JFP News 7/29: US Increasing Pressure on Honduras Coup
Just Foreign Policy News
July 29, 2009
Rep. Grijalva Urges Greater U.S. Pressure on the Coup Regime in Honduras
Rep. Raul Grijalva is circulating a letter to President Obama, calling on him to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders. [The Administration has taken a good first step by canceling the visas of four coup leaders - see #1 below.] Signers of the letter include Reps. McGovern, Conyers, Serrano, Fattah, Honda, and Barbara Lee. Urge your Representative to sign the Grijalva letter calling for more U.S. pressure on the coup regime.
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1) The U.S. revoked the visas of four members of Honduras' coup government, escalating the pressure on officials there to reinstate the president, the Washington Post reports. Honduran media said the four included the new president of the National Congress and the judge who signed the order for President Zelaya's arrest. Cancellation of a U.S. visa carries a particular sting for many prominent Latin Americans, the Post says. "To those far away, it might seem very symbolic, with little importance. But to the Honduran oligarchy, the focal point of their pilgrimage throughout the world is Miami," said Carlos Sosa, Honduras' ambassador to the OAS.
2) Colombian Special Operations troops are preparing to fight alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan, CBS reports. A one top U.S. official said: "The more Afghanistan can look like Colombia, the better."
3) British officials says they are ready for talks with "second-tier" Taliban commanders following the recent British offensive, the Guardian reports.
4) U.S. special envoy Holbrooke said Taliban militants are receiving more funding from their sympathizers abroad - especially in the Persian Gulf - than from Afghanistan's illegal drug trade, AP reports.
5) Within days, the "multi-national force" in Iraq will be a "coalition of one," the New York Times reports. Britain and Australia will be gone by Friday; Romania left last Thursday.
6) Trade associations and companies have stepped up their Washington lobbying on U.S. policy towards Honduras, The Hill reports. The State Department says more than $20 million in aid to Honduras, including military assistance and certain development programs that go to the country's government, have been suspended; there is a hold on $11 million worth of contracts under the Millennium Challenge compact with Honduras that have not been authorized yet. Sen. Kerry, chair of Senate Foreign Relations, has called for targeted sanctions against coup leaders.
7) Some Hondurans allege that former Bush Administration official Otto Reich was involved in the coup in Honduras, In These Times reports. Others with U.S. links played key roles in the coup events.
8) The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would take new steps to ease US sanctions against Syria, the New York Times reports. Middle East envoy Mitchell told Syria the US would try to expedite the process for obtaining individual exemptions to the sanctions, which prohibit the export of all US products to Syria except food and medicine. US officials said they would approve more exemptions for the export of airplane spare parts to support the safety of civil aviation.
9) Israeli settler groups have set up 11 new outposts in the occupied West Bank, in a direct rebuttal of mounting US calls to freeze settlement activity, The Guardian reports. The structures were timed as a precursor to the meeting between US special envoy, Mitchell and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
1) U.S. Cancels Visas of Four Honduran Officials
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The U.S. government revoked the visas of four members of Honduras's de facto government Tuesday, escalating the pressure on officials there to reinstate the president, who was kicked out of the country a month ago.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly did not identify the Hondurans whose visas were yanked, but he indicated that other officials also could have their visas revoked. He said U.S. authorities were reviewing the visas of all members of the current government and their dependents.
The move came two weeks after the start of negotiations aimed at defusing the crisis and helping ousted president Manuel Zelaya return. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is leading the negotiations, has presented a plan that would allow Zelaya back into office, with curtailed powers, until his term expires in January. The proposal was initially rejected by officials in the de facto government, but they have shown signs in recent days that they are softening their position, Honduran and U.S. officials said.
"We're trying to do everything that we can to support this - this process that was begun by Costa Rican President Arias and the negotiation efforts," Kelly told reporters. "These actions that we're taking are consistent with our policy of the non-recognition" of the de facto government.
