Fujimori also avoided probing into an era in which the government is thought to have set up a vast spy network to combat the Shining Path terrorist organization, and then used the network for political gain.
Last April, Fujimori received a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses including murders at Barrio Alto and La Cantuta University. Under Peruvian law, multiple sentences are not accumulative, rather guilty parties serve the longest they have received. Peru’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing Fujimori’s appeal over the 25-year sentence, though observers say the verdict is not likely to be commuted.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Signs of a Solution to the Long Honduran Impasse?
It’s been three months since the overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and two months remain until the presidential election. This week’s episode of the Honduran telenovela saw de facto leader Roberto Micheletti issue a decree silencing the opposition media and suspending civil liberties. He also gave Brazil a 10-day deadline to take a position on Zelaya’s status in Brazil’s Tegucigalpa embassy, where the overthrown leader took refuge last week. But, as AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini blogs for Americas Quarterly, Micheletti seems to have “overplayed his hand.” Honduras’ Congress voiced opposition to the coup and Honduras’ top military commander predicted a resolution within a few days. The Los Angeles Times reports on a meeting held at U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens’ residence Sunday at which even coup backers' support for the de facto government appeared to waver.
Read an AS/COA analysis about the external players working to forge a solution.
Honduran Presidential Candidate Urges Elections
In an interview with PODER360.com, Honduras’ National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo Sosa says that elections can help the country move beyond the current polarizing political climate. The candidate says that those who question the legitimacy of the elections should recognize the legal process in place to move elections forward.
Hispanic Immigrants: Younger, Healthier, Uninsured
A new study from the Pew Hispanic Center finds stark differences in coverage of undocumented Hispanic immigrants and the general U.S. population. Sixty percent of Hispanics without citizenship or permanent residency lack health insurance and almost half do not have a regular place to go when sick. Most say they do not have a regular healthcare provider because they do not need one, which may relate to the fact that the Hispanic immigrant population is younger and healthier in comparison the overall national population.
Latin America Could Light Path for World Recovery
The World Bank’s top economist for Latin America Augusto de la Torre warned that the global financial crisis could mean that as many as 10 million people in the region could plunge into poverty. However, de la Torre told attendees of the Americas Conference in Miami that many countries in the region “are coming out of this crisis without systemic damage and as more attractive destinations for investment.” He described the Latin American recession as “less pronounced” and attributed economic successes to open markets, sound macroeconomic policies, and a resilient banking system.
Access additional materials from the Americas Conference, where speakers included former U.S. President Bill Clinton discussing international policy related to Haiti and Costa Rican President Óscar Arias offered his perspective on the Honduran Crisis.
The attorney general of Venezuela, Luisa Ortega Díaz, requested on Tuesday that Interpol seek the detention of former President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974—1979, 1989—1993) for his role in the deaths of 300 people during the Caracazo street protests in 1989. These protests were sparked by Pérez’ economic reform package and its elimination of gas subsidies.
The detention order is “included in Interpol’s code red, but this is not a guarantee that he will be captured. This depends on the government of the country where he is residing at the moment,” Ortega said last night.
The 87-year-old Pérez resides in the
President Hugo Chávez led a failed coup attempt to overthrow Pérez in 1992.
It appears that Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president of Honduras, overplayed his hand on Sunday when he announced a decree that closed down two media outlets (Radio Globo and Canal 36), dissolved the right of assembly and permitted police to detain suspects without warrents. Just for good measure he also gave the Brazilian embassy a 10-day ultimatum to release elected-President Mel Zelaya, saying that the government would not respect the embassy as Brazilian territory (a violation of diplomatic protocol and what would amount to—according to the Brazilian government—as an invasion of Brazilian territory). And he threw out the OAS delegation that had arrived, saying they had come too early.
In a move familiar to President Zelaya before he was unconstitutionally removed, the Honduran Congress said that it would not support Micheletti’s decree.
A visibly shaken Michelletti issued a televised mea culpa and said the decree would be suspended. But its effects on clamping down on the media and heading off demonstrations were still felt.
The question is: has Micheletti lost it? I mean this both in the sense of his political strategy and his political/institutional support.
