Monday, May 31, 2010

UCD Condemns Lobo Sosa

The right-wing, coup-supporting Unión Civica Democratica (UCD) has awakened from its deep sleep (tired, no doubt, from all that marching to support Micheletti) only to condemn Porfirio Lobo Sosa for interfering in the Public Prosecutor's office and with the Supreme Court's autonomy.

It seems they don't like Lobo Sosa's announcement that he is willing to go to the Dominican Republic and bring Manuel Zelaya Rosales back, and to guarantee he will not be arrested on the spot once he returns to Honduras. After all, Jimmy Dacaret, the UCD president, reminds us, there are 3, count them 3, separate arrest orders for Zelaya; one for political crimes, and two for corruption.

Lobo's announcement caused an emergency meeting of the UCD governance. Dacaret, a rotary member, member of the administrative council of ANDI, and a bread magnate, complained that Lobo Sosa was interfering in the institutional independence of the Supreme Court and the Public Prosecutor since he was going to guarantee Zelaya would not be arrested.
"It would appear as if there is a pact or arrangement between the people related to the case of Zelaya, to give him freedom without him presenting himself to the corresponding courts."

Dacaret continued
"The statements of the President leave a great preoccupation in the society because the primordial reason for the founding of the UCD is to protect the Constitution of the Republic, the respect for the laws in all senses."

The UCD is funded in part by the US State Department.

The UCD also requested that the Supreme Court hand over its decision on the four judges and one magistrate dismissed for anti-coup activity to the Inspector General of the government so that the international community can see the basis on which the court dismissed those individuals.
"With this we can determine if they proceeded on the basis of law, or if there was some kind of mistake that the Court could rectify, but not with pressure from the Executive branch or interference from foreigners because Honduras needs to proceed on the basis of respect for its laws."

With that, the UCD rolled over and went back to sleep. This was something it could not get excited enough about to put on its white shirts and march in the streets!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will Zelaya Return? Will the Supreme Court cooperate with Lobo Sosa?

(we are both traveling so short posts only)

Its hard, in the best of times, to know what's going on in Honduras. We've seen that the newspapers cannot be trusted to present the facts, that broadcast reporters make things up. The whisper campaigns can drown out the real stories.

So it's really hard to know what exactly is going on in the struggle between Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the Supreme Court. The one thing Lobo Sosa must know is that he's got the worst job in Honduras, trying to regain international recognition while the clowns in the Supreme Court continue to thumb their noses at him.

So amid whisper campaigns and rumor mills comes word that the Supreme Court will meet as a whole on Monday to consider again its decision to dismiss four judges and a magistrate, solely for anti-coup activity. There was much bravado from the court earlier in the week saying they would not take up the topic again, so Friday's report that they would, at the request of a group of justices, came as a surprise. Still, I don't expect them to reverse themselves.

Also on Friday, El Heraldo reported that the Supreme Court had vacated its order to capture Manuel Zelaya Rosales. This is the arrest order for Zelaya that chief prosecutor Luis Rubí requested so that if Zelaya returns to Honduras he will be thrown in jail to await a trial. Ramon Custodio, the golpista Human Rights commissioner, today contradicted El Heraldo and said the arrest order had not been vacated. Custodio added that it was Lobo Sosa's intention to bring Zelaya back and assassinate him.

Today court spokesperson Daniel Izaguirre said the court was "willing to suspend the arrest warrant against Zelaya, if a judge orders it [emphasis mine]." He added that Zelaya's attorney would have to request the suspension and a judge would have to hold hearings and find the request had merit. Zelaya would have to present himself before the court and agree to be judged. More nose thumbing.

Meanwhile, Luis Rubí said he won't resign. Clearly someone is pressuring him or this topic wouldn't be coming up. Perhaps he should consider it. He's batting 0-3 against former Zelaya cabinet ministers in court. All have been declared not guilty of the crimes he charged them with, and in one case the court chastised Rubí for not investigating the case before charging one of them.Rubí alleged that this person's signature was on an order to rent an ENEE (national electrical company) building when it wasn't. Latest to be acquitted was Rebeca Santos.

Finally on Friday, Porfirio Lobo Sosa telephoned Dominican President Leonel Fernandez and proposed that if Fernandez had some free time to come and visit Honduras, that he, Lobo Sosa, would fly to the Dominican Republic, and the two of them could then escort Manuel Zelaya Rosales to Honduras as guarantees of his safety and freedom from arrest.

Will Manuel Zelaya Rosales accept the word of Porfirio Lobo Sosa that he will not be arrested, and return to Honduras? Zelaya says he is studying the proposal.
"I take the word of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, whom I thank for his good intentions; we will have to analyze what the proposal consists of."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

US response in Honduras as part of a pattern...

CBS News has published a thoughtful analysis by Dilip Hiro that examines the foreign policy record of the Obama administration. His conclusion: the bungled handling of the Honduran coup is typical of a pattern of under-estimating opponents, and backing off and assuming a conciliatory posture once other states resist direction.

Lots to think about here; not entirely in agreement, but it does speak to what remains a debate among Honduran colleagues, which is: how to explain the disastrous way the Obama administration responded, with the mixed signals they sent continually undercutting the unified resistance of the rest of the world to legitimating the coup?

(On the road so no analysis-- but note that Hiro manages something most English-language media still cannot: correctly describing the precipitating events of the June 28, 2009 coup.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"It was a coup": Porfirio Lobo Sosa

Courtesy of Vos el Soberano, readers today can watch clips from a televised interview with Porfirio Lobo Sosa on CNN from his current Spanish tour.

The post there, drawing on reporting on the alternative Honduran news site La Vanguardia, also provides quotations from the interview (the full video is available on CNN México). The key exchange:

José Levy of CNN: Was what happened in Honduras a coup d'Etat?

Lobo Sosa: "Of course, put it how you will but it was a coup."

Remarkably, this puts Lobo Sosa in the position of being more direct and honest-- more truthful, in fact-- than the head of the emasculated "Truth Commission" which has started its task by agreeing not to offend the retrograde forces in Honduras that carried out, supported, and continue to demand a whitewash of the events of June 28, 2009.

Which were, unequivocally, by all international standards, and under Honduran constitution and law, a coup d'Etat.

As the person now occupying the uncomfortable position of intending to lead Honduras with limited legitimacy and constrained authority recognizes.

And attempts to legitimate:

"Democracy did not have sufficient mechanisms to guarantee its maintenance."

Guarantee its maintenance against what? Lobo Sosa goes on to repeat his own previous assertion that he knows that President Zelaya intended to "stay on". This is how the pro-coup elite in Honduras has tried to justify the coup: by predicting that the Cuarta Urna public opinion poll would have passed, and that the existing Constitution would have been immediately suspended, and President Zelaya would have remained in power at the head of the government during the period leading up to the Constituyente, which they further argue could only have been intended to eliminate the presidential term limit.

This is, in the end, the most frightening thing about the 2009 coup and its supporters: they literally believe that disrupting constitutionality was a way to protect the democratic order. And they believe that making this argument justifies the coup. And every time the international community gives way on calling a spade a spade, this argument gains vigor.

Hence we now see Lobo Sosa-- who evaded the same question throughout his presidential campaign and the dictatorship of the Micheletti de facto regime-- happy to admit it was a coup. But not that bad old kind of coup: the good kind. Too bad about the deaths and human rights violations but in order to save the village, we had to destroy it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Supreme Court to Lobo Sosa: "No Thanks"

The chief justice of the Honduran Supreme Court, Jorge Rivera Avilez, in response to question from the press, said that Porfirio Lobo Sosa, in discussions with him, asked him to postpone the dismissal of judges who opposed the coup d'Etat. But the Supreme Court asserted its independence and specifically claimed it would not "go backwards".

Lobo Sosa said yesterday that he asked the Supreme Court not to "take any actions that were not appropriate for the peace and stability in Honduras."

Daniel Izaguirre, court spokesperson, told reporters that what Lobo Sosa asked of his boss (Rivera Aviles) was that he postpone the dismissal of the judges.

Izaguirre is quoted as saying

"The president of the Court promised that he would make the proposal to the whole court, and in the whole court it was batted around and they said this is a decision which has been made."