The Honduran imbroglio has spilled over into U.S. politics, with some Republicans charging that the Obama administration is being too soft on Zelaya. On Tuesday, in a sign of protest, four Republicans on the 19-member Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against the confirmations of two Obama nominees - Arturo Valenzuela as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and Thomas A. Shannon Jr. as ambassador to Brazil. Both were still approved.
Zelaya has lashed out at the U.S. government in recent days, saying it is not doing enough to help him. But on Tuesday, he praised the State Department announcement. "This is a coup that has been dead from the start, so they will have to abandon their position of intransigence in the coming hours," he told reporters in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal near the Honduran border, where he has camped out in recent days with hundreds of supporters.
Although U.S. officials did not identify those whose visas were revoked, Honduran media said they included the new president of the National Congress and the judge who signed the order for Zelaya's arrest.
The U.S. government earlier froze millions of dollars in military and economic aid to Honduras. But cancellation of a U.S. visa carries a particular sting for many prominent Latin Americans.
"To those far away, it might seem very symbolic, with little importance. But to the Honduran oligarchy, the focal point of their pilgrimage throughout the world is Miami," said Carlos Sosa, Honduras's ambassador to the Organization of American States.
2) Colombia To Aid U.S. In Taliban Fight
CBS Exclusive: Battle-tested Colombian Commandoes Headed to Afghanistan after Defeating Terrorists in their own Country
CBS, July 27, 2009
U.S. forces are about to get some much-needed help as they fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, reports CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan in an exclusive report. The Colombian commandos are U.S. trained and battle-tested from having defeated terrorists in their own country.
Ten years ago, they didn't even exist. Today, elite Colombian Special Operations troops are preparing to fight alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan, reports CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Colombia's military has cut the area where the F.A.R.C. can operate from almost half the country ten years ago down to just five percent today.
They've had less success in the drug war. Cocaine production was down 28 percent last year, according to the U.N. But Colombia remains the world's top cocaine producer. Its rivers are a super highway for drug and arms trafficking - and the next target in the Special Operations war.
Colombia's army enjoys soaring popularity among the people. Still critics point out the military has been implicated in the killing and disappearance of civilians.
The U.S. is looking to Colombia as it struggles to make headway in Afghanistan.
As one top U.S. official said: "The more Afghanistan can look like Colombia, the better."
3) Britain and US prepared to open talks with the Taliban
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Tuesday 28 July 2009
A concerted effort to start unprecedented talks between Taliban and British and American envoys was outlined yesterday in a significant change in tactics designed to bring about a breakthrough in the attritional, eight-year conflict in Afghanistan.
Senior ministers and commanders on the ground believe they have created the right conditions to open up a dialogue with "second-tier" local leaders now the Taliban have been forced back in a swath of Helmand province.
The second tier of the insurgency are regarded as crucial because they control large numbers of Taliban fighters in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan. The first tier of Taliban commanders - hardliners around Mullah Omar - could not be expected to start talks in the foreseeable future. The third tier - footsoldiers with no strong commitments - are not regarded as influential or significant players.
But the fact that senior ministers and military commanders seized on the apparent success of Operation Panther's Claw to highlight the possibility of talks with the Taliban reflects their concern about the lack of progress so far in Nato's counter-insurgency. Significantly, and as if to counter public aversion to talks with the Taliban, ministers and military commanders alike compared the current campaign in southern Afghanistan to anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland.
A ComRes poll in today's Independent suggests most people now believe British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan. Most of those who responded (58%) said the Taliban could not be defeated militarily, and 52% of those surveyed said troops should be withdrawn immediately. This compares with a Guardian/ICM poll earlier this month which showed that 42% of those surveyed wanted troops to be withdrawn immediately.
4) US envoy: most Taliban funds come from overseas
Slobodan Lekic, Associated Press, Tuesday, July 28, 2009 11:29 AM
Brussels - Taliban militants are receiving more funding from their sympathizers abroad than from Afghanistan's illegal drug trade, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said Tuesday.
