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  • Following Historic Election, Suffolk County Leads the Way on Immigration Issues

    November 14, 2012

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In recent years, states and localities from Arizona and Alabama to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, have passed laws and ordinances to make immigrants’ lives unbearable—what some call “attrition through enforcement.”  Suffolk County, NY (located in the central and eastern portion of Long Island) was until recently a paradigmatic case of such an approach. 

    Only one week after a historic election in which Latino voters played a deciding role in choosing the president, Suffolk County’s new county executive, Steve Bellone, signed an executive order guaranteeing translation and interpretation services to residents with limited English proficiency.  The result: a potential model for how pro-immigrant advocates can work with elected officials to change the tenor of immigration politics in this country.

    Until last year, Suffolk County was dominated by County Executive Steve Levy, who frequently blamed undocumented immigrants for Suffolk’s problems, appearing with famed restrictionists like Lou Dobbs and supporting legislative proposals that targeted immigrants.  Levy and other officials fanned the flames of nativist sentiment in a tense climate that became rife with hate crimes against Latinos, culminating in the tragic hate murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero.

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    Tags: Immigration Law, New York Immigration, Suffolk County

  • Immigrant Leaders Join Together In Solidarity with Alabama Activists

    December 19, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler


    This past weekend, 150 immigrant rights activists from around the country descended upon Montgomery, Alabama, to show solidarity with local leaders fighting against the state’s draconian immigration bill, HB 56, and plan a national strategy for 2012.

    The two-day Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Summit was perhaps most notable for its culmination, a front-page affair.  On Saturday, the activists, who came from 35 organizations from roughly 30 states, participated in a 2,500-person rally and march in the state capital.

    The rally began in front of the state legislature, where the notorious bill was passed.  There, speakers ranging from undocumented Alabamian students to SEIU secretary-treasurer Eliseo Medina railed against the pain being caused by HB 56.  Students told of losing friends, whose families had left the state in recent months for fear of being detained by the police and being separated from their families. Civil rights leaders, meanwhile, warned against the dangers of going back to the “dark days” of segregation in the state.  Orator after orator insisted on the need to repeal the law and build a brighter, more inclusive, future for Alabama.

    The protesters (this writer included) then marched to the mansion of Governor Bentley, who signed the law into effect and has been one of its staunchest supporters and has even traveled abroad to convince investors that Alabama is still “open for business.”  The marchers hailed from all over Alabama—with a particularly strong contingent from the NAACP—and throughout the country, and their diversity was perhaps best encapsulated by a chant that pulsed through the streets of Montgomery:

    Del norte al sur

    Del este al oeste

    Ganaremos esta lucha

    Cueste lo que cueste

    Ultimately, the rally and mobilization made one of the largest public statements against HB 56 since the law’s passage, but it was also important because it signaled the incipient organizing muscle that is being built in Alabama’s immigrant rights community.  Several months ago there were virtually no full-time community organizers working with immigrants in Alabama.  Now, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and its national supporters are working hard to build up that capacity, with the ultimate hope of building enough grassroots power to repeal HB 56.  Over the next months, organizers will be coordinating house meetings to bring people together, as well as further public actions during the upcoming legislative session.

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    Tags: Alabama Immigration, HB 56, Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM)

  • Georgia’s HB 87 Goes into Effect on July 1

    June 30, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In 2004, a film called “A Day Without a Mexican” explored a thought experiment: what would happen if all of California’s Mexican population suddenly vanished?  The “mockumentary” was based on the premise of a magical-realist pink fog that descends on the state and takes away all residents with blood ties to Mexico.  The result? The state’s economy grinds to a screeching halt.
    This year’s immigration fight is showing the prescience of this farcical film.  With states pushing draconian immigration measures to scare away undocumented immigrants, and congressional Republicans introducing additional enforcement measures with no offer of legalization for workers already here, we are beginning to see just how economically damaging these policies can be.  Nowhere is this truer than in Georgia, where farmers are finding it nearly impossible to replace the immigrant workers—not all Mexicans, to be sure—who are fleeing the state in fear of draconian new legislation.
    Georgia’s law, HB 87, mirrors provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, by empowering local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any law (including a traffic violation). Among other harsh provisions, the law also follows an earlier Arizona law by mandating that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) to check that all their workers have legal authorization. It also dictates sentences of up to 15 years for workers who use false identification to get hired.

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    Tags: Immigration, HB 87

  • Georgia’s HB 87 Goes into Effect on July 1

    June 30, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In 2004, a film called “A Day Without a Mexican” explored a thought experiment: what would happen if all of California’s Mexican population suddenly vanished?  The “mockumentary” was based on the premise of a magical-realist pink fog that descends on the state and takes away all residents with blood ties to Mexico.  The result? The state’s economy grinds to a screeching halt.
    This year’s immigration fight is showing the prescience of this farcical film.  With states pushing draconian immigration measures to scare away undocumented immigrants, and congressional Republicans introducing additional enforcement measures with no offer of legalization for workers already here, we are beginning to see just how economically damaging these policies can be.  Nowhere is this truer than in Georgia, where farmers are finding it nearly impossible to replace the immigrant workers—not all Mexicans, to be sure—who are fleeing the state in fear of draconian new legislation.
    Georgia’s law, HB 87, mirrors provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, by empowering local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any law (including a traffic violation). Among other harsh provisions, the law also follows an earlier Arizona law by mandating that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) to check that all their workers have legal authorization. It also dictates sentences of up to 15 years for workers who use false identification to get hired.

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    Tags: Immigration, HB 87

  • The DREAM Is Not Dead

    March 18, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Since the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate in December and Republicans took over the House of Representatives, many people have argued that any pro-immigrant legislation is impossible. The chances are indeed slim, but the movement that emerged to press for DREAM is far from accepting defeat. In fact, if you ask these young leaders, their struggle has only just begun.

    The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act would offer undocumented youth an earned path to citizenship, conditional on college attendance or military service. When the bill failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in December, DREAM students (Dreamers) were devastated. And, to make matters worse, the Republicans’ landslide victory in the mid-term elections indeed made DREAM an unlikely prospect until at least 2013.

    But student leaders have responded with aplomb. And at the United We Dream (UWD) network’s national congress in Memphis in early March, they focused on how far they’ve come and the work that lies ahead.

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    Tags: Immigration Reform, DREAM Act

  • Investors for Immigration Reform

    March 3, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    The last twelve months have been dispiriting for advocates of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).  First CIR didn’t make it onto the 2010 legislative agenda.  Then Arizona passed SB 1070, and other states expressed interest in following suit.  Then the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate and the new House of Representatives leadership changed direction in terms of that body’s approach to immigration reform.  And, through it all, the national conversation kept getting nastier, going as far as proposals to repeal the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship provision. 

    So, amidst all the gloom, are there any glimmers of hope for pro-immigrant advocates? 

    Well, the climate still looks very unfriendly, but a recent push from large investors could augur well for the years ahead. 

    Last week, a group of institutional investors—led by the Comptroller of the City of New York, John Liu, and senior management from Mercy Investment Services, Inc., Boston Common Asset Management, Walden Asset Management (disclosure: I’ve collaborated with Walden on other shareholder initiatives), and the Unitarian Universalist Association—sent letters to roughly 150 CEOs of large corporations asking them to publicly express their support for sensible immigration reform.  The signatories of the letter are no fringe activists—they manage assets in excess of $145 billion, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to manage that money responsibly.

    This may make you wonder: why should investors and corporations support immigration reform?  The answer comes from the CEOs of American corporations who have signed onto Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy.  The Partnership is an alliance of over 150 business CEOs—leading companies like Microsoft, News Corporation, Disney, JP Morgan, Xerox, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers—and mayors who advocate CIR for several reasons, including:

    1)    Immigrant innovation—from 1995-2005, over 25 percent of American engineering and technology companies had at least one immigrant founder.
    2)    Young immigrant talent—educating high-skilled immigrants without creating pathways for them to stay and work here is counter-productive.  As the American population ages, we should be embracing talented young people, not showing them the door.
    3)    Complementary immigrant labor—immigrants mostly do labor that is complementary, rather than substitutive of, non-immigrant labor.  Consider agriculture, where each on-farm job (such as picking fruit, mostly done by immigrants) supports over three off-farm jobs, such as processing, shipping, and sales.

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    Tags: Immigration

  • What Will Immigration Reform Advocates Learn from DREAM’s Defeat?

    January 10, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Anyone who has ever played on a bad Little League team will recall the age-old wisdom that you learn more from defeat than from victory.  While winning prompts celebration, losing demands critical reflection.  The same is true in politics: any advocate worth her salt will use defeat as a learning opportunity for future efforts.

    Now is just such a reflective moment for the movement for immigration reform, which, after losing the DREAM Act via a Senate filibuster, has come up empty-handed in the Obama administration’s first two years.  Advocates must now ask themselves how they could have done better with regards to legislative strategy.  The DREAM story suggests that this inquiry should revolve around two concerns.  First, were advocates of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) too slow to shift to supporting piecemeal legislation?  And, second, did these movement and congressional leaders advance the optimal piecemeal strategy by focusing exclusively on the DREAM Act?

