Posts Tagged ‘Obama and honduras’

Honduran Human Rights Leader: Clinton “Reckless,” U.S. Silent About “Terrorismo”

July 29, 2009

When finally reached by telephone, the very hard-to-reach Bertha Oliva was in the middle of a typically tragic day in post-coup Honduras. “ [The military and paramilitary operatives] just bombed a nearby labor union,” she said. Oliva leads the Tegucigalpa-based Committee for the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), which is recognized worldwide as her country’s leading non-governmental human rights organization. “Fortunately,” she said, “all of the members of the union were at the burial of one of the boys the death squads killed on Saturday near El Paraiso [The Paradise], and no one was killed this time.”

“They are following our every move,” Oliva added. “They’re surveilling our offices and we’ve received threatening phone calls. And they make it extremely difficult or impossible to take water, medicine and food to all the people they’ve detained,” she said.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, while making camp at the Nicaragua-Honduras border last Friday, called for new protests in Honduras. This prompted U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to declare: “’President Zelaya’s effort to reach the border is reckless. It does not contribute to the broader effort to restore democracy and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.”

When asked about Clinton’s statement, Oliva quickly responded, “Bombs are going off, people are being detained without due process, young men’s bodies are found with signs of torture and 45 stab wounds. [Clinton’s] declarations and her silence about human rights are strengthening criminals and signaling to those committing crimes against humanity that they can keep on doing it. Isn’t that ‘reckless?’”

“Instead of disqualifying Zelaya,” she continued, “Secretary Clinton should take actions in favor of democracy, in favor of constitutional order. That can really help us, that would be a great contribution.”

If a recent report by COFADEH is any indicator, there has been an exponential rise in the number of human rights violations since the June 28 coup. The report documented over 1,100 cases of arbitrary detentions, attacks on the media, killings and other human rights violations.

“Why don’t Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration say anything about this, this ……terrorismo that the [de facto Honduran President] Micheletti and the coup backers are committing?” asked Oliva.

The questions and concerns raised by Oliva about the Obama administration’s policy towards the Honduran coup reflects what many fear is a growing distance between the Administration and the democracy movements backing the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted my the Honduran military on June 28th. Oliva and others fear that the Obama Administration’s handling of the coup may reflect the same willingness to overlook human rights violations that has characterized previous U.S. administrations.

Observers around the world question, for example, why the United States has chosen not to declare the Honduran putsch a “coup” in the legal sense, which would require stronger actions including a complete cutoff of military and other aid, withdrawing the ambassador and other measures the Obama Administration has refused to take.

Instead, critics both inside and outside Honduras, say Clinton and Obama have chosen a ‘good cop-bad cop’ strategy in which Obama gets to perform symbolic actions like declaring the coup “illegal” while Clinton gets to deliver the bad policy news to the media and the world about how the Administration has chosen not to designate the situation a “coup.”

In his own increasingly pointed responses, Zelaya noted that the possibility that the Obama administration may actually be enabling and strengthening the hand of those perpetrating the killings, torture and other human rights violations documented by Oliva and COFADEH. “The position of secretary Clinton at the beginning was firm,” Zelaya declared, “….now I feel that she’s not really denouncing (the coup) and she’s not acting firmly against the repression that Honduras is suffering.”

Oliva, Gilda Rivera of the Center for Women’s Rights, José Luis Galdamez, a journalist with Radio Globo and others fear that the Obama administration’s handling of the coup may reflect the same willingness to overlook human rights violations that has characterized previous U.S. administrations.

As she looks at the numbers and as she visits killing fields, prisons, private homes and other sites where human rights violations are taking place, Oliva said she couldn’t help but be reminded of the past.

She and her family founded COFADEH along with 12 other families that, like hers, had lost a family member disappeared by death squads linked to the U.S.-trained Honduran military. Her husband is still “disappeared,” she noted. “Some of the same businesspeople and military officials involved in the disappearances and killings of the 1980’s are the same people behind the coup today,” said Oliva. “And as happened back then, the United States government seems willing to back them politically by sponsoring talks that make the coup leaders look like legitimate partners to negotiate with.”

