JFP News, 7/23 - Honduran Coup Leader Coming to Miami Saturday?
Just Foreign Policy News
July 23, 2009
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 apparently General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, a 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. This raises a number of questions: is he welcome in the U.S.? Might he be detained by U.S. authorities? How might he be greeted by the good citizens of Miami?
Talks in Costa Rica broke down after the coup regime refused to accept a compromise that would have allowed President Zelaya to return.
Send a letter to your Representative, in support of increased pressure, and in support of the Delahunt-McGovern-Serrano resolution [HRes 630], condemning the coup and calling for the restoration of President Zelaya.
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1) Vice-President Biden weighed in to the British debate over Afghanistan, saying more coalition troops will die but that the war was "worth the effort," the New York Times reports. Britain has this month alone has lost 19 soldiers.
2) The Brazilian press says Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim complained to Secretary of State Clinton last weekend about the slow pace and handling of the negotiations for the reinstatement President Zelaya in Honduras, Mercopress reports. Amorim said Brazil did not approve of the possibility that the coup organizers could impose conditions for the return of President Zelaya, much less that of a coalition government of the two sides; Brazil said such an agreement would be characterized as a victory for the coup organizers, which would serve as an incentive for new coups in Latin America. Brazilian told the US the mediation by the President of Costa Rica "has to be held within the framework of the OAS resolutions": the unconditional return of the deposed Honduran leader to the presidency. [Brazil's complaint seems to have coincided with Secretary Clinton's reported phone call from India to coup leaders, urging them to stand down - JFP.]
3) Some black Hondurans have joined in protests against the coup in Honduras, less in support of President Zelaya than in support of constitutional reform, the Miami Herald reports. "We have no political visibility in this country and that makes us extremely vulnerable," said an ethnic Garifunan community activist. "The constitutional assembly would have given us a chance to change that." For many Garifunas, the constitutional assembly held the promise of winning long-sought rights, such as proportional representation and legal title to communal and ancestral land.
4) The Obama administration has declined requests from U.N. human rights investigators for information on secret prisons and for private interviews with inmates at Guantanamo, the Washington Post reports. Manfred Nowak expressed concern about current conditions at Guantanamo.
5) The $636 billion defense spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee contains $128 billion for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - and Rep. Murtha says more will be needed next spring, AP reports. The total cost of the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would top $1 trillion under the bill.
6) The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said the junta which took power in Honduras after the coup is abusing rights and stoking xenophobia against migrants from Nicaragua, EFE reports. Nicaraguans make up the majority of the 189 foreign nationals expelled from Honduras since the ouster of President Zelaya. Honduran security forces have killed at least three people since the coup; at least 35 people have been wounded, some seriously. Human rights defenders in Honduras have been subject to surveillance, monitoring and arbitrary arrest since the coup.
7) A new State Department report says the U.S. Embassy in Iraq is significantly overstaffed and needs to be downsized to reflect the reduced US role in the country, McClatchy reports.
8) Seventeen journalists have been killed in Mexico since the beginning of 2008, making the country one of the world's most dangerous for media workers, AFP reports. In addition to the murders, there were 365 recorded cases of violence or intimidation against reporters. Journalists covering crime are the most likely media victims of violence, accounting for 46 percent of the cases, with those who cover political affairs making up 36 percent. The government last May offered a reward for the first time for information on the murder of a journalist; suspects were subsequently arrested.
1) Biden Warns of More 'Sacrifice' in Afghanistan
Alan Cowell, New York Times, July 24, 2009
London - Entering a debate that has stirred political tumult in Britain, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in an interview broadcast Thursday that more coalition troops will die in Afghanistan but that the war was "worth the effort."
Speaking during a tour of Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Biden told the BBC that the lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was "a place that, if it doesn't get straightened out, will continue to wreak havoc on Europe and the United States."
His remarks have a particular resonance in Britain at a time when the American-led coalition has recorded some of its worst casualties since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Britain has some 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan - the second biggest contingent after the United States - and so far this month alone has lost 19 soldiers to bring the total since 2001 to 188 - higher than the British death toll in the Iraq war. The latest fatalities came Wednesday, when bombs killed two United States service members and one Briton in southern Afghanistan.Before those deaths, July had already become the deadliest month for American service members in the country since the 2001 invasion, underscoring a frightening rise in the sophistication and accuracy of roadside bombs.