Izaguirre indicated that the 10 justices who voted for the firings are not willing to reconsider their decision.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Political Expediency

On May 7 the Honduran Supreme Court dismissed 4 judges and a magistrate allegedly for participating in political activity opposed to the coup. It has taken no action against those judges who marched in favor of the coup. We blogged about their dismissal at the time. At the time, NGO's like the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) denounced the dismissals as "significant reprisals" and as a "clear intimidating message" for other justices in Honduras. No one in Honduras said much of anything about it, except the Frente de Resistencia.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) released a statement on the state of human rights in Honduras after a fact finding visit to the country. The IACHR release called out the dismissal of the judges as particularly troubling.
"Of particular concern are the acts of harassment directed against judges who participated in activities against the coup d’état. The Commission met with members of the Association of Judges for Democracy who were dismissed from their posts by the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). Notwithstanding the formal reasons that could be argued by the Supreme Court, the reasons that motivated the process and the final decision are undoubtedly linked to participation in anti-coup demonstrations or to having expressed an opinion against the coup d’état. The inter-American human rights system has repeatedly underscored the central role of the judiciary in the functioning of a democratic system. It is unacceptable that those persons in charge of administering justice who were opposed to the democratic rupture would face accusations and dismissals for defending democracy. The IACHR urgently calls for a reversal of this situation that seriously undermines the rule of law."

Suddenly there's a flurry of condemnations of the Supreme Court's action. UD party member Marvin Ponce introduced a bill to form a commission to study the dismissal in Congress, but the President of Congress, Juan Orlando Hernandez suspended discussion saying it needed more time than could be allotted to the discussion yesterday. Also yesterday Porfirio Lobo Sosa, in Spain, said it was hurting his efforts to win recognition for Honduras. Then he said
"This is a subject that I've discussed with the President of the Court (Jorge Rivera Avilez), and I said you should not take any action that is not appropriate for peace and stability in Honduras, and although they suggested that they were not going to do it, they did."

Lobo expressed support for the Congressional investigation.

The question is, where were these people 12 days ago when the Supreme Court acted? Why did it take them this long to express their concerned. Could it be there's only concern now because there's political cover in the IACHR report for being concerned? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Human rights in Honduras: IAHCR expresses "deep concern"

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCR, CIDH in Spanish) has just issued a press release following its visit this week to Honduras. The summary: the news is not good:
In concluding its visit, the Commission expresses its deep concern over the continuation of human rights violations in the context of the coup d’état that took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009.

Especially troubling to the IAHCR were the reprisals against judges who opposed the coup d'Etat, reprisals that have taken place during the administration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and that demonstrate that his administration has not advanced from the repression of the de facto regime, but continues it:
Of particular concern are the acts of harassment directed against judges who participated in activities against the coup d’état. The Commission met with members of the Association of Judges for Democracy who were dismissed from their posts by the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). Notwithstanding the formal reasons that could be argued by the Supreme Court, the reasons that motivated the process and the final decision are undoubtedly linked to participation in anti-coup demonstrations or to having expressed an opinion against the coup d’état. The inter-American human rights system has repeatedly underscored the central role of the judiciary in the functioning of a democratic system. It is unacceptable that those persons in charge of administering justice who were opposed to the democratic rupture would face accusations and dismissals for defending democracy. The IACHR urgently calls for a reversal of this situation that seriously undermines the rule of law [emphasis added].

The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) comes in for pointed criticism for its complicity in not pursuing cases against human rights violations, creating impunity for those responsible:
The Commission was able to verify that impunity for human rights violations continues, both in terms of violations verified by the IACHR and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and those that continue to occur. ... The generalized impunity for human rights violations is facilitated by decisions of the CSJ that weaken the rule of law. In addition to the CSJ’s disputed role during the coup d’état, it subsequently decided, on the one hand, to dismiss charges against the members of the military accused of participating in the coup and, on the other, to fire judges and magistrates who sought to prevent the coup through democratic means. [emphasis added]

The IACHR notes that threats continue under the Lobo Sosa administration against those who are active in protesting the coup and its aftermath:
The IACHR also received information on the threats and acts of harassment that human rights defenders, journalists, communicators, teachers, and members of the Resistance have received. A number of teachers have been subject to threats and harassment because of their activity against the coup d’état. The Commission also received information about threats and attacks directed against journalists to keep them from continuing to do their jobs.

The IAHCR underscored that assassinations of journalists and activists are not credibly explained away as a consequence of some sort of generalized Honduran tendency toward violence:
Without prejudice to the high rate of criminality that in general exists in Honduras, the IACHR believes that the complaints received could correspond to the same pattern of violence that the IACHR reported in Honduras: Human Rights and the Coup d’État, published on January 20, 2010.

The IAHCR noted the continuing pattern of human rights violations against social sectors that have been marginalized since the coup d'Etat, in many cases losing concrete advances made under the Zelaya administration:
Finally, the IACHR would like to state that human rights violations particularly affect those sectors of the population that have been marginalized historically and are most vulnerable, such as children, the LGTB community, women, and indigenous and Garifuna peoples.

The unwarranted dismissals of members of the Association of Judges for Democracy, who are currently staging a hunger strike, have received no attention in the mainstream English language press. The assassinations of journalists have been treated in the English-language press as either an ambiguous case of "violence" by "both sides" in the struggle for Honduran democracy, or even possibly simply due to that generalized Honduran culture of violence that is stated repeatedly and thus presumed. The continuing targeted assassinations of members of the Resistance and their family members, and of environmental activists; threats against anti-mining activists, and slurs against those Roman Catholic clergy who have remained faithful to the call to serve the poor; these incidents are so numerous that even those of us monitoring the situation cannot possibly write about them all.

No, the coup is not behind us. It remains in the hovering shadow of impunity that the authorities in Honduras cast over those who are responsible for the continued violence directed at activists and those who dare to speak out about violations of fundamental rights, and dare to advocate for greater participation in governance by all the people.

"They ask for the constituyente": Lobo Sosa

Porfirio Lobo Sosa, interviewed at length in Proceso Digital, manages to combine exasperation with the resistance-- which reports having obtained half a million signatures in favor of the constitutional assembly-- with a somewhat misleading appearance of reasonableness that echoes ironically with the history of June 28, 2009:
"OK! what has to be done is consult the people, and if the people are in accord, the constituyente will be convened..."

Pardon those of us who have not lost our short-term memory for wondering why this would be OK now, when it cost José Manuel Zelaya Rosales his position and his country?

Here's a translation of the (long) passage on this topic; notice that I am translating "consulta" simply as "consultation", even though it is one of the series of words that former president Zelaya used for the vote he proposed on June 28, 2009, and thus could have been translated as "poll". What is shaded in this passage, with its evasion of power ("I cannot impose anything"), is the responsibility that a leader of the nation should have in bringing about change demanded by the people. It is not clear exactly who would be consulted, and how, if the unnamed others made a consulta happen without Lobo Sosa "imposing" it.
"They say 'constituyente' to me, OK, What's the problem? Today I see that it is a theme that interests many, I hear the resistance that is with the constituyente, I hear the businessmen that also shout constituyente. OK! What has to be done is consult the people, and if the people are in accord, the constituyente will be convened, the representatives to the constitutional assembly will be elected and it has to be in an atmosphere that would permit the will of the people to be reflected", said Lobo.

"What I am not able to do is from here, from this Casa de Gobierno, to impose anything. I am for consultation, it fascinates me, what the people might decide, what I cannot do is impose criteria. And so, on this theme of refounding, I am going to say, there are things that are clear: the State itself that ordains and rules in all economic activity and political-social activity, as has been seen is not a system that functions", he added.

In 1989-- Lobo continued-- the Berlin wall fell, in 1991 the Soviet Union fell, or that is, statism as a system is losing, and on the other side, pure or savage capitalism as we might call it, says that the market regulates itself, but it also has shown that it cannot give a response; so, pardon me but there only remains one road, which is the one that God has marked out, that is the fact that there should be an economy in which he who invests will have a guarantee of his investment, but that he should understand that he has to have social responsibility, or that is, that which today we denominate a social market economy, which takes advantage of the real efficiency of the market to generate wealth and development, but with social justice. There has to be economic growth, but there has to be seen on the part of the investors in it an understanding, certainly, that we all want to be rich.