Oliva saved her most impassioned pleas for Hillary Clinton. “As a Honduran that has worked for justice her entire life, I ask Mrs. Clinton to listen to her heart and formally declare this a coup so that [coup leaders] know that her country stands for human rights,” she said. “As someone who has sought the truth, I ask you, Mrs. Clinton not to hide the truth about what’s happening here. And, finally, as a creator of life, as a mother, I plead with you to put yourself in the shoes of so many mothers whose sons are victims of repression by the government. I know [the coup leaders] will listen to you. With God as my witness, I know it.”

What Next For Honduras After Failed Negotiations? GRITtv Interview With Laura Flanders

July 20, 2009

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This interview with Laura Flanders is chock full of information and analysis of the current situation, something abysmally lacking in the reporting in the mainstream media. Joining Laura and me is Democracy Now’s Andres Thomas Conteris who just returned from Honduras, lived there for many years and is one of the more knowledgeable people about the current situation that I know.

Of special note is a preview of an article I’m writing that will appear in the American Prospect later this week. The article explores the little known business interests that have hired Clinton ally Lanny Davis to both lobby on their behalf and to attack exiled Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya. The article includes one of the first and only interviews with Davis about the matter. And, as always, the informed and insightful questions from host Laura Flanders provide a fluid foundation for serious inquiry. If you like the clip below,the rest of the 16 minute interview can be found here.

Live Discussion of Honduras Coup on Youn Turks

July 14, 2009

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Tune in here at 8:20 pm EST (5:20PST)!

Honduran, Latin American & U.S. Activists Prevail: Obama Cuts Military Aid to Honduran Government Obama

July 9, 2009

This report from Reuters confirms that the Obama Administration will cut military aid to the Honduran government. The announcement represents a major victory for activists in Honduras, Latin America and the U.S., who have demanded such action by the Obama Administration since the coup began in June 28th.

Though the aid represents a small amount- $16.5 million-, the political value of this shift in U.S. policy is enormous. Some will try to interpret the Administration’s acquiesence to popular demands (elites never admit to responding to pressure) thru the foggy lens bureaucratic process. But anyone with any political sense knows that the cutoff of military aid would not have happened without the actions-phone calls, letter writing, protests, marches and other pressures-applied directly and indirectly by individuals, organizations and some governments throughout the hemisphere.

While President Zelaya has not yet been reinstated (negotiations begin today), those of us opposed to the coup, those who are helping the Obama Administration do the right thing, should take at least a brief moment to breathe in a deep appreciation of our work. Despite a media blackout, despite opposing the policies of an extremely popular president, the workings of popular hemispheric power continue. And though we should continue actions, we should should continue them in the knowledge that these actions have an impact. Yes We Will.

Latin América’s Neda: Video of Killing of Isis Oved Murillo

July 6, 2009

The parallels -mass protest against military governments, military killing non-English-speaking millenials, worldwide denunciation-could not be greater. But the differences between coverage and official treatment here in the U.S. of the situation in Iran and the situation in Honduras couldn’t be starker. Why? I am working through a piece on this for later. In the meantime, check out this video and see for yourself what most U.S. media and many elected officials in the U.S. are mum about (Warning: this video is extremely graphic, gut wrenchingly so):

Honduran Violence, U.S. Aid Test Obama’s Global Image

July 6, 2009

Honduras coup: scenes of chaos as desposed president Manuel Zelaya tries to return

While English language television in the United States mined the minutiae of Michael Jackson’s upcoming funeral, millions watching Spanish, Portuguese and French language media in the rest of the Americas were transfixed by live broadcasts of the Honduran military shooting and killing a 10 year-old boy and other protesters.

From the U.S.-Mexico border to the southern tip of Argentina and Chile, Latin Americans were besotted by television and internet images of the tens of thousands of Hondurans who risked their lives while staging a peaceful march to the airport where a plane carrying the ousted  President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and United Nations President Miguel d’Escoto was trying to land.