First, the wisdom of the move. The coup President has shown a remarkable level of stubborn disregard for the international community—a result in large part of his conviction of the legitimacy of the government’s actions and his belief that other governments haven’t taken Zelaya seriously as a threat to Honduran democracy. But the actions on Sunday have effectively closed off what was Micheletti’s last (narrow) path out of this: the November 29th elections and the hope that somehow, someway the international community would accept them as a path forward and recognize the winner.
Since Manuel Zelaya’s surreptitious return to Honduras last week, the media has focused on the hordes of Zelaya supporters trying to make their way to the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa and the military and police repression that these would-be protesters faced. But there are three faces to Honduran society these days, not two. No doubt, these predominantly urban actors are crucial in this country’s short-term political crisis. But understanding the broader domestic political reality, and what may follow this crisis, also demands consideration of rural areas.
The first face of the current Honduran crisis is the pro-Zelaya Resistencia (Resistance). Tens of thousands of Zelaya supporters from all over the country took to the streets this week. They were met by a repressive military machine. Hundreds arrested and injured, detainees corralled in the stadium and several people killed—these scenes provided a tragic reminder of the military repression that plagued Latin America in previous decades. And yet, Zelaya’s supporters remain intent on reclaiming power and going ahead with the constituent assembly that started this mess. While Tegucigalpa has calmed down after several days of curfews, the Resistance remains a significant political force, capable of mobilizing thousands in Tegucigalpa and other secondary cities and towns.
De facto President Roberto Micheletti’s urban supporters form the second face of Honduras. This group cheers the military in the streets and refuses to believe that people are being wrongfully detained, beaten or even killed. Those Micheletti backers who acknowledge these unfortunate events say that repression is the necessary price in the war against Zelaya’s attempt to sow unrest and install chavismo (Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ brand of politics). Unlike Zelaya supporters, these Hondurans recognize the planned November elections as legitimate. They too are capable of mobilizing thousands of supporters, but their mobilizations also have a strong military flavor.
Posted at 3:10 p.m.
Hundreds of Indigenous people staged protests in several provinces across Ecuador on Monday, voicing concerns over what they perceive to be increased privatization of national resources. The catalyst for the protests is a bill being considered by Congress that indigenous groups say will allow transnational mining corporations to exploit water reserves close to their lands.
In northeastern Ecuador, police intervened to stop the protests, resulting in two injuries.
Leaders of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), who had called for the protests two weeks ago, agreed to suspend the demonstrations Monday. Marlon Santi, president of CONAIE, confirmed Tuesday morning that his group would temporarily halt demonstrations to meet with the government of President Rafael Correa.
But Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said Tuesday that protests in some parts of the country had continued, and that the government would not meet with indigenous representatives until all demonstrations stopped. Nevertheless, the demonstrations have not reached the scale of the CONAIE-organized uprisings that contributed to the fall of President Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutierrez in 2005.
The proposed water bill is widely expected to pass in the legislature, where Correa enjoys majority backing. Correa has accused indigenous leaders of misrepresenting the bill, which he maintains does not seek to privatize access to water.
Ecuadors indigenous peoples make up some 30 percent of the country's population.
Nearly thirty leaders from Africa and South America, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Libyan President Mu’ammar al-Ghaddafi, met over the weekend in Venezuela at the second annual South America-Africa Summit. The goal is to enhance cooperation and create more strategic partnerships, especially in areas of finance and energy. Seven South American leaders agreed to fund a $20 billion institution to fund development projects in Africa and South America, with Venezuela pledging a $4 billion contribution. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet discussed the possibly of funding it as well.
President Chávez announced a partnership with South Africa’s state oil company PetroSA for “oil exploration and development in hydrocarbons" along with energy alliances and projects with other African countries. Also present at the meeting was Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who spoke of the “twenty-first century [as the] century of Africa and Latin America.”
Ghaddafi’s platform at the summit primarily called for a counterbalance to the North’s military treaties and the creation of “SATO” (a NATO of the South) by 2011—the year when Libya is scheduled to host the next summit.
The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) revealed at its annual conference in New York on Thursday 21 new projects, totaling a $258 million investment, for Haiti in 2010. These initiatives will be carried out together with other organizations such as actor Matt Damon’s Water.org—an initiative to improve sanitation and access to water for an estimated 50,000 people in Haiti. The U.S. Agency for International Development and Habitat for Humanity also pledged $4.5 million in 2010 to carry out repairs from last year’s hurricane that damaged 1,500 homes.
