Honduras Coup 2009

Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Honduras Culture and Politics: An ending and a beginning

With the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, boz suggests, the Honduran coup has ended.

Certainly, it is this inauguration that has led to the end of the direct domination of Honduran governance by Roberto Micheletti.

We have already noted that any expectation that this transition will reconcile polarized parties in Honduras, will end the quest by a variety of interested groups for constitutional reform, or erase from historical memory the events of the past months, is unrealistic.

But we agree that it is no longer the same situation, and thus, Honduras Coup 2009 has reached an end. But one that also marks a new beginning for us.

Like boz and Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice, we think that Honduras is entering a critical period when it would be well if the world continued to pay attention. And like the author of IKN, we are half-expecting the world to turn its collective back and ignore Honduras once more.

And that means that our mission remains: to address "the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras" and to continue to call attention to the writing of Honduran writers and scholars who are best positioned to place the struggle to come into broader context.

So we invite you to join us at our new blog, Honduras Culture and Politics. There we intend to continue to foreground the intersection of culture in all its forms with events that involve differentials of power.

We know that many readers of this blog will want to be kept up to date on what happens to the major players who dominated the last seven months, and we will cover developments there. We intend to keep track of stories we have been following-- the devastation of the economy, the distortion of the legal system, the recognition or lack thereof of human rights violations, and the politicization of cultural policy.

But we also hope that people who originally began paying attention to Honduras this last year solely due to a breakdown in constitutional order may have gained an interest in the country that will make it worth a few moments a day to see what we find interesting and worth presenting to you with context, analysis, and yes, opinion.

And if not: thank you for being part of this project. We will continue to support our friends and colleagues in Honduras in every way possible. We will continue to prize the new colleagues we have come to know throughout the world who are dedicated to progressive agendas and not disheartened by the struggle. This has been a transformative year for us and for many of our close colleagues and friends, and we appreciate those readers who were not willing to settle for the simplifications and misrepresentations of mainstream media.

The Puppet Master Pulls The Strings

If there was any doubt that the United States is orchestrating the political choreography going on in Honduras right now, it should be put to rest. Arturo Valenzuela, representing the United States at Porfirio Lobo Sosa's inauguration, told the press today that the United States has not made any decision about restoring aid to Honduras yet. "We haven't made any determinations yet," said Valenzuela. "The new president of Honduras has taken the country in the right direction," Valenzuela added after Lobo Sosa talked both about establishing a government of reconciliation, and establishing a truth commission in his first 100 days in office, both of which Valenzuela called "essential elements" to the restoration of democratic order in Honduras. "Things are moving pretty much in the right direction."

Zelaya En Route to Dominican Republic

Manuel Zelaya Rosales went by car from the Brazilian embassy to Toncontin International Airport about 20 minutes ago and arrived at the airforce base there. He was accompanied by his wife, a daughter, Rasel Tomé and escorted by President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, fresh from his inauguration ceremony, President Colom of Guatemala, and President Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. At the same time, the other people within the Brazilian embassy who were Zelaya supporters left the embassy without incident, La Tribuna reported. At the airport was a large crowd organized by the Frente de Resistencia to see him off. Crowd photos showed that there were many thousand people gathered peacefully there. At the air force base the Zelayas and Tomé boarded a twin engine Embraer jet, which has just taken off for the Dominican Republic.

Update 2:35 pm PST: The spokesperson for President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala is denying that Colom attended Lobo Sosa's inauguration and accompanied Zelaya to Toncontin Airport as various Honduran newspapers have reported today.

Update 4:21 pm PST: Zelaya has arrived in the Dominican Republic. La Tribuna reports that General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez was at the Airport to see Zelaya off. "Political phenomena are one thing, another is the friends you keep," Vasquez Velasquez told the press.

Thanks to our good friends in the Honduran anthropological and historical research community for the photo reproduced here of the long line of marchers headed to the airport to see Mel Zelaya off.

More US spin on Honduras...

is brought to you by Voice of America, which starts its story from this morning with the following headline and tagline:
Honduran Congress Grants Zelaya, Coup Plotters Amnesty

Supreme Court also clears military of criminal charges; both moves seen as steps toward national reconciliation before President-elect Lobo takes office Wednesday.
Really? seen as "steps toward national reconciliation" by whom?

From the very first version of the US-inspired San Jose Accord, there has been a proposal for amnesty in the agreements that were proposed to end the coup.

Just as consistently, both sides in Honduras have rejected the call for amnesty. Some English-language commentaries suggested this was due to the fierce animosity between the two sides, and the desire by both to keep open the possibility for revenge prosecution.