    Costly Compromise

    The DREAM Act centered on a path to legalization for undocumented high school graduates whose parents brought them to this country as minors.  The price for a path to citizenship would have been attending college or serving in the military.  Since its introduction in 2001, DREAM has enjoyed bipartisan support, because it focuses on a highly sympathetic group of immigrants—students—who bear no responsibility for their undocumented status.

    But, in the hyper-polarized 111th Congress, DREAM became extremely controversial.  First, the bill failed to overcome a filibuster before the mid-term elections.  Then, during the lame-duck session, despite majority public support for DREAM, the prospect of another Senate filibuster prompted DREAM advocates to shifting their focus to the House of Representatives.

    Nonetheless, the Democratic leadership was unsure if DREAM could pass even the lower chamber.  Eventually, Democrats modified the bill to pre-empt Republican objections—they reduced the age limit (from 34 to 29), lengthened the time period for citizenship (to a 10-year wait before being able to apply for citizenship), eliminated DREAMers’ eligibility for certain government benefits during the 10-year waiting period, and increased the fees beneficiaries would have to pay.

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    Tags: Richard Lugar, DREAM Act, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Bennett, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

  • DREAMing of Citizenship: An Interview with Gaby Pacheco

    December 15, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    With the House passing the DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act last Wednesday and the Senate set to vote on it as soon as this Friday, now is a good time for a personal account of what’s at stake with DREAM. 

    Gaby Pacheco, a 25 year-old undocumented immigrant whose parents brought her from Ecuador to the United States at age 7, has been an outspoken advocate for DREAM since 2004.  In addition to her work with Students Working for Equal Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, she joined three other undocumented students on the Trail of Dreams earlier this year—a four-month walk from Miami to the nation’s capital—to call attention to the plight of the roughly 2 million undocumented people brought to this country as minors.  We spoke about her experience as an undocumented child, her involvement in DREAM advocacy and some of the difficult compromises involved in getting the DREAM Act through the Congress.

    Altschuler: I was hoping you could start out by telling me a bit about your personal story and how you became aware of the immigration issue.

    Pacheco: I’ve been in the United States for 18 years.  I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but I was raised in Miami, Florida.  I started in the 3rd grade, and I scored really high in math and science, so I was put in a gifted program.  That gave me confidence to believe in myself, and my teachers instilled in me a great desire to achieve and persevere, with the idea of achieving the American dream—that if we work really hard, we can achieve anything that we set our minds to. 

    At elementary school, I was in the choir, and I would stay after-school helping the teachers grade papers.  I guess you could call me a teacher’s pet, but I just really loved school.

    In middle school, I started getting into honors classes.  In high school, I took AP classes, and I was part of the cross-country, basketball and the track-and-field teams. I was part of the ROTC program with the Army and the Navy and was one of the top students in the school. 

    The first time I started finding out that there was something wrong was in the 8th grade.   One of my two sisters had finished high school, but she wasn’t able to go to school and continue her path—she wanted to be a nurse.  It shocked me, so I started working even harder.  And then in 10th grade, I took Drivers Ed, and I took all the paperwork that they’d given us.  They told me, “All you need to do is fill out these papers and they’ll give you your learner’s permit.” So I did do that, and I was really happy, but then I got turned down.  And then my dad said, “That’s OK, we’ll just go to another office.”  But then I kept getting turned down.  I was missing a paper that was going to stop me—not only from driving, but also potentially from going to college.

    In 12th grade, when I graduated from high school, I confronted that issue.  But, thankfully, Miami-Dade College opened the doors to me and other students.  I was able to excel.  I was student government president—not just of my college, but of the 28 colleges in the whole college system in the state of Florida.  In 2006, I was representing 1.1 million students and had the opportunity to meet with the governor and senators and promote legislation that actually became law.  I was really proud of myself.  When I graduated from college, I thought I had proven everybody wrong, and maybe there was some way that I was going to be able to somehow find a reprieve.  But I went to lawyers, and they told me that wasn’t going to happen. 

    Altschuler: How did you get involved in advocating for the DREAM Act?

    Pacheco: I became an advocate for the DREAM Act in 2004.  And now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we get the DREAM Act passed. 

    I’m formally connected to, which does online organizing.  And I came from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and I was one of the founders of Students Working for Equal Rights in the state of Florida.  From four of us that used to meet to try to pass the DREAM Act, we now have 16 chapters throughout Florida.  Students Working for Equal Rights is part of the United We Dream network, which is led by students and represents 26 states.

    This year, along with Felipe, Carlos and Juan—we walked from Miami to DC. And last week, I was able to witness passage of the DREAM Act from the House gallery.  This week, we’re looking forward to talking to our senators to try to get a favorable vote either this week or next week for the DREAM Act.

    Altschuler: Could you share with me your position on the DREAM legislation in its current form, after negotiators opted to reduce the age limit (from 34 to 29 years old) and the extension of the waiting period for citizenship (10 years before one can apply for citizenship) to get the bill through the House?

    Pacheco: For me, it was really tough to see the DREAM Act change, and change in such a dramatic way.  Now it will leave out my sister, for instance.  The reason I’ve been fighting so hard has been for her.  Actually, December 14, is her birthday—she turned 31.  And so I thought that the legislation would have passed by now, and I thought that if the legislation changed, it would be for 30 or under.  She was fighting so hard, is so bright—she wants to be in the Air Force—and now will be left out, unable to do anything. 

    But at the same time, it’s still good legislation, and it would still allow potentially 1 million students to fulfill their dreams.

    Altschuler: Can you tell me about the discussions between the pro-DREAM groups about the compromises that were on the table?

    Pacheco: For us, the compromises and the changes came at a high cost.  But, at the same time, we understood that they were needed to push forward and have the bill where it is today.  For us, that was the bottom line.  We don’t want the legislation to change anymore, because we don’t want to lose any more students.

    So, as a collective, at all the different stages, we did have a call where we discussed it, and everybody took a vote.  The majority—and it was almost unanimous—felt that this was what we needed to do, and that we needed to move forward.  But making sure that we are keeping our leaders responsible—making sure that these changes would allow more senators to vote for it.

    Altschuler: How concerned are you about the possibility of there being further concessions to DREAM—for instance, on enforcement provisions—to get it passed in the Senate?  Would you and other pro-DREAM groups stay on board?

    Pacheco: There are definitely concerns about what might get attached to it.  And I think a lot of people are aware of where the limits are going to be.  But, because we haven’t seen the language yet, we’re just worrying about pushing it forward.  At the same time, we respect the decisions that the organizations from border states make.  They’re the ones that will be most affected, and their voices will be crucial in how we want to move the legislation forward.  Because we do not want to hurt people in the process of helping others.  And that’s one of the beautiful things about being united—that we can have these conversations and say, “Arizona, how do you feel about this?  Texas, how do you feel about this?  California, how do you feel about this?”  Because we’re a family, we’re a community, and we need to make sure that everyone’s going to be OK.  So there will probably be a time when we have to talk if the legislation comes with extreme things that we cannot allow.  And I think we’ll stand together if it does have things that are unacceptable to our community.

    Altschuler: Can you tell me about the recent activities in which you’ve been involved to promote DREAM?

    Pacheco: Tuesday was an incredible day.  We had faith leaders from all different religious backgrounds and states come to DC.  In the morning, we had a press conference, and the different religious leaders had the opportunity to speak to say why it’s important for DREAM to pass.  We had organizations that represent millions of people saying that this is something they want.  Also, the faith leader who was leading the press conference said, “If the senators don’t pass this, they’re going to have to deal with us, and all the Christians, Muslims, and Jews that are represented here.  We’re going to open our universities and colleges, and we’re going to go against the laws, because they’re going against the will of God.”  And it was really amazing to see older preachers saying, “We’re going to do civil disobedience and they’re going to have to go through us to get to these students.”  It fills our souls and our hearts. Having people from the faith backgrounds supporting us is really key.

    There is also the Jericho Walk around the Senate by the students.  And the faith leaders joined, and they went to every single one of the buildings and the Capitol, where they had the students in the middle and the religious leaders praying around them.  And, before that, all the students got together and sang the national anthem.  And after that, we walked into the Senate Hart building, where there were prayers, and then the religious leaders did pray-ins in Senate offices with the students.  We went to the offices of Senators Sessions, Lemieux, Hutchinson, Landrieu, McCaskill, Brownback, and many others.

    Altschuler: One final thing—assuming the DREAM Act passes, what would becoming a citizen mean to you?

    Pacheco: It would be a golden key for success.  It would be the ability to use the talents and gifts that I have to give back to this country.  The DREAM Act would mean the realization of the dreams that I have, and unleashing the potential of hundreds of thousands of students throughout the United States.

    *Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to  He is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.

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    Tags: Immigration Policy, U.S. Congress, DREAM Act

  • Key Questions as DREAM Debate Heats Up

    December 13, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Last week, immigration reform advocates cheered as the DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act passed the House of Representatives. DREAM, which would provide a path to citizenship to undocumented youths brought to the U.S. by their parents conditional upon them attending college for two years or serving in the military, was all but certain to fail in the Senate. But the passage in the House gave advocates new life. Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has tabled the Senate version of DREAM with the hopes of passing the House version before the lame-duck session ends. Passing the House bill would skip the “conference” process that is required when the House and Senate pass substantively different versions of legislation. The obvious question for now is: does DREAM have a chance? Things are moving very fast in Washington these days, so, while DREAM remains a long shot, it’s hard to make any determinations with any certainty. But certain key questions have become clear, and the answers to them may prove the determining factors in the days to come.