The Clinton Global Initiative’s contribution last year—an estimated $170 million—ran 31 programs on the island. The CGI was founded in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton, who was appointed UN Special Envoy to Haiti in May. Clinton met with Haitian President René Préval yesterday.
China will construct a $300 million communications satellite in Bolivia, President Evo Morales announced Thursday.
Morales discussed future plans for cooperation with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, in New York during the annual United Nations General Assembly session. The two leaders’ discussion comes a week after the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency, pledged to assist Bolivia with orbital positions and frequency bands.
The project could be financed with Bolivia’s own resources, Morales told AFP Thursday, adding that securing access to preferential credit from a country like China would help his country. He anticipates the satellite’s launch into orbit within three years. Morales also explained that a satellite would greatly benefit the country by connecting poor Bolivians with the modern world through improved Internet access. This remains a challenge in Bolivia where ITU reports that only 10 out of every 100 people are Internet users—far below Chile, 32 per 100, and Venezuela, 25 per 100.
In 2008, Chinese scientists built and launched the Venezuelan satellite, Simon Bolivar (ABC). For President Hugo Chávez, a goal of that satellite is to secure technological independence from the West.
At first, reports were that that Mexico’s La Parota hydroelectric dam had been scrapped for good due to limited funds. After five long years of opposition rallies, blockades, legal battles, and widespread intimidation, the peasant community of Cacahuatepec in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, could finally give up their fight and claim victory.
But as it turns out, there was no such cancellation. Mexico’s state power company, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), had postponed construction of the 900MW hydroelectric dam citing the country's “sufficient generation margin, the difference between capacity and peak demand.” This is a huge letdown for the people of Cacahuatepec.
Back in 2006, I worked on a story about how the dam would affect the surrounding indigenous peasant community. Located near the tourist destination of Acapulco, residents make a living growing a variety of crops and community-owned lands, known as ejidos. Construction of the $1 billion hydroelectric project meant that an estimated 25,000 people faced the very real risk of being pushed out so that the Mexican government could flood their crops and dry up the Papagayo River. The project faced serious opposition from the United Nations, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the World Bank, which argued that the dam's energy output would be inefficient and would come at a high ecological and economic cost.
So he’s back in Honduras. How Zelaya got in is still a mystery and to the de facto President Micheletti a source of some concern, primarily if it may mean that some segments of the armed forces may have been complicit. That concern will increase as the nervous Micheletti asks the armed forces to enforce his curfew and crack down on pro-Zelaya demonstrators . The clamp down has already caused a number of injuries and reportedly between one to six deaths, prompting a public statement from Amnesty International condemning the government’s heavy handed tactics.
In any democratic transition, the point of change comes when moderate segments of the armed forces decide that the cost of repressing escalating social unrest is too great and break with the government. Such a scenario is looking possible in Honduras. (Remember also the statement of some junior military officers in late July endorsing the San José accord that called for Zelaya to return?) But by no means is it desirable.
Getting to that point implies increased upheaval and turmoil, something that President Zelaya is clearly trying to stoke from his temporary quarters inside the Brazilian embassy The stunt of his sneaking into Honduras (as with his earlier antics of flying over the capital threatening to land and his two-step over the Nicaraguan/Honduran border) are unfortunate efforts to energize his supporters, keep himself in the news and provoke clashes. And they make it difficult for the diplomatic world to support him—even when they are (as they should be) supporting the institutional and democratic/electoral process that he represents and that was overturned on June 28th. It’s just that it would be easier if he weren’t so cynically trying to seize media attention, ally himself with unsavory allies who themselves have little interest in institutional integrity and use his supporters as cannon fodder.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Zelaya Sneaks Back into Honduras, Catapaults Brazil into Center of Crisis
Three months after the military forced him out of Honduras, deposed President Manuel Zelaya reentered the country and gained sanctuary in the Brazilian embassy on September 21. Since then—and at the time of this report—the country remains in a tense standoff. The interim government of Roberto Micheletti closed airports, declared a curfew, and cut water supplies and electricity to the embassy. Police forces broke up protests with tear gas, with some canisters falling inside the embassy’s compound.