If the businessmen speak of the Constituyente, does that signify that the country is on the route toward that process? I ask this as the Honduran president, who does not wish to refer to periods of time, but was emphatic to point out that 'I am going to speak with the sectors to see what it is that they want; as they wish, from here we are not going to impose anything. But if a consultation is done, the people have to decide Yes or No; if the people decide Yes, well the date in which it is going to be convened will have to be decided and then how the representatives to the constituyente are going to be elected will have to be said...'here is the route', pointed out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy: Ernesto Carmona

Vos el Soberano today reposted part of an article by Ernesto Carmona, entitled Ethical Implications of the Concentration of media and their political and economic relationships in Latin America.

The complete original, which is widely reposted and can be downloaded, was presented as part of a seminar on "Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy" which was held in Quito on October 23, 2009, from which a video clip can be seen on YouTube. It should be required reading for anyone working on issues of contemporary Latin America, and is particularly pertinent to thinking about the connection between lack of true journalism in Honduras and the coup d'Etat of June 2009. Since it runs to 21 pages, it is impossible to provide a complete translation here. But it is worth highlighting a few key points.

Carmona begins:
The major media in Latin America suffers a profound ethical crisis because it does not fulfill its essential mandate to inform "truthfully and opportunely". On burying the notion of free and impartial media and the "duty to be informative" associated with the origins of the press, journalism lost its ultimate ethical purpose: to assist man to satisfy the necessity and the right to be informed in order to take decisions about the achievement of a "good life".

The loss of ethics, accelerated by the concentration of media and stimulated by the neoconservative model imposed in the last four decades, that also paved the way for the excesses of the great unregulated concentration of corporate and financial power causing the present crisis set loose in the developed nations, constructed a media tyranny, by erecting a "mediocracy" that defines and regulates almost all the areas of contemporary life.

The concentration of media property grew in all the world in unison with the dominant roll of the large transnational corporations that exploit natural resources of the poor countries, stimulated by post- WW II neo-colonialism, with the pretext of aiding "development" of the underdeveloped nations, rich in raw materials, agricultural potential, and fuels.

After noting that these developments were flagged over fifty years ago, Carmona continues
The media are instrumental in the conservation of a status quo of a great concentration of wealth and in some Latin American countries attempts to directly exercise political power, like another party, identified with economic power....Its objective now is not information, but rather the substitution for public opinion, arrogating to itself the right to conceal information in a system of biased, manipulated, if not prefabricated, and always predigested, "news".

This could be a description of the media in Honduras in the run-up to the coup. But Carmona actually relates it to the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.

Carmona identifies the concentration of ownership of media in Latin America as key to these developments:
Liberty of expression is understood as freedom of trade that permits the sale of news, ideas, subjective interpretations of reality as one product more that competes freely in the market. However, the monopolistic concentration generates unemployment and impedes the materialization of real competition.... There do not exist mechanisms for the population to impose the type of journalism that they want to consume, although the polls always indicate that they desire news, true news.

The "dream of free competition" is a myth in a journalism dominated by monopolies, duopolies, and oligopolies, that do not allow competition and destroy the competitors, including buying them to make them disappear, as is frequent.

This is where Carmona turns to Honduras as an example:
A present-day example of media tryanny is Honduras, where the major media belong to the same economic and political chiefs who overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, beaten on by the media estate since the beginning of his government, in January of 2006, due to his unexpected policies in favor of the excluded of this impoverished nation. Just one example, Honduran television is controlled by a single person, José Rafael Ferrari, fierce supporter of the coup and also a major presence on radio. The behavior of the press in Honduras, after the closure of the few competitors critical of the coup, calls to mind the memory of the roll played by the media during the military dictatorships. There does not exist any code of ethics for the owners of the press. Death is news, but today the news dies.

"Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy" was sponsored by CIESPAL, the Centro Internacional de Estudios Superiores de Periodisma para America Latina (International Center for Higher Studies of Journalism for Latin America) describes itself as "an organization that promotes the right to communication in order to democratize society". Carmona is a Chilean journalist, Director of the Chilean Council of Journalists, and Executive Secretary of the Investigation Commission on attacks against journalists of the Latin American Federation of Journalists (CIAP-FELAP).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bad Journalism

Proceso Digital is a fairly new Honduran digital newspaper, formed by two professional journalists, Marlen Perdomo de Zelaya and Orfa Sofia Mejia Maradiaga.

Perdomo has a professional degree from UNAH in journalism, and teaches journalism at UNAH. She is also a member of the advisory council of UNAH. Mejia Maradiaga is an investigative reporter, also with a professional degree in journalism from UNAH. She has worked for a number of radio stations and newspapers in Honduras, including Radio Cadena de Noticias and La Prensa. She has also worked for EFE and Reuters, and the digital magazine Revistazo.

In a recent interview in El Heraldo Mejia Maradiaga described journalism as playing a role in the development of society and the strengthening of democracy:
"Objectivity, they say in the classrooms of the university, is the goal (ideal). It is not easy, but it is possible. Obviously you will never please both sides. What we have to try to do is keep as much as possible to the truth, to be as responsible as possible in the treatment of information. We should not think that our truth is the truth which we should impose on our public."
Proceso Digital sometimes comes close to the above journalistic standard, but more often than not fails to distinguish between claims of fact, facts, and opinion.

Their article today about Porfirio Lobo Sosa's impending trip to Spain is a perfect example of when they fail, and is suggestive about what is wrong with Honduran journalism in general. The problems begin with the headline:
Lobo Sosa will go to Spain and make the boycott by "Twenty-First Century Socialism" fail

Already we're in trouble.

As our previous post on the Naumann Foundation showed, the phrase "twenty-first century socialism" is not a fact; it is editorializing. It has no business being in the article or headline except as part of a quotation. But it isn't taken from a quotation; it is inserted by the journalists.

Lobo Sosa will travel to Spain tomorrow, missing the EU-Latin American summit, which is attended by representatives of those countries that threatened to boycott if Lobo Sosa were present. In other words: Lobo Sosa is not there today; he is not at the EU-Latin American summit; and in fact, that means the UNASUR countries got what they demanded.

Lets look at some more of this "news article", datelined Tegucigalpa:
Twenty-First Century socialism failed in its boycott of Honduras, whose representatives will attend the Third Summit of the European Union and Latin America, with which the country has broken the diplomatic siege that some South American governments and their partners in the region still insist on making.

Fact Check: Lets see, the boycott failed because some representatives of Honduras, but not Porfirio Lobo Sosa, will attend the back room meetings, not the meetings of heads of state, at the Third European Union - Latin American summit?

Umm, no, the boycott threatened was by heads of state against Porfirio Lobo Sosa attending the meeting of heads of state. Redefining what the boycott was about is just making things up.

Not very objective journalism, but certainly within the realm of what rags like La Prensa and El Heraldo print every day as news.

Proceso Digital continues:
President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the representative of Honduras, will travel to Spain to attend the summit, which is on the brink of failure because of the impossibility and the limited political clout of Spain to get other governments in tune to achieve the objectives of the meeting.

Fact Check: Better. Porfirio Lobo Sosa will travel to Spain to attend the EU-Central American summit, a subset of the larger EU-Latin American summit. The Central American meetings will happen the day after the Latin America-wide meeting.

Some European news sources, including the BBC, have said the purpose of the meeting is unclear since both sides are divided about how to deal with each other and Europe is distracted by a financial crisis. There are economic trade agreements being negotiated frantically that Spain would like to see signed at the summits, one with the MERCOSUR countries in South America, and a separate agreement with Central America, including Honduras.

The goal of the Madrid EU-Latin American and Caribbean Summit is to get two documents signed. One is a declaration of political alliances between the regions, including themes like technology transfer, the other is a joint action plan. A strategic alliance declaration may well fail.

Returning to Proceso Digital:
Lobo Sosa will participate in the meeting between the EU-Central America, where the main goal is the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, with its free trade component.