With the newest fatalities, more than 30 Americans have died in the first three weeks of July, surpassing the highest previous monthly toll, 28, reached in June 2008.
2) Brazil tells Hillary of dissatisfaction with Arias mediation in Honduras crisis
Mercopress, Wednesday, July 22nd 2009
Brazilian Foreign Affairs Minister Celso Amorim phoned last weekend US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in New Delhi, India, to "express concern" about the slow pace and handling of the negotiations for the reinstatement of the democratic order in Honduras, reports Folha do Sao Paulo.
According to the Brazilian Minister's press office Amorim conveyed Brazil's criticism to Hillary regarding the way in which the mediation "on equal footing" was being carried out between the coup and deposed governments, under the leadership of Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias.
The Minister informed the Secretary of State - who sponsored the mediation by Arias - that Brazil did not approve of the possibility that the coup organizers could impose conditions for the return of President Zelaya, much less that of a coalition government of the two sides.
If such an agreement were sealed, according to the Brazilians' assessment, it will be characterized as a victory for the coup organizers, which would serve as an incentive for new coups in Latin America.
Even in the official version, the Brazilian Minister informed the United States that the mediation by the President of Costa Rica "has to be held within the framework of the OAS (Organization of American States) resolutions." In other words: with the unconditional return of the deposed Honduran leader to the presidency.
With the phone call, Brazil, which had kept a discreet attitude in this matter until now, especially to avoid creating tensions with the government of Barack Obama, joins the criticisms by countries in the region that are more to the left, led by Hugo Chávez.
The Venezuelan President and his allies criticize the Costa Rican negotiations as a strategy for the interim government of Roberto Micheletti to buy time and weaken the external and internal opposition. Amorim also spoke of the "obvious" importance of the United States for a solution to the Honduran crisis. Washington is Honduras's main economic partner, which is part of CAFTA, the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement.
Brazil sponsored part of the OAS resolution that calls on its member countries to review their relations with Honduras while the coup organizers remain in power. Various countries froze cooperation programs and recalled their ambassadors. The United States only froze 16.5 million of 180 million US dollars in aid, arguing humanitarian reasons as well as the need to use the money as leverage in the negotiations. Washington also has not recalled its ambassador.
3) Amid crisis, minorities find a voice
Jim Wyss, Miami Herald, Wed, Jul. 22, 2009
Surrounded by hundreds of protesters shouting for the return of ousted President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya were a dozen black Hondurans swaying to the rhythm of their own drums and singing in their local Garifuna language.
They weren't there to support the populist president - ousted more than three weeks ago - but to defend one of his most controversial ideas: revising the constitution. "We have no political visibility in this country and that makes us extremely vulnerable," said Alfredo López, 56, a community activist and one of about 400,000 ethnic Garifunas in Honduras. "The constitutional assembly would have given us a chance to change that."
Zelaya was toppled June 28 as he aggressively and, some argue, illegally pursued a national referendum to redraft the constitution. With just six months left in his term, his enemies feared he was bent on abolishing presidential term limits to remain in power.
But for many Garifunas, the constitutional assembly held the promise of winning long-sought rights, such as proportional representation and legal title to communal and ancestral land. "We have been in a continuous struggle for decades to have a voice, to be visible, to have representation," said Celeo Alvarez Casildo, president of the Organization for the Development of Ethnic Communities. "It's not that we supported Zelaya - and much less the events that led to his ouster - but we have our own very good reasons for wanting a constitutional assembly."
Those hopes were dashed when the army, acting on orders from the supreme court, seized Zelaya from his home at gunpoint and flew him into exile in Costa Rica. It was the same day the referendum would have taken place. Zelaya tried but failed to return to Tegucigalpa on July 5.
Historians trace the origins of the Garifunas back to the 1600s when escaped black slaves began to mix with Amerindians in St. Vincent. Today, Garifuna communities stretch along the Caribbean coast from Belize to Nicaragua, and there is a sizable diaspora in Miami and New York. The Garifunas caught global attention in 2001 when UNESCO proclaimed their language, dance and music "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."
In Honduras, they are respected for their food, artists and soccer players, said political analyst Miguel Cálix. But that hasn't won them a voice in the national dialogue. "There is a very subtle, even subliminal, racism here," he said. "That's something that has never been overcome."