Such moves did little to please Brasilia, where the House approved a motion repudiating Honduras’ blockade of the embassy. While Brazil said it did not play a role in bringing Zelaya back into Honduras, officials allowed him to take shelter and reiterated support for his reinstatement. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in New York for the UN General Assembly, urged an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the crisis and requested to be present at the meeting.
In a Christian Science Monitor article exploring Brazil’s role in the center of the crisis, COA’s Eric Farnsworth explains why Zelaya chose that country to turn to. “Seeking asylum with Brazil shows that [Zelaya] thinks Brazil is the neutral voice in the crisis, not the U.S., Costa Rica, [or] Venezuela. He's essentially throwing in his lot with the party he thinks has the best chance to get him restored to power,” said Farnsworth, “It's a tangible representation of a power shift in the region.”
After a year and a half of severed diplomatic ties, the foreign ministers of Ecuador and Colombia met last night in New York to begin talks about restoring relations.
Fander Falconí, Ecuador’s minister of foreign affairs, said the discussions “have begun a process…and we aspire to achieve what our countries desire. Our countries have [peaceful intentions], and this is the message that we want to project.” Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez also expressed a desire for “a normalization of relations.”
The demise of relations between Ecuador and Colombia began March 3, 2008, after the Colombian army crossed the Ecuadorian border in pursuit of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in Ecuadorian territory. The raid left 25 dead including the head guerrilla leader “Raúl Reyes.”
Brazil occupied a central role in Honduras’ ongoing political crisis on Monday when it permitted ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and members of his family to take up residence in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya’s return to Honduras has sparked protests outside the embassy that left scores of demonstrators injured on Tuesday. Another 200 people have been detained by police following efforts by de facto President Roberto Micheletti to stifle protests by quickly imposing a curfew on Monday.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defended his government’s decision to grant asylum to Mr. Zelaya, saying that “Brazil only did what any democratic country would do.” The Brazilian President also admitted to speaking with Mr. Zelaya over the phone and to warning the former Honduran leader against doing anything that could provoke an invasion of Brazil’s diplomatic mission.
The Brazilian and international media are reporting on Tuesday that the embassy's lights, water and phones have been cut off and that the only contact is by cell phone. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin has said his country will not tolerate any actions against its embassy in Tegucigalpa and that Brazil may ask for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the safety of its diplomatic mission. Both Amorin and President Lula are in New York attending the UN General Assembly.
Fame, even political fame, seems to depend more and more on your ability to grab the public fascination—even if it’s lack of respect—than any real attributes. Just the mere aura of media attention confers importance, talent and relevance now-a-days. Just ask the vacuous Paris Hilton, or the duly-elected president of Honduras, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, whose latest tactics indicate that more than resolving the constitutional crisis in a serious manner, he’d prefer to just be in the news. For whatever. Just today (Monday, September 21) Zelaya appeared suddenly in the Brazilian embassy claiming he had crossed mountains, rivers and the military-manned border to re-appear in Honduras to defy the government’s arrest order. And then he gave a friendly wave to supporters from the Brazilian embassy.
This isn’t helpful.
Sure the man was deposed in a coup. (Just a quick side note: as Mary O’Grady wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal, the Honduran constitution does allow for the Supreme Court to try a president and issue a warrant. What it clearly does not say is that it gives them the power to bundle him up and take him out of the country. It also implies that the trial would be transparent and under due process—neither of which was true in the rushed, closed-door “hearing” that was held preceding President Zelaya’s jammy-clad plane trip into exile. The U.S. constitution allows for an impeachment process; but once it has been completed and a president found guilty, it doesn’t allow for him to be sent into exile—most would agree that to be beyond the constitutional order.)
But his antics: first circling over the airport in a Venezuelan government plane, then the hokey pokey at the Nicaraguan/Honduras border, and now this demonstrate a craven need to keep himself in the public eye and to remind the world of his martyrdom, and, in some twisted way, even present himself as a credible politician.