Fact Check: Good. This sentence communicates both where Lobo Sosa will go, what meeting he will attend, and why he's going. Note that the UNASUR countries would never have been at this meeting, so the boycott is irrelevant.
In addition, the summit will serve to allow Lobo Sosa to keep bilateral meetings with several leaders and figures of Latin American and Spanish politics.
In addition to meeting with the Spanish authorities who bowed to the boycott of the governments of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Lobo Sosa will meet with the head of the [Spanish] Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy.
Fact Check: The first sentence is good, emphasizing Lobo Sosa's prominence on the world stage. The second sentence, however, goes off the rails yet again. It was the UNASUR countries that threatened a boycott, not the ALBA countries. They are distinct, separate groups, even if some of their membership overlaps. You need to keep them straight if you claim to provide reliable information.

Many of the Honduran newspapers have written that it is Hugo Chavez, not the presidents of Brazil and Argentina, who is behind the boycott, continuing a pattern of demonizing international pressure on Honduras by associating it with Venezuela. So perhaps the author of the Proceso Digital article is just confused because they've been reading the "journalists" Mejia Maradiaga and Perdomo trained in the university, instead of checking the facts of this story.

Lobo Sosa will, indeed, meet with the Popular Party (PP) head, Mariano Rajoy on his trip to Spain. That is not a surprise: the PP supported the coup, as did Lobo Sosa.

Again, returning to Proceso Digital:
In vain did the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero accede to the blackmail of Chavez, as the Venezuelan president finally decided to punish the Spanish and will not attend the event and sending a person without weight, Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Cardenas Arias.
It is also likely that the Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, the other agent who announced the boycott, will not attend.
Nor will with Uruguayan President Mujica attend.

In fact, Brazilian President Lula da Silva announced yesterday that he would attend the meetings, so this speculation is factually wrong, and that fact was knowable before the article was posted on the website. Mujica will not attend because of health concerns. The stress of being President of Uruguay has badly affected his health, according to local news sources. These are not responses to Spain's actions nor do they diminish the success of the UNASUR action.
It is likely that in Madrid, if a new obstacle doesn't force Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua to not attend the meeting, that there will be concretized a meeting of the six Central American leaders.

In fact, Ortega may or may not attend since he was listed as "iffy" about the economic agreement. He did not threaten a boycott if Lobo Sosa attended, but Nicaragua has not recognized the Lobo government either.
The above was stated by the president of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, who noted that Madrid is propitious for the desired meeting where the return of Honduras Central American Integration System (SICA) will be defined.
If the reunion of SICA happens, and the Association agreement with the European Union is also signed, Lobo Sosa's trip will have been a diplomatic triumph.

Yes, Colom noted that he's trying to get the Central American presidents together in Madrid to discuss readmitting Honduras into SICA, and that Daniel Ortega might balk at getting everyone together. Getting readmitted to SICA is important for Honduras because symbolically it means Central America has forgiven the coup. It is the precursor to being readmitted to the OAS as well. Economically, Honduras is already participating in SICA, however, so its impact there will be non-existent.

Will it be a diplomatic triumph for which Lobo Sosa can take credit? I'm sure he will, if it happens. Not impossible that it will happen. But it will be Colom's "diplomatic triumph" if so, and a "triumph" of questionable value.
But Lobo Sosa also expects the offensive of the international left, which previously was in charge of the radical groups, unions and NGOs who fought several months for the Spanish government to withdraw the invitation to the Honduran president.
The groups said they had meetings and marches to censure the presence of Lobo Sosa.
The international groups will be supported by Hondurans, followers of the "melista" movement, that supported the ex-leader and employee of Hugo Chávez, Manuel Zelaya, when he was removed from power on June 28, 2009.
Several figures of the Honduran left went to Spain to make complaints and participate in the so-called People's Summit, which brings together all opposition to government figures.

Fact Check: Got a source for that? No one else is saying there will be protests against Lobo Sosa by anyone other than heads of state (remember the boycott?), so I'd really like to know where you got that information, or did you make that up?

And what about the characterization of former President Zelaya as an "employee of Chavez", which we presume is meant to smear supporters of Zelaya in his role as President of Honduras, by blurring the lines between a recent proposal to appoint Zelaya to a ceremonial position with Petrocaribe, and his role during his truncated term of office in Honduras. This is not a fact, it is a sneer.

This has been a fairly long exercise but if you stuck with me you have a fair idea of what passes for professional journalism in Honduras, written, we have to assume, since they are the only names on the website, by Marlen Perdomo de Zelaya or Orfa Sofia Mejia Maradiaga, or both. Certainly it falls far short of what Ms. Mejia cited above as the goal of good journalism. You can, and should do better, Proceso Digital.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Professionalizing the Honduran Police: Advice from Germany

An article in La Tribuna today reports that Cristian Luth, the Director for Central America of the the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, says that the Foundation will advise the National Police in Honduras "to guarantee the professional development of their employees":
"The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, at the request of [Director of the National Police] Jose Luis Muñoz Licona, will work with the National Police to first perform a structural analysis, and then an analysis over the work of this important institution in conjunction with two German Police colonels. The result of this analysis will serve as a guide to this institution, and the Honduran government, to guarantee the high professional level of the Honduran Police."

Then-President Carlos Roberto Reina of the Liberal Party reportedly used the Foundation in 1996 and 1997 to advise on the separation of the National Police force from the Armed Forces by coordinating a dialogue between civilian and military representatives on the need of a democracy for independent institutions.

Luth said, "this also was the theme of the last year when we supported President Roberto Micheletti."

What is the Naumann Foundation, and what expertise does it have in reorganizing police forces in Latin America?

It describes itself as "a foundation for liberal politics," based on the ideas of German protestant theologian Friedrich Naumann, who believed that a functioning democracy needs politically informed and educated citizens. The Naumann Foundation intends to promote civic education, political dialogues, and political counseling. It is affiliated with the German Free Democratic Party (FDP), a Liberal party that is a minor partner with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, emphasizing neoliberal economic policies like privatization, deregulation, "reducing bureaucracy", and "reform of collective bargaining". In other words: Republicans.

The values the Friedrich Naumann Foundation espouses are interesting. One goal is that all citizens may freely live in an open society. It supports free markets, and access for all to education, labor, information, markets, and small government.

Curiously, the Foundation emphasizes that it is interested more in the equal application of rules to all rather than justice, because "just results do not exist."

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation has worked with the Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH in Spanish) for some time. Rosalinda Sabillón, the Foundation program director in Honduras bragged shortly before the coup that the Naumann Foundation had a "39 member caucus" in the Honduran Congress.

The Foundation offers seminars and training courses to Liberal Party members, and provides them with access to campaign advisors from the German FDP. President Zelaya had an FDP campaign advisor on his campaign, Peter Schroeder. Schroeder had worked as communications director for the FDP prior to forming his private company to manage political campaigns. The foundation also trained Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake, who Porfirio Lobo Sosa just appointed as ambassador to the UN, former candidate for president Elvin Santos, former Zelaya adviser Yani Rosenthal, Central Bank director under the de facto government Gabriela Nuñez, and the head of the de facto regime, Roberto Micheletti Bain, who in 2008 held meetings with FDP Vice President Werner Hoyer about intensifying the Foundation's activities in Honduras with an eye to the 2008 internal PLH elections.

Via its Central American director Cristian Luth, the Foundation promulgates the idea that Roberto Micheletti Bain "defended the constitution of Honduras against titanic forces", and that Manuel Zelaya was going to introduce "twenty-first century socialism" in Honduras. This was a position it took after Zelaya, formerly a protege, led Honduras in joining the ALBA alliance.

Today, the Naumann Foundation is promoting Elvin Santos as the best hope for re-uniting the Liberal Party, since he continues the ideas of Roberto Micheletti. The foundation regularly place their press releases in El Heraldo and La Tribuna as news stories. Their agenda for Honduras is clear, and adds to the evidence that last year's coup d'Etat, far from being entirely an internal struggle, was supported by global conservative economic, political, religious, and social forces.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Week in Honduras: Money or Human Rights?

The most significant news leads in Honduran papers this weekend concern the impending visit of a delegation from the IMF this coming week.

William Chong Wong, Minister of Finances, is quoted as saying that Honduras does not intend to cover up the real grim financial news simply to give a good impression. Reportedly, Honduras stands to receive $300 million if the visit by the IMF goes well.