    The most obvious and over-arching question is whether Democrats can get enough of their conservative members and Republicans on-board. Dick Lugar (R-IN) is the first and only Republican who has said he will support DREAM in its current form. But he, like all his Republican colleagues, pledged not to support any legislation before a tax deal was resolved. So, DREAM’s fate is tied to whether and how a tax deal materializes. But there’s also a content issue—namely, how much would DREAM advocates have to concede to Republicans to get the bill passed. This raises a few more questions.

    The second key question is: what concessions might DREAM advocates be willing to make on immigration enforcement to get the bill passed? Republicans have long made the dubious “enforcement-first” argument—namely, that the government must massively increase enforcement (which it has done under Presidents Bush and Obama) before Republicans will talk about legalizing undocumented people (which they consistently refuse to do). So, one way to try to appease Republican senators would be to add punitive measures to DREAM that would threaten more deportations and/or greater militarization of the border. But, as Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, acknowledged to me in September, “the risk [of a piecemeal strategy] is that the enforcement measures are disproportionate”. Already, the Reform Immigration FOR America Coalition has been criticized from the Left for giving up too much on enforcement in its unsuccessful pushes for a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007 and 2010. More recently, Democrats and pro-immigrant advocates made sacrifices on DREAM—e.g. reducing the age maximum from 34 to 29 and increasing the period for legalization to 10 years—to increase its chances of passage. As this week unfolds, tension will rise between A) conceding on their ideals vis-à-vis enforcement and B) the pressure of knowing that this will be the best opportunity to pass immigrant-friendly legislation for the next two years.

    The third critical issue will be whether there is enough time to make a deal on DREAM. The lame-duck session is tentatively scheduled to end on Friday, December 17. With the tax cut debate still raging and the START Treaty and defense authorization issue still on the debate, time is in short supply. The clock could quite easily run out before DREAM advocates get enough senators on their side. That said, the Democratic leadership could alternatively opt to extend the session, which could improve DREAM’s odds. Last year, the Senate was still in session on Christmas Eve, and the stakes seem at least as high this time around.

    Finally, there is the question of whether a longer lame-duck session could prompt another surge from supporters of the AgJobs Bill. Already in this lame-duck session, House Democrats considered pairing DREAM and AgJobs— which would offer legalization for undocumented farmworkers and ensure a more stable workforce for this country’s growers—when they feared DREAM alone would not pass. The thinking on this combination is that AgJobs would increase the votes in favor by bringing in conservative Democrats and Republicans with rural constituencies. Ultimately, House Democrats opted for DREAM only and managed to get it through the lower chamber. If DREAM looks sure to fail in the Senate, though, and advocates have extra time in the lame-duck session, it is conceivable that the AgJobs lobby (growers and farmworkers) could try a final push for a DREAM / AgJobs combination. After all, if they fail to get anything this December, they—like the DREAM advocates—will likely have to wait at least two years for another chance at anything as appealing as what has been on the table this month.

    Given all these questions, DREAM clearly remains a long-shot to pass the Senate in the lame-duck session, but there are still various moving parts that will determine its ultimate fate. So hang on to your hats—the next week or two could make for a wild ride.

    *Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to  He is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.

    Tags: Immigration, Congress, DREAM Act

  • Wikileaks and the Honduran Coup

    November 29, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    The recent release of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks will undoubtedly focus the greatest attention on U.S. policy in the Middle East, but it could also shake things up in Latin America.  Already, one of the leaked diplomatic cables has revealed the United States embassy’s assessment of the Honduran coup as a conspiracy against President Zelaya by the Supreme Court, Congress and military.

    The summary reads as follows:

    The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired  on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and  unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may  have committed illegalities and may have even violated the  constitution.  There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was illegitimate.  Nevertheless, it is also evident that the constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing  clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches  of government.

    The cable then offers a detailed legal analysis of the coup.  It acknowledges that there was reason for concern that Zelaya might have acted—or subsequently act—illegally, and that the Honduran constitution is plagued by ambiguity on matters relating to impeachment.  But it finds that the lion’s share of accusations against Zelaya were either based on supposition or fabrication.  The cable then concludes that the Congress lacked the authority to remove Zelaya, as his removal from power would require court proceedings and due process.  His capture by the military and removal from the country was also completely unjustified. 

    This cable is both remarkable and it is not.

    First, what is not really news: that Ambassador Hugo Llorens, the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration knew that what took place was a coup.  Lest it go unsaid, the Obama administration categorically rejected Zelaya’s ouster all along.  Hugo Llorens, then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and all the other State Department officials involved in this matter were quite clear about the illegality of Zelaya’s ouster and the illegitimacyof Micheletti’s de facto government.

    But this cable is still remarkable for its tone and its level of detail.  By using the language of “conspiracy” and systematically debunking the arguments made by coup supporters, the cable makes the wrong of Zelaya’s removal abundantly clear. Today, the revelation of the Llorens cable is the top headline in Honduran newspapers, where it will hopefully advance public debate within the country about last year’s crisis.

    The cable also undermines the arguments made in an influential Law Library of Congress Report, which argued that Zelaya’s removal from power (though not from the country) was legal.  Conservatives in the United States used this report to claim that Zelaya’s ouster was really just Honduras’ version of a legal impeachment.  Republicans in Congress kept pushing this line, using it as a tool to pressure the State Department and place holds on presidential appointments. 

    This pressure made the Honduras affair a headache for the Obama administration, which tried to wash its hands of the matter by prematurely stating it would recognize the November 2009 elections.   Meanwhile, there was little pushback from within the Obama administration on the details of the events leading to the coup. 

    The leaked analysis by the embassy offers such a systematic rejection pro-coup case, but it was never advanced publicly.  Had the administration made public such an assessment of the Honduran coup—and its implicit rejection of the LLC report—it would have provided a useful tool for refuting the spurious arguments made by conservatives.  Instead, as summer 2009 drew to a close, the position that the coup was a defense of the rule of law gained traction inside the Beltway. 

    This dealt a blow to both the chances of Zelaya’s restitution and defenders of democracy in the Americas more generally. 

    *Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to  He is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.

    Tags: Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Wikileaks, Hugo Llorens

  • Labor's Stand for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Eliseo Medina

    September 8, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Over the last decade, organized labor has become a major player in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).  With more members, resources and political clout than most other immigration reform supporters, union support has become a sine qua non for any potential legislation.  As part of an ongoing series of interviews on the current prospects for immigration reform, I spoke with Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of labor’s most outspoken advocates for immigration reform.  Mr. Medina spoke to me about various issues, including labor’s position in the pro-CIR movement, SEIU’s role in the boycott of Arizona, and the union’s efforts to increase Latino political strength throughout the country.

    Altschuler: How has Arizona SB 1070 affected SEIU’s organizing strategy on immigration issues?

    Medina: When SB 1070 was introduced, we spent a lot of time and energy trying to lobby the legislature, and then for the governor not to sign it. We felt it was unconstitutional, mean-spirited and divisive.  Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful.  From there, we switched to a strategy of trying to deal with the law and how it was introduced.  Our strategy built on the following components:

    Number one, challenge the law in the courts.  We joined with a number of other organizations in Arizona and nationally to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the initiative.

    Number two, we joined with the NCLR [National Council of La Raza], the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and a number of other groups supporting a boycott of Arizona, because we felt that the only way we were going to be listened to was if there was some economic pressure brought to bear on Arizona.  It became apparent to us that this was not a question of good, sound policy arguments, but rather a political and ideological battle.  If they weren’t going to listen to us with their minds, we felt maybe they’d listen to us with their pocketbooks.

    The third thing we did was campaign to bring together different groups in Arizona that were interested not only in fighting 1070, but also empowering the Latino community to advocate for its own interests.  We put together a table of 501c3 and 501c4 organizations with the goal of reaching out to the Latino community, giving them the information they would need to come out and vote in November, and actually getting them to vote.  This would help us deliver a powerful message at the polls.

    Because SB 1070 has begun to rear its ugly head [through potential copycat laws] in 21 or 22 other states, we’ve been working with partner organizations and individuals across the country, lobbying at the state level to stop legislation while trying to make the boycott as successful as possible in order to send a message to other states.

    Altschuler: You mentioned the boycott.  Decades ago, you worked on an organizing effort that led to the California grape boycott. Now you find yourself in a movement boycotting the state of Arizona.  What lessons from your earlier boycott experience can you apply to the current effort?

    Medina: Boycotts work, because economic pressure can really focus the mind.  They also allow the broader public to do something very specific in support of the movement and to express their opposition to SB 1070.  So we have organizations [that] have cancelled their conventions, musicians and artists who have cancelled their performances, individuals who have cancelled their vacations to Arizona—not going to that state is their statement.  A boycott is something that is very democratic, because it’s something in which everybody can participate.  They don’t have to be in the state of Arizona; they can be anywhere in the world and participate.  It helps to build a movement, while at the same time putting pressure on and ensuring that the message about this law is picked up. 