But as we are seeing now, the issue for Hondurans is actually a good deal more complex than amnesty/no amnesty. Papered over in the VOA story is the continued uncertainty about the status of the additional bill of charges against President Zelaya, produced after the installation of the coup regime, which are not covered by this amnesty. The amnesty, as we noted in the previous post, is for specific identified crimes, those considered "political" or connected to them.

The debate in congress and the party-line split vote reveal major disagreement about the best way toward "national reconciliation" within the Congress itself.

What we are seeing in the spin given these moves by VOA is the US perspective. The US insists that Honduras go through a theatrical performance of enacting the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord even though that brokered compromise absolutely failed and is utterly irrelevant now. One hopes the US State Department doesn't suffer the illusion that Zelaya will not be prosecuted when he eventually returns to Honduras, because if so, they will likely be disappointed.

It is perhaps not too much to treat the VOA article as a proxy for how the US State Department would like to rewrite the story of the coup. From that perspective, two further things leap out.

First, in reporting on the shameless use of the Supreme Court as a mechanism to cleanse the Armed Forces of all responsibility for their actions on June 28, the VOA states that the Court found that the Armed Forces "acted to preserve peace in Honduras". That is certainly part of the court's argument; but by selecting that piece, and leaving out the part about the Armed Forces not acting out of "malice", the VOA gives a tweaked impression of the arguments being offered to justify the Armed Forces violating the Constitution as well as exceeding the Supreme Court warrant produced to justify their actions.

Bad enough that good intentions alone can clear the military of wrong-doing (thus creating a precedent for future interventions in government "to preserve peace". Are you listening, Pepe?) But perhaps it would be worth paying attention to the fact that the Honduran stakeholders feel there is something more involved: the question of whether people were motivated not just by their better angels, but by "malice". This is not a conflict that will be sanitized by formalized actions.

Which is, in essence, what the Congressional debate over "amnesty" showed. In our post from yesterday, we simply reported that the Liberal party abstained. The real story is more complicated, as Tiempo reported in the article we linked to in the previous post:

The Liberal Party abstained from voting because they could not come to agreement, since only 8 had defined a position (five against and three in favor), while among the rest there were diverse positions on the sense that it was necessary to know in depth the reach of the project [of amnesty], to socialize the decision more, to listen first to the Truth Commission and then consult the people in a plebiscite.
(For the public consultation observers out here, that would be consultar el pueblo en un plebiscito...)

In other words: the Liberal Party congress members are wary of how the Honduran public will react. As the party that occupied both sides in the coup, they have been burned the most by the political fallout. And they are worried about who this will affect, what the public will think about it, and how it will harmonize with the expected Truth Commission. Better to get the public to ratify it and relieve the political pressure.

And the second thing that leaps out in the VOA article: even to the bitter end, the English language media still think the real cause of this coup was a non-existent attempt to prolong the current Presidential term in office; as the last sentence of this meretricious piece of writing sums up the whole sordid seven months
Mr. Zelaya's opponents say he was ousted because he was trying to illegally change the constitution to extend his term in office. [emphasis added]
And VOA, like the US State Department, gives those "opponents"-- the architects of the coup-- the last word.

[Nerdy word usage aside here: technically, the verb "socializar" has two meanings, the first to privatize something, as in State seizure of property, and the second
Promover las condiciones sociales que, independientemente de las relaciones con el Estado, favorezcan en los seres humanos el desarrollo integral de su persona

To promote the social conditions that, independently of relations with the State, favor in human beings the integral development of their persons.
The closest to the sense here would be that the Liberal Party congress members feel the need to promote the idea of amnesty among Honduran society, to introduce it as a social value that presumably they are not sure already exists. In other words, they are dubious that amnesty is part of the Honduran habitus.

How badly can the press distort Honduras news?

Infinitely, it would seem.

Late Tuesday, Reuters reports say, the Honduran Congress voted an amnesty for José Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Reuters news wire headlined its story "Zelaya to exit Honduras in win for coup leaders". According to Reuters, Zelaya is headed into "exile" although the "political amnesty" voted by Congress would not affect "the criminal charges hanging over him".

Only one problem with this account: it isn't quite accurate.

As reported in a story posted at 12:24 AM (Honduras time) in Tiempo,
The National Congress last night approved amnesty for political crimes and the common crimes connected to them before and after the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya, but did not include acts of corruption such as the use of State resoures to support the "cuarta urna" [campaign], nor violations of human rights such as homicides, tortures, and other outrages against demonstrators.
Explicitly listed as included in the amnesty were the following crimes:

Delitos de traición a la patria.
Delitos contra la forma de gobierno.

Abuso de autoridad.
Violación de los deberes de los funcionarios.
Usurpación de funciones.