Even in the best of times, under Democratic and Republican Administrations and Congresses alike, Washington’s appetite for things Latin American is limited. On occasion, a crisis breaks through the public consciousness and attracts top-level attention for a period of time, but the ability to sustain a policy that does more than just lurch from crisis to crisis really doesn’t exist. When such crisis does occur, however, Washington becomes fixated on the issue and almost completely neglects other issues in the hemisphere.
Such is the case right now. Since June 28, Washington’s primary focus on the region has been on Honduras. Even the confirmation of the U.S. ambassador-designate for Brazil, Tom Shannon, has been held up by the Senate over dissatisfaction of U.S. policy actions to sanction the government of de facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti. The Senate hold on Tom Shannon, a highly-regarded career diplomat who has served both Democratic and Republican administrations with distinction, was placed back in the summer, even before the September 3 State Department announcement that pre-emptively sought to delegitimize Honduras’ scheduled November 29 elections. Since then, Washington has become even more polarized, so it’s unclear why a hold that was placed before the September 3 announcement would be lifted after the announcement without some compromise on the issues. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Tom for over 15 years and worked with him in the White House, and I consider him to be a personal friend.)
But the practical implications of this stalemate mean that the United States has no ambassador in the largest Latin American country, and may not for some time—even though the issues surrounding Brazil's emergence on the global scene are compelling—all because we continue to wrap ourselves around the axle on Honduras. It’s all so depressingly familiar, particularly for those who went through the 1980s. In fact, some of the Washington players are exactly the same ones who were involved in the 1980s disputes, from both sides. But 2009 is not 1982; and the shape of the hemisphere has changed dramatically. The longer we focus on Honduras, the longer we unilaterally decrease our footprint even further in the rest of Latin America, creating even more of a vacuum for others to fill.
Last week, tens of thousands of Hondurans took to the streets of their capital, Tegucigalpa, to commemorate Independence Day. One group, dressed in the white and blue of the Honduran flag, followed the Civic-Military March to the National Stadium, where soldiers marched, paratroopers landed dramatically, and the crowd cheered for de facto President Roberto Micheletti.
The other group, equally large, dressed in red and marched down Morazán Boulevard for La Resistencia (the resistance), and clamored for the return of President Manuel Zelaya to power while booing the military planes flying toward the stadium. From among the Micheletti supporters, the megaphones exclaimed: “Honduras is the wall that finally stopped Chávez!” Meanwhile, the red shirts cried out, “Which is the way? Getting rid of those sons of … [who deposed President Zelaya]!”
This year, Independence Day revealed the deep divisions in Honduran society following the coup. Now, with President Manuel Zelaya having sneaked across the border and camped out at the Brazilian embassy, these divisions are enflaming again today on the streets of Tegucigalpa. For many years, Honduras was Central America’s most politically stable nation outside of Costa Rica; now, it has become polarized.
Former presidents of Peru and Bolivia spoke out against the recent media shutdowns in Venezuela and expressed an overall concern about the media’s future at an emergency meeting of Inter American Press Association (IAPA). At the meeting, held in Caracas on Friday, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo called the media shutdowns “a virus that’s expanding” and an action taken on by “real authoritarian governments.” Bolivia’s former president, Carlos Mesa, harped on Toledo’s comments saying that “everything that restricts freedom of speech is unacceptable.”
Ecuador closed a television station accused of espionage last month and Bolivia also has closed media outlets. Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner also recently proposed a law to break up Grupo Clarin, a media conglomerate, calling it a monopoly that has been abusing its power in Argentine politics.
President Hugo Chávez has denied accusations that his government is trying to silence opposition voices. Chávez’ government has announced plans to close 29 more radio stations, in addition to the 32 shut down just last month. The Venezuelan government cites invalid broadcast licenses or a failure to renew licenses as reasons for the closings.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez repeated yesterday his intention to jumpstart a nuclear energy program and announced the creation of an atomic energy commission between Venezuela and Russia. Chávez attempted to dismiss concerns over the possible future militarization of the proposed program: “We’re not going to make an atomic bomb, so don’t bother us like with Iran.”
The pronouncement follows news of a $2.2 billion loan from Russia that Venezuela will use to finance arms purchases, including 92 Soviet-era T-72 tanks, short-range missiles and anti-aircraft weapons systems. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the issue saying Venezuelan arms purchases “outpace all other countries in South America and certainly raise the question as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region.” Venezuela has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005.
