Commentary

Honduran Coup Leader Coming to Miami Saturday?

It seems too awful or too good to be true, depending on how you look at it. But according to the web site of "MIGApartners," which I gather is some flavor of Christian organization, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the military leader of the coup in Honduras, is going to be in Miami on Saturday morning July 25th, between 9:45am-10:45am, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

I tried to confirm this by calling the numbers listed on the website but only got answering machines. The calendar of the Miami Beach Convention Center merely has "Christian Ministries" listed on its schedule for Saturday.

If it is true that General Vasquez is coming to Miami - is he already in the U.S.? - this raises a number of questions.

First: this guy is welcome in the United States? In an editorial on July 14, the Los Angeles Times called for the U.S. to consider canceling visas for coup leaders. Supporters of the democratically elected government in Honduras have made similar calls. If there is any coup leader who should be denied a visa to visit the United States, surely it is General Vasquez.

The Day They Arrested President Roosevelt

What a dark day for American democracy it was - February 5, 1937, the day they arrested President Roosevelt.

The pretext for this assault on democracy was President Roosevelt's proposal of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, which would have allowed President Roosevelt to appoint more members to the Supreme Court, which had blocked New Deal measures President Roosevelt had introduced to try to bring America out of the Great Depression. Supporters of the New Deal were particularly galled by the Supreme Court's decision the previous year throwing out New York's minimum wage law.

But some of President Roosevelt's opponents in Congress (including many conservative Democrats), the Supreme Court, and the military claimed the proposed bill was an assault on the Constitution - even though the Constitution doesn't say how many Supreme Court justices there should be, and Congress had changed the number of Supreme Court Justices many times in the past - and that Roosevelt's move was a dangerous power grab. So dangerous, in fact, that Roosevelt's proposal could not even be considered in Congress. Roosevelt's opponents claimed that he had violated the Constitution by even suggesting the idea, and had to be removed from office immediately; that Roosevelt and his supporters were such a threat to the established order that due process had to be dispensed with - if Roosevelt were put in prison, maybe there would be riots.

Therefore, on the morning of February 5, soldiers under the command of General Smedley Butler arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, still in his pajamas.

CSM, WSJ Respond to Criticism of Claim of Plurality for Honduran Coup

On Sunday, I wrote a piece here criticizing the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Reuters for inaccurately reporting a poll result to claim that a plurality of Hondurans supported the coup against President Zelaya.

The Wall Street Journal has now published a "Corrections & Amplifications" note attached to the original piece and the Christian Science Monitor has published a response to the criticism to which the original article is now linked. There has been no public response yet, as far as I am aware, from the Washington Post or Reuters.

Credit where credit is due: both the CSM and WSJ have now in some form publicly acknowledged the dispute and provided an explanation. (In hindsight, the inaccuracy of the original CSM and WSJ reports is arguably more clear-cut than that of the Post and Reuters reports - see below.)

But the responses leave some central questions unanswered: did these outlets rely on the Honduran newspaper La Prensa as a sole source? If so, why? Will they act differently in the future?

To recap: here are the original reports as they appeared in the four outlets.

LAT, Arias: US Must Pressure Honduran Coup Leaders

Some people may have hoped that the problem of the coup in Honduras would magically go away once talks began between President Zelaya and leaders of the coup regime under the mediation of Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias. But of course it wasn't so and it isn't so. For the mediation to succeed, a key ingredient is required: sustained and escalating US pressure on the coup regime, until it agrees to the restoration of President Zelaya.

As the Los Angeles Times explains in an editorial today:

The coup leaders

 

seem to believe that if they can shoulder the hardships until November elections, all will be forgiven. Not so. The Obama administration needs to make it clear now that elections held under those conditions will not be regarded as legitimate and that such a plan would only prolong Honduras' troubles. Meanwhile, the U.S. should consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.

Indeed, while everybody in the U.S. supposedly loves President Arias, a Nobel laureate with a track record of helping to resolve deep conflicts in the region under difficult conditions, few people in the U.S. (with perhaps the praiseworthy exception of the LAT editorial board) seem to be listening to what Arias is saying.

As the New York Times reported Sunday (perhaps you missed this in the 17th paragraph):

 

U.S. Press Falsely Claims Honduran Plurality for Coup

Did a CID-Gallup poll last week indicate that a plurality of Hondurans support the military coup against democratically elected President Zelaya? Yes, according to the Washington Post [July 9], the Wall Street Journal [July 10], the Christian Science Monitor [July 11], and Reuters [July 9], which all reported that the poll showed 41% in favor of the coup, with only 28% opposed.

But in fact the poll showed that 46% - a plurality - were *opposed* to the coup, according to the New York Times[July 10], the Associated Press [July 11] - and the president of CID-Gallup, in an interview with Voice of America on July 9.

As of this writing - Sunday evening, 5:30 pm Eastern time - none of the outlets which reported the poll incorrectly had corrected their earlier, inaccurate, reports. [UPDATE 7/15: The Journal and the Monitor have now responded to the criticism.]

Honduras' Coup Regime: Poster Child for Trade Sanctions

According to press reports, so far the mediation of Costa Rican President Arias, encouraged by Secretary of State Clinton, has not produced any change in the refusal of the coup regime in Honduras to allow Honduras' democratically elected President Zelaya to resume his office. That's not surprising: the strategy of the de facto regime is seems to be to try to run out the clock on Zelaya's term, as long as they can.

That's why it makes sense for the U.S., working together with the governments in the region, to continue to ratchet up pressure on the coup regime. Indeed, as Reuters reported:

 

On the eve of Thursday's talks, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa said Washington had suspended $16.5 million in military assistance programs to Honduras, and added an additional $180 million in U.S. aid could also be at risk.