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    Tags: SB 1070, Service Employees International Union, National Council of La Raza, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

  • Grassroots Efforts for Immigration Reform: Voices from Michigan, New York, and Colorado

    September 1, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Over the past several years, grassroots groups across the country have held mass marches, lobbied government officials and used civil disobedience to call for reform of the nation’s immigration system. As part of a continuing series of interviews on the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and the pro-CIR movement, I interviewed grassroots leaders from Michigan, New York and Colorado to explore the strategies of—and challenges faced by—groups in different parts of the country:

    • Ponsella Hardaway is the Executive Director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) in Michigan, a member of the Gamaliel Foundation's organizing network.
    • Andrew Friedman is the co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York
    • Julie Gonzales is an organizer at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) and the Colorado State Director for the Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign.

    MOSES, Make the Road, and CIRC have also signed on as member organizations of the broader Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign to achieve national comprehensive immigration reform.

    Altschuler: How long has your organization been working on immigration issues, and how did it first get involved?

    Friedman: Make the Road has been working on this issue since its foundation in 1997 in the aftermath of unsuccessful national immigration reform and punitive welfare reform that targeted immigrants. Most of our initial organizing campaigns focused on local treatment of immigrants. Back in 2005-2006, it felt like there was some momentum emerging in the backlash to the Sensenbrenner bill [the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005]. That’s when we started to have substantive conversations about tactics and strategies for organizing committee meetings and participating in coalition work, both nationally and locally, on the issue. Since then, we’ve grown considerably, so this time around we were more active.

    Hardaway: MOSES has been working on the issue since the founding of our organization in 1997. One of our members, Holy Redeemer—probably the largest Latino congregation in the city—has been a part of MOSES since the beginning. Because of its involvement, we started out working on local neighborhood issues, like crime and the rise of gangs. Then, out of that, we began looking at the young people who were brought over as children—they didn’t necessarily see Mexico as their home, they went through the Detroit public school system, but they could not go to college without going back to Mexico and paying foreign rates for tuition. So our first big action, back in 2002, was around fighting for in-state tuition for undocumented students, so that they could at least go to college.

    Altschuler: What has your organization learned from the last failed effort for immigration reform in 2007?  How, if at all, are you approaching the current effort differently?

    Friedman: After 2007, we had considerable work to do with our allies—strong institutional allies like labor unions, nationally powerful Democrats—as well as with folks who were not necessarily with us on the issue. We came out of that thinking a couple of things: one, we really needed to build our political sophistication and muscle and two, we needed to ensure there wouldn’t be a split between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win—two major union partners—on the substance of the legislation.

    This time, we were just positioned differently. Our representative in Congress [Nydia Velázquez] was the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Senator Schumer was the third highest-ranking Democrat. So we have been working more on local actions and local relationships to make an impact on the national struggle.

    Hardaway: The biggest struggle in our organization was developing a relationship [with non-immigrant groups on this issue]. In 2007 we aggressively moved to immigration reform without building a strong multi-racial base. There were many African-Americans in our organization who didn’t understand—especially when we used the term ‘civil rights’ of immigrants. African-Americans said, ‘We’ve been fighting for civil rights for a long time. Why is this important for us [if we haven’t won our fight yet]?’  It’s important to have the conversation about how immigration impacts everyone and how we can find common ground around what’s being done to minorities in general in this country and the government’s role in that.

    One of the things that MOSES did do was take on racial profiling. We got together as an organization and discussed racial profiling, working towards an ordinance in Detroit. We also got together around affirmative action, which was a big issue in Michigan. That was where we got a multi-racial coalition. It didn’t focus necessarily on immigration reform, but it took up the common things that affected us all. And then [in 2007-2008] we had some dialogue about immigration from a faith perspective, simultaneous to working aggressively on immigration reform.

    Gonzales: Our coalition [in Colorado] began in October of 2006. Everybody understood the fight, but for us, it didn’t feel like there was necessarily a way to plug in. We weren’t doing the day-to-day lobbying. We needed to find a way to engage the local communities, to make sure everyone could participate, including young people. With the DREAM Act effort of October, 2007, there was creative, new, engaging, exciting work in which people could become involved. We did things in Colorado—like lobby visits with State legislators in Spanish—that helped gear us up for the latest efforts. The RIFA campaign [is focused on] trying to marry those two worlds of political lobbying and grassroots organizing. We don’t have everything figured out, but we’re doing better.

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    Tags: Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, Make the Road New York, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Reform Immigration for America

  • Legislative Prospects for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Marshall Fitz

    August 19, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Despite political pronouncements from President Obama and key legislators early this year, immigration reform now seems to have slipped off of the Congressional agenda.  As part of an ongoing series of interviews on the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), I spoke with Marshall Fitz to explore the current context in the Beltway.  Mr Fitz is the Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress and has been a key legislative strategist for the current Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign. We discussed issues ranging from the congressional politics on immigration in 2007 and 2010, the communications challenges facing RIFA, and the significance of Latino voting patterns for the prospects of immigration reform.


    Altschuler: What have groups pressing for CIR learned from the last failed effort for immigration reform in 2007?


    Fitz:There was a very honest and earnest assessment of why the last go-around failed.   One of the central critiques from that assessment was: we weren’t strong enough politically. We had a lot of support in public opinion polling, but the support was broad and not deep, and we had a hard time contending with the very deep, intense, but narrow band of opposition to comprehensive reform.  That was a challenge that we’ve tried to address in a number of ways.

    On the communications front, we’ve done a lot of additional public opinion polling.  We’ve found the language that connects, language that meets the public where they are. Even when you set up the questions in the worst context, making the toughest arguments, you still get overwhelming support for a comprehensive solution, even by conservative voters.  And that is a function of the American public’s appetite for solving the problem, for making sure that people aren’t getting an undue benefit, but also putting everyone on an even playing field.  And doing it in a way that restores the rule of law, as opposed to continuing to perpetuate the dysfunction.  Those are central components to immigration reform, and they have been in the past, but we haven’t necessarily talked about them in the right way.  So that’s a communications challenge we have addressed.

    Altschuler: And how about on the legislative side?

    Fitz: Another critique of the 2007 failure was that trying to build a centrist legislative reform package meant that you needed a really strong, robust center that could be driven far enough forward that it would drag along the necessary votes.  But constructing the bill to hold the center meant that a lot of the groups on the Left were alienated because they thought that too much had been given up.  Frankly, it was a bill that no one loved—that was kind of the idea—but the core wasn’t strong enough in that center.

    In part, that was because John McCain had walked away from his collaboration with Senator Kennedy because of his presidential run.  Jon Kyl and the Bush White House stepped in the breach, and the bill moved strongly and sharply to the Right.  And yet, our strategy was built around this bi-partisan center, so we had to shift along with that move to the Right or walk away from the possibility of legalizing millions of people living in the shadows. Our willingness to bend and slide to the Right was premised on a promise that, if we did that, we would get 23 to 25 Republicans supporting the bill as we had in 2006.  And at the end of the day we only got 12, and the rest is history.

    So our central insight was that the groups driving the 2007 process from the Left were not strong enough to prevent that rightward tilt.  And the folks on the Right obviously weren’t delivering—they promised 25 votes and produced half that.  So there was a concerted effort to get stronger on the Left and ensure that labor was unified in their approach this go around.  In 2007, SEIU and UNITE HERE had been very strong and willing to keep moving the legislative process forward, but the AFL thought the bill was unsalvageable and opposed.  That rift, where the unions could be played off against each other in various Senate offices, really hurt our efforts to hold the center.  So one important take-away from this analysis was that a central goal of the next campaign had to be developing and maintaining labor unity and alignment with the campaign.

    Altschuler: Is there any chance now of progress on this issue before November or the end of the year?

    Fitz: The short answer is that we can take steps that lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform soon.  A lot of people want to write CIR’s obituary, and I am not among them.  It’s way too premature. Now if the question they are asking is, “Is CIR going to pass in 2010?”, then I agree the answer is no.  But is there an opportunity to do something in September—maybe the DREAM Act or something that can generate more momentum, things that we can do non-legislatively that can continue to build the energy and momentum for a play in early 2011 or some additional pieces in a lame-duck session?  I don’t write off any of those possibilities.  And, as a campaign, we are strongly supportive of DREAM and AgJobs moving—they would help set the stage for comprehensive immigration reform in early 2011. The goal of the campaign remains to solve the current immigration crisis, and the solution is only going to be realized through a broad, comprehensive legislative overhaul.


    Altschuler: How important are get-out-the-vote efforts in Latino communities in 2010?  Can they push legislators to move faster on CIR?

    Fitz: I think there are a couple possibilities.  One is strong Latino voter turnout in 2010 that shows that 2008 wasn’t a flash in the pan, but rather that there’s a building crescendo of Latino electoral clout.  In races where immigration gets teed up as an important issue, looking at Latino voting patterns in those races will be very interesting and important.  Because one thing is clear: the Latino electorate is absolutely incensed with the way that this debate has been carried out.  Immigration has never been their top issue.  They’re like the rest of Americans; their top issues are the economy and jobs and health care and education.  But it has become a litmus test issue because of the demonization.  It doesn’t mean that they’re going to vote for someone who’s against them on every other issue just because of immigration, but I think the Republican brand is on the verge of being irreparably tarnished.