The business community, represented by the head of the Asociación Nacional de Industriales (ANDI), Adolfo Facussé, and Aline Flores, director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tegucigalpa (CCIT), is reported to be behind the government's efforts to convince the IMF to release funding to Honduras.

FOSDEH, the Foro Social de la Deuda Externa de Honduras (Social Forum on the External Debt of Honduras), publicly called for the government not to cover up the real numbers. Mauricio Díaz Burdeth, coordinator of the forum, is quoted as saying "All the macroeconomic indicators are in the red and it will be very difficult to find a favorable one, owing to the grave financial situation."

Díaz Burdeth added that the visit by IMF, the second this year, is without doubt an important point in the economic agenda of the country.

But that is not, we would argue, the most important visit Honduras is hosting this week.

Instead, we draw attention to the unsigned lead editorial in El Tiempo on Saturday May 15, headlined "The CIDH in Honduras".

The editorial comments on the reported return to Honduras this coming week of a delegation from the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, "due to the grave and continued violations since the 28th of June 2009 based upon the coup d'Etat." It is a reminder that there is a consciousness in Honduras of the real continuing urgency of confronting the social, legal, and human rights effects of the coup d'Etat:
To prepare its report on Honduras the CIDH made an exhaustive investigation on the ground, which was introduced at its opportunity to the de facto government and the international community.

Nonetheless, this work, of high legal quality in its specialty, did not have, it appears, influence to restrain the abuses and violations of public power against the opposition to the coup d'Etat and their tremendous collateral consequences, as evidenced by the series of assassinations of journalists under the current regime.

Thanks to this lamentable situation, the CIDH included Honduras in the ominous "black list" of the countries in which human rights are disrespected in an aggressive manner, an odious position that never before had stained the history of our country.

To have an idea of the importance of the presence of the CIDH at this time, it is enough to take into account the composition of this delegation, headed by its president Felipe González, in which participates his vice president Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the general secretary Santiago Cantón, and the special secretary for liberty of expression, Catalina Botero.

The investigation by the CIDH about the situation of human rights in Honduras is key in relation to the work assigned to the Truth Commission, a consequence, at the time, of the diplomatic process orchestrated by the Organization of American States to create an exit from the political crisis derived from the coup d'Etat.

In the same way, this investigation is part of the process for the reinsertion of Honduras in the continental and world community, since to succeed in such a purpose it is indispensable to establish the responsibilities for the offences committed through violation of human rights and political rights, something that, apparently, does not figure in the intentions of the Truth Commission.

Because of the way that political events in Honduras have been developing, in the framework of the political crisis that still remains insoluble, the reticence of the international community to normalize relations with the actual regime, ignoring the breaking of constitutional order, will not disappear nor will it be mediated, except on the part of a few governments inclined-- for their own convenience-- to excuse coups at the hands of oligarchs.

The return of the CIDH to our country in the present circumstances also has the virtue of refreshing the spirit for the defense of human rights, and, very particularly, for the validity of liberty of expression, that needs constant international support in societies, like ours, where the anti-culture of forced silence and of self-censorship is an everyday practice.

Human rights, or international monetary support. Which is, in the end, more important for Honduras at this juncture?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Between the Rock of the Law of Minimum Wage and the Hard Place of Honduran Business

While the ongoing soap opera "Pepe Lobo In Search of Recognition" continues to fascinate us, for most people in Honduras, the more critical issues are those that affect their everyday life. Assassinations of environmental activists and journalists continue. Multiple sectors in Honduras have protested the new economic measures introduced by Lobo Sosa. Unions are restive or in outright resistance.

Among the issues that will affect all Hondurans that are pending resolution: setting the minimum wage.

As the English-language news site Inside Costa Rica reported today, Jose Luis Baquedano, Secretary General of CUTH (the United Workers Confederation) and other union leaders are calling for demonstrations if the minimum wage is not settled this week by Lobo Sosa and his Minister of Labor, Felícito Ávila:
"We will just wait this week for him to decide once and for all, otherwise there is no other alternative but to take to the streets."

The same legal requirement led to then-President Zelaya setting a new minimum wage increase in fall 2008, alienating business owners, credited as one of the factors leading to the coup d'Etat of June 28, 2009. When negotiations between unions and employers fail, the government is required to set the minimum wage. According to Inside Costa Rica,

Although the three major labor unions eased their position lowering the demand for salary increase from 30 to 15 percent, the private sector proposed only 3.7 percent.

The current minimum wage, even after the unprecedented increase by the Zelaya administration to 5500 lempiras ($291) per month for urban labor and 4035 lempiras ($214) for rural labor, is still below the level of funding necessary for purchase of basic household food needs, estimated at $324. The cost of the basic household food needs is "considered the most expensive in the region".

The positions of the two parties are far apart. According to La Tribuna, the unions have lowered their request for raises to 15%, and have indicated openness to 10%; but the business community has limited their offer to 3.7%. In US dollars, the union position requests just over $45 a month more (825 lempiras), while that of business would be an increase of about $11 (203 lempiras) a month.

La Tribuna's coverage says that Lobo Sosa will be meeting on Monday May 17 with the business sector to set the minimum wage, having succeeded this week in calling labor back to the negotiation. The paper says that
By tradition, if there does not exist an accord between the parties, the President on duty will proceed to announce the fixing of the wage by means of an Executive Decree on the International Day of the Worker [May 1], a thing that did not happen this year.

Workers groups reportedly are also threatening that if Lobo Sosa does not comply with his duties under the Ley del Salario Mínimo (Law of Minimum Wage) they will pursue a legal complaint against the Honduran government with the World Trade Organization.

So both by law and tradition, it seems, Lobo Sosa needs to set the terms of employment. There is no doubt that he does so between a rock and a hard place: with unions threatening to take to the streets and mount barricades, and with the specter of what happened to the last president to raise the minimum wage more than the business sector wanted hanging over the decision. So in one sense his hesitation is not surprising. Meanwhile, it is the minimum-wage laborers who are left with too little income to cover the basic cost of living.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Zelaya to Correa: Proposal for a Route to Reconciliation

In a letter dated May 9 directed to Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, former Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales took a step forward as an agent in the ongoing process of working out a way forward for Honduras.

Zelaya occupies a critical but ambiguous position in Honduran political struggle after the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Many members of the opposition were and continue to be inspired by the unprecedented number of steps taken to improve conditions for all Honduras by Zelaya's administration.

Yet the Frente de Resistencia cannot afford to be identified as solely supporters of Zelaya, a depiction used to dismiss their current political aims. Nor is that an accurate characterization of its membership, which includes skeptics about all traditional Honduran politics.

It is impossible even for skeptics to ignore the symbolic value Zelaya has achieved by virtue of having been forcibly expatriated in reaction to steps he had taken to challenge the system that benefits only a small proportion of Hondurans.

Zelaya cannot be ignored; but it has been unclear how he could build on the symbolic position he holds, and in particular, do so in a way that would be productive for the entire Honduran opposition.

With this letter, Zelaya has made his move to try to mobilize his symbolic stature and political experience to push for a voice for the victims of the coup in the face of the Truth Commission, whose legitimacy he challenges centrally.

Sr. President Rafael Correa: I address you with the goal that you will know the agenda that I have proposed for national reconciliation of the Honduran people and to contribute an acceptable peaceful solution for the people to the effect that it would include the recognition of Honduras in the international community.

I present you for your information the following proposal:


From an obligatory exile originated by the military coup d'Etat of the past 28th of June, that today is prolonged through the judicial persecution set loose against me for political purposes, added to the violations of human rights against the people, and considering the coherent and solidary position of UNASUR in defense of the Honduran people, I present to you a proposal that would permit the return of the Honduran state to the bosom of the international community and the national reconciliation of the Honduran people.