"More money is coming from the Gulf than is coming from the drug trade to the Taliban," Holbrooke told journalists at NATO headquarters in Brussels. He didn't identify the countries where the sympathizers were donating from, but nations located on the Persian Gulf include Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
NATO military officials in Afghanistan have estimated that the Taliban raise $60-$100 million a year from the trade in illegal narcotics, which has ballooned since the 2001 invasion of the country by U.S.-led forces.
Holbrooke noted that the U.S. is setting up an interdepartmental task force to deal with the problem. It will be led by the Treasury Department and include other relevant agencies such as the FBI and the Pentagon.
He said there was no evidence that governments in the Gulf or anywhere else were providing the financing. "The money is coming in from sympathizers from all over the world with the bulk of it appearing to come from the Gulf," he said, adding that he did not have hard figures for the amount of overseas funding reaching the Taliban.
"What I believe happens is that the Taliban funds local operations in the Pashtun belt out of drug money, but the overall effort gets massive amounts of money from outside Afghanistan," Holbrooke said.
A NATO official said it was a well-established fact that the militants continue to receive substantial amounts of cash from overseas. Drug money represents only a portion of their operational funding, but it's not known how large that sum is compared with overseas donations, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
5) Iraq Force Soon To Be A Coalition Of One
Rod Nordland and Timothy Williams, New York Times, July 29, 2009
Baghdad - Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.
Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq - no "multi" in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the "coalition of the willing" that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.
That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government's practice.
As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d'affaires, Cristian Voicu. NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries.
In response to a query, American military officials acknowledged the need for a name change, and said Multi-National Force-Iraq would officially become United States Force-Iraq as of Jan. 1, 2010, according to the deputy coalition spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Stewart. "This is done to reflect the new bilateral relationship between U.S. forces and our Iraqi hosts," he said.
6) Honduras disarray spurs lobbying
Kevin Bogardus, The Hill, 07/28/09 07:09 PM [ET]
Trade associations and companies both inside and outside of Honduras have stepped up their lobbying efforts in Washington as the nation's political crisis remains unresolved in the wake of President Manuel Zelaya's ouster.
A review of lobbying disclosure records by The Hill show that U.S. companies have worked to protect their operations in Honduras while more business groups from the Central American nation have turned to Washington lobbyists in order to keep Zelaya out of power.
The continuing focus by pro- and anti-Zelaya forces on Congress and the Obama administration is evidence of the United States' sway with Honduras as the nation's largest trading partner.
As the de facto government and Zelaya struggle to reach a resolution to the crisis, the U.S. government has suspended some aid with Honduras after the president's exile June 28.
More than $20 million in aid to Honduras, including military assistance and certain development programs that go to the country's government, have been suspended, according to a State Department spokeswoman.
In addition, there is an operational hold on $11 million worth of contracts under the Millennium Challenge compact with Honduras - a $215 million, five-year agreement signed in 2005 - that have not been authorized yet.
There have also been threats of harsher action by the U.S. government in the near future though if the crisis is prolonged.
The Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), which oversees the compact, sent a July 17 letter to the de facto government expressing concern over recent unrest in Honduras and encouraging the authorities to take immediate steps to re-establish democratic order.
Further, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a July 15 Miami Herald op-ed that if progress is not made, more cuts in foreign aid should be made, along with targeted sanctions against individuals involved in the plot to overthrow Zelaya.
In jeopardy is more than $50 million in U.S. foreign aid slated for Honduras in 2009 and $130 million remaining in the compact between the MCC and Honduras. Others have gone further, such as the Organization of American States, which has suspended Honduras's membership in the group.
Other than the letter by the seven trade associations, U.S. companies have also lobbied on the political crisis in Honduras, according to lobbying disclosure reports filed this quarter.
For example, Kimberly-Clark Corp., a health and hygiene company, had a contract lobbyist work Capitol Hill to oppose border restrictions and roadway blockades in Honduras, according to records. The company has a healthcare products facility in the country.