    This could be where the Republicans were in 1962, when they were still very much vying for the black vote.  Their retrenchment and opposition to the civil rights movement effectively lost them the black vote ever since.  They’re flirting dangerously close to that dynamic.  And, if that were to happen, given what’s happened with the minority vote and given the demographic trajectory of the Latino electorate, there will be no way for the Republicans to win the White House again.  So I think that’s made them enormously concerned.  I know that a number of the possible GOP presidential contenders, like Mitt Romney and others, would be extraordinarily happy to have this issue off the table.  That’s a reason that the dynamics could change in the first few months [of 2011].  And that desire will be strengthened if there is another strong expression of Latino voting power in November.

    On the other hand, the Latinos are justifiably frustrated that there hasn’t been any progress on this issue—an issue that they see as having been promised by the President as one that would be taken up during this first session.  Latino disappointment with the lack of positive movement on this issue could translate into ambivalence in November. That, in turn, could diminish the sense of urgency some Republicans might have to get this issue off the table and could make it harder to get bipartisan movement early in 2011.

    Altschuler: Last time, the push for CIR began in the Senate.  Would this still be true for this next round?

    Fitz: Here’s what happened.  In 2005, we anticipated that the Senate was going to move first.  Then, there were two Supreme Court vacancies that consumed the Judiciary Committee and postponed all consideration of everything else.

    During that pause in Senate action, Representatives Sensenbrenner and King put together a piece of legislation, HR 4437, that they passed in December—that was enforcement only, that was vicious, made felons out of everyone, and so on.  So the House actually acted first.  And the Senate responded with a historic immigration mark-up that passed under Chairman Specter’s direction.  It got a bi-partisan vote out of the Judiciary Committee, went to the Floor, and the vote on the floor ended up being 62-37, I think.  So, you had an extreme House measure passed out of the Republican-controlled House, and then you had a very solid bi-partisan compromise comprehensive bill pass out of the Senate.  And, of course, they couldn’t conference them, and frankly no one wanted to.

    Then both chambers flipped in 2006.  The question was: were we going to go back to the House, where they’d produced this horrendous, heinous bill, albeit under the auspices of the deposed Republican leadership?  Or the Senate, where newly installed Senate Majority Leader Reid was totally committed to going forward on it and made it one of the first ten bills that were going to be introduced.  In the Senate, it was like, “We just did this nine months ago.  With Ted Kennedy and John McCain leading the charge, we can do it again.”  And it obviously imploded.

    This time, we would’ve been happy to go House first.  But the House felt like it had already taken so many hard votes, and the Senate hadn’t proved that it could pass the legislation that the House had passed—the Energy Bill being a case in point.  Speaker Pelosi was very clear that she was waiting on Harry Reid to send them a bill.

    So the question in the next Congress will be: what does the make-up of the two chambers look like?  I think everyone believes that there will be significant losses in the House, which could possibly flip—and, if it doesn’t, the margins could be pretty thin.  That may militate in favor of the Senate going first once again, but we’ll have to see what the composition of the Senate looks like, too.

    Altschuler: Most voters in the upcoming elections will be primarily concerned with economic issues.  Can RIFA win the economic argument around immigration on Capitol Hill?

    Fitz: I think we’ve done a fairly good job.  We have had very strong economic messages, like the report that CAP put out with the Immigration Policy Center on the economic benefits of comprehensive reform versus trying to remove 11 or 12 million people.  It’s a $4 trillion dollar swing in cumulative GDP over 10 years.  And that report has gotten enormous citation, and it’s widely credited with bringing home the point that had been made in other studies—that immigration is a net benefit to the country.

    The most fundamental and emotional question in the national debate is what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. To me, there’s no economic argument there.  Legalizing that population is an unequivocal benefit to the economy and to similarly situated economic workers.  And they’re already here and working.  So, it’s not that you’re talking about new people coming in and taking jobs.  The question becomes one of alternatives: are you really going to try to remove all those workers, or do you want to make them legal taxpayers and help the economy get growing again and create jobs?   I haven’t felt like we’ve been losing the argument.  In fact, I think that there are good arguments for why this is a better economic climate for a lot of politicians who might not want to engage this debate to carry it out now.  Because there are less people coming in.  We’d been talking five years ago about 400,000 to 600,000 new temporary workers coming in every year, and we’re not having that conversation now.

    Altschuler: A lot of people have made this economic argument, including groups like the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-CIR business groups.  Are there any prospects for collaboration between the groups that you’re working with and the more Conservative groups on this?

    Fitz: The interesting thing is that, when we did that report with the Immigration Policy Center, the Cato Institute had previously come out with a report that reached very similar conclusions and numbers.  So we had Cato economists on our panels talking about this issue with CAP’s economists.  They went up to the Hill and did briefings, we had a very successful roll-out here, they’ve done some things elsewhere around the country.  So, we really are trying to pair up with some conservative economists and think tanks given the common story we have to tell.  The Chamber has been a group that we’ve long collaborated with, and we’ve continued to develop our relations with the Chamber.  They’ve just been so deeply immersed in these other fights that getting them to pay attention has been challenging, especially when their members are not struggling to get new workers.

    Altschuler: A recent piece in The American Prospect criticized progressive CIR advocates for compromising too much to a conservative security and “rule of law” agenda to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. How do you respond to this critique?

    Fitz: I think it was very misguided and frustrating. What it misses is where the debate actually is and where it has gone.  A lot of the focus has been on the language, rather than the substance.  And the substance hasn’t shifted with the language—the focus of the current efforts that were underway with Graham and Schumer and where we were headed was towards a broader, more robust, and unprecedented legalization.  One that was more generous than the McCain-Kennedy language, even.  And that was because of a recognition that you’ve really got to clear the decks and have as broad a legalization as possible if you’re going to correct the system.  If you’re just going to do half, then you’ve cut into the problem, but you haven’t solved it.

    But the language—that’s what I was talking about at the beginning of our discussion, about learning how to talk about this issue and communicate in a way that connects with the American public where they are.  For example, the American public may not be put off by the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ at all—that’s just the colloquial term they understand.  And when they see you talking about ‘undocumented immigrants’—and I still do, because I think it’s more accurate—that’s kind of like a cue word for, “Oh, he just wants amnesty.”  Because that’s the way that the other side has painted it.  But, in fact, if you just talk about it in a way that meets them where they are, but also talk about what a real, practical solution is, then you actually get to a better policy place.  You haven’t moved to the right in terms of enforcement policy and support for the rule of law.

    And frankly, was the Left ever against the rule of law? The whole point of this exercise is to end illegal immigration as we know it and to restore the rule of law.  And certainly enforcement is a part of that.  The problem is when you continue to enforce the law on top of a broken system that doesn’t match current economic and social realities, you end up with a whole lot of hardship.  But, do we really not expect to be enforcing the law?  We certainly support enforcement, but we also support a rational system.

    Altschuler: Given the push for enforcement in the last few months, there’s been a lot of civil disobedience.  Is the RIFA campaign united on this?  Are there differences of opinion between groups in the coalition about taking a confrontational, grassroots approach to the administration?

    Fitz: Yes, I think there are.  It’s more about where the individual institutions are, I think.  And where individuals are.  I think that people experience different realities, and, because they experience a different reality, they’re going to have a different response to it.  A lot of the people who are service providers in the field and deal with these populations and deal with the stories of ten more people being put into proceedings, another family torn apart—all they see is the administration tearing their communities apart.  They might understand intellectually that there’s more going on—that the process is painfully complex and slow—but what they know is that families continue to be torn apart.  And so their response is calibrated to that reality.

    But, as policy folks working in DC, we understand how difficult it is to get anything passed on the Hill and how, if the Obama administration stopped enforcing the law, there would be zero prospect of ever getting immigration reform that constructively deals with the undocumented population during his tenure as president.  So we weigh those things against each other.  But it doesn’t mean that we’re not equally impacted by the continuing enforcement.   We don’t see it as just par for the course.  So we’ve been really pressing them (Obama and DHS) to change their focus and change their priorities.

    And I think they’ve actually done a pretty good job of trying to do that. It’s a slow process, but I think we are actually seeing the fruits of that effort. They’re deporting more people, but they are also deporting far more people who’ve had criminal convictions than under the prior administration.  So they’re really zeroing in on not just busboys who are trying to work, but on people who have committed crimes, and really prioritizing people who’ve committed serious crimes.  Right now, they’re at about fifty-fifty, and that reflects a very substantial shift.

    On the other hand, there’s still the other 50 percent—and that’s another 125,000 or 150,000 people or so this year—and they’ve got families, and they’re part of communities and part of companies.  And it’s enormously painful—not to mention de-stabilizing.  So we really get it. And that’s the really sad part of this effort; that’s what keeps us going to work every day, despite the challenging conditions.

    *Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to and a doctoral candidate in Politics and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.


  • Organizing for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Deepak Bhargava

    August 17, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    As part of a series of interviews on the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform, I recently spoke with Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change (CCC). (Disclosure: I worked as a consultant for CCC on a different issue in 2008.) CCC has been a core group in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform over the past several years, playing a central role in the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) through 2007 and the current Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign. Mr. Bhargava sits on RIFA’s management team, and he spoke with me on issues ranging from the prospects for reform this year, the potential impact of Latino voters and grassroots mobilizations, and the challenges facing progressive groups in the wake of Arizona’s controversial immigration law and in the run-up to the mid-term elections.