One lever that the U.S. government has not publicly discussed using is trade sanctions. Simply beginning the discussion would increase pressure on the coup regime to stand down.

Trade agreements to which the U.S. and Honduras are signatory are unlikely to present any obstacle, because the coup regime in Honduras has no standing to press any claims on behalf of Honduras in any international body. No government in the world, including the United States, recognizes the coup regime as the legitimate government of Honduras. If anyone in Honduras wanted to press a claim, they would need the approval of President Zelaya.

Indeed, there is a powerful and recent precedent for ignoring any attempt by the coup regime to represent Honduras in any international body: that's what the members of the Organization of American States - including the U.S. - did last Saturday, when coup regime tried to withdraw Honduras from the OAS.

Reuters, AP Legitimize Honduran Coup Regime as "Interim Government"

Words matter - particularly the words used by major media to describe contested political events, words that can bias perceptions towards the interests of the powerful. Are those wielding power in Honduras today a "de facto" government, or are they an "interim" or "caretaker" government?

On Sunday, the following instructive exchange took place between senior U.S. officials and reporters in a State Department briefing on the Organization of American States' response to the coup in Honduras:

 

QUESTION: Sir, just a follow-up. Can you confirm that the caretaker government has reached out to the OAS and asked to open new negotiations? Does this mean that they're going to consider letting President Zelaya finish out his term? And what of the reports that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I have seen no reports indicating that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras. In regard to the second, we understand that the caretaker government has - I wouldn't call it a caretaker government, I would refer to it as the de facto regime -

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: De facto authorities.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- or authorities - has indicated to the OAS that it would like to begin a process of dialogue.

In today's press, I checked to see what characterization of the coup regime different outlets were using in their reporting.

Honduran Military: "We Won't Take Orders from a Leftist"

Predictably, the Washington Post and New York Times the have given op-ed space in recent days to people seeking to justify the military coup in Honduras, and blaming the coup on President Zelaya (the same writer in the latter case. )

Meanwhile, the Honduran military's top legal adviser was talking to the Miami Herald. Army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza was, shall we say, a little off-message.

In the interview, Col. Inestroza made two admissions that were remarkable in light of the efforts by pundits and Republicans in the United States to justify the coup.

First: he admitted that the coup was initiated by the military, and that it broke the law:

 

"We know there was a crime there," said Inestroza, the top legal advisor for the Honduran armed forces. "In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime."

This much, of course, was obvious. But much more remarkable was Inestroza's admission of what the core issue for the Honduran military was: taking orders from a leftist.

 

"We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others," he said. "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible."

So, this is democracy, according to the Honduran military: we won't take orders from a leftist, because of our "training."

Habib Ahmadzadeh: Mousavi Must Say Which Ballot Boxes He Disputes

Last night, with the translation assistance of Leila Zand, director of the Iran program at the Fellowship of Reconcilation, I interviewed Habib Ahmadzadeh on the dispute over the Iranian election results from June 12. Perhaps you've heard of Habib Ahmadzadeh. He wrote the original short script for the Iranian movie "Night Bus," and wrote the short story "Eagle Feather," both drawing on his experiences as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war.

Like many Iranians, including many Iranians who didn't vote for Ahmadinejad and don't support Ahmadinejad, but whose voices have been largely absent from Western media, even progressive media, Habib is deeply skeptical of opposition claims that the Presidential election on June 12 was "stolen," and has demanded that the opposition provide specific evidence of its claims.

I have been reaching out to Iranians who have or can get specific information about what happened on June 12-13. That path led me to Habib.

Although Habib lives in Tehran, his hometown is in Abadan, and he has many connections there. He thought it would be easier to get a picture of a smaller province like Abadan, as an example, than a larger province. So ahead of our interview, he reached out to people in Abadan.

Habib talked to Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan, Seyed Reza Tabatabaie. There were 142 ballot boxes in Abadan; Mousavi had 127 observers.

Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan said: yeah there was a big fraud. Habib asked, was your number the same as the Interior Ministry? Yeah, he said, it was almost the same. But there was a big fraud.

Habib pressed him: what was the fraud? Be specific. No, Mousavi's guy said, before the election, they gave this guy money, they gave that guy money...

I asked Habib: do we know which were the 15 ballot boxes in Abadan that Mousavi's people didn't observe?

$10,000 Reward: Show How the Iranian Election Was "Stolen"

I will pay $10,000 to the first person or organization that presents a coherent story for how the Iranian election was stolen that is consistent with knowable facts about the Iranian election process as it took place on June 12-13 and the information that has been published since, including the ballot box tallies that have been published on the web by the Iranian government.

In order to collect the reward, you don't have to prove your case beyond a shadow of a doubt. But your numbers have to add up. To collect your reward, it's not sufficient to cite press reports or anecdotal evidence of election irregularities, or to claim as authority Western commentators or NGOs who have not themselves put together a coherent story. To collect your reward, your story has to tell how on June 12, a majority of Iranian voters voted for other candidates besides Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yet this was transformed by the Iranian election authorities into a majority for Ahmadinejad.

Here are the numbers you have to explain. According to the official tally, Ahmadinejad got about 24.5 million votes. Mir Hossein Mousavi got 13.2 million votes. That's a difference of more than 11 million votes.

So, when I say your numbers have to add up, I mean your story of stolen votes has to overcome that 11 million vote gap. [The number would differ somewhat if you only want to say that Ahmadinejad didn't get a first round majority, as opposed to merely beating Mousavi, but it would not differ by much, since the third and fourth place candidates took such a small share of the vote.]

To illustrate: much has been made of the Guardian Council's "admission" that in about 50 cities or towns, the number of votes exceeded the number of people eligible to vote in that area. Note, first of all, that unlike in the United States, where in general you can only vote where you are registered, in Iran you can vote wherever you happen to be that day.