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.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

US Congressional Actions you don't see covered in the Wall Street Journal

It is important to remember that the US government is not a singular entity. Much of the criticism of the actions of the Obama administration revolves around muddled messages or actions that tend to legitimate the de facto regime, and lack of actions that would clearly communicate to the coup participants and broader Honduran civil society that the US really, really does not approve, not even covertly.

Meanwhile, if you read mainstream US news, you may hear that Congress is concerned that the US State Department is overly supportive of President Zelaya. You may see coverage of visits by Republican congress members to Honduras, where they report that everything is normal.

They can say this even on a day when protesters in both Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula were brutally attacked, and yet another university-- the Universidad Pedagogica campus-- was invaded by the police.

But these Republican politicians who support the coup are not the only US congress members taking stands on the situation in Honduras. Dozens of representatives have signed on to House Resolution 630, condemning the coup, sponsored by Representatives William Delahunt and José Serrano, among others. Representative Raúl Grijalva and 16 colleagues have sent a letter to the president requesting additional sanctions directly against coup participants.

And now, courtesy of La Tribuna, one of the most curious reported stories of engagement by US congress members, this time in the Senate, implies for a Honduran domestic audience that Senator John Kerry is open to being persuaded not to support further sanctions.

Titled Efforts by CEAL in Washington to avoid sanctions, and datelined Washington, August 12, the article quotes Senator Kerry as congratulating the CEAL (Business Counsel of Latin America- Honduras section) for its "fundamenta role in the process of negotiation" of the Honduran political crisis.

It says he "welcomed" the efforts of the CEAL, which "together with other business organizations, went to Washington to keep the political crisis that the country suffers from contaminating economic and commercial relations with the United States".

The report goes on to say that after the events of June 28, CEAL mobilized on Washington to keep the country from suffering sanctions, along with the Honduran Maquiladora Association. Together, it notes, "they hired a law firm (lobbyists) with strong connections with the Democratic and Republican benches [in congress] so that the interests of Honduras would be preserved".

This, of course, is the lobbying firm of Lanny Davis, whose ties to the Clinton family convince the Honduran scholars with whom I am in contact that the US State Department is covertly supporting the de facto regime. And this article certainly implies a kind of smug self-congratulation by the business community in Honduras, plus the propaganda value of assuring its Honduran audience that they are getting a hearing at the highest levels in Washington.

So what were they seeking to avoid? "They concentrated especially on their interest that remittances, which provide 20% of the Gross Domestic Product with 2.8 million dollars in remittances sent in 2008, would not suffer any sanction, since more than a million homes depend on them as sources of support." The official number is actually 2.7 million, and the business interests need to be understood in terms of the way remittances, spent domestically, provide capital and profits.

The second major interest, defined as specific to the maquilas, was keeping the benefits of CAFTA intact. Again, this is couched in terms of keeping 200,000 jobs intact. But it also means the profits from these export-oriented businesses might remain intact as the economy overall begins to show the effects of the coup, and is now expected to contract 2% this year (rather than grow 2%) as a direct consequence of the coup.

As the article notes, "remittances and maquilas, together with other benefits of CAFTA, are the backbone of the economy, since they represent more than 80% of the foreign commerce of Honduras."

So far, what we might expect from a lobbying group for business. What happens next is a surreal turn if we keep in mind that these companies include many of the supporters of the coup:

At the same time, the businessmen have wagered on a peaceful solution to the political crisis.

The Democratic Senator and ex-presidential candidate Kerry supports the initiative of President Oscar Arias that places emphasis on the San Jose Accord, which is the mechanism for a concerted outcome from the political crisis.

At the same time, the accord referenced "represents the best solution to the crisis in Honduras", according to the communique of Kerry, since he considers it "effective" and it permits "verification".

He also favors the naming of a special mission of high dignataries so that the crisis can have a peaceful and negotiated outcome.

Remember that this is a story published in a pro-coup paper, for a Honduran audience. What is it trying to say?