One of the Garifunas' key demands is winning legal title to communal and ancestral property. Zelaya won their support during his presidential campaign promising to do just that. But the promises were soon forgotten, said Casildo of the ODECO. "During his administration, not a single centimeter of land was legalized," he said. "There was a huge breach between what he promised and what he did."
The issue is important as Garifuna communities struggle to protect their undeveloped coastline from tourism projects. López, the man who was leading the group of Garifunas in a recent protest, has worked for decades to try to keep a luxury resort, complete with 18-hole golf course, out of his community of Tela Bay.
That struggle was derailed in 1997 when he was falsely accused of drug trafficking and thrown in jail. He was released in 2003, only after the Inter-American Human Rights Court ruled that those charges were "trumped-up" and "intended to prevent him from acting as leader of the Garifuna community."
It's that kind of legal and institutional weakness that highlights the need to enshrine the direct participation of minorities in the constitution, said Carlos Mauricio Palacios, a historian who has worked with indigenous communities for 15 years. "This was important, not just for the Garifunas, but all the minority communities," he said. "This was a chance to secure rights that have long been denied to them."
Marching at the front of the drum line, López said the pro-Zelaya street protests that have erupted since his ouster have given these minorities and the poor a voice. "I have never seen anything like this in all my years," he said, admiring the crowds. "I think politicians are going to have to realize that we are a multicultural, multilingual nation."
4) U.S. Rebuffs U.N. Requests For Guantanamo Visits, Data On CIA Prisons
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Thursday, July 23, 2009
United Nations - The Obama administration has declined requests from U.N. human rights investigators for information on secret prisons and for private interviews with inmates at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.N. officials said, dampening their hopes of greater U.S. cooperation on human rights issues.
The rebuffs are the latest instances of the U.S. government resisting international human rights organizations' efforts to learn about Bush administration practices. In June, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turned down a request from the top U.N. anti-torture official for a meeting in Washington to discuss practices at secret CIA detention centers and at Guantanamo Bay, despite the administration's avowed commitment to being open to greater scrutiny by the United Nations.
Two U.N. human rights researchers, Martin Scheinin and Manfred Nowak, separately requested visits to the Guantanamo Bay facility in recent months and were turned down. "They said, 'We are trying to close down the institution. For the time being, we don't see it as a priority,' " Scheinin said U.S. officials told him. "It was not a 'no, no.' It was a diplomatic 'no.' Let's say dialogue will continue."
Scheinin, Nowak and two other U.N. experts also requested details on the secret CIA prisons' history, locations and detainees. "The answer we received from the United States is meaningless. There is no meaningful information," Nowak said. "They're just repeating that the Obama administration stopped using secret places of detention."
Still, U.N. rights investigators have differed over how to respond to the Obama administration's refusal to abandon a number of Bush-era policies, including open-ended detention of terrorism suspects and the use of military commissions. Some investigators insist that they have an obligation to prod the administration until it confronts the United States' human rights record. Others say it is time to move on and direct attention at governments that continue abuses.
"It is not enough to say we've stopped these practices and we'll look to the future," Nowak said. The Obama administration has a legal obligation, he said, under the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which the United States ratified, to investigate torture allegations. The Austrian lawyer said there is a need for urgent investigation because the statute of limitation for prosecution of alleged torturers expires as early as next year.
Nowak said he wants to conduct private interviews with 14 "high value" detainees who were transferred from secret CIA prisons in 2006. But he also expressed concern about prevailing conditions at Guantanamo Bay, where a Yemeni detainee, Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih, apparently committed suicide last month.
5) House Panel approves $128 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan Wars
Andrew Taylor, Associated Press, Wednesday, July 22, 2009 3:21 PM
Washington - The total cost of the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would top $1 trillion under a Pentagon funding bill approved by a key House panel Wednesday.
The $636 billion defense spending bill unanimously approved by the Appropriations Committee contains $128 billion for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the House's top defense budget writer, says more will be needed next spring.
For now, the measure contains $369 million for the beleaguered F-22 program, which President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are intent on killing after 187 planes are built. Cancellation of the F-22 program is at the top of Gates' efforts to reform the Pentagon's procurement system. On the heels of a 58-40 Senate vote Tuesday to kill the program, Murtha said it's clear the program is dead.
Murtha said he would cease efforts to buy more planes and would instead direct money for spare parts for the F-22.