In the course of Sunday’s mass mobilization by Hondurans, many throughout the continent watched the drama of the police stepping out of the way of the marchers when their chief declared that he “holds the military responsible” for any bloodshed. Shortly after blood was, in fact, spilled as at least 2 people were killed by the military and several others were injured, according to Telesur, which broadcast live from the Tegucigalpa airport.

Public and official outrage in response to the killings and shootings are sure to intensify pressure on the military coup leaders who already face worldwide denunciation and pressure. The Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras’ membership Saturday; The European Union and most countries in Latin America with embassies in Honduras have withdrawn their ambassadors; the World Bank and some governments have either suspended or frozen loans to Honduras.

But the military coup leaders are still recipients of U.S. economic and military aid.

As a result, the whole Latin American world is watching Honduras and President Obama, who still has not heeded calls to suspend U.S. military aid to Honduras. In fact, Latin America may well be where the decline and fall of Obama’s global rock star status begins.

The Obama Administration has chosen to respond to the crisis in a manner that will signify little to millions watching the bloodshed taking place in Honduras; While nobody in the hemisphere wants the return of the actions of the Bush era, many already believe that the Obama Administration’s inactions mean that the “new” or fundamental “change” Obama promised during his also widely-viewed Summit of the Americas speech last April adds up to little more than this: more militarismo, but with a smile.

For example, rather than officially declare and denounce the Honduras putsch as a “coup”, which would, among other things, trigger a cutoff of military and other aid, the Obama Administration has instead chosen the symbolic act of suspending joint military operations.

In a region where U.S. military aid, U.S. military training and U.S. political support for dictatorships responsible for killing, torturing and disappearing millions are at the heart of why Obama needed urgently to signal a “new” U.S. policy, Obama’s continued “Si Se Puede” (Yes We Can) to continued military aid for such human rights violation-plagued governments as those of Colombia, Mexico and Honduras will only tarnish his and the U.S.’ image in the region.

The President’s inability or unwillingness to call for an immediate suspension of U.S. military aid is already raising questions about the motives and role of Obama Administration operatives like Hugo Llorens, the current U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.

From 2002-2003 – the year many in Latin America condemned the attempted military coup in Venezuela – Llorens was the Director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC).

Llorens was charged with advising then President Bush and his National Security Advisor on issues pertaining to Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. Although Llorens and the Obama Administration do not recognize the current government, they did, apparently, know that the coup in Honduras was going to take place.

That the Obama Administration knew of the coup and did not cutoff aid immediately after it took place, makes its claims that it tried to “stop” the coup seem naive, at best.

That the Administration may not cutoff aid even after coup-appointed Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez described President Obama as “ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada” (that little black boy who knows nothing about nothing) is to add political insult to tragic injury before a hemispheric audience; That Obama may not cutoff military aid even after Sunday’s increased bloodshed adds even graver injury to that insult.

And in Latin America, a region where the word “Honduras” now means “defend democracy”, a region where many know that Democrat-led U.S. regimes have propped up military dictatorships, assassinated leaders and covertly destabilized left-leaning governments with the same zeal and effectiveness as Republican regimes, President Obama and the United States, no longer have the luxury of being on the wrong side of history made on the streets. This hemispheric sensibility was articulated forcefully by Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez, who traveled with the Presidents of Ecuador and Paraguay to El Salvador on Sunday in order support Zelaya. During their late night press conference, Fernandez seemed to speak to and for millions when she stated, “We’re not just defending Honduras. We’re defending ourselves.” The question President Obama must answer as unequivocally and rapidly as possible is, “Who are Latin Americans defending themselves from?”

Obama Has the Power-and Responsibility- to Help Restore Democracy in Honduras

June 29, 2009

Supporters of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya demonstrate in front of the presidential residence

Viewed from a distance, the streets of Honduras look, smell and sound like those of Iran: Expressions of popular anger- burning vehicles, large marches and calls for justice in a non-English language- aimed at a constitutional violation of the people’s will (the coup took place on the eve of a poll of voters asking if the President’s term should be extended); protests repressed by a small, but powerful elite backed by military force; those holding power trying to cut off communications in and out of the country.

These and other similarities between the political situation in Iran and the situation in Honduras, where military and economic and political elites ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in a military coup condemned around the world, are obvious.