    Altschuler: How did you first get involved with the movement for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)?


    Bhargava: I was there pretty much at the beginning, around 1998-1999. In that period, a group of immigrant leaders approached me and the Center for Community Change with the idea of doing a national campaign to win legalization for the growing population of undocumented people in the US. At that time, the topic was unspeakable in polite Washington conversation discourse—no politician, no national advocacy organization would tackle it. Partly because of the extraordinary quality

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    Tags: Immigration

  • In Honduras, Rural School Jobs Handed to President’s Supporters

    July 26, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In “Power to the Parents,” an article in the Summer AQ, Daniel Altschuler looks at community run schools in Honduras and Guatemala.


    Recent Honduran press reports have honed in on a spate of partisan teacher firings in the country’s primary education program for remote, rural communities, PROHECO (Honduran Community Education Program, Programa Hondureño de Educación Comunitaria). Journalists have documented how President Lobo's Partido Nacional has replaced field staff with party activists, canceled teachers' contracts to install party supporters and undermined parent organizations' autonomy.

    These reports suggest that the new ruling party has used PROHECO to divert resources and jobs to its followers, undermining the program's ability to realize its stated objectives. Just criticizing the Partido Nacional, however, ignores the broader problem with PROHECO, a program that reflects the pervasive clientelistic politics upon which both dominant Honduran political parties rely.

    PROHECO emerged in the late 1990s as an alternative education model to expand education coverage in remote rural areas. PROHECO, like other community-managed school (also known as school-based management) programs in Central America, gave parents the right to hire and fire teachers in new rural schools and pay salaries based on attendance. The program aimed to increase accountability and empower parents to take on roles of responsibility within their communities. Recent reports in the major Honduran newspapers, however, have highlighted how the Partido Nacional has replaced all of PROHECO's field staff and tried to force out teachers hired under the previous administration. Reporters have documented local party and program officials, all of whom are partisan activists, cancelling teachers' contracts that were signed for the entire 2010 school year and forcing parents to elect new leaders if the current school council members refuse to replace the current teacher with a Partido Nacional loyalist.

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    Tags: Honduras, Education, Manuel Zelaya

  • Anniversary of a Coup: Insecurity, Impunity and Isolation in Honduras

    July 1, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    One year ago this week, the Honduran military expelled President Manuel Zelaya from the country. The coup immediately prompted domestic tumult and international condemnation.  With elections in November, however, the Honduran political establishment and the Obama administration banked on the country moving beyond the coup domestically and normalizing relations with the world.  But theirs were rose-colored glasses; a coup’s effects are not so easily undone.

    Honduras is now struggling with the long-term damage that coups inflict on the rule of law and the enduring costs of international isolation.  Even after de facto President Roberto Micheletti ceded power to Porfirio Lobo following an election, insecurity and impunity reign domestically, and most of Latin America continues to isolate the country.  The battle for international legitimacy remains President Lobo’s principal concern, and has also brought issues onto the domestic agenda that put Lobo at loggerheads with powerful supporters of last year’s coup.

    Many on the Right claim that, by ousting Zelaya, the political establishment was responding legitimately to an over-reaching president.  And, indeed, in the first half of 2009, Zelaya flouted court rulings that deemed unconstitutional a referendum that would pave the way for a constituent assembly.  At one stage, Zelaya and his supporters seized referendum ballots held by the military under Supreme Electoral Tribunal orders.

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    Tags: Organization of American States, Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Truth Commission, Porfirio Lobo, Central American Integration System

  • Honduras’ Truth Commission Controversy

    April 23, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    The Truth Commission mandated by last year’s Tegucigalpa / San José Accord now appears ready to get to work in Honduras, but controversy has already ensnared it.  Supporters of last year’s coup are demanding that the government let sleeping dogs lie, while their opponents fear that the Commission will fail to deliver an honest account of the coup.

    Meanwhile, the Commission already appears to be hedging on how much truth it will deliver, another troubling sign for a country where sunlight has never been in greater demand.

    Signed on October 30, 2009, the Tegucigalpa / San José Accord once promised the end of Honduras’ political crisis.  The Accord failed, however, because it did not stipulate a deadline for the congressional vote on Manuel Zelaya’s restitution, which ultimately led then-President Zelaya to pull his support.  Meanwhile, de facto President Roberto Micheletti and key international players—including the U.S. government—clung to the Accord, claiming it was still in effect.  Since President Porfirio Lobo took office in late January, he has maintained this line and worked tirelessly to restore international recognition to the Honduran government.  The formation of the Truth Commission represents a crucial final step along this path, and the eight-month process stands ready to begin on May 4.

    But Lobo’s government faces significant pressure from various sectors of Honduran society.  Coup supporters have already said that they have no faith in the process, arguing that it is nothing more than a show for the international community.  As has been true since last year’s coup, the Honduran Right continues to call for “national unity” and “consensus,” which in this case appears to mean a Truth Commission that does not rock the boat.  Right-wing opponents have also lobbied to exclude human rights violations from the Commission’s purview, which have continued after Lobo took office.

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    Tags: Peru, Canada, Guatemala, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Hondura, President Porfirio Lobo, Dana Rohrabacher, Eduardo Stein

  • Constitutional Court Orders Removal of Guatemalan Education Minister

    February 26, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    On February 25, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the removal of Education Minister Bienvenido Argueta for failing to provide the court with complete information regarding the beneficiaries of President Álvaro Colóm’s flagship social program, Mi Familia Progresa.  This latest development in a months-old political drama augurs poorly for Guatemala’s fragile education system and President Colóm’s claims to be supporting transparency measures in this notoriously corrupt nation.

    Mi Familia Progresa (MFP) is Guatemala’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which provides cash payments to poor mothers, conditional upon them sending their children to school and for health check-ups.  CCT programs have become increasingly popular in Latin America, as they have shown demonstrably positive results on school enrolment and child health

    President Colóm has hailed MFP as the cornerstone of his anti-poverty platform in Guatemala, but critics have argued that Colóm has used the program to reward voters who supported him in the 2007 elections.  Colóm’s critics also worry that the president has been transferring funds from other ministries to the program to use it as a campaign tool for his wife, Sandra Torres de Colóm, the coordinator and face of the Council of Social Cohesion that oversees MFP.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Education, Mi Familia Progresa

  • The Honduran Dam Controversy and Micheletti’s Legacy

    February 19, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Roberto Micheletti’s de facto government is back in the news. Last week, news broke in Honduras that the official newspaper, La Gaceta, published two different versions with the same number and date in the last days of Micheletti’s time in the Presidential Palace. The major difference? One version contained a controversial dam contract. After many months of Micheletti promoting his de facto government as the clean and honest side of the Liberal Party, the gacetazo (as the Honduran media has deemed the scandal) will further mar the legacy of Micheletti and his supporters.

    In their last days in office, presidents often sign controversial decrees that would have proved too controversial earlier in their term. In the United States, for instance, recent presidents have extended pardons to convicts and established vast natural reserves. Presidents must be careful, however, not to over-step in their last days, or else their legacy will be stained by controversy. President Clinton, for instance, went too far when he pardoned Mark Rich, sparking allegations that the wealthy Rich had purchased his freedom with political contributions.

    In Honduras, it seems that Roberto Micheletti’s de facto government, with the Congress his party controlled, could not resist the temptations of the last days in office, either. Just before relinquishing power, Micheletti and the Congress rushed to approve a $160 million contract to operate and improve the José Cecilio del Valle Dam (better known as the Nacaome Dam). In January, the Honduran Congress sped through the process of granting the contract to a Honduran-Italian consortium. Then-President of the Congress, José Alfredo Saavedra, argued that Congress had recently fast-tracked laws, including the general amnesty passed in January, so the contract should not raise concerns. After the congressional vote, Roberto Micheletti signed the contract into law in his last cabinet meeting.

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  • Central America’s Rule of Law: Guatemala Captures Portillo But Honduras Rewards Micheletti

    January 27, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    For decades, impunity has reined in Central America. Dictatorial rule, coups, murder, and genocide have, for the most part, gone unpunished. This month, however, events in Guatemala have suggested a potential turning of the tide. In the last three weeks, Guatemalan authorities have solved the potentially destabilizing Rosenberg case and arrested ex-President Alfonso Portillo for money laundering $70 million when he was in power. Meanwhile, in Honduras, the rule of law appears as in jeopardy as ever, as the Congress has rewarded de facto President Roberto Micheletti and pledged amnesty for all those involved in ousting President Manuel Zelaya. When it comes to the rule of law, Honduras lags as far behind as ever.

    Since the Peace Accords brought Guatemala’s 36-year civil war to an end in 1996, Guatemalan activists and international observers have demanded justice for the state-sponsored genocide in the 1980s. For the most part, however—as in most of Latin America—justice has not come. Moreover, since the late 1990s, crime has spiraled out of control, perceptions of corruption are high, and the legal system has proved incapable of apprehending and prosecuting both common criminals and thieving politicians. Pervasive impunity partially explains the horrific practice of lynchings that plagues Guatemala. But the failing of the rule of law in the region also contributes to Guatemalans’ disenchantment with democracy (desencanto democrático).

