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Submitted by Robert Naiman on 27 August 2009 - 8:58pm
After two months, the State Department is poised to formally declare what was obvious to most of the world: on June 28, Honduras experienced a military coup.
State Department staff have recommended to Secretary of State Clinton that the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya be formally declared a "military coup," which could cut off as much as $150 million in U.S. funding, Reuters reports.
The semi-official story has been that State Department lawyers were studying the events in Honduras to see if they met the "technical definition" of a "military coup." But all along the State Department made clear that it was purposely delaying its formal determination to give "diplomacy" - the talks in Costa Rica between representatives of President Zelaya and representatives of the coup regime - a chance to work.
It was never explained why making this determination - which, under U.S. law, requires a cutoff of aid to the coup government - would have interfered with "diplomacy." On the contrary: it was immediately obvious that the obstacle to a negotiated solution was the intransigence of the coup regime, which refused to accept a compromise proposal that would allow President Zelaya to return. So, as many Latin American governments argued - including the Costa Rican government - if the U.S. wanted a negotiated solution, it needed to ramp up pressure on the coup regime.
But the State Department is now, at last, conceding that its previous efforts were insufficient. Better late than never - much better.
No doubt Republicans in Congress who have supported the coup regime in Honduras will now complain loudly when Secretary Clinton makes her formal determination - assuming that she follows the recommendation of her staff.
In anticipation of right-wing Republican complaints, it is important to note two key facts.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 26 August 2009 - 2:25pm
On Monday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin broke a Beltway taboo: he called for a public timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, in an interview with the Appleton, Wisconsin Post-Crescent. My colleague Megan Iorio has excerpted highlights from the interview relating to Afghanistan:
Already, Feingold's call for a timetable for withdrawal is shaping press coverage. The Washington Post reports today:
As the Obama administration prepares for a report from its senior field commander that is likely to request additional forces, congressional Democrats, in particular, have begun to question the wisdom of further reinforcements on top of the 62,000 U.S. troops already deployed in Afghanistan, with an additional 6,000 scheduled to arrive by year's end.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the first time for Obama to set a "flexible timetable" to withdraw U.S. forces, saying he is "not convinced that simply pouring more and more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy."
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 25 August 2009 - 1:17pm
Yesterday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin broke a Washington taboo. He called for a "timetable" for withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.
ABC News reports:
"I think it is time we start discussing a flexible timetable so that people around the world can see when we are going to bring our troops out," said Feingold. "Showing the people there and here that we have a sense about when it is time to leave is one of the best things we can do," he added.
Feingold made the comments in an interview with the editorial board of the Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin. Feingold also said:
I think (our presence) is increasing the extremism and increasing the resentment toward the United States.
The idea of an open-ended commitment with no vision of when it will end is a problem. I want a flexible timetable and a public vision of what we intend.
Senator Feingold's statements represent an important breakthrough. Though Feingold has been quite critical of the ongoing military escalation, this is, to my knowledge, the first time he, or any other U.S. Senator, has publicly uttered the word "timetable" in the context of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
In June, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan was supported by a majority of House Democrats, including key members of the House leadership, like Rep. David Obey (Chair of Appropriations) and Rep. John Murtha (Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.)
But until now there has been no corresponding movement in the U.S. Senate.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 24 August 2009 - 11:52am
On Friday, Latin America scholars sent an urgent letter to Human Rights Watch, urging HRW to speak out on violations of human rights under the coup regime in Honduras and to conduct its own investigation. HRW hasn't made any statement about Honduras since July 8.
One of the things Human Rights Watch should be investigating is allegations by Honduran feminists and human rights groups that Honduran police are using rape and other sexual violence as weapons of intimidation against Hondurans nonviolently protesting the coup regime.
[UPDATE: Human Rights Watch put out a very strong statement today (8/25), highlighting the IACHR report, noting, among other things, the sexual assault allegations, and urging the U.S. to exert more pressure for the restoration of democracy. Kudos to Human Rights Watch.]
The Spanish news agency EFE reports:
The group Feministas de Honduras en Resistencia said Thursday that is has documented 19 instances of rape by police officers since the June 28 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya. There have been many other cases of rape, but the women have not reported them out of fear of reprisals, Gilda Rivera, the executive coordinator of the Honduran Center for Women's Rights and head of Feministas, told Efe.
The activists say that women taking part in the resistance to the coup are being targeted. "We've obtained testimonials from women who've been sexually abused, beaten with cudgels on different parts of their bodies, especially the breasts and buttocks," adds the report presented Thursday at a press conference in Tegucigalpa.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 21 August 2009 - 1:39pm
On Friday nearly 100 Latin America scholars and experts sent an open letter to Human Rights Watch urging HRW to speak up about human rights violations in Honduras under the coup regime and to conduct its own investigation of these abuses. The letters' signers include Honduras experts Dana Frank and Adrienne Pine, Latin America experts Eric Hershberg, John Womack, and Greg Grandin, and noted authors Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.
The Latin America experts note that if Human Rights Watch took action to shine its spotlight on these abuses, it would be more likely that the Obama Administration would put greater pressure on the coup regime to end these abuses and restore democracy. Such pressure would likely be decisive. The experts argue that "the coup could easily be overturned," if the Obama administration took more decisive measures, "such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime" - as Rep. Grijalva and 15 other Members of Congress called for on August 11. A recent New York Times editorial urged the Obama Administration to exert more pressure on the coup regime if it refuses to accept a compromise for President Zelaya's return.
