Sunday, June 28, 2009

Heads Up: Honduras in political crisis after apparent coup


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemns Zelaya's arrest.

Countries and leaders of all political persuasions, and across the Western Hemisphere, are united in their opposition to the Honduran coup.

A Honduran resident, commenting at the NYT (emphasis mine):
I want to report that all national and international news networks were pulled out from the cable system as the Coup unfolded. Now at noon only the Televicentro Network, owned by Rafael Ferrari, and main critic of Manuel Zelaya Administration along with OPSA (owned by Jorge Cahanhuati) is back on air along with others that favored the Coup (Maya TV). The rest of newtorks that leaned towards Zelaya remain off the air along with international networks. Even CNN HD was pulled out shortly after John King reported President Obama's comments on the issue.

The Congress has received a resignation letter from President Zelaya and has accepted it. Mr Zelaya has denied he signed the letter on CNN en Español.

Hope The Times do something to verify my version and denounce this limitation of freedom of speech.

From President Obama's statement: “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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

From Tegucigalpa:

Later on Sunday, the Honduran Congress voted Mr. Zelaya out of office, replacing him with the president of congress, Roberto Micheletti. [...]

Political tensions have increased as Mr. Zelaya pressed ahead with plans for a nonbinding referendum that opponents said would open the way for him to rewrite the constitution to run for re-election despite a one-term limit. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, supporters and opponents of the president held competing demonstrations.

Last week, the Supreme Court and Congress both declared the referendum unconstitutional. But on Thursday, the president led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballots, which the prosecutor’s office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated.

After the armed forces commander, Romeo Vazquez, said that the military would not participate in the referendum, Mr. Zelaya fired him. But the Supreme Court declared the firing illegal.

Honduran soldiers guard streets around the residence
of just-exiled President Zelaya.

Early today, presumably in the wee hours of the morning, Honduran soldiers burst into the bedroom of President Manuel Zelaya, firing shots; according to his wife Xiomara de Zelaya, they then beat the president and dragged him away.
Troops moved through the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and surrounded the presidential palace and other government buildings. The state television network was off the air as hundreds of angry Honduran citizens poured into the streets and shouted support for Zelaya. "The fact is, this is a coup d'etat and the president of Honduras has been kidnapped and beaten up," Honduras' ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Sosa Coello, told CNN's Spanish-language network.

Janina del Veccio, minister of security for Costa Rica, confirmed that Zelaya was in her country. She told CNN that the president said he had been kidnapped from his bedroom and bundled into an aircraft, in which he was flown to Costa Rica. He was scheduled to speak to the press later this morning, she said.

The military action followed days of unrest ahead of a referendum over constitutional reforms scheduled for today. The vote was to ask Hondurans whether they wanted another referendum to change the constitution in a number of ways, including allowing re-election of the president.

Army leaders opposed the vote, which they, Congress and election officials said was illegal. In response, Zelaya last week fired the top military commander and then ignored a Supreme Court order to reinstate him.
I confess that despite my higher-than-average level of interest in Honduran current events (I lived in Tegucigalpa during my middle school years), I was caught completely unaware this time, and sort of stumbled upon the news of the coup via the BBC website, which led me to search around for more information.

But I predict we'll all be hearing more about this as the days pass. So here's at a bit of background on what has precipitated the current crisis, along with my memories of the bloodless (thank goodness) coup that took place back in 1974, when my family and I lived there.

Essentially, the current president-now-in-exile, Presidente Manuel Zelaya of the Partido Liberal de Honduras (the Liberal Party of Honduras or PLH), was chosen by the people in yet another controversy-wracked election in late November, 2005. The results were hotly contested and challenged by the runner-up and his party; Zelaya was declared the winner in early December '05, and ballot counts confirming his victory were released later that month. He took office in January 2006.