Of these, traición, delitos contra la forma de gobierno, abuso de autoridad, and usurpación de funciones (treason, offenses against the form of government, abuse of authority, and usurpation of functions) are the specific crimes included in the petition against President Zelaya submitted to the Supreme Court, which should mean that the original arrest warrant against him is now moot.

But these are also the most likely crimes with which the de facto regime and other coup participants could have been charged. So the bill passed by Congress actually is at least as much about protecting the authors of the coup as about achieving some sort of reconciliation. The addition of sedition, terrorism, and disobedience, not part of the warrant against Zelaya raises the question, who exactly is being helped by this part of the new law?

Even more forcefully pushing the idea that everything is now just fine in Honduras, the Washington Post headlines its story "New Honduran leader to take office, ending turmoil".

How easy is that! all that unrest just melting away...

Too bad that coverage of the actual Congressional action exposes that as wishful thinking, even if we only take into account continued controversy within the elected national government (and ignore for the moment the existence of a well-organized Resistance sworn to continue advocating for constitutional reform).

Again as reported in Tiempo, the bill passed by the Congress drew not a single vote from the Liberal party, which abstained en masse, while the UD party members voted against it.

Congress member Marvin Ponce said that "practically, the golpistas are pardoning their victims". This was in reaction to the incorporation in the prologue to the bill of statements exonerating Roberto Micheletti, the members of Congress who illegally elevated him to power, and the Armed Forces from having violated the Constitution or committed a coup.

As UD party congress member Sergio Castellanos said, “congress members cannot self-pardon for the coup d'etat, they cannot pardon those who assassinated more than 100 persons, those that converted a city into a concentration camp."

The National party urged the Congress to act because it is what the international community has demanded as a condition to restart aid. Other parties remained unconvinced of the idea, with many suggesting Congress should wait for the truth commission mandated by the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord to "say what it was that really happened and who were the guilty parties".

So no, the inauguration isn't going to make the whole coup go away magically. No matter how much the English-language media try to cast Pepe Lobo as a charismatic leader destined to heal the nation.

The first sentence of the Post's story could have be describing the 2006 inauguration:
A conservative rancher is being sworn in as Honduras' new president...
Remember when it was Zelaya who was the new conservative rancher president? No? well, don't worry: neither does the amnesiac English-language press.

The Post continues:
The left-leaning Zelaya said he would accept that he was no longer president - but only the moment his four-year constitutional term officially ended Wednesday.
Um... OK: President Zelaya at least knows that he is no longer President when his term ends, even if the Post seems surprised by this. It would be nice if I were sure that the Post understands that he is still President now, even if he is kept prisoner by an illegitimate regime. Apparently, they were expecting maybe that Zelaya would insist he was still President? Noting that the November election was illegitimate isn't the same as arguing for the extension of his own term in office...

But even a broken clock is right twice a day. The Reuters story concluded
As a sign that Honduras is trying to erase memories of the coup, a Supreme Court judge cleared military leaders of any wrongdoing on Tuesday after prosecutors accused them of abuse of power for rousting Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint.
To "erase memories of the coup".

That does sound like a pretty good description of what the Court was hoping to accomplish.

Somehow, I don't believe that the Honduran people will actually be forgetting this past seven months anytime soon.

But at least the Supreme Court has relieved them of having to confront what has happened. Much better to suppress those memories and live in denial.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lobo Will Accompany Zelaya to Airport

The Spanish website ABC reported late this afternoon that Porfirio Lobo Sosa will accompany Manuel Zelaya Rosales from the Brazilian Embassy to Toncontin International airport in Tegucigalpa after Lobo Sosa's inauguration. Lobo Sosa will be accompanied by President Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, and President Colom of Guatemala. Lobo Sosa said:

"Can you imagine beginning a government with a president in an embassy? Locked in there? Its not right; its not dignified for a president."

Lobo Sosa also assured the press that the wording on the safe-conduct had been vetted by public prosecutor and two justices of the supreme court, and that it had been made known to the new Congress.

Valenzuela to Attend Lobo Sosa Inauguration

The US Embassy in Honduras has confirmed that Arturo Valenzuela will arrive in Honduras today to attend Porfirio Lobo Sosa's inauguration tomorrow, La Tribuna reported today. Also attending will be José Fernandez, and Craig Kelly. Fernandez is the State Department's Assitant Secretary for Economics, Energy, and Business Affairs. Hugo Llorens, US Ambassador to Honduras, noted that Fernandez's presence "is an important message about the reestablishment of US-Honduras relations with respect to business, financial, development, and investment."

Later this afternoon, the Valenzuela and the US delegation, along with a Canadian delegation, will meet with Manuel Zelaya Rosales in the Brazillian Embassy to finalize Zelaya's plans for exit from the Brazillian Embassy tomorrow.