Human Rights Watch has not issued a statement or release on the situation in Honduras since July 8, a little over a week after the coup.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 20 August 2009 - 10:45am
Recently I watched the 2007 Lebanese film "Under the Bombs." The movie tells the story of the U.S.-supported Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, wrapping the historical events inside a fictional narrative. Watching the movie reminded me of Just Foreign Policy's efforts with Jewish Voice for Peace and others to stop that war.
At the time, it seemed clear that the war could not go on indefinitely; the international community would not allow it. But how long would it be allowed to go on? If we could shorten it by one day, innocent civilians would live and not die. The 34-day conflict resulted in 1,191 deaths, the UN Human Rights Council reported. Using this figure, on average, each day of the war killed 35 more people; each day we shortened it saved 35 lives.
Today Afghanistan is holding the first round of its presidential election. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is clear from the campaign: the majority of Afghans are sick and tired of war. "There is broad agreement the war must end," reports Carlotta Gall in the New York Times. There is broad support in Afghanistan for negotiations with insurgents to end the war. The debate inside Afghanistan is on what process negotiations should follow, and whether the Afghan government is really following through on its stated commitment to negotiations.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 19 August 2009 - 11:20am
There has been very little attention in the U.S. press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report today documenting "serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters" in Honduras, warning that "beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition" to the coup.
An Amnesty International delegation interviewed people who were detained after police and military broke up a peaceful demonstration July 30. Most detainees had injuries as a consequence of police beatings.
Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International, said:
"Detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government, and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing."
U.S. media often rely heavily on international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to report on human rights abuses. So it will be interesting to see how much U.S. press coverage the Amnesty report gets.
If the repression under the coup regime were more widely known, it would be much more difficult for representatives of that regime to peddle their story in Washington that their government is "democratic" and "respects the rule of law." How is the coup's hired gun Lanny Davis going to spin Amnesty's report on police repression of peaceful dissent against the coup?
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 12 August 2009 - 3:22pm
The British newspaper The Telegraph is claiming that a US funded poll indicates that Hamid Karzai will not win re-election as President of Afghanistan in the first round. "Hamid Karzai 'will not' win Afghan election outright," the headline says. The Telegraph reports:
The US government-funded poll found that the president of Afghanistan led his rivals by a wide margin, but lacked the 50 per cent of the vote necessary to avoid a second round.
The poll put Mr Karzai on 36 per cent of the vote and his nearest rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah on 20 per cent among registered voters.
A fifth of Afghans are still undecided or would not answer the survey, the poll by a Washington-based research firm reported.
Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and anti-corruption minister, has seven per cent of the vote and Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister, has three per cent, the research by Glevum Associates found in the second week of July.
But here's how the Washington Post reported the same poll:
In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 11 August 2009 - 1:04pm
The good news is that Latin American criticism of the Obama Administration's failure to pressure the coup regime in Honduras has reached the level that Obama himself can no longer ignore it. The bad news is that Obama's response so far seems to be to stay the course: talk left, act right.
President Barack Obama said on Friday that he has no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras, where supporters of a coup are refusing to let ousted President Manuel Zelaya return to power.
"I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya," Obama said.
Actually, Mr. Obama, you do have a button. You're probably right that it won't "suddenly" reinstate Mr. Zelaya. What's much more likely is that pressing your button would make the coup regime much more likely to accept the compromise proposal put forward by the Costa Ricans to allow President Zelaya's reinstatement. Since your Administration sponsored the Costa Rican process, it seems natural that you would do something to make it work. Why not press your button and see what it does?
Sixteen Democratic Members of Congress - Representatives Raul Grijalva, Jim McGovern, John Conyers, Jose Serrano, Chaka Fattah, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Jim Oberstar, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Delahunt, Jan Schakowsky, Donna Christensen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Sam Farr, and Linda Sanchez - have urged you to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders in Honduras. Why haven't you already done so, or even threatened to consider it?
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 10 August 2009 - 11:51am
Supporters in the U.S. of the coup in Honduras have frequently made two claims to justify it which are demonstrably false, which have nonetheless been widely accepted in the U.S., because they have been largely unchallenged in the U.S. media: the Honduran Congress authorized Zelaya's removal, and the basis for that removal was Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, which forbids someone from being President if he has already been President, and says that anyone who advocates changing this provision will cease to be President.
The actual decree of the Honduran Congress is attached. Note the following.
1) the document never mentions Article 239.
2) the document is dated "MIERCOLES 1 DE JULIO DEL 2009," i.e. Wednesday, July 1, 2009, three days after the coup on Sunday, June 28.
So: 1) the decree of the Honduran Congress, which is being cited as justification for it, was produced when the coup was already three days old, and 2) this decree never mentioned Article 239.
Note that President Zelaya didn't advocate any change to term limits. He proposed a nonbinding referendum on whether there should be a constitutional convention. Even had the nonbinding referendum been successful, there is no plausible scenario in which it would have led to a change in this provision of the constitution prior to the scheduled November election in which Zelaya was to be replaced and in which he was not a candidate. At most it would have resulted in a binding referendum for a constitutional referendum on the same November ballot on which Zelaya would have been replaced. So the claim that President Zelaya was "trying to extend his term" is not only false, but logically impossible.