The measure, however, deals a blow to Gates' efforts to kill other Pentagon projects, including the VH-71 presidential helicopter, the C-17 cargo jet, and an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Those programs have strong support on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are eager to protect jobs in their home districts.
For example, the measure includes $485 million for the presidential helicopter project, sought chiefly by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., which could keep construction going for five presidential helicopters. The aircraft would be assembled at a Lockheed Martin Corp. factory in Owego in Hinchey's upstate district. Production was halted in May after the Pentagon concluded the project was hopelessly over budget.
Other weapons systems getting boosts over Obama's request include the funding for nine additional F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, built in St. Louis, and $674 million for three C-17 jumbo cargo jets, assembled in Long Beach, Calif.
6) Honduran Junta Slammed on Human Rights
EFE, July 22, 2009
Bogota - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said Wednesday that the junta which took power in Honduras after the June 28 military coup is abusing rights and stoking xenophobia against migrants from neighboring Nicaragua.
At a Bogota press conference to present the Spanish version of the organization's 2009 annual report, the director of the Observatory's Guatemala unit, Claudia Samayoa, said that Nicaraguans make up the majority of the 189 foreign nationals expelled from Honduras since the ouster of President Mel Zelaya.
She said Honduran security forces have killed at least three people under the "interim" government of erstwhile Congress speaker Roberto Micheletti. "We manage to detect that 35 people have been wounded, some of them seriously, and three others executed in the context of this dispersals of (pro-Zelaya) protests," Samayoa said.
The activist added that Honduran security forces "are detaining and deporting Nicaraguan citizens" based on the junta's expressed expectation of war with the neighboring country, whose government strongly supports Zelaya.
Human rights defenders in Honduras have been subject to surveillance, monitoring and arbitrary arrest since the coup, she said. "In the demonstrations in which there are processes of resistance to the coup there are roundups and they are detaining human rights defenders in a massive way," Samayoa said.
She said that five of the 135 human rights activists whose names appeared on a list seen in the hands of a Honduran intelligence official later turned up dead.
Samayoa likewise noted the junta's muzzling of independent media outlets and said that one journalist who refused to tow the regime's line, Gabriel Fino, was slain to send "a message to reporters."
7) Report: Big Cuts Needed at Huge Baghdad Embassy Built by Bush
Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers, July 22, 2009 08:08:06 PM
Washington - The U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the government's largest overseas diplomatic mission, is significantly overstaffed and needs to be downsized to reflect the reduced American role in the country, according to a new State Department report. "There is a clear consensus from the top to the bottom of the embassy: The time has come for a significant rightsizing," says the report Wednesday by the department's inspector general.
The report came as President Barack Obama met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Washington for talks on the significant changes in the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. American combat troops ceased operations in Iraqi cities on June 30, Maliki's government has become more assertive about exercising Iraqi sovereignty and Obama has shifted the attention that his predecessor put on Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
8) 17 media slayings in Mexico in last 18 months: NGO
AFP, July 22, 2009
Mexico City - Seventeen journalists have been killed in Mexico since the beginning of 2008, making the country one of the world's most dangerous for media workers, a non-governmental group said.
In addition to the murders, there were 365 recorded cases of violence or intimidation against reporters, Omar Raul Martinez, director of the Manuel Buendia Foundation, said at a press conference.
The study by the foundation, named after a Mexican journalist who was assassinated in 1984, found there were 223 cases of "direct attacks," including 12 murders, in 2008, and 142 attacks and five murders between January 1 and June 30, 2009. The organization recorded 113 attacks against journalists in 2007.
The 2008-2009 period is "one of the worst for violence against the Mexican media in 15 years," said Martinez.
Six journalists were murdered during former president Ernesto Zedillo's term, from 1994 to 2000, and six were killed during his successor Vicente Fox's time in office, the foundation said.
Five journalists were murdered in 2007, the first year of President Felipe Calderon's term, and the numbers have exploded since then, according to Martinez.
Journalists covering crime are the most likely media victims of violence, accounting for 46 percent of the cases, with those who cover political affairs making up 36 percent. "The worst cases are with those covering narco-politics, which is a mix of crime and politics," Martinez said.
The government last May offered a reward of two million dollars for information on the murder of a journalist who was killed in northern Mexico. It was the first time such a reward had been offered in connection with an investigation into violence against a reporter, and suspects were subsequently arrested.
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