Allow us to highlight the following facts:
  • The Supreme Court of Justice absolved, with a final dismissal of charges, the military command, executor of the coup d'Etat and responsible for crimes against humanity
  • The National Congress decree an amnesty solely applicable to the authors of the coup d'Etat, leaving with impunity the most abominable crimes and violations of human rights committed against a defenseless population.
  • The Attorney General and the Supreme Court of Justice, co-authors of the coup d'Etat, executing actions of judicial persecution with political purposes against President Zelaya and his ministers, remain in their positions and enjoying impunity.
  • No organization, nor system of the international community, not the UN, nor the OAS, nor the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (SICA), the Rio Group, among others, has repealed its resolutions and sanctions against the coup d'Etat since the circumstances that originated this deed, that has menaced our democracies, have not been overcome.
  • The "Truth Commission" has been put together in a unilateral manner and without consultation on the part of the government excluding us totally from the entire process, in a misunderstanding that we victims do not have the right to a voice nor representation. This puts us in position of helplessness in the face of the impunity of the executors of the military coup d'Etat.

It is due to the preceding that, very conscious of the position of the UNASUR group and of Ecuador, that occupies the Presidency pro tem, I pose for you the possibility of a political agreement to resolve the crisis derived from the military coup d'Etat, that might contemplate at least the following elements.

1. That the National Congress of Honduras should decree an amnesty, full and sufficient for the via judicial filed by the officials who together with the dictator Micheletti acted in the coup d'Etat and that today are found directing with impunity the institutions administering justice, venting their wrath against ex-President Zelaya and high officials of his government.

This agreement would guarantee the return to the country of ex-President Zelaya and others who today are found in exile, in the full enjoyment of their civil and political rights, a petition supported by the people and the Frente de Resistencia Popular for national reconciliation.

2. That there be given guarantees for the exercise of DEMOCRATIC LIBERTY in the country, that would permit there to be debate and to decide about the necessity for the establishment of participatory democracy and the right that society in Resistance against the coup d'Etat has to state an opinion, to have recognition as a belligerent force, and to demand a new Constitution.

3. To guarantee the end of repression and respect for human rights of all the citizenry, men and women, putting an end to crime, assassination, judicial persecution and repression on the part of the dependencies of the Police and Armed Forces.

4. To remove from their positions the principal people responsible for the civil-military coup d'Etat, that are found occupying the operative organizations of justice and ministerial positions.

5. That the integration of the citizen José Manuel Zelaya Rosales in the Central American parliament should proceed, a position that corresponds to him following his constitutional investiture and by his own right.

6. That an end be put to impunity for violations of human rights and that there be presented to the International Criminal Court the authors of the crimes against humanity that are already sued for those offences and that refused to appear in court. For example: the Attorney General refuses to proceed and to present himself to the international courts although knowing that Honduras is part of the International Criminal Court, and that the suits have been accepted by the CIDH and by the same Criminal Court.

I reaffirm to the government of Ecuador and to UNASUR our disposition to promote this political accord in SICA, CARICOM, the Rio Group, and ALBA, so that in the bosom of the next Assembly of the OAS this plan would be accepted and supported and that Honduras would obtain international recognition, and we all could commit ourselves to this agenda, prior to the development expected for such a great event.

Bitter Pill for Lobo Sosa

In a rare moment of candor, Porfirio Lobo Sosa admitted a setback in his program to get Honduras back to its pre-coup place in the international community. That would include reincorporation back into SICA, the Central American Integration System, and the OAS.

For weeks we've heard from the Lobo administration that that the process was proceeding ahead smoothly, and that they were confident that Honduras would be reincorporated back into SICA and the OAS early this summer, if not earlier.

The first evidence that this might all be bravado came when OAS Secretary General Miguel Insulza gave an interview to El Tiempo earlier this month, and revealed that the reincorporation of Honduras was not even on the program to be discussed at the June OAS meeting in Lima, Peru, as we reported at the time. In that interview Insulza revealed that many members of the OAS still had concerns, particularly about human rights in Honduras, and the continued pursuit of the political charges against Manuel Zelaya Rosales that prevent him from returning to Honduras, despite the Congressional amnesty bill. Insulza also mentioned that the verification commission appointed under the ill-fated Guaymuras Accords, made up of Ricardo Lagos and Hilda Solis, would have to return to Honduras and submit a report to the OAS before reincorporation could be discussed.

Now Porfirio Lobo Sosa tells us there's another problem.

Despite the best wishes of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, it looks like the reincorporation of Honduras back into SICA has hit a roadblock. In comments made to the press yesterday as he left an education event, Lobo Sosa said, "Look, it depends on what Nicaragua decides, but Honduras, with SICA or without SICA will move ahead, you don't have to lose hope about it." Lobo admitted that reincorporation into SICA depends on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who ducked the Saturday lunch where Honduras's reincorporation was supposed to be discussed. Nicaragua does not recognize Lobo's government as legitimate and has not re-established normal diplomatic relations with Honduras since Lobo's inauguration.

Ortega also, Tiempo reports, changed the agenda for the Wednesday meeting of the Central American Presidents in Guatemala; they will discuss the proposed economic treaty between Central America and the European Union. "Possibly Wednesday we will go to Guatemala to revise the free trade agreement with Europe," Lobo said, "although there was no opportunity to consult; its not certain if he [Ortega] will attend or that the meeting is confirmed."

Add to the uncertainty about whether this meeting will happen that Honduras's reincorporation into SICA is no longer on the agenda, and this is really bad news for Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

He and his Foreign Minister, Mario Canahuati, have been emphasizing that all of this was on track to happen soon, and that there were no obstacles to returning Honduras's international relations to normal. Looks like reality caught up with them.

Miguel Insulza told Tiempo on May 5 that Honduras would need to be reincorporated into SICA before the OAS could take up reincorporation into the OAS. As long as reintegration in SICA is deferred, so is consideration of returning to the OAS. And while that is a bitter pill for Lobo Sosa to swallow, it may be the medicine Honduras needs to stop ignoring the continued legacy of the coup.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Are you deliberately avoiding the word 'coup'?"

Our headline comes from a question the Los Angeles Times asked in a Q/A with Eduardo Stein today.

His response?
"That is precisely what we want to clarify. ... There are people here who argue it was a constitutional succession, with minor mishaps along the way. I went on record [shortly after the coup] saying that a forced expulsion of a popularly elected president, taken by military people and thrown out of the country, is a coup. ... Here, I have been reprimanded for taking sides. So now we are calling it an alteration of political institutionality, and we will examine whether there was a constitutional framework and if rights were respected." [emphasis added]

"Here" is Honduras, where Stein was in Tegucigalpa while being interviewed.

If anyone is in doubt as to why members of the Frente de Resistencia doubt the potential for this "Truth Commission" to help resolve the conflict that continues in Honduras, let this be a moment of clarification.

Holding open the possibility of supporting the spurious argument that the coup d'etat that occurred was actually a "constitutional succession" means starting by having already yielded to the faction that was responsible for disrupting constitutional government in Honduras.

And there is more to sustain the suspicions of opponents to the coup:
"there are some things that happened that have antecedents of not just weeks but maybe months or years. Eruption was a date and time, but it took a long time to cook."

Through the repressive rule of the de facto regime, a repeated claim was that the world-wide repudiation of the coup d'etat was unfair because international agencies would not listen to their interpretation of events throughout the term of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales as evidence justifying the coup. Well, it sounds like they will get their way on this one as well.

Not that Stein actually cares that progressives in Honduras will not cooperate with him:
"Among the Zelayistas and the resistance, they see us as just an extension of the coup, only window-dressing."

I suppose that we should be grateful that Stein at least differentiates between personal supporters of Zelaya and the broader resistance. But on the downside, he equates progressives and the extreme right, and thinks that by refusing to acknowledge those with the most at stake in the conflict, the Truth Commission will somehow be able to make a difference:
"We are not worried about the extremes. We have found enough interest among groups who want to come forward. And we have to be surgically careful not to allow ourselves to be sucked into the political squabbles."

Well, I hate to tell him, but the Truth Commission has already been sucked into "political squabbles". That should be the whole point, surely: to clarify the issues that surround differences in power and the exercise of authority about which stake-holders disagree.

And when you think you are avoiding being drawn in, you actually are in danger of accepting the premises offered by one side or another. Such as that it may not actually have been a coup, and the "causes" (read: justifications) may have developed long before the decision was made to kidnap the legally elected president, expatriate him unconstitutionally, and appoint a member of Congress as "president" without legal justification.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Another Failed Reunion: No Free Lunch for Lobo Sosa

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom agreed to recognize Porfirio Lobo Sosa as President of Honduras and work for Honduras's reintegration into SICA after Lobo Sosa agreed to give Manuel Zelaya Rosales safe conduct out of the Brazilian embassy on January 27, 2010.