Zelaya's term, however, has been characterized by infighting, controversy, and severe disagreements with Honduras' military leaders, to put it mildly. The most volatile of these disputes centered around Zelaya's efforts to put to the vote a referendum that would have modified the Honduran constitution, including allowing a president to serve a second 4-year term if the voters so chose:
Zelaya, a leftist elected in 2005, has found himself pitted against the other branches of government and military leaders over the issue of Sunday's planned referendum. It would ask voters to place a measure on November's ballot allowing the formation of a constitutional assembly that could modify the nation's charter to allow the president to run for another term.

His four-year term ends in January 2010, and he cannot run for re-election under current law.

The Honduras Supreme Court had ruled the poll illegal, and Congress and the top military brass agreed, but Zelaya had remained steadfast.

In the end, it appeared the opposition to Zelaya was too great.

The military confiscated the ballots from the presidential residence, in effect canceling the disputed vote.
Honduras is no stranger to military overthrows of the government; indeed, the election of the PLH's Roberto Suazo Cordova in 1981 was the first time in over a century that the country had a civilian government. Nor is she a stranger to what I will charitably call "American guidance". At the bilingual school I attended in Tegucigalpa in the early 1970's, most of my classmates were the children of American and British diplomats, US Army and Air Force personnel and officers, agents of The Company, or--like my father--employees of American or British businesses operating in Honduras. As an eleven-year-old, it didn't occur to me to wonder why a small and terribly poor country--over 80% of Hondurans live in poverty--would attract so many Yanquis, nor did I question the purpose of building an enormous US-Honduran air base--Palmerola (now known as Soto Cano Air Base)--in nearby Comayagua. But years later, with my political conscience (and guilt-levels) appropriately raised, I figured it out.

Honduras is not an especially resource-rich country, but it is located right next door to Nicaragua, home of a then-brewing Marxist revolution movement--the Sandinistas--that grew out of disgust and disaffection with the corrupt, brutal reign of the Somoza family. The situation was obviously being carefully monitored by Uncle Sam et. al., and this was years before President Reagan upped the ante:
Upon assuming office in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan condemned the FSLN for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador. His administration authorized the CIA to have their paramilitary officers from their elite Special Activities Division begin financing, arming and training rebels, some of whom were the remnants of Somoza's National Guard, as anti-Sandinista guerrillas that were branded "counter-revolutionary" by leftists (contrarrevolucionarios in Spanish).
So, I watch today's developments with interest, with a heavy heart, and with no small number of memories awakened and rattling around in my head: turning on the radio one school-day morning and realizing that instead of the usual American Top Ten fare my friends and I enjoyed, it was now playing military marching music.

My mother telling us there was no school that day, and just to be on the safe side, let's all stay indoors. Soldiers, soldiers everywhere, even on the country's two television stations (which annoyed us housebound kids to no end--believe me, ancient re-runs of Popeye or Fractured Fairytales, all in black and white and dubbed in Spanish, are better than nothing, and certainly better than endless loops of soldiers marching!) Gunshot/guerilla drills when school did re-open (mainly, you're supposed to hit the deck immediately). Shortages of various food staples like sugar and flour, advance news of which had led my practical, smart Mum to stock our basement bodega, which dark and somewhat spooky storeroom, we were instructed, would also be the go-to hiding place for us children should our parents be away for some reason and soldiers came to the door (thankfully this didn't happen, but my arms bristle with goosebumps as I type this; my own boys just ran into the room, and once again I marvel at, and am grateful for, my mother's amazing calm and ability to somehow impart survival lessons to us without terrifying us to the point of paralysis).

I don't know the extent to which America is or will be involved in this latest development, but the fact that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has condemned the Honduran military's early-morning actions, and called for President Obama to do likewise, probably speaks volumes. My thoughts are with the warm and generous Honduran people, the poorest and least powerful of whom have been used as pawns, manipulated, stolen from, brutalized, and abused for as long as I can remember.

Photo via Reuters.

Also at Cogitamus.

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