Surely not that the businessmen support the non-negotiable requirement in the San Jose Accord of a return of the elected government.

The bizarre quotes pulled out of Kerry's statement actually help determine that this story-- published as if it were news of a recent discussion-- actually refers to events that took place before July 30, the date of the statement. Kerry's statement was a response to one of Micheletti's many false feints implying support for the Arias negotiation. In it, the restoration of President Zelaya was explicitly mentioned, although in the propaganda piece that appeared today in Honduras, this part was left out by the strategic use of out-of-context quotes.

The business community is desperate. Why?

A chilling analysis of the economic impact of the coup is available in Laura Jung's translation of the analysis by Honduran economist Jéronimo Pastor de Maria Campos published by Adrienne Pine.

Pastor de Maria Campos notes that 12% of foreign reserves have disappeared since the coup; tourism income is down 36% (my contacts in Honduras noted in July that visitation to Classic Maya Copan had dropped to ca. 15 people per day); direct foreign investment fell from 12.19% under Zelaya during the first six months of the year to -15.6% year-to-year after the coup; and as a result, he projects that any government coming into office in January 2010 will have only $500 million in reserves, potentially sparking massive devaluation of the lempira.

This oddly converges with the US Republican delegation's report that the de facto regime assured them they have enough resources to hold on for eight months. While the Republican delegation offered this as something of a positive point, indicating that economic pressure would not force the regime to give in, what this actually means is that the regime is committed to burning through over 60% of the country's remaining resources by the time the next president is inaugurated. Glass half empty, glass half full.


TITO said...

I have a service contract with Marriott Hotel next to the Presidential Palace. The hotel administration has suspended every third party contractor for one month (august)and might extend the suspension if this situation continuous.

After the coup, the average occupation osilates from 15 up to 30%. Before the coup, it was about 80%.

Additionally, there is a campaign against the business that have been identified as pro-coup (financially) consisting in not buying their products. Would this "popular" sanction have an impact in the long run?

Nell said...

Since the subject of Congressional involvement has come up: take a look at the cringe-making report of Rep. Connie Mack (R-Nation of Miami) on his weekend jaunt to support the coup three weeks ago. It reads in several places as if written by a grade schooler (suspects include the staffers he took along, named in the report).

RAJ said...

Yes, the in-text link above leads to the same statement. Originally I was going to paraphrase it but it really needs to be read in full, to be appreciated.

I particularly like the fact that they know that Tegucigalpa life was normal because there was a wedding at the Hotel Intercontinental.

What is useful in the report, though, are two things they try to spin but cannot quite manage to completely obscure: one is the paraphrases of Llorens' briefings, which are more frank than any other direct source about him.

The other is their dismissive report on their meeting with "civil society" by which they mean the groups protesting the coup. While they condescend to the group, what comes through is an articulate critique of the current situation, which was apparently otherwise invisible to the group.

I also must say, the beginning, in which they frankly admit they went against the request of the US government, is illuminating as well.

RAJ said...

Titozone's report is an extremely important indication of the truth of the economic situation, which the de facto regime is trying to cover up.

After the report of the drastically lowered economic growth projections by the Central Bank yesterday, de facto regime members went on the offensive claiming that the Zelaya regime's original projections (which actually matched other independent projections) were overly optimistic.

We can expect continuing lies, and so it is critical that we get first hand reports like this one.

RAJ said...

But the Mack report is even more troubling, because the way they described Llorens' acknowledging that Article 239 was not invoked until as a post-facto rationale contrasts with other parts of his report.

Mack gives Article 239 top billing in his extremely biased background to the trip; then he says the ambassador and his staff "felt it was unnecessary" to talk about it; then he describes "President" Micheletti giving the delegation copies of the Constitution and asking them to "examine" Article 239.

What he does by threading this through in this way is imply that he and Micheletti are taking the right approach by using Article 239 to justify the coup, while the ambassador and his staff are somehow lax. It is a nasty piece of writing all the way around.