Since that time Colom as been trying to get the Central American Presidents together to discuss how and when to reincorporate Honduras in the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericano, or SICA .

Honduras was suspended from SICA after the coup last June. SICA, composed of the Central American countries, with China and Mexico as observers, seeks to fortify its member countries' democracy and institutions, deal with regional security interests, and provide for economic integration among its member countries, among other guiding principles. SICA is currently engaged in negotiations with the European Union to establish better trade relations between the two regions.

On May 7, President Colom issued an urgent call for a meeting in Guatemala attended by all the Central American Presidents for next Wednesday. This invitation was almost immediately canceled because all the Central American Presidents were confirmed to attend the inauguration of Costa Rica's new President, Laura Chinchilla, yesterday, and were expected to be staying on to attend a lunch yesterday hosted by President Chinchilla, where the discussions could take place.

That lunch meeting never happened.

President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador announced on arrival in Costa Rica yesterday that he would have to return to El Salvador because one of the members of his delegation had developed a health problem. Then, Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, decided not to stay for the lunch and returned to their home countries right after the inauguration.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the press the summit in Costa Rica had been canceled, so they all gathered together, cameramen and photographers waiting for statements.

Porfirio Lobo appeared first and told them "We hadn't exactly settled on a meeting for today, but there was the idea that it would be here, or in Guatemala on Wednesday."

Because President Ortega left right after the inauguration, as did President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who doesn't recognize Lobo as President of Honduras, this started rumors that there was discord among the Central American Presidents.

Costa Rica's Foreign Minister, René Castro, appeared before the press two hours later to reassure them that there was no discord, that it had simply proved impossible to get all the Presidents together to discuss reincorporating Honduras in SICA.

Putting the best face on things, Castro said it was a positive step that all of the Presidents came to Chinchilla's inauguration. "All Central Americans are happy to be together again," he said. "We had been thinking about substituting the meeting that we could not have here today for a quick meeting on Wednesday among the Presidents in Guatemala, which has a problem in that there is already planned another meeting of the [Central American negotiators of the agreement with the EU] and it would be almost parallel".

The reference, of course, is to the negotiation for a Central America economic agreement with the EU in Spain, to which Lobo Sosa was invited and then uninvited.

As long as the Lobo Sosa administration insists on touting every minor international contact as "recognition", though, it seems that the continued inability of Mauricio Funes to make it to planned "summits", and the polite but determined attempt by Daniel Ortega to avoid sitting down at a table with Porfirio Lobo Sosa for anything other than urgent bilateral negotiations, cannot really be chalked up in the win column.

On to Spain!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hunger strike at National University becomes serious

Today in El Tiempo there is a report on an ongoing hunger strike by employees and one student at the national university in Tegucigalpa (UNAH). Four of the eleven employees on hunger strike were reportedly treated for medical problems on Thursday including cramps, faintness, strong headaches, and loss of vision.

Tiempo reports that students who are members of the Movimiento de Resistencia Patriótica (MRP) started a drive to collect food for the dismissed employees this past Thursday.

The hunger strike began on April 27 to demand the rehiring of 186 employees who were fired, the article says, "supposedly for taking over the UNAH." La Tribuna gives a more detailed report that describes the situation as beginning on February 23, when members of the UNAH union took over a building to put pressure on the university administration to negotiate a new contract, and then
extended to all the University City [campus] by taking in progressive form the remaining buildings, which impeded classes being able to be held during almost two weeks.

This led directly to the arrest of University union leaders on charges of, among other things, charges of sedition, as we previously described. On May 3, the judge hearing the case issued a dismissal for the remaining union members whose charges were still pending.

The Tiempo article notes that
uncertainty is growing for the university workers, since their calls still have not been heard by the university rector, Julieta Castellanos

According to coverage in La Tribuna, the initial hunger strikers, David Montoya Velásquez, Víctor Rodríguez, María Juvencia Alvarez, Katy Marlen Pereira, Josué David Reyes and Dilier Herrera, were joined on April 30 by a philosophy student Marvin Amílcar Pérez, and workers Nora Valladares, Jorge Rafael Durón Flores, Gustavo Adolfo Salinas, María Lucila Miranda and Anderson Flores. Finally, a few days later, Samuel Elías Sánchez Flores and Abelardo Antonio Alvarado joined the protest.

Four are in critical condition. Anderson Flores was hospitalized on May 6. No progress appears to be happening on negotiating an end to their hunger strike. Julieta Castellanos met with the Secretary of Trabajo y Seguridad Social, Felicito Ávila a week ago to try to agree on a solution, without success.

Castellanos, of course, is busy in her recently adopted role of Honduran member of the highly contested "Truth Commission".

Friday, May 7, 2010

Part Of The Problem

The not so Supreme Court in Honduras just showed more of why it is a major part of the problem in Honduras. Last night the Supreme Court voted 10 to 5 to dismissed four judges and a public defender. The dismissed judges crimes? They criticized, in various ways, the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

The dismissed professionals are Adán Guillermo Lopez, Luis Alonso Chevez, Tirza Flores, Ramon Enrique Barrios, and Osman Fajardo. All are members of the Association of Judges for Democracy, a group of judges and magistrates who opposed the coup.

Lopez, Fajardo, and Chevez were dismissed for participating in anti-coup rallies. Barrios was dismissed for writing an article that questioned the position of the Supreme Court that called the coup a "constitutional succession". Flores was dismissed for submitting a constitutional appeal of the charges against Manuel Zelaya Rosales and members of his cabinet before the Supreme Court.

The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), an NGO promoting human rights in the Americas, condemned their dismissal. The regional director of CEJIL, Alejandra Nuño, said in a press release that the dismissal,
"signified a reprisal for the exercise of the right of free expression and of association; its also a clear intimidating message for any other judicial functionary who questions the authorities who supported the coup."

"This is a setback for judicial independence. The court has sent a message that judges should not be critical, but rather submissive and obedient," said Tirza Flores. The Association of Judges for Democracy called the dismissals "arbitrary and unjustified" with a "hint of politics". The group said it would pursue an appeal of the dismissals until internal possibilities were exhausted, and from there proceed to the International Court of Human Rights.

CEJIL announced it will work for their return "in all the legal, political, and diplomatic spaces."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jose Manuel Zelaya: Symbolic Exile

Articles in the Honduran pro-coup La Tribuna and the Spanish Europa Press today report that Porfirio Lobo Sosa has invited José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to return to Honduras, supposedly without fear of being arrested on outstanding warrants. The offer by Lobo Sosa was spurred by President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala

Lobo Sosa is quoted as saying that the officials of the Judicial branch-- over which the Executive of course has no direct power--
"know that any decision that would be to go and order jailed the ex-president Zelaya would be a great problem for Honduras, that would not be right for Honduras."

"The Supreme Court of Justice has said to me: 'we understand the law, justice, but we also understand the actual political situation that we Hondurans confront'."

Sounds good, right? well, not so fast: Lobo Sosa also is quoted as saying that the justices
"are not going to generate any type of conflict over this; they are not going to more than what is incumbent on them in accordance with the law and that allows people to be heard in liberty." "Without me being the Judicial Power, what I have discussed with the president of the Court (Jorge Rivera), is that they have a real recognition that there are things that simply have to be given all the facility so that that do not generate a great conflict for our dear Honduras."

Not quite so clear now, is it?

Lobo Sosa is playing a risky card here: if Zelaya accepted this offer and came back, the Public Prosecutor and courts would have to maintain what he says is their understanding of the political repercussions for Honduras of pursuing the charges that were put together in the wake of the coup. The amnesty passed by the Honduran Congress was limited to "political crimes", meaning it wiped the record clean for the authors of the coup; but among the charges the Public Prosecutor developed against Zelaya are a series of so-called "common crimes" not covered by the amnesty.

So what Lobo Sosa is engaged in here is a kind of bait and switch. He is careful to make clear that he is not the Judicial authority; and so he does not guarantee anything, actually.

But this kind of statement gets blurred when reported in the international press.