    Not only have Guatemalan voters lost faith in democratic government’s ability to bring economic development and alleviate massive poverty, but vast swaths of the citizenry have come to believe that the laws simply do not apply to the powerful. As the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) has shown, perceptions of corruption and insecurity negatively affect democratic values in Guatemala. Compared with other Latin American countries, it is unsurprising that Guatemala ranks low in popular preference for democracy as a form of government.

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    Tags: Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Álvaro Colom, Porfirio Lobo, Alfonso Portillo, Rule of Law, Impunity, CICIG, MINUGUA, Amnesty, Rodrigo Rosenberg

  • As Central America's Economies Struggle, Guatemala Digs in for a Tax Fight

    December 24, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    The global economic decline has hit Central America hard. Unemployment has increased, remittances from emigrants have declined and governments face rising deficits and debt that jeopardize their ability to meet increased social demands. The story is similar in much of the world, but the situation is particularly precarious in these countries, because they are among the poorest nations in the Americas and have weak economic and social safety nets.

    Governments in the region have responded to the economic decline by promoting fiscal adjustments to improve their balance sheets. El Salvador recently passed a gasoline tax and revised its value-added tax, and President Mauricio Funes hopes to pass tax increases on liquor, tobacco and luxury goods. In Honduras, de facto President Roberto Micheletti proposed sweeping reforms, before withdrawing the media-dubbed paquetazo due to pressure from Congress and president-elect Porfirio Lobo to put off major legislation until the new government assumes power. Meanwhile, Guatemala has witnessed the fiercest budget fight of all. Supporters of President Álvaro Colóm’s proposed reform have taken to the streets and threatened opposition legislators, but these efforts have failed to keep Colóm’s opponents from obstructing congressional proceedings. Thus far, Colóm appears to be losing the legislative battle.

    Taxation is a contentious issue in every country in the world, but the topic is especially fraught in Guatemala. Guatemala has long had the lowest tax ratio—tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product—in Latin America, a region notorious for weak tax collection. The low tax ratio is part of a legacy of a racist, extractive Guatemalan state, predicated on making profits for economic elites through the cheap (for many decades, forced) labor of a predominantly indigenous majority. Since the state cared little about the needs of most Guatemalan citizens throughout most of the country’s history, social spending was minimal and taxes remained negligible.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, 1996 Peace Accords, Mi Familia Progresa

  • Lynching Persists in Guatemala

    December 15, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Lynchings are wreaking havoc again in rural Guatemala. In a recent 15-day span, nine people have been lynched here by citizens who chose to take justice into their own hands. And in the past year, lynch mobs have attacked over 250 people, resulting in at least 42 deaths. The numbers are scary, and they reflect the reality that Guatemala has not forgotten a crucial part of its grisly past. In addition to the deaths caused, the lynchings reflect the inadequacy and inaccessibility of state justice institutions and the legacies of violence from civil war and state-sponsored genocide.

    Lynching may seem like an antiquated concept to Americans, but it remains a very real part of rural Guatemalan life. The practice of linchamientos differs somewhat from the mob-led hangings of African-Americans that once plagued the American South. Instead, Guatemalan lynch mobs resort to stoning, beating or pouring gasoline on victims and setting them on fire, often resulting in death. Petty criminals have been the most frequent targets, but lynch mobs have also attacked figures of state authority (such as a judge who issued an unpopular rape verdict). Some reports have even attributed lynchings to drug gangs seeking to eliminate competitors.

    In the Americas, lynching is not unique to Guatemala. Carlos Vilas has also documented cases in Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and Brazil, most often in areas where the state is weak (see below). But lynchings have been particularly pervasive in Guatemala, where the practice attracted a lot of attention immediately after the 1996 Peace Accords. From 1996 to 2000 alone, scholars noted well over 300 lynchings in Guatemala. A decade later, the practice seemed to have subsided somewhat, with only eight deaths in 2008. One might have hoped that the practice would have been headed for the dustbin of history, but the figures from 2009 suggest otherwise.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Lynchings, 1996 Peace Accords, Guillermo O’Donnell

  • From Tegucigalpa: Preliminary Election Analysis, Part Two

    December 8, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    With the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) nearing completion of its first pass through Honduras’ election results, a more subtle (albeit still incomplete) analysis has become possible. What is certain is that the National Party won an unprecedented victory. What remains in question is precisely why. Answering this question requires a closer examination at voter participation trends in previous elections and inferential analysis of what took place in 2009. Below, I first present the results, before offering a hypothesis to explain them.

    The Results

    Porfirio Lobo and the National Party won a landslide victory at every level of government. In the presidential elections, the National Party took upwards of 55 percent of votes cast, while the Liberal Party—long the numerically dominant party in Honduras—could not even muster 40 percent. In the Congress, the National Party won over 70 seats of a total of 128. And, in the mayoral races, the National Party has carried more than 200 of 298 municipalities. The final tallies may differ in a handful of races, but the general trend—a National Party routing of the Liberal Party—will hold.

    To put this trouncing in perspective: since political liberalization and civilian elections in 1981, no presidential candidate has received 54 percent of valid votes (not to speak of total votes cast). Furthermore, consider the last time that the National Party won the elections (only the second time since 1981). The winning presidential candidate, Ricardo Maduro, won with less than 50 percent of votes cast (52 percent of valid votes), and the National Party obtained neither an outright majority in Congress (it got 61 seats) nor among mayoralties (it won 148 of 298 municipalities).

    In fact, after both the 2001 and 2005 elections, the winning party won only a plurality in Congress, forcing it to form coalitions to pass legislation. For the next four years, the National Party will not face this obstacle. This could further marginalize the three smaller parties (Democratic Unification party—UD, the Christian Democratic Party of Honduras—DC and the Innovation and Unity Party—PINU). Moreover, the UD’s very existence stands in question, given sharp internal divisions about whether to participate in the elections (the party decided to participate only a week before the election) and the party’s predictably miserable showing.

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    Tags: Liberal Party, Manuel Zelaya, Porfirio Lobo, Honduras election, Voter participation, National Party

  • From Tegucigalpa. Winner is Clear, But Turnout Questions Remain

    November 30, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Porfirio Lobo will be Honduras’s next President.  Consistent with recent polls, Lobo, the National Party candidate, won a resounding victory over Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos.  The results were unambiguous, and Santos quickly conceded victory while Lobo and the National Party celebrated their victory.  This sharply contrasts with the 2005 elections, when doubts remained about the results for over a week and speculation about vote-rigging abounded.  In 2009, conversely, the question is not who won, but how many people voted.  The turnout question will now become the centerpiece of the debate on the election.

    After rampant speculation regarding possible Election Day protests and violence, Sunday’s elections took place under relative tranquility.  The military and police were out in full force on Sunday to protect the elections, and security concerns were high enough to warrant canceling flights from the United States.  There was some reported repression of protesters in San Pedro Sula, raids on pro-Zelaya groups’ offices, and temporary jamming of pro-Zelaya media.  Generally, however, Honduras was quiet, and those that opposed the elections stayed at home instead of risking arrest by protesting.  By mid-afternoon, the capital was a ghost town, with political propaganda everywhere but virtually no one on the streets and few cars on the road.   

    Soon after the polls closed, the presidential results were clear.  Porfirio Lobo won well over 50 percent of the vote, while Elvin Santos received less than 40 percent.  This result was predictable.  Though significantly more Hondurans self-identify as Liberals, the June coup and ensuing political crisis have deeply fractured the Liberal Party.  Many Liberals who identified with the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, vowed to stay away from the polls.  As one Liberal Party poll worker in Tegucigalpa, Miriam DeVicente, explained on Sunday afternoon, once the polls were virtually empty, “I think that from the Liberal Party many people have stayed away.”  Meanwhile, other voters punished the Liberal Party for the political crisis that took place on its watch.

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    Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Honduras elections, Porfirio Lobo, Hagamos Democracia

  • The Clergy and the Coup

    November 20, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Earlier this week, Mary Anastasia O’Grady shamelessly pulled the God card to defend the Honduran coup. Specifically, she handed her Wall Street Journal column over to the coup-supporting Cardinal Rodriguez to curry favor for the June 28 ousting of President Manuel Zelaya from power. Her article ignores the Church’s troubling historical role in Honduran politics, instead granting this institution legitimacy as the defender of democracy. O’Grady should have known better.

    O’Grady’s piece is one in a long line of conservative attempts to justify the overthrow of a democratically-elected president. Christopher Sabatini and I have already debunked these arguments, so I will not do so again here. But this week’s novelty was O’Grady’s use of a deeply controversial Church leader as a mouthpiece for the argument she has been making for months. In her article, she explains why Cardinal Rodriguez supported the coup—what he argues was a “constitutional succession”—namely, that Zelaya undermined the rule of law and therefore lost the “moral authority” to govern the nation.

    The Cardinal’s concerns with the rule of the law are legitimate. Manuel Zelaya did not respect the principle of horizontal accountability—a central tenet in liberal democracies. But using the rule of law to justify forcibly removing a president without due process is deeply contradictory. Worse still is the Cardinal’s retreat to “moral authority”—should the military also remove a president at gunpoint for infidelity, supporting abortion rights or promoting secular education?