Earlier this month, President Chávez met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss a possible nuclear partnership. Talk of nuclear energy development, coupled with news of major conventional arms purchases has fueled fears in the United States that Chávez’ actions pose “a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere,” according to State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.
Clinton, Vázquez Worry over LatAm Arms Race
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington September 15 where, during a press conference, they expressed concern about the possibility of a Latin American arms buildup. Clinton referred in particular to Venezuela’s announcement that it would purchase $2.2 billion worth of arms from Moscow, saying: “[W]e urge Venezuela to be transparent in its purchases, clear about its purposes. They should be putting in place procedures and practices to ensure that the weapons that they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organizations, like drug trafficking gangs and other criminal cartels.” Vázquez added that, in a region marked by social inequality, resources should be devoted to poverty alleviation rather than weapons.
Read an AS/COA analysis of the South American arms spending, focusing in particular on recent arms deals forged by Venezuela and Brazil.
Journalists and bloggers, including myself, have been focusing their Central American news coverage on the Honduran political crisis. But, over the last month, it’s become clear that another crisis is unfolding just next door in Guatemala. Drought has hit the rural areas, and hundreds of people have already died in a country plagued by chronic malnutrition. Initially, this crisis hit Guatemala’s “dry corridor,” but it has now affected at least six other departments in the western part of the country, where the concentration of indigenous people is higher.
President Álvaro Colom has declared the crisis a “public calamity,” and, if Congress approves this classification, it will hasten the flow of international aid and speed up domestic budget allocations. No doubt, we must all hope that the government and the international community can act swiftly to prevent this crisis from getting further out of control. But we must also hope that the Guatemalan government will see this as a symptom of deeper problems—namely, that land tenure remains vastly unequal, and the country’s ability to feed itself has declined in recent years.
Recent reports have made note of Guatemala’s chronic malnutrition—49 percent of children and 60 percent of indigenous children under five years old are malnourished. But the missing link is the connection with inequality in land tenure and food insecurity. Land has been the most contentious issue in Guatemala since the colonial period, and dispossession and forced labor for coffee plantations were a pervasive fact of life for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Land remained a central issue in the civil war and the peace accords signed in 1996, which included pledges to provide land to impoverished—and especially indigenous—peasants.
Samuel Moreno, the mayor of Bogotá, pledged today that his city plans to have a 15-mile (24-kilometer) long metro system in operation by 2015—a key component to forming a more integrated public transportation system in a city with over 7 million inhabitants. The estimated cost for the work to be designed by the Spanish consortium Sener-Transporte Metropolitano de Barcelona (TMB) is $2 billion with 70 percent financed by the state and 30 percent by the city.
Plans for the metro system have been in the works since 1999, but were put on hold in 2002 for political and financial issues.
The metro “will define the future of urban development in this city over the next 50 years,” proclaimed Moreno, who has held the mayor’s seat since 2007. Moreno ran for mayor with the promise of a metro system, which he describes as the fastest, safest and least contaminating of all public transportation systems.
The metro system will complement Bogota’s TransMilenio project, which has been hailed as one of the most progressive and successful urban infrastructure projects in Latin America. TransMilenio serves over 1 million persons daily.
President Barack Obama receives his first visit from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the White House today. As a testament to the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship, this will be the seventh time Obama and Harper have met since the new President took office. Health care is not likely to make the agenda, but trade, energy and the environment, Afghanistan, and border management are expected to be discussed.
Americans might not know much about these issues, but maybe they should. For example, Canada is a top trading partner of the United States, with nearly $750 billion in two-way trade in 2008. The U.S. economy is not only fueled by Canadian trade, but also, literally, by Canadian energy. Canada has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, and is consistently one of the top three suppliers of oil to the United States. Along with the need for coordinated environmental management along the 5,500 mile (8,900 kilometer) U.S.-Canadian border, the United States and Canada recently began a Clean Energy Dialogue to help speed the transition to greater use of clean energy sources in both countries. Canada has been a partner in the fight against terrorism and currently has 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Our ability to increase security along the northern border since September 11, 2001, has also depended on Canadian cooperation.