Lobo Sosa is actually doing something much subtler than it appears on the surface: by focusing on Zelaya, he is able to advance the idea that international pressure not to grant Honduras easy return to the OAS and SICA, represented most recently by the protest of UNASUR countries against his attendance at the summit in Spain, is just about the treatment of the former president. And this allows him to make a politically popular claim in Honduras, that it is unfair for the international community to make a demand that Zelaya return, and even that Zelaya is simply being an obstructionist:
"President Zelaya does not come because he does not want to come, he is Honduran and he has the legitimate right to come when he wants; I feel more that it is a political matter."

What this claim echoes, of course, is the attempt by the Honduran right to dismiss broader issues by equating the Frente de Resistencia with the liberal party, by labeling public demonstrators in favor of a Constitutional Assembly as "zelayistas", and by ignoring the broader set of concerns that UNASUR governments, and others, have expressed about continuing human rights abuses against those who opposed the coup d'etat and continue to oppose Lobo Sosa's government.

In fact, as a fascinating post by Adrienne Pine, and editorial opinions reproduced at voselsoberano demonstrate, there is active debate in the opposition movement about what place former president Zelaya has and should have. It serves a conservative purpose to reduce the complexity of positions to a more familiar narrative that treats Zelaya as a would-be Peron. The opinions of those in opposition range from endorsements of Zelaya as the one president who actively took up popular causes, without direct benefit and paying the ultimate political price, to those who are skeptical of all would-be political leaders.

Zelaya has become a potent symbol in the post-coup universe of Honduras. So it is probably worth giving the person, Mel Zelaya the last words here, rather than let him remain a symbolic pawn debated by those on the left and right in Honduras and abroad:
"Señor Porfirio Lobo, I am grateful for your good intentions but your own Minister of Security contradicts them, the prosecutor contradicts them, the magistrates contradict them." "Lift the orders to capture me, annul the penal cases presented by the golpistas, and I assure you that tomorrow by noon I will be in Honduras."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Honduras Un-Invited to Spain?

In a story published on its website half an hour ago, La Confidencial of Spain reports that Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spanish Minister of External Affairs "has had to rescind" the invitation previously issued to Porfirio Lobo Sosa to attend the Cumbre América Latina y el Caribe-Unión Europea (EU-Latin American and Caribbean Summit). The report says
reliable sources affirmed to this paper that Moratinos will withdraw the invitation to Lobo to attend the summit planned for Madrid the next 17th and 18th.

The reason? As also reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, a number of influential Latin American governments have promised to skip the Spanish summit if Lobo Sosa were there:
Many nations share “unease” over recognizing Lobo, who was elected last November in a vote overseen by a coup-installed government, and will not attend the Madrid summit, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said yesterday in Argentina.

Specifically, as we previously noted, the countries that make up UNASUR are declining to join Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who they do not recognize, in a setting that is being used in Honduras as a propaganda point, misrepresented as evidence of normalization of diplomatic relations with other participating countries.

El Confidencial observes that
[Rafael] Correa, as well as the Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and the Bolivian Evo Morales, consider that Lobo won the elections without democratic legality having been re-established, after the ex-president Manuel Zelaya were overthrown the 28th of June of 2009 by the military coup that pulled Roberto Micheletti into power in an interim form. Argentina and Paraguay also do not recognize Lobo as legitimate.

The Bloomberg Businessweek story, citing an emailed statement from Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati , said that Honduras would "cut funding for diplomatic relations with countries that boycott the May 18 European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit".

Apparently the threat was ineffective.

Not Automatic Afterall

Mario Canahuati, Honduras's Foreign Minister, said April 25 that the reincorporation of Honduras into the OAS was all but a done deal, that it should be automatic, and will happen this June at the OAS assembly in Lima, Peru. Miguel Insulza, the OAS Secretary General, just threw a bucket of cold water on Honduras's hopes for that meeting.

In an interview with the Honduran daily, El Tiempo, Insulza said
"It won't be resolved in the OAS assembly in Lima, but I also don't think it will take until December to resolve it. Most of the Foreign Ministers of the countries I've talked to don't want this general assembly in Lima, which will discuss important themes, to end up an assembly about Honduras ."

Insulza added, Tiempo reports, that setting up the Truth Commission is not the last thing Honduras needs to do before being readmitted to the community of nations.

"Tiempo Reporter: Is the installation of the Truth Commission a ticket whereby Honduras automatically is reincorporated in the OAS?

Insulza: Its one of the topics. At this point the issues raised mainly are: the clarification of issues of public interest such as the human rights issue, not necessarily the investigation of each case, but a better understanding of what the real situation of human rights and persecutions occurring in Honduras, and the issue of regularizing the situation of President José Manuel Zelaya."

Insulza also noted that the members of the Verification (not the Truth) Commission, Ricardo Lagos, and Hilda Solis, need to return to Honduras to evaluate all that has occurred, write a report, and present it to the Permanent Council of the OAS. This bucket of cold water on Canahuati's pronouncement that reincorporation into the OAS was automatic and would happen in June, is political reality, not the PR message Canahuati has been advancing.

Insulza's comments are no doubt tempered by the results of the UNASUR meeting just a few days ago. UNASUR is composed of the governments of the 12 countries of South America. Honduras was one of their topics of discussion. Only two of their member governments, Columbia and Peru, have recognized Porfirio Lobo Sosa as President of Honduras. The rest consider him an illegitimate President.

In that meeting, UNASUR appointed Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, its spokesperson to communicate to President Zapatero of Spain their unhappiness with his invitation of Porfirio Lobo Sosa to the May 18 meetings between the European Union and Latin America. In a letter addressed to Zapatero, UNASUR communicated that if Porfirio Lobo Sosa was invited, several of the member governments would boycott the meeting.

La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper, reports that President Lula of Brazil, wrote in a letter to Zapatero, that Lobo is moving forward with "reconciliation" via a "truth commission" to "establish the fiction of democracy, based on forgetting the crimes and pardoning the criminals", all the while putting down the popular Resistance by "selectively assassinating the leaders, independent journalists, and the violent eviction of struggling communities."
"The coup in Honduras is a threat to Latin America, it favors the re-articulation of the conservative right and militarism on the continent, strengthening policy of invasions, wars, interfering, criminalization and prosecution of social struggles, promoted by the government and sectors of American and world power.

Asked specifically about UNASUR and Lula by the Tiempo reporter, José Miguel Insulza said
"This has all the impact that the opinion of a member country has. We make decisions by consensus and naturally the opinion of Brazil is fundamental. Now President Lula spoke of not rushing, and that may mean some delay in reexamining the issue, but it does not mean a veto of the return of Honduras to the OAS."

No, its not a veto, but it does mean Insulza's job is much harder, since a consensus will be difficult if most of the UNASUR countries continue to oppose reincorporation under Article 22 of the OAS charter. Consensus according to Article 22, requires a two-thirds vote to approve readmission of a suspended government.

This is why Insulza said its not automatic, and its not on the agenda for the June OAS meeting.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The business of the Truth Commission is business

What does it mean when the most accurate English language reports about the aftermath of the Honduran coup come from the business media?

Not for the first time, Bloomberg has a clear and accurate story, and it even includes new information: citing Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati, the economic impact of the coup was a reduction of 6.6 percent of gross domestic product, equivalent to $930.6 million.

Bloomberg also manages to actually cite a Honduran against the coup without describing him inaccurately as a "leftist", a "Zelaya supporter", or any of the other terms used to diminish the authority of those opposed to the Lobo Sosa administration and to the international movement to artificially impose closure on Honduran society:
Coup opponents such as Andres Pavon, head of the Honduran Human Rights Defense Committee, say they fear the truth commission, headed by former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, isn’t qualified and will whitewash the coup.

This is the crux of the matter. And it does matter: to the extent that a major constituency in Honduras sees the "truth commission" as illegitimate, it cannot be successful in bridging polarization among Hondurans.

But then, that is not what the commission is for: Bloomberg reports that Canahuati hopes it will help the country return to the Organization of American States and reduce investor concerns over political instability:
"We want to do what we can to leave behind the shock to our economy... Our intention is to have friends and alliances.”

Which is a far cry from working through the internal fractures exacerbated by the coup and the de facto regime, which were not healed by the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa.