Jun 29, 2009

ALBA and Via Campesina Issue New Declarations Against the Honduran Coup

The following are our translations of a message from Via Campesina Honduras and the official pronouncement of ALBA received today:

Message from Via Campesina Honduras:

Vía Campesina - Honduras

Confronted with the COUP D'ETAT perpetrated by the military and powerful groups against all of Honduras, we communicate the following:

1.- That the Front of Popular Resistance has been formed, that a civil and peaceful struggle has begun to re-establish constitutional order and bring about the return of the legitimate President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

2.- That there is full international solidarity--the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia--demanding that the coup leaders give up the government that they usurped.

3.- The information controlled by the coup that denies and tries to hide the widespread demonstrations of the people in defense of popular rights in Santa Bárbara, Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba, El Progreso and other places is a lie.

4.- That the population should know that they shut down Channel 8, Channel 36, and pulled the international channels CNN en Español and Telesur off the air.

5.- National stations broadcast only what is in the interests of the groups in power and the coup government.

Tegucigalpa, June 29, 2009.

And the ALBA statement announced in Managua today:

On Sunday, June 28 in the early morning, when the Honduran people prepared to exercise its democratic rights in a non-binding referendum promoted by President Manuel Zelaya Rosales to strengthen participatory democracy, a group of hooded soldiers that claimed to be receiving orders from the High Command of the Armed Forces broke into the home of President Zelaya to kidnap him, hold him incommunicado for several hours, and then violently expel him from his country.

Immediately, the people of Honduras reacted as the dignified heirs of the legacy of Francisco Morazan, in the streets of various cities and villages of Honduras. In the early hours of the morning, hundreds of polls received thousands of women and men who went to exercise their right to vote. When they learned of the kidnapping of their president, they went out into the streets to protest the coup d'etat, setting an example of heroism by confronting rifles and tanks unarmed.

With one voice, the governments and peoples of the continent condemned the coup, stating clearly that in Honduras there is only one president and only one government: that of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. We welcome the declarations of condemnation that, from early on, began to come from other governments of the world.

Faced with the urgency of the situation, the governments of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) immediately called an extraordinary meeting of the Presidential Council to agree on firm actions to defeat the coup in Honduras, to support the heroic people of Morazan, and to unconditionally re-establish President Manuel Zelaya Rosales in his legitimate functions.

After analyzing the circumstances in which this coup came to pass, and due to the gravity of the violations of international law, multilateral conventions and our nations' pacts with the government of Honduras, and in light of the absolute repudiation of the dictatorial government that seeks to impose itself manifested by the international community, the member nations of ALBA have decided to withdraw our ambassadors and leave the minimum diplomatic representation in Tegucigalpa until the legitimate government of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales is reinstated.

We also recognize the personnel designated by President Zelaya as the only diplomatic representatives of Honduras in our countries. Under no circumstances will we accredit anyone designated by the usurpers.

As full members of the various systems of integration in the continent, we urge our fellow nations in UNASUR, SICA, CARICOM, Rio Group, United Nations and the OAS to treat those who have carried out this act of aggression against the Honduran people in this same way.

We have also agreed to declare ourselves on permanent alert to stand by the brave people of Honduras in the acts of resistance they have undertaken. We invoke Art. 2 and 3 of the Political Constitution of Honduras:

“Art. 2: Sovereignty corresponds to the People, from which all the powers of the state emanate that are exercised through representation. The Sovereignty of the People can also be exercised in direct form, through the plebescite and referendum. The substitution of popular Sovereignty and the usurpation of the constituted powers are typified as crimes of Betrayal of the Country. The responsibility in these cases is imprescriptible and can be automatically deduced or at the request of any citizen."

“Art. 3: No-one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order."

[We also invoke] the principles of International Law to support the acts of resistance and rebellion of the people faced with attempts of domination. To the teachers, workers, women, youth, farmers, indigenous people, honest businessmen and women, intellectuals and other actors in Honduran society, we assure them that together we will achieve victory over the coup leaders that seek to impose their rule on the brave people of Francisco Morazan...

Those who seek to direct the coup should know that it will be impossible to impose their will and mock international justice. Sooner or later they will be defeated. To the officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Honduras, we call on you to rectify your actions and place your arms at the service of the people of Honduras and of their Commander in Chief, the President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

The countries of ALBA, in consultation with the governments of the continent and with diverse organizations that guarantee compliance with International Law, are setting forth measures so the serious violations and crimes that are being committed will not go unpunished.

The only path open to the coup leaders is to cease their present course and guarantee the immediate, safe and unconditional return of President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales to his constitutional functions.

The Republic of Honduras is a full member of ALBA, as well as of other regional integration groups and multilateral organisms whose membership demands respect for the sovereignty of the people and the constitution. Although these fundamental conditions have been violated by the coup, the governments of ALBA have decided to continue all international cooperation programs agreed to under President Zelaya.

We also propose to apply exemplary sanctions in all multilateral organizations and integration groups, to contribute to bringing about the immediate restitution of the constituonal order in Honduras, and to make good on the principle of action that Jose Marti taught us when he said: "If each one does his duty, no-one can overome us.

The governments of ALBA declare ourselves in permanent consultation session, with all the governments of the continent, to evaluate other joint actions that enable us to stand by the Honduran people in the re-establishment of legality and the restitution of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Two hundred years from the historic struggle of our people throughout our continent, and following the eternal examples of the General of free men Augusto Cesar Sandino, Francisco Morazan, and faithful to the word of The Liberator Simon Bolivar, we are confident of victory, along with the Honduran people and the peoples of the world. Because "all the people of the world that have fought for liberty have exterminated their tyrants in the end."

Managua June 29, 2009
Presidential Council of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America

Honduran Coup Moves from Failed Arguments to Repression, International Sanctions Imposed

Thousands of Hondurans are now in the streets to protest the coup d'etat in their country. They have been met with tear gas, anti-riot rubber bullets, tanks firing water mixed with chemicals, and clubs. Police have moved in to break down barricades and soldiers used violence to push back protesters at the presidential residence, leaving an unknown number wounded.

If the coup leaders were desperate when they decided to forcibly depose the elected president, they are even more desperate now. Stripped of its pretense of legality by universal repudiation and faced with a popular uprising, the coup has turned to more violent means.

The scoreboard in the battle for Honduras shows the coup losing badly. It has not gained a single point in the international diplomatic arena, it has no serious legal points, and the Honduran people are mobilizing against it. As the military and coup leaders resort to brute force, they rack up even more points against them in human rights and common decency.

Only one factor brought the coup to power and only one factor has enabled it to hold on for these few days--control of the armed forces. Now even that seems to be eroding.

Cracks in Army Loyalty to the Coup?

Reports are coming in that several batalions--specifically the Fourth and Tenth--have rebelled against coup leadership. Both Zelaya and his supporters have been very conscious that within the armed forces there are fractures. Instead of insulting the army, outside the heavily guarded presidential residence many protesters chant, "Soldiers, you are part of the people."

Pres. Zelaya has been remarkably respectful in calling on the army to "correct its actions" It is likely the coup will continue to lose its grip on the army as intensifying mobilizations force it to confront its own people.

International Community Imposes Sanctions

In the diplomatic arena, it's not that the coup is losing its grip--it never even got a foothold. The meeting of the Central American Integration System in Managua Monday became a forum for pronouncements from one after another of the major diplomatic groups in the region. Latin America is a region where diplomatic recombinations have proliferated in recent years, so the alphabet soup of solidarity statements just keeps on growing.

The Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) issued a resolution, announcing the withdrawal of its ambassadors while continuing the member countries' international cooperation programs in Honduras. The group urged other nations to do the same--a growing list including Brazil and Mexico has already followed suit.

The ALBA group cited the Honduran constitution, which states in Art. 3:
"No-one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order."

Putting teeth behind the words has already begun. The Central American countries agreed to close off their land borders to all commerce with Honduras for the next 48 hours. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration has cut off all lending until the president is restored to power.

It also called for sanctions in multilateral organizations: "We propose that exemplary sanctions be applied in all multilateral organizations and integration groups, to contribute to bringing about the immediate restitution of the constitutional order in Honduras, and to make good on the principle of action that Jose Marti taught us when he said: "If each one does his duty, no-one can overome us."

The Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean nations also met in Managua and issued a statement condemning the coup and supporting Zelaya. Organization of American States Sec. General Jose Insulza was there too. President Zelaya received a standing ovation following his closing speech.

The U.S. government has been unambiguous in its condemnation of the coup and support of President Zelaya. President Obama stated today,

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there," He added,"It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections."

After years of the Bush administration, when the commitment to democracy abroad was decided more on the basis of ideological affinities than democratic practice, some sectors have trouble accepting that the U.S. government is condemning the overthrow of a president who espouses left-wing causes. Note the obstinacy of reporters at today's State Department press conference:

"QUESTION: So Ian, I’m sorry, just to confirm – so you’re not calling it a coup, is that correct? Legally, you’re not considering it a coup?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think you all saw the OAS statement last night, which called it a coup d’état, and you heard what the Secretary just said..." (Clinton explicitly called it a coup).

This discussion and another drawn-out discussion in which reporters attempted to open up a window of doubt over support for reinstatement of Zelaya went on quite a while. Ian Kelly, the Dept. spokesperson, held fast as reporters tried to equate supposed violations of law by Zelaya with a military coup in an fantasy 'everyone's-at-fault' scenario. Kelly reiterated that the coup is indeed an illegal coup and the only solution is return of the elected president.

The "coup question" is more than semantics and has implications beyond conservative media's political agenda to justify the coup leaders. When a legal definition of coup is established, most U.S. aid to Honduras must be cut off.

Here's the relevant part of the foreign operations bill:

Sec. 7008. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.

So far, the Obama administration has focused on diplomatic efforts and is waiting to see how long the Honduran stand-off will last before looking to specific sanctions. The probability that the coup's days are numbered make that a reasonable strategy for the time being.

Attack on Freedom of Expression

The military coup has also launched an all-out attack on freedom of expression in the country. Venezuela's Telesur reports that its team was detained and military personnel threatened to confiscate its video equipment if it continued to broadcast.

The ALBA declaraton notes the use of censorship as a tool of the coup, "This silence was meant to impose the dictatorship by closing the government channel and cutting off electricity, seeking to hide and justify the coup before the people and the international community, and demonstrating an attitude that recalls the worst era of dictatorships that we've suffered in the twentieth century in our continent."

Grassroots organizations that support President Zelaya have faced an uphill battle against the media, which alternates between scaring people about the risk to keep them out of the streets and denying the existence of those who do go out. A message from Via Campesina id. warns people that information is controlled by the coup to hide opposition, cut off communications on many channels and only allowed information that favors them. They have now organized to open up contact with reporters throughout the world.

An increasingly organized opposition, and independent media on the scene and on the net are breaking through the information blockade. A third source is Twitter. A major player in the Iranian uprising, Twitter has become the pulse of, if not the body politic, at least some bodies of that politic.

All this means that the information black-out designed by the coup is riddled with points of light. It's still hard to get statistical information like crowd numbers or figures of killed and wounded, but Honduras is certainly not the isolated and insignificant "banana republic" it once was.

The Return of the President

Zelaya now leaves for New York City where he will speak before the General Assembly of the United Nations to further outpourings of support. In Managua, he announced that from there he will return, accompanied by Insulza, to Honduras.

In an interview with CNN a coup leader said that Zelaya "can return to Honduras--as long as he leaves his presidency behind."

The Honduran ambassador the the UN, Jorge Reina, said that although the coup leaders have asked to address the UN, "the UN does not recognize them... They have made a serious mistake, those who think that countries can be led through coups."

"That history has passed."

Resolution from the OAS Diplomatically Isolates Honduran Leaders

Here is the official text of the OAS Resolution. There is a General Assembly meeting scheduled for Tuesday and Secretary General Jose Insulza has left for Managua where he will meet with Zelaya at a meeting of the Central American Integration System.

The Honduran coup is diplomatically isolated, with nowhere to turn to create even a semblance of legitimacy. Campesino organizations are arriving in the capital city to protest, following long, difficult journeys. There is a work stoppage called for today and a curfew has been installed by the government. What happens next is anybody's guess.

CP/RES. 953 (1700/09)



CONSIDERING the grave situation taking place in the Republic of Honduras as a result of the coup d’etat against the government of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order, which the Permanent Council rejects and repudiates;

CONCERNED with the break-down of the constitutional order in the Republic of Honduras;

REAFFIRMING the importance of strict adherence and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States;

REITERATING the principles established in the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on the strengthening and preservation of the democratic institutional system in member states, and

RECALLING CP/RES. 952 (1699/09) of June 26, 2009, relative to the situation in Honduras,


1. To condemn vehemently the coup d’état staged this morning against the constitutionally-established Government of Honduras, and the arbitrary detention and expulsion from the country of the constitutional president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.

2. To demand the immediate, safe and unconditional return of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to his constitutional functions.

3. To declare that no government arising from this unconstitutional interruption will be recognized.

4. To instruct the Secretary General of the OAS to urgently attend the meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), that will take place in Managua, Nicaragua, and in accordance with Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to carry out all necessary consultations with the member states of the Organization.

5. To vehemently condemn all acts of violence and especially the reported arbitrary detention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Rodas, other Ministers of Government, as well as the Mayor of San Pedro Sula, and associated individuals, and to demand that their physical safety and security be respected and that they be released immediately.

6. To immediately convene a special session of the OAS General Assembly to take place at the headquarters of the Organization, on Tuesday, June 30, 2009, to take whatever decisions it considers appropriate, in accordance with the Charter of the Organization of American States, international law, and the provisions of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

7. To instruct the Secretary General to transmit the resolution to the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Jun 28, 2009

Declarations from Via Campesina, Honduran Grassroots Organization

Here are English translations of today's declarations from Via Campesina International and COPINH. There has been a conspicuous absence of voices from the citizens' organizations that support the president and the consultation in the press. CNN claims that they cannot find anyone who speaks in favor of the consultation and the president.

These declarations provide perspectives from that movement. They also warn that social movement leaders are in danger, as criminalization of the opposition follows the coup.

From Via Campesina International:

Urgent Call
In Solidarity with the Organizations of Via Campesina and the People of Honduras

With the objective of deepening democracy and achieving broader democratic participation, for several months the social organizations of Honduras along with President Manuel Zelaya Rosales have promoted holding a survey (non-binding referendum) this June 28, 2009.

To our great surprise, today at 5:00 A.M. the armed forces carried out a coup d'etat against President Zelaya, blocking in this way, the democratic aspirations of the population that was preparing to carry out the popular consultation.

On hearing this news, the social organizations of of Honduras, including those of Via Campesina, have gone out into the streets to repudiate this deed and demand the return of President Zelaya to that functions that they law mandates.

The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by its defense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), and during his administration it has promoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos.

We believe that these deeds are the desperate acts of the national oligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and in particular, of the large transnational corporations. To that end, that have made use of the military forces and the institutions of the country such as the parliament, ministers, neoliberal press and others.

Faced with this unacceptable situation, Via Campesina International demands:

1. Re-establishment of the constitutional order, without bloodshed

2. We call on the army not to repress the population of Honduras that demands a return to democracy

3. That the physical integrity of social leaders, including Rafael Alegria--international leader of Via Campesina--is respected

4. We demand the return of President Zelaya to his functions in Honduras

5. That the authorities guarantee the full democratic exercise of the popular consultation, which is clearly a form of free expression.

From Via Campesina International, we are concerned for the safety of our leaders and organizations of Via Campesina, as well as what could happen to the people of Honduras, in these difficult times.

We also call on campesino organizations and other social movements to protest in front of the Honduran embassies and send letters rejecting the coup d'etat to the embassies in each of their countries.

We express our solidarity with our campesino organizations in Honduras.

International Coordinating Committee (CCI) of Vía Campesina
Globalize the Struggle!! Globalize Hope!!
Mali, África, June 28, 2009

From the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH):

Before the disgraceful coup d'etat in Honduras

We Will Not Be Silent or Humiliated!

To the National and International Community

The COPINH condemns the cowardly and dirty coup d'tat against the Constitutional President of the Republic Manuel Zelaya Rosales. We denounce the fascist and terrorist role of the armed forces, of the national congress headed by Roberto Michelleti Bain, of the communications media of sectors of the ultra-right, and the rest of the institutions submissive to the interests of the oligarchy and imperialism that this morning kidnapped the president(), prior to the initiation of the popular consultation. The people are still participating in the non-binding referendum--even faced with repression, even as the campaign of fear continues, and even when confronted with the butt of soldiers' rifles. There is practically a state of siege in the capital and the rest of the country; electricity is cut off, they have a list of leaders to be captured, and Hondurans who are bravely demonstrating in front of the presidential residence are surrounded by tanks and helicopters. Even so they have installed the polls and are exercising their right to participate in the consultation as a form of rebellion. The Honduran people are mobilizing. Since early morning, our organization is calling out its members and has already begun the journey with representatives of the Lenca People on the way to Tegucigalpa.

We tell everyone that the Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others.

From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force.


With the ancestral force of Iselaca and Lempira we raise our voices for life, justice, liberty, dignity and peace.

June 28, 2009

Pres. Zelaya Calls for the Military to Correct its Actions

Most of this posting is from a televised press conference with President Zelaya today in Costa Rica.

Here is the link: http://www.aporrea.org/tiburon/n137437.htm
(I can't seem to embed the video)

Pres. Zelaya notes that he was taken into military custody by armed soldiers. He was not told where he was being taken. "I was kidnapped, by force, with violence, with brutality. This kidnapping is a blow to the country, to the whole world. It's a regression of 30-40 years to the age of the dictators."

He notes that the coup was planned by a small group of elites and "ambitious military officers."

"In 2010 Honduras will choose another president but in this moment it's a difficult moment for the country. I am the president of the Hondurans and only the people can put me in office or remove me." He adds that he will not ask for asylum, and that he is only asking for "hospitality" and thanks Costa Rica.

"I want to return to my country, I am the president of the Hondurans... I expect the support of all of the Americas, from the United States, the Rio Grande, to Cabo de Hornos."

Costa Rican Pres. Oscar Arias then condemns the coup and says, "We thought that democracy in Central America had been sufficiently consolidated that this couldn't happen. I an very sorry that there are... (those) who make the mistake of applauding a coup just because they don't agree with the current president. It is unacceptable that the constitutional order be interrupted in this way."

"This reflects that democracy in Central America is still fragile."

Arias called on the Rio Group to gather and announced that Zelaya will attend the meeting of the Central American System of Integration (SICA) in Managua tomorrow, which was confirmed by Zelaya.

Zelaya mentioned that, among many others, Under-Sec. of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Tom Shannon, called to affirm that the "U.S. does not support this brutal act", in Zelaya's words.

Zelaya said in the press conference, "The Honduran people are never going to accept... a leader as a result of usurpation..." He noted that communications have been blocked. "The people are in the streets, in many places. I urge the people to remain calm, but that we defend the rights of the society, in pacific resistance, in a process of non-violence to make demands to this sector of usurpers that doesn't know how to respect the rights of the people."

"The country is militarized. I am the president who has most supported the military forces and they repay me with betrayal... I expect them to correct their actions."

A Colombian reporter asks if the coup is a result of his "friendship with Chavez, Ortega and Correa" and if it was planned. Zelaya replies that he is friends with all the presidents of the region, naming names across the political spectrum. "I am friends with all the democratic (leaders) in America and now we are bound in a process of decreasing the inequalities of poverty, to try to give more justice to the people..."

He says the coup is a conspiracy of a "mafia" in Honduras and describes the chronology of events related to the consult that we have explained earlier in these pages, and points out that if people were against the assembly they should have simply voted no.

"Imagine if I had proposed a real reform? They would have executed me on the spot."

He notes that the consult was completely voluntary. He adds that Costa Rica recently carried out a referendum on CAFTA but that the law in Honduras forbids referendums on most issues. "In no part of the world, can a law limit your fundamental rights--to freedom, to justice life, to participation. How can a judge come along and say asking a question is a crime? And then they call out the army, almost assassinate a president, paralyze the country, cut off the light, radio, television... This is the crime."

At the Americas Program, we are receiving some messages from the Honduran lists we belong to. They note that on CNN Espanol, Zelaya announced that his "resignation" letter read by the Sec. of the Honduran Congress was false. Here we see the Honduran elites trying out all the failed techniques of military coups against progressive leaders in the past. This time the efforts are meeting with immediate, massive repudiation on the international level.

Our friend and ally in many causes, Rafael Alegría of Via Campesina, told Telesur that transportation is paralyzed and Luther Castillo of Honduran social movements
confirmed that there is massive mobilization, especially around the presidential residence, demanding the restitution of the president.

The movement has a commitment to non-violence. The international diplomatic community must do everything in its power to peacefully restore constitutional order to Honduras and avoid bloodshed. So far there are only isolated reports of shootings. Hopefully when members of the military coup and its supporters realize that the entire world is watching and repudiates its actions they will back down without causing the murder of Honduran citizens determined to defend their democracy.

OAS countries back Zelaya, Calls for ultimatum on reinstatement, no negotiation with coup leaders

Important Updates:
* Roberto Micheletti has been sworn into office as president by the military coup.
* OAS countries refuse to recognize him or to negotiate in any form with coup leaders.
* OAS countries issue calls for the immediate return and reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya in his legitimate functions.
* SG Insulza reports that Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan ambassadors attempted to accompany Honduran Foreign Minister when she was forcibly abducted by military coup leaders, but were violently pushed away from the vehicle. They are not being held captive. As others discuss diplomatic actions--clearly needed and appropriate--these ambassadors provided a lesson in real solidarity, by putting their own lives on the line.

More from the OAS session:(translated and paraphrased on the spot to the best of my abilities)
"This is a blow not to Honduras but to democracy in all of Latin American and a blow the the Inter-American Charter. This is a reality-- a reality that this body should condemn as unacceptable. This is an emergency, so we appreciate that the Sec. General (SG) is traveling tomorrow to Honduras. We call for the immediate return to democratic institutions, to convoke an extraordinary session of the General Assembly (GA), to defend institutions in Honduras. This is an act of brute force that disrupts democracy in a neighboring country. The Inter-American Charter (does not include force) but it gives us an arsenal of moral arms sufficient to restore democracy in Honduras."

Antigua and Barbuda: "We are a family, the attack on the rule of law in Honduras is antithetical to the OAS... We call for the immediate restitution to power of the legitimate leader of our sister state."

Jamaica: I am pleased to see that within 12 hours of announcement of the coup we have been able to gather here to address this attack on the very principles that brought us together. We call for 1) the repudiation of the coup, restitution of President Manuel Zelaya, third, (reading from Argentine statement) armed forces must abandon the coup and the military must return to its barracks and allow civil rule to be reestablished. There is a difference among members special security session, foreign ministers meeting or General Assembly. The SG will determine if all or one of the three is accepted. We must issue a resolution that includes respect for the diplomatic agreements that Honduras is party to, (the charters, etc.) and includes condemnation of any violations of human rights to its own citizens or diplomatic persons in Honduras. The OAS must unanimously support Sec. General and note that he is empowered to act in his best interest. Agreed he should go to Honduras, but he must assess the security situation to ensure his safety so we don't add another problem.

Peru: Reports that Costa Rica has said President Zelaya is safe and that his presence is temporary. He has met with President Arias who has condemned the coup and called for a return to the rule of law.

Haiti (Sorry, not a language I can blog)

Bolivia: Energetically condemns the military coup. We support the legitimate government of Honduras led by Manuel Zelaya and urge all diplomatic measures for his reinstatement.

Belize: Ready to work with the OAS to undertake any actions necessary including a meeting of foreign ministers to restore President Zelaya to office.

Barbados: Calls for reinstatement of the democratically elected government of President Jose Manuel Zelaya. Will work with all other members of the OAS to right this abhorrent wrong.

Brazil: (Reads proclamation of Brazilian government): Condemns the coup against Pres. Zelaya. Military acts of this type erode democracy and cannot be accepted. Calls for a return to democratic institutionality. We stand with the Honduran people. Lula will contact other heads of state and Minister Amorim will contact foreign ministers. Asks OAS to remain vigilant and active until Pres. Zelaya has returned to office.

Venezuela: Regarding Argentina and issuing an ultimatum: We must say we do not negotiate with coup leaders. The only legitimate leader is President Zelaya so we must be careful... The best response is to stand with Pres. Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales-with his full name-- not the Honduran government, or any other less specific term. Declare ourselves in permanent session until Zelaya is restored to power in Honduran territory.

Nicaragua: Seconds proposal to declare the OAS in permanent session and not authorize talks of any type with coup leaders or supporters. We must take into account where Pres. Zelaya is to discuss with him wherever he is. Nicaragua issues a call to the Honduran Armed Forces: there is a small group that is behind the coup but there are also sectors that remain loyal to the constitution and the president. We call on these sectors to uphold the constitution and the public order, and the right of the Honduran people to express itself freely and participate in the consult.

Spain:(observer) Energetically condemns the coup and informs that Spain and 27 countries of European Union in Corfu where they are meeting, in the words of the presiding Minister of the Czech Republic the coup is an unacceptable violation of the rule of law in Honduras.

Honduras: The mayor of San Pedro Sula has also been kidnapped by masked delinquents. The wife (of the president) is in her native city in Honduras and is worried about her children. We thank you for your solidarity. We cannot fall in the trap of negotiated with persons who are not valid interlocutors due to their actions.

The coup leaders plan to conspire with Roberto Michelletti so I think we must call for 1) immediate restoration of President Zelaya in Honduras as an ultimatum as the Argentine representative said. It must have sanctions, not just words. 2) After restoration, ask for the restoration of water and electricity which have been suspended by the coup leaders, restoration of international communications due to the takeover of Hondutel by the coup. This is censorship or self-censorship--for example, I cannot speak over the major channels, I don't know if it is a decision of the media owners or the coup pressures but probably both. 3) Then, withdrawal of the army to its barracks. It is now in the streets, supposedly to keep order. But in Honduras there is no order to keep except the "order" imposed by the coup... The people are demonstrating peacefully and the police can maintain that order. The army has no business being in the streets.

When the above conditions are met, call on sectors of society to dialogue but not to discuss replacing the president because there is no justification for that. Then and only then the commission we named on Friday can begin work. These prerequisites will be a catalyst for all the factions to converse. The only subject of an attack--against all order and ethics--is the executive.

SG Insulza: The situation is changing. I have talked to Pres. Funes of El Salvador but there is no communication with the country (Honduras)... Air space is closed, it is impossible to travel. Micheletti was sworn in as president, or an oath was taken in some way. The best we can do is issue the condemnation and endorse Pres. Zelaya and say we will not recognize any other presdient. Condemn the kidnapping members of the cabinet, the mayor of San Pedro Sula.

When the Foreign Minister of Honduras was abducted the ambassadors tried to accompany her but were violently prevented from getting in the vehicle so they are not currently being held captive.

We will call for a session of General Assembly for Thursday, for example.

Consensus on pronouncement and actions, and session is suspended for committee meeting.

Here is the complete statement from Sec. of State Clinton:

The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago.

The School of Americas Watch has sent out this action alert:
Call the State Department and the White House
Demand that they call for the immediate reinstatement of Honduran President Zelaya.

State Department: 202-647-4000 or 1-800-877-8339
White House: Comments: 202-456-1111, Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Extreme Alert: Military Coup in Honduras, President Zelaya in Costa Rica, Minister and Ambassadors Reported Kidnapped

This morning the president of Honduras was surrounded by military units and forcibly deposed. He is now in Costa Rica. The people are in the streets and the government has been taken over. In the middle of Sec. General Jose Insulza's statement, word arrived that the ambassadors of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been kidnapped along with the Foreign Minister of Honduras

At an emergency session of the OAS taking place at this moment, the Honduran representative Carlos Sosa compared the coup to Chile in 1973, noted that Zelaya has not requested asylum in Costa Rica as reported by some press, and called for immediate condemnation of the coup. He invoked Art. 20 and 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, noting "we can no longer continue to use the diplomatic language we used last Friday. Honduras requests to solidarity of all of you in an emphatic condemnation of this coup d'etat. He noted that the government has received statements of solidarity from all the countries and in contrast with the past no government has participated in the coup.

The Gorillas Have Escaped from their Cage

This is a quick transcription of live proceedings, translated from the Spanish:

The Venezuela representative stated, "I wonder if we wasted time last Friday, debating if this were a coup or a problem of separation of powers... I think we failed, we did not issue a condemnation, we did not include the name of President Zelaya although we had reason to do so. Why didn't we pronounce as energetically as we will now do today?

"Today, someone opened the gorilla's cage and slapped the OAS in the face, with its moderate pronouncement, terribly moderate. We said it was a coup then...

"I hope we issue a strong condemnation and a pronouncement in favor of the consultation. This could have implications for the continent." He mentioned that the organization has remianed on the sidelines in other cases--Guatemala, Chile-- and that history is being repeated.

He went on to accuse former Bush Sub-Secretary of State Otto Reich of complicity in the coup: "We have information that worries us. These is a person who has been important in the diplomacy of the US who has reconnected with old colleagues and encouraged the coup: Otto Reich, ex sub-Secretary of State under Bush. We know him as an interventionist person... In 2002 he tried to deny the lawfulness of Pres. Hugo Chavez." Mentioning episodes of the dark history of Reich in the heisphere, he concluded, "We suffered the First Reich, the Second Reich, and now we are suffering the Third Reich." He said Reich is operating under an NGO.

Nicaragua: "We recognize the legitimate government of Manuel Zelaya... We are witnessing an international crime in Honduras. We energetically condemn these acts of barbarity. The OAS is obliged to energetically condemn immediately these acts. It should demand the immediate reinstatement of President Zelaya... demand the resestablishment of democracy for the people that are only asking to exercise... their sovereign rights."

The ambassadors of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are held captive and the Foreign Minister of Honduras, Patricia Rodas, who just weeks ago presided over one of the finest moments of the OAS when Cuba was re-admittted, as we wrote about in these pages. What a difference those weeks have made. This talented diplomat, who could not control her joy at the consensus achieved in the previous session, is now in the hands of military thugs, along with international diplomats who attempted to protect her.

Insulza is offering new information: The Honduras Supreme Court notes that this happened in the context of the national survey on the fourth urn. the court seems to be saying that survey was calling for the Constitutional Assembly and not for a vote in November on calling for the assembly. In sulza says this would still not justify a coup. Tomorrow Insulza will be in Honduras. He requested information on the ambassadors kidnapped and the person from the court says that he did not have this information or any information that anyone had been mistreated but would check into it.

Mexico: Importance to respect human rights. Democracy and respect for the rule of law are values of the nations in this organization. Events in Honduras are an anachronism, part of a past we had thought we had overcome. We condemn the rupture in the constitutional order. In Honduras all measures should be adopted to re-establish the constitutional order... Re-establish the legitimate government of Honduras. Asks the OAS to promote normalization. Rejects violence." NOTE: The Mexican delegate has failed to include support explicitly by mentioning the name of the elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Guatemala: will not recognize any other government in Honduras that has not been duly elected... We hope that the Honduran citizenry will face this risk that has come true... Central America has paid a high cost in blood and pain to build a democratic life. As Central Americas we must learn to live under the law...with respect for institutions and the instittuions must be the first to recognize this."

United States: The concerns we raised on Friday over the political situation and the most recent events that have put in jeopardy the rule of law are worrisome. (Reads Obama statement-below). Sec Clinton: "The action taken against President Manuel Zelaya violates precepts of the Inter-American Charter... It should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the rule of law (I'll get that statement out in a few minutes. I can't type that fast, but very glad to see the specific reference to Zelaya included)

President Obama issued this declaration this morning:
"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the
detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization
of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social
actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and
the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing
tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue
free from any outside interference."

More live blog of the OAS session in English to continue...

Jun 27, 2009

Honduran Crisis Tests Commitment to Democracy

What could have been a military coup in Honduras seems to have been defused by the intervention of the international community. The opposition to President Mel Zelaya seems to have backed down for the time being and a more conciliatory president has announced that the situation is under control.

The acid test comes tomorrow, when the nation votes in a national poll called by the president and opposed by the legislature and the courts.

The events that led to the Honduran political crisis began with a simple question: Do you agree to install a fourth urn in the November 2009 general elections to decide on calling a National Consitutent Assembly that would approve a political constitution?

This question will be placed before the public in a non-binding poll that has caused an uproar within parts of the government and powerful sectors of society that have tried to block it.

Both the Honduran Congress and the courts ruled against holding the poll in recent days. The rulings sparked a crisis when the head of the armed forces, General Romeo Vasquez, refused to allow the army to distribute the urns and other materials for the June 28 poll.

As Commander in Chief, Zelaya fired Vasquez on June 24 for disobeying an order. The following day, organized citizen groups led by Zelaya went to the army base where the materials had been delivered to recover and distribute them.

The army then occupied strategic points in the streets of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, reportedly including the presidential residence. Playing chicken with the executive branch, the Supreme Court ordered that Vasquez be reinstated.

That’s when the situation began to smell like a military coup d’ etat. The presidency charged that the army mobilization was supported by “the media and economic oligarchy” and warnings of a coup circulated around the world.

Today, the country moved back from the brink of open conflict. Zelaya said in an interview that Vasquez will remain in his post, stating, “It’s true, I announced his removal, but I have not named anyone. He remains in charge of the Armed Forces and has expressed his obedience and discipline.” He also announced that he will ask the army to withdraw to its quarters.

At the time of this writing, the army remains in the streets and it is unclear if it will try to obstruct the process. Vasquez was reported as saying that the armed forces were standing by “to guarantee order in the country and respect for the Constitution”, according to EFE press.

International Support and the OAS Role

The Organization of American States (OAS), Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA), the United Nations, Mercosur and the European Union have all expressed support for dialogue and respect for democratic institutions in Honduras. In a highly charged geopolitical context, the content and effects of the endorsements differed in important ways.

The nine-nation ALBA bloc, to which Honduras belongs, stated unequivocal support for President Zelaya:
“We manifest our firmest support for the government of [Zelaya], in its just and decided actions to defend the right of the Honduran people to express their sovereign will and advance a process of social transformation in the framework of democratic institutions."

It went on to warn of consequences in the event of a coup:
"We will mobilize ourselves... in the event of any attempt by the oligarchy to break the democratic and constitutional order of this sister Central American republic."
This had the contradictory impact of signalling that the Honduran government could not be isolated in the conflict and of inflaming the anti-Zelaya factions in the country, especially the press, which has consistently criticized the president for his ties with Chavez.

The United Nations statement confined itself to stating “it is important for the country's leaders to act with full respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, and to seek consensus on the pressing political issues through a peaceful and inclusive dialogue” and clarified that the institution was not sending observers to the June 28 vote.

The OAS actions went farthest in defusing the conflict. Honduras took its case before the Permanent Council on June 26. Honduran representative, Carlos Sosa, made a plea for support in upholding the country’s democratic institutions. Sosa noted that his government "had reason to believe that democratic institutions and legitimate exercise of power are at risk, are being threatened.”

Following deliberations over a draft resolution, the OAS pronounced its support for the rule of law and agreed to send a mission to Honduras to investigate the situation.
OAS involvement deflects the possibility that the military will force a scenario in which Zelaya is replaced, since this would clearly be interpreted as a break with democratic institutions. It also opens up space for a mediated dialogue among the warring factions, using the shared diplomatic arena to avoid unilateral outside intervention either in favor of or against the administration.

The OAS commitment, welcomed by the Honduran government, also lessens regional fears that the U.S. government will intervene against the Zelaya government. In The long history of intervention in the region and the Bush doctrine have left great skepticism about the U.S. role that has not disappeared with the election of Obama. Honduras served as the staging grounds for the illegal U.S.-supported war against the Nicaraguan government and hosts a U.S. military base.

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras(COPINH) charged in a communique on June 24 that the U.S. ambassador “alerted beforehand of the events denounced here, left the country and called on the directors of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other institutions close to the U.S. government to abandon the country, thus demonstrating his complicity with the forces attempting the coup.”

The Americas Program has contacted the State Department to confirm or deny the alleged departure of the ambassador but has received no response.

The United States undeniably has the military capacity to intervene and impose a solution. Moreover, Honduras has grown deeply dependent on the U.S. economy. Remittances from the U.S. were $2.56 billion in 2007--more than one-fifth of GDP--and the U.S. is by far the country’s major trade partner. In recent years the U.S. government has threatened to cut off visas, withdraw trade privileges or block remittances when it felt its interests negatively affected.

If the crisis came to a head, would the U.S. intervene militarily or through economical sanctions to pressure the left-leaning president?

Especially given its support of the OAS role, the answer is “very unlikely”. The Obama adminstration has repeatedly voiced its commitment to multilateral diplomacy. State Department spokesperson Phillip Crowley affirmed the position to work within the OAS, while avoiding specific mention of supporting the Honduran president:

“We urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. And we think that the OAS has an important role to play here, and we urge the OAS to take all appropriate actions necessary to uphold the provisions in the charter.”

Although the U.S. representative to the OAS, Hector Morales, hinted at criticism of Zelaya, stating that “no branch of government can be above the law” and emphasizing the separation of powers, the U.S. joined other countries in supporting the OAS decision by acclamation.

Zelaya thanked the international community for support for the democratic institutions, calling it “healthy” and crediting their actions for staving off an attempt to break from institutional rule.

It is ironic that Honduras is once again on center stage at the OAS. Just weeks ago, the nation hosted the General Assembly where after protracted negotiations the organization agreed to repeal the suspension of Cuba. At that time, the ability to reach a difficult consensus revived hope that the OAS could play a strong and less biased role in the hemisphere than it has in the past.

Today’s decision reinforces that hope.

Just the Beginning

If Honduras gets through tomorrow’s poll without violence or political rupture, no matter what the results are it will be only the beginning of a long and tempestuous political process. This week’s crisis concentrated on the presidency, the balance of powers and the public’s right to voice its opinion on a national issue.

But if, as many expect, the results of the poll show strong support for a Constitutional Assembly, then the real hard part starts.

What the mainstream press has avoided reporting is that Zelaya has widespread popular support and the proposal to create a new constitution in the country has even wider support.

Depending on the source, the per capita gross national income in Honduras runs between $1,635 and around $4,000 dollars. Forty-four percent of the population lives on under 2$ a day, according to the United Nations.

State Department figures
show 38 percent of the population unemployed or underemployed, not counting the over one million who have migrated to the United States in search of a livelihood they could not find at home.

Honduras is not only a poor country; it is 16th in the world in inequality. The top 10 pecent of households receives 42 percent of the wealth while the lowest 10 percent receives only 1.2 percent.

The skewed power and wealth lies at the basis of the current conflict. The labor, farm, indigenous and poor organizations supporting tomorrow’s poll want to see a new constitution that redistributes resources in such a way as to balance wealth and halt forced migration to the United States.

The Citizen Movement to Restore Honduras notes the commitment these grassroots movements have to their cause: “The poll is very popular, and has sparked the widespread mobilization of party activists and progressive sectors, in which we include ourselves, and the people in general who see an opportunity to make structurally change some of the many inequities in Honduras, and throw out, by means of new Constitution, institutions built on the corruption and privilege of the national and internationally powerful.”

Forces opposing the poll have rarely touched on this issue. In an effort to portray the conflict as a problem of a lone, crazed megalomaniac, the media rarely interview popular organizations and interpret the constitutional assembly as merely a mechanism to prolong the Zelaya presidency. While a change in term limits may or may not eventually be proposed, this leaves out issues that lie at the crux of the current conflict and seriously distorts the information coming out of the beleaguered country.

Laura Carlsen

Jun 19, 2009

Victory in the Amazon

Photo: thegreenloopblog.com

Laura Carlsen

Thousands of indigenous people from the Amazon jungle of Peru accomplished the unthinkable yesterday. Their movement to save the Amazon and their communities forced the Peruvian government to roll back implementing legislation for the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement that would have opened up the vast jungle to transnational oil and gas, mining and timber companies.

The decision did not come without blood. Police attacked indigenous roadblocks and sit-ins in Bagua in northern Peru, killing some sixty indigenous protesters members of a 300,000 strong interethnic association of Amazon groups, according to estimates by human rights groups. The Peruvian government claims that 24 police officers and nine civilians died in the violence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur and other human rights and environmental organizations throughout the world have initiated investigations into the massacre.

Peru’s Congress, deep in a political crisis of national and international legitimacy, voted 82 to 12 to repeal Legislative Decree 1090, the Forestry and Wildlife Law and 1064, the reform to permit changes in agrarian land use without full prior consent.

As President Alan Garcia went on national television to admit errors in not consulting with the indigenous groups of the Amazon, Daysi Zapata, representative of the association celebrated the triumph:
“Today is an historic day, we are thankful because the will of the indigenous peoples has been taken into account and we just hope that in the future, the governments attend and listen to the people, that they don’t legislate behind our backs.”
Zapata called to lift roadblocks and other actions throughout the country, while anticipating more battles to come over the repeal of seven related decrees, reinstatement of legislators suspended for protesting government actions against the Amazon people and the safe return of the president of the association, Alberto Pizango, forced to seek asylum in Nicaragua.

Indigenous women fought at the forefront of protests against the displacement of indigenous communities in the Amazon in the interests of foreign-led development plans. A Spanish sub-titled video of an Aguaruna mother provides a rare glimpse of how the Amazon communities view these plans—even if you don’t understand her language, her anguish and anger cut straight to the heart. Other videos taken by journalists who risked their lives as police fired on demonstrators, quickly circulated in the cyber world, raising global indignation.

Washington’s “New” Trade Policy Leads to Amazon Massacre

The recent clash between indigenous peoples and the Peruvian national police sends a powerful message from the Amazon jungle straight to Washington. The enormous social, political, and environmental costs of the free trade model are no longer acceptable.

In addition to the dead, hundreds remain missing and reports that the police threw the bodies of the protesters in the river to hide the real death toll have begun to circulate. Survival International and Amazon Watch have deplored the violence, the subsequent crackdown on NGOs in Peru, and the role that the free-trade agreement played in the crisis.

In May 2004 the U.S. and Peruvian governments began negotiations for a free trade agreement and signed the bilateral agreement on December 8, 2005. The signing provoked the first round of widespread protests, led by small farmers. Demonstrations against the agreement continued up through the signing of the ratified version by former president Bush and President Garcia in January of this year; four protesters were killed in 2008.

No doubt exists about the connection between the protests, the executive decrees, and the U.S. free trade agreement. In his televised mea culpa, Garcia began by stating that the repudiated measures were designed to eliminate illegal logging and informal mining (by legalizing it in the hands of transnationals, according to critics) and was “a demand of ecologist and progressive sectors in the North American Congress in negotiations to pass the Free Trade Agreement”.

The U.S.-Peru trade agreement is held up as a model of the new trade agreement developed through a compromise between free-trade Republicans and Democrats with growing anti-free trade constituencies. To avoid the negative connotations of free trade agreements it was redubbed a “Trade Promotion Agreement” and incorporates environmental and labor standards into the text. These are the standards Garcia says he was complying with when he passed the decrees to open up 45 million hectares of Peruvian jungle to developers.

The Democratic leadership in Congress pushed the new model that looks remarkably like the old model, although the majority of Democrats voted against it. At the Pathways to Prosperity meeting, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton hailed the agreement as “good environmental stewardship”—just four days before Peruvian police shot indigenous activists protesting invasion of the Amazon jungle.

The Obama administration has so far avoided comments on the conflict. But neither the battle for the Amazon or the debate over free trade’s role in indigenous displacement and environmental destruction are likely to go away any time soon, despite repeal of the decrees.

A planetary lunge and a legendary reserve of culture and biodiversity, the Amazon region embodies conflicting values and views of human progress.

For Peruvian President Alan Garcia, in an editorial in El Comercio, the jungle is currently just a big waste:
“There are millions of hectares of timber lying idle, millions of hectares that communities and associations have not and will not cultivate, hundreds of mineral deposits that are not dug up and millions of hectares of ocean not used for aquaculture. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountains represent a fortune that reaches the sea without producing electricity.”
Garcia argues that indigenous peoples, just because they were lucky enough to be born in the Amazon, do not have special land-use rights on the land. Instead, the Amazon should be carved up into very large plots and sold to people with the capital to make use of it. The Peruvian government coveted the free trade agreement with the United States because, along with the required changes in national legislation, it opens up the Amazon to foreign investment.

In contrast, the indigenous communities and their supporters seek to conserve the Amazon jungles, and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures, all of which would be threatened by exploitation, bioprospecting and patent law changes under the FTA.

This contest between oil wells and jungles, foreign engineers and Amazon inhabitants has spread to the rest of Peru and the world. On Jun 11, tens of thousands of people marched in support of the indigenous protests in cities and towns across the country, chanting, “In defense of the jungle—the jungle is not for sale.”

Simultaneously, demonstrators hit the streets to show support for the indigenous communities in cities throughout the world.

And it follows similar battles in other countries. In Mexico, hundreds of thousands of farmers marched to protest NAFTA’s agricultural chapter; in Colombia, indigenous and farm organizations marched to oppose a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement; in Costa Rica, nearly half the population voted against CAFTA; and in Guatemala, CAFTA protesters were killed in the streets.

Yet somehow these voices never make it into the U.S. trade debate. The assumption that a free trade agreement is a gift to a developing country continues to be enforced by a U.S. government refusal to listen to voices other than national economic elites. Meanwhile, the New York Times echoes accusations that foreign countries or terrorist organizations have duped these thousands of women, farmers, indigenous groups, and workers into opposing progress.

As long as providing clear access and mobility for transnational companies and financial capital is accepted as the sole measure of progress, concerns for the earth and human beings with little economic power and a different view of development won’t be part of the discussion.

We have to rethink the free-trade model and listen to the men, women and children on the bottom of the economic ladder who sacrifice their lives to help save the Amazon jungles they call home. We owe them an enormous debt. The global crisis compels a new vision of sustainable growth and social equity. The Obama administration has noted the need for changes—reviewing trade policy should be at the top of the agenda.

Jun 4, 2009

Diplomacy Buries the Cold War as OAS Lifts Cuba Exclusion

Draft Resolution on Cuba. Opening remarks by Patricia Rodas, President of General Assembly

Laura Carlsen

After some tough negotiations, the General Assembly of the Organization of America States (OAS) passed a resolution to rescind its 1962 decision to exclude Cuba. The decision was hammered out by a working group over several days of talks and accepted in the plenary session Jun 3, to a standing ovation.

On Jun 4, papers from across the Hemisphere celebrated the decision and reflected the sense of satisfaction that characterized the plenary (videos available here). Nation after nation expressed “joy” and spoke of righting an historical wrong.

“Today we put the nail in the coffin of the cold war”, the Antiguan representative stated. She echoed the words of Pres. Manuel Zelaya of host country Honduras who officially announced the “end of the Cold War in San Pedro Sula.”

Both the ALBA countries and the Obama administration accepted the resolution after a seeming impasse over conditioning.

The decision represents a new stage of diplomacy for the region. For the first time in years, the OAS actually took up an important issue, negotiated with a U.S. delegation willing to hear other views, and reached a consensus. The United States, which funds 60% of the organization’s budget and represents a huge part of the regional economy, declined to use its invisible veto, instead opting for compromise.

The result is an historic decision that removes what was a huge thorn in the side of the regional organization and its member nations.

It would be hard to overestimate the resentment that built up in Latin America over the U.S. Cuba policy. For decades, a majority of 33 to 1 was forced to accept the exclusion of Cuba against its will and against the supposed principles of the organization itself. At the same time, the populations had important relationships with Cuba, historic ties and, as mentioned several times in the speeches, received Cuban doctors and teachers. With even dialogue on the issue ruled out by the U.S. government, Cuba’s empty seat was to many a reminder that regional diplomacy still carried a big stick.

What Exactly Happened in San Pedro Sula?

It’s not easy to get at the back-story of the talks because press reports and official statements reflect the political motivations of the media and politicians speaking.

Although everyone has a particular spin, the facts are straightforward enough. On June 3, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States decided by consensus, or “acclamation”, to lift the 1962 resolution that “suspended” Cuba’s participation in the interhemispheric body. This is now a done deal; there are no pre-conditions, intermediate steps or further negotiations involved.

That Cuba is no longer barred form the assembly does not mean that Cuba will be taking a seat at the next regional meeting. For that to happen, several prior steps must be taken that are not at all assured.

Article 2 of the resolution states that Cuba’s reintegration would follow a “process of dialogue to be initiated at the request of the Cuban government and in compliance with the practices, goals and principles of the OAS.”

The Cuban government has stated that it does not want to rejoin the OAS, which Fidel Castro called an accomplice to the crimes committed against Cuba and a Trojan horse. After the impasse broke and the resolution was accepted, an official statement celebrated the decision, calling it “an historic day and the reaffirmation of the independence of Latin America in spite of pressures from the United States” while repeating their determination to seek other forms of regional representation.