But when viewed from the closer physical (Miami is just 800 miles from Honduras) and historical proximity of the United States, the differences between Iran and Honduras are marked and clear in important ways: the M-16’s pointing at this very moment at the thousands of peaceful protesters are paid for with U.S. tax dollars and still carry a “Made in America” label; the military airplane in which they kidnapped and exiled President Zelaya was purchased with the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid the Honduran government has been the benefactor of since the Cold War military build-up that began in 1980’s; the leader of the coup, General Romeo Vasquez, and many other military leaders repressing the populace received “counterinsurgency” training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the infamous “School of the Americas,” responsible for training those who perpetrated the greatest atrocities in the Americas.

The big difference between Iran and Honduras? President Obama and the U.S. can actually do something about a military crackdown that our tax dollars are helping pay for. That Vasquez and other coup leaders were trained at the WHINSEC, which also trained Agusto Pinochet and other military dictators responsible for the deaths, disappearances, tortures of hundreds of thousands in Latin America, sends profound chills throughout a region still trying to overcome decades U.S.-backed militarism.

Hemispheric concerns about the coup were expressed in the rapid, historic and almost universal condemnation of the plot by almost all Latin American governments. Such concerns in the region represent an opportunity for the United States. But, while the Honduran coup represents a major opportunity for Obama to make real his recent and repeated calls for a “new” relationship to the Americas, failure to take actions that send a rapid and unequivocal denunciation of the coup will be devastating to the Honduran people — and to the still-fragile U.S. image in the region.

Recent declarations by the Administration — expressions of “concern” by the President and statements by Secretary of State Clinton recognizing Zelaya as the only legitimate, elected leader of Honduras — appear to indicate preliminary disapproval of the putsch. Yet, the even more unequivocal statements of condemnation from U.N. President Miguel D’Escoto, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Presidents of Argentina, Costa Rica and many other governments raise greatly the bar of expectation before the Obama Administration.

As a leader of the global chorus condemning the Iranian government and as one of the primary backers of the Honduran military, the Obama Administration will feel increasing pressure to do much more.

Beyond immediate calls to continue demanding that Zelaya and democratic order be reinstated, protesters in Honduras, Latin America and across the United States will also pressure the Obama Administration to take a number of tougher measures including: cutting off of U.S. military aid, demanding that Hondurans and others kidnapped, jailed and detained be released and accounted for immediately, bringing Vasquez and coup leaders to justice, investigating what U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, did or didn’t know about the coup.

With the bad taste left by the widely alleged U.S. involvement in recent coup attempts in Venezuela (2002) and Bolivia (2008), countries led by Zelaya allies Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, the Obama Administration faces a skeptical Latin American audience.

Latin American skepticism of U.S. intentions is not unfounded. Throughout his administration, Zelaya has increasingly moved left, critiquing certain U.S. actions and building stronger ties to countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. COHA, a non-profit research organization, wrote in 2005:

While Honduras signed onto the U.S.-led Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2004, and the U.S. currently is Honduras’ primary trading partner and the source of approximately two-thirds of the country’s foreign direct investment (FDI), Zelaya has, within the past year, joined Petrocaribe, Chavez’s oil-subsidy initiative, as well as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the Venezuelan-led trade bloc. Honduras’ Congress ratified its membership in Petrocaribe on March 13, by 69 votes, and Zelaya signed ALBA membership documents on August 22.

The Honduran president has said that apathy on the part of the U.S. as well as by the international lending institutions toward rising food prices and deepening poverty in his country — one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with per capita income around $1,600 — compelled him to turn to Caracas.”

Obama’s meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Monday, whose government has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other international organizations as one of the worst human rights violators in the hemisphere, both complicates and will be complicated by Sunday’s’ resurgence of militarism in Honduras.

Zelaya, who continues denouncing the coup from Costa Rica, outlined the long term threat to Honduran and U.S. interests in the region, “I think this is a vicious plot planned by elites. Elite who only want to keep the country isolated and in extreme poverty,” he said adding that, “A usurper government cannot be recognized by absolutely anybody.”

(This article appeared originally on Alternet: http://www.alternet.org)