    But the biggest problem with O’Grady’s piece is her uncritical acceptance of the HonduranChurch as an institution deeply concerned with the struggle for social justice and democracy. This portrayal is ahistorical and wrong.

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    Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, Church

  • The Municipal Politics of the Honduran Crisis

    November 17, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Since the June 28th coup removed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from power, the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti has vigorously defended the upcoming elections as the way out of the political crisis.  In recent weeks, the central question has become whether the international community will recognize the upcoming presidential elections.  With the breakdown of negotiations and Zelaya’s recent declaration that he will not accept restitution from the Congress (itself increasingly unlikely), the Organization of American States (OAS) will almost certainly not send election observers.  Conversely, Panama, Colombia and the United States have indicated they will recognize the elections, which undermines the previous international consensus on the Honduran crisis. 

    Meanwhile, last week, independent presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes pulled out of the race because President Zelaya had not yet been restored.  Cesar Ham, the other pro-Zelaya candidate, will decide this week whether to end his presidential bid, as well. 

    But the other major story last week was that Rodolfo Padilla Sunseri, mayor of San Pedro Sula (the country’s second-largest city and commercial hub), has pulled out of his re-election race.  This serves as an important reminder that these elections will determine—in addition to the President and the 128 members of Congress—the mayors of all 298 Honduran municipalities.  Padilla Sunseri’s resignation reveals the importance of municipal politics a lens for understanding the last five months in Honduras.  Honduran municipalities aligned with Zelaya have been hit hardest by the coup, and their plight reflects the political divisions within the country, the duplicity of the Micheletti regime and the difficult decision facing pro-Zelaya candidates.

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    Tags: Honduras coup, Micheletti, Crisis in Honduras

  • Stakes Rise for the United States in Honduras

    November 10, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    The stakes for the United States in the Honduran political crisis are higher than ever. At the end of October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated the unprecedented overturning of a coup through dialogue. That assessment has now proved naïve, and the State Department finds itself in the awkward position of distancing itself from the rest of Latin America after saying it would recognize the Honduran elections whether or not Manuel Zelaya is restored to power. This crisis is an extremely important moment for Honduras, but it also now has the potential to undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to mend the United States’ relationship with Latin America.

    Since President Obama took office, his administration has worked hard to heal the wounds left by President George W. Bush in Latin America. Obama’s most symbolic moves came with respect to Cuba, as he condoned the island nation’s re-admission into the Organization of American States (OAS)—long a rallying cry of the OAS’s other members—and eased the terms of the embargo. Obama has also toned down the rhetoric vis-à-vis Venezuela, cutting away at Hugo Chávez’ platform for America-bashing. Whereas President Bush seemed to court confrontation in the region, the Obama administration has thus far sought compromise and consensus. These efforts have not radically altered U.S. policy, but they have represented significant first steps toward repairing relations with Latin America.

    Before last week, the United States had also marched in step with the rest of the Americas in its response to Honduras’ June 28th coup. The United States supported the OAS’s denunciation of the coup, suspended aid to Honduras and visas to leaders of the de facto regime and continually demanded the restitution of President Manuel Zelaya. Until late October, the U.S. assiduously avoided taking the lead on the Honduras issue, instead abiding by regional consensus and making sure not to stoke the flames with Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) nations. State Department representative Thomas Shannon’s deal-making visit to Honduras also built directly on the work of the OAS and Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, assuring that the fleeting victory was shared by all partners.

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    Tags: Micheletti, Honduras crisis, Zelaya, U.S. State Department

  • After Optimism, A Predictable Standstill in Honduras

    October 21, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Last week, Honduras’s World Cup qualification left the country glowing with optimism.  Now, irrepressible hope and joy have again given way to a grimmer reality: political negotiations have hit a wall. 

    After finding agreement on the first seven of eight points on the agenda, the Guaymuras Dialogue negotiators have reached a predictable impasse on the most contentious point: Manuel Zelaya’s restitution.  Since Friday, the two teams have been sending proposals and counter-proposals back and forth.  Zelaya’s side has called for the Congress as adjudicator, while Roberto Micheletti’s side has insisted that the Supreme Court settle the issue. Now, the Micheletti negotiators have proposed getting reports from both branches of government before settling the issue, which Zelaya’s team has rejected.

    Zelaya’s negotiators have now accused the other side of obstructionism, and they’re right.  On first glance, it seems reasonable to ask the Supreme Court to settle a clearly constitutional issue.  But, as Victor Meza expressed, the judiciary has already offered its judgment—since the coup, the Supreme Court has sided with the “constitutional succession” version of the story, supported Micheletti’s government, and roundly condemned Zelaya at every turn.  Thus, appealing to the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter at this point would be akin to double jeopardy—with the same case and the same jury, could anyone really expect a different result?

    Interestingly, it’s not clear that Zelaya’s proposal would get him the result he wants.  Since the coup, the Congress has also consistently sided with Micheletti.  In addition, leading members of Congress have suggested that they would have to defer to the Supreme Court on constitutional issues. So a favorable finding for Zelaya—who has already given up the possibility of amnesty—is no foregone conclusion. That said, Zelaya seems to be banking on congressional representatives’ greater stake in internationally recognized elections, even if it means accepting Zelaya’s brief return to power. 

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    Tags: OAS, Honduras, Micheletti, Honduras crisis, Zelaya, Honduran Resistencia

  • Against the Odds, Progress in Honduras?

    October 15, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Minor miracles can happen, after all. After beating El Salvador, Honduras qualified for the World Cup when the United States scored a goal to tie Costa Rica in the final minute. In seconds, Hondurans’ emotions flipped 180 degrees—from exasperation at thinking they had come up just short to jubilation at qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. From coffee country to the Caribbean coast, Hondurans celebrated with fireworks, flags, honking cars, and screams of joy.

    As one announcer remarked, one can only hope that the country’s political leaders follow the national team’s cue and make this a great week for Honduras. And, against the odds, a political resolution may be on its way. In recent days, the Guaymuras Dialogue has brought relative calm to the political crisis. Progress has remained frustratingly slow, but each team seems to have brought a welcome dose of maturity to the negotiating table. The focus on the negotiators—none of them show-stealers—has provided a refreshing change-of-pace from Micheletti and Zelaya’s tired rants and reckless stunts.

    On Wednesday afternoon, the negotiators temporarily withdrew to consult with Zelaya and Micheletti. Victor Meza, one of Zelaya’s three negotiators, claimed that negotiators had reached a provisional agreement on the final point of contention—Zelaya’s possible restitution—and simply had to get final approval from Zelaya and Micheletti. Meanwhile, Micheletti’s negotiators said they had completed 90 percent of the agenda and would likely conclude matters by the week’s end, but denied that they had reached such an agreement.

    Now, rumors are swirling. Some say that all that remains is for negotiators to agree on the date of Zelaya’s return. Others say that both sides have agreed to renounce the presidency and hand over power to a third party. Declarations and denials abound; the truth remains elusive.

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    Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Honduras coup, Roberto Micheletti, San Jose Accord

  • Soccer and the Political Crisis in Honduras

    October 12, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Hondurans had high hopes for two things last week: qualifying for the World Cup and settling the political crisis.  Unfortunately for the catrachos (Hondurans), they came up short in both.  And the country’s two failures mirrored one another.

    High hopes dominated Honduras in the run-up to Saturday’s World Cup qualifying match against the United StatesBut after coming out hot and scoring first, Honduras surrendered three straight goals.  The team’s captain then sealed its fate when he missed a penalty kick to tie the game with four minutes remaining.  At the end of the night, fans were left incredulous. One television announcer bemoaned the Honduran players’ lack of “emotional equilibrium,” while another commentator pleaded with viewers not to shoot their guns in the air in despair.  Bullets that go up also come down, he explained, without the slightest trace of irony.

    Honduras’ loss shared various elements with the latest round of political negotiations, the Guaymuras Dialogue: high expectations, unstable leadership and the specter of more violence.

    First, high expectations.  Last week, the mainstream press (which supports Roberto Micheletti) and the country’s politicians made the end of the political crisis appear all but guaranteed.  Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue—this became the welcome mantra after weeks of violence.  But, as in soccer, political expectations can mask reality.

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    Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Honduras coup, Roberto Micheletti, Honduras negotiations, U.S.-Honduras soccer

  • From Tegucigalpa. Xenophobia and Racism in the Honduran Crisis

    October 7, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    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 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.

    Tags: Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Xenophobia

  • From Tegucigalpa. Honduran Leaders Fumble, Crisis Worsens

    October 1, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    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.

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    Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Honduras coup, Roberto Micheletti, media censorhip

  • From Tegucigalpa. The Rural Population is the Third Face of Honduras in this Crisis

    September 29, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    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. 

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    Tags: Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, rural support in Honduras

  • From Tegucigalpa. Independence Day Revealed Deep Divisions in Honduras

    September 21, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    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.

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    Tags: Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, Coup in Hondoras, Presidet Zelaya

  • Hunger in Guatemala: The Other Story in Central America

    September 16, 2009

    by Daniel Altschuler

    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.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, Food insecurity, Olivier de Schutter


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