The second step regards the vaguely worded “process of dialogue.” Shannon noted that in fact a two-part process would determine the extent of reform on the bilateral level and in the OAS. Venezuela noted that ending the embargo remains a strong demand within the organization. The U.S. pointed to new talks on immigration and communication with the Cuban government while calling for reforms. All this will play out on many levels and with international, regional and domestic politics each playing ensemble roles. Of course, the whole “process of dialogue” will be a moot point in the likely case that Cuba maintains its position not to seek re-entry.

In the working group, U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton initially sought to apply stricter conditions to Cuba’s re-entry, probably involving preconditions to lifting the resolution. The foreign ministers of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras led the charge against tighter conditioning, maintaining that the 1962 resolution was an obsolete relic of the Cold War and had to be eliminated for that reason and to allow Cuba to take its place within the region.

After Clinton flew off to join President Obama in Cairo for another historic moment in dismantling Bush foreign policy, Sub-Secretary Tom Shannon (soon to be replaced by Arturo Valenzuela- pending Senate confirmation) took over. Following what were no doubt very specific marching orders, Shannon carried negotiations through to the compromise.

Judging from the result, the key objective of the U.S. team was to leave San Pedro Sula with a position of unity and a new beginning for U.S. -Latin American relations. The position in favor of constructive engagement to compel change in the Cuban political system was to be reflected and it was important for the U.S. to be a partner in the final decision. These goals were achieved.

Who compromised the most is a matter of opinion. Some, including the New York Times, say the three ALBA countries backed down to allow Article 2 that stipulates the process of dialogue. Others claim that the U.S. government softened its position to lift the ban on Cuba without preconditions.

But to pursue this line of speculation is to fall into the emphasis on who won that has replaced statesmanship with one-upmanship and eroded diplomacy. By definition, cooperation requires compromise and an eye to common good, shared goals and long-term results.

From the looks of the faces, the vast majority of the national representatives present felt triumphant when the resolution was read.

What Does It Mean?

The minister from St Vincent underlined the significance of the resolution: “(This decision) was a litmus test as to whether we have a future as a hemisphere for continued cooperation and we have passed that test. This is a new beginning, characterized by mutual respect.”

Some countries, especially Cuba itself, have questioned whether the OAS is the right forum for regional diplomacy, charging that it has always been controlled by the United States and forms part of a web of institutions including the multilateral banks that have exercized coercion and control in the region. Many have high expectations that the Rio Group meeting in Mexico in 2010 will lead to a new group that could be a counter-balance to U.S. power.

Whether or not the region creates a separate institution, the need to engage in dialogue, cooperation, confrontation and peaceful co-existence with the giant to the north means that openings in diplomatic relations mean more than the symbolism of burying the Cold War of the past. Note the change in Shannon’s words and tone from when he worked for the Bush administration:

“Today we addressed and bridged an historic divide in the Americas, while reaffirming our profound commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples. Together, these actions on the part of the United States signal the biggest change to our approach to Cuba in the last forty years. We are not interested in fighting old battles or living in the past. We are committed to building a better future for all of the Americas, by listening, learning, and forging partnerships based on mutual respect.”

What Happens Next?

The next steps will be interesting to watch and important to influence, but they will most likely not take place in the OAS.

In the United States the dwindling anti-Castro organizations and their representatives in Congress have reacted with rage. They have demanded defunding the OAS if Cuba is allowed to return and have presented a bill before Congress to demand that Cuba face certification for a long list of far-reaching clauses that could effectively exclude most of the countries in the hemisphere—including the United States—due to their vague and subjective terms. Even so, many members of Congress opposed to the outcome have taken a wait-and-see attitude for now.

The events of the OAS meeting leave no doubt that the cold war is buried and that the U.S. and Latin America are on a path toward more constructive engagement and more open dialogue. Does that mean that everyone lives happily ever after in the hemisphere?

Not by a long shot. And it’s that long shot—the hemispheric reach of the U.S.’s military power—that will be the next showdown in the hemisphere following Cuba policy. Here the attitude of the Obama administration is unclear. The proposed military base in Colombia, rapid militarization of the relationship with Mexico and bloated defense budget leave reason to doubt whether the balance between defense and diplomacy that the incoming government promised is even moving in the right direction.

At least, there is now room for dialogue between nations and growing space to discuss these issues at home. So much of really changing U.S. foreign policy involves cleaning up the mess that the Obama administration inherited. U.S. -Cuba policy, from the diplomatic sanctions to the economic embargo, is perhaps the most obvious and internationally repudiated mess of a policy there is. Yesterday’s resolution was another step—a deed to match the words at the Fifth Summit of the Americas—toward clearing the way for change.

For More information:

OAS videos of the session and speeches (03/06/09)

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s statement (03/06/09)

Intervention During the Plenary Session Regarding Cuba and the OAS, Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Assistant Secretary (02/06/09)

OAS Democratic Charter

Jun 2, 2009

First President from the Left Inaugurated in El Salvador

Katie Kohlstedt

San Salvador´s Cuetzalan Staduim was filled by 2 p.m. yesterday, charged with energy and waiting for the arrival of Mauricio Funes, newly elected president of El Salvador of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Images of Farabundo Marti, the social activist and Communist leader for whom the party was named, and Shafik Handal, the late rebel leader, were prominent among the crowd that was nearly all dressed in red FMLN apparel.

Funes, elected on Mar 15, is the latest in a phenomenon of left leaning governments that have been elected in recent years in several Latin America countries including Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and Brazil. "The Salvadoran public asked for a change, and that change begins now," declared Funes in his inauguration speech.

Saul Mancia, a student who worked on the Funes campaign, was celebrating, but also expressed caution in what to expect from the new administration.

“For me, the changes aren`t going to be huge, they are going to be adjustments to the model. Salvadoran society isn`t ready for huge changes yet,” he said. “Funes is a transition government. He`s very intelligent. Change will be seen, but within several years. You`re not going to see a Cuba, nor a new Venezuela—it will come in a Salvadoran context.”

After decades of armed conflict that wiped out a generation of young people—some estimates put the number of deaths at 75,000—and forced thousands into exile, it was also an emotional moment for people affected directly by the conflict. Javier, an ex-FLMN combatant, fought back tears while trying to express what the day meant to him. “Obviously I have dreamt about this day for so many years,” he said. “In my dreams it was a bit more radical, but still, we have shown that many, many years later, yes, we could.”

Chants of “Si, Se Pudo!” (Yes, we did!), musical acts from throughout Latin America giving tribute to Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero were topped off by speeches by Presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and messages of congratulations sent from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Raul Castro of Cuba in front of a crowd that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba was Funes’ first official act as president, which he called “correcting a longstanding error of El Salvador being the only Central American country without diplomatic relations with our Cuban friends.”

For More Information:

The Left Triumphs in El Salvador (Americas Program, 24/03/09)

Cuba Agrees to U.S. Talks in New Sign of a Thaw (NYT, 29/05/09)

Mauricio Funes Takes Office, Ending Years of Conservative Rule (WSJ, 01/06/09)

Discurso de toma de posesión (FMLN, 01/06/09)