July 2, 2009
The clash between global and local politics in Honduras is turning into quite a spectacle, as world opinion and democratic ideals face off against an established elite class that determined to resist foreign pressure. Demonstrations both in favor of and against "Mel," as Manuel Zelaya is known, continue in Honduran cities. It is very hard to get a good idea of what is really going on. The Washington Post emphasized that the government is resorting to heavy-handed measures such as curfews to maintain order in the cities. Journalists are being told not to report news that might incite the public. The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank both did suspended aid to Honduras, but the new leaders insist that they will be accepted in due course. Honduras is not in a good financial position to resist a cut-off of finance for very long. Several European countries have recalled their ambassadors, and the Pentagon halted joint military operations with Honduras. On a more positive note, El Salvador resumed trade ties with Honduras after a brief suspension.
The secretary general of the Organisation of American States plans to go to Honduras and demand that the deposed president be restored to office. He refuses to negotiate with the interim government, not wanting to give them legitimacy. See BBC. I can understand the desire not to reward people for usurping legal authority, but he seems to be ignoring a widespread consensus among the leadership in Honduras that Zelaya had to go. A BBC reporter named Stephen Gibbs spent some time walking the streets to get a feel for the situation, and had some anxious moments. He concluded, "things really have not changed since the heyday of Latin American coups in the 1970s and 1980s ."
See El Heraldo reports that crowds chanted, "Get out, Mel, get out, Chavez!," positioning themselves as standing up for democracy and the rule of law. The anti-Zelaya forces are angry at international condemnation of the coup, resentful of outsiders meddling in their affairs. It sounds paradoxical, but time will tell which side in this showdown is more sincere about adhering to those principles. I suspect that neither side is truly innocent.
Even though the "International Community" has come down resoundingly against the coup, I think the attitude of foreign leaders and diplomats is mainly intended to discourage would-be imitators from launching coups elsewhere in Latin America or the Third World. They may not know or really care what the actual situation is in Honduras, and whether the legal authorities who gave their blessing to the irregular change in government were justified or not.
Actually, there were two other new presidents in Latin America last month:
In Panama, conservative businessman Ricardo Martinelli was inaugurated as president on July 1. He owns a chain of supermarkets. He pledged to carry out his plans to reduce the government budget, but says that public workers will get raises. (?) Other priorities include public safety, prison reform, and fighting drug traffickers. See CNN.com.
The Honduran newspaper Proceso reported that the presence at the inauguration in Panama of deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya made the hosts feel "uncomfortable." Zelaya now says he will put off his return to Honduras until Sunday. The article indicates:
Zelaya is accused in Honduras of abusing authority, violating the rights of government employees funcionarios, and treason, among other crimes, for which he could be sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to the Honduras attorney general, Luis Rubí.
In El Salvador, the ideological pendulum swung in the opposition direction, as FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes was inaugurated as president one month ago. He was elected in March, and his inaugural speech emphasized the theme of "change." Now we will find out whether he is a moderate leftist like Lula da Silva, or a radical like Hugo Chavez.
The Peruvian Congress has rescinded an economic development law that had been recently passed, after fierce resistance from Indigenous people in the Amazon region. The law would have made it easier for foreign companies to commercial exploit the wilderness area of the Amazon rain forest, especially the mining and hydrocarbon industries. Angered at being ignored by the government in Lima, these groups had staged violent protests that left at least 30 people dead, including several police officers. For several days the blockades were set up around town of Bagua near the border with Ecuador. The point man in the negotiations has been Prime Minister Yehude Simon, who accepted the post several months ago after a corruption scandal caused a shakeup in President Alan Garcia's cabinet. Simon says he will resign after the crisis is resolved. Garcia says he hopes for reconciliation, but the ethnic distrust is very deep and will take years of effort to overcome. See BBC and CNN.com.