In addition, in-house lobbyists for Seaboard Corp., an agribusiness and transportation firm, lobbied on "agricultural, economic and political issues" regarding a list of countries, including Honduras, last quarter. Seaboard has at least four subsidiaries based in Honduras, according to records filed with the Securities Exchange Commission.
More Honduran business leaders have also hired help in Washington. For example, Asociacion Hondurena de Maquiladores registered two firms to lobby on its behalf - the Cormac Group and Vison Americas.
At Vison Americas, two former State Department officials from the Bush administration, Roger Noriega and Jose Cardenas, are lobbying for the association to "support the efforts of the Honduran private sector to consolidate the democratic transition in their country," according to lobbying records.
7) The Honduran Connection
The U.S. right, including Bush appointee Otto Reich, mobilizes to support the putsch.
Bill Weinberg, In These Times, July 29, 2009
No nation has recognized the regime that took power in Honduras June 28, when the military summarily deported President Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica in his pajamas. Nonetheless, the political right in both the United States and Honduras is trying to build political support for the coup regime.
Zelaya's opponents, who argue that the coup was not a coup, cite Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, which states that any president who proposes an amendment to allow re-election "shall cease forthwith" in his duties.
Missing from this explanation is acknowledgment that the constitution was crafted by a military-dominated state in 1982, and that this measure was aimed at keeping elected leaders subordinate to the generals.
Zelaya was removed on the day his non-binding popular referendum on whether to open a constitutional convention was to be voted on. He had pledged to go ahead with the vote despite a Supreme Court ruling barring it.
Hours after his removal, the National Congress read a forged "resignation letter" from Zelaya. It then passed a resolution giving legal imprimatur to the removal and making Roberto Micheletti, head of the congress, president.
Actually, it was impossible for Zelaya to extend his term through a constitutional reform, given that the binding vote establishing a constitutional convention (following the referendum scheduled for June 28 to establish a popular mandate) was to take place in November, simultaneous with the presidential election.
At best, Zelaya would be able to run again in four years. In his calls for a constitutional convention, he had emphasized the need to strengthen the labor code and to ensure public control of the telecom and power industries - not to abolish term limits.
In May, the Honduran Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CODEH) filed a case in the Honduran courts alleging that a military coup was in the works and calling on judicial authorities to intervene. They didn't.
Then, just days before the coup, the Supreme Court received an accusation against Zelaya -apparently by one Robert Carmona-Borjas of the D.C.-based Arcadia Foundation. The judiciary rushed the case through the legal process, and Zelaya wasn't given an opportunity to respond to the charges. Regardless of whatever constitutional violations Zelaya may have committed, the military abrogated the democratic process entirely by having the president deported.
One of the grassroots groups mobilizing for Zelaya's return, the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), issued a statement on July 3 asserting the "undeniable involvement" of former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich in the coup d'etat. Similar claims were made at the emergency session of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C., where Venezuelan representative Roy Chaderton said:
We have information that worries us. This is a person who has been important in the diplomacy of the U.S. who has reconnected with old colleagues and encouraged the coup: Otto Reich, ex-sub-secretary of state under Bush. We know him as an interventionist...
Chaderton also cited Reich's purported involvement in the attempted coup d'etat against Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez in April 2002.
In 2001, President Bush used a recess appointment to make Reich, a far-right Cuban exile, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, bypassing strong Congressional opposition. In 1987, Congress had investigated Reich for illegal activities in support of Nicaragua's right-wing Contra guerrillas.
8) U.S. Opens Way to Ease Sanctions Against Syria
Sharon Otterman, New York Times, July 29, 2009
The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would take new steps to ease American sanctions against Syria on a case-by-case basis, the latest sign of a diplomatic thaw.
Administration officials said the message was conveyed to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Sunday in Damascus by President Obama's Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell said the American government would try to expedite the process for obtaining individual exemptions to the sanctions, which prohibit the export of all American products to Syria except food and medicine.
The move will particularly affect "requests to export products related to information technology and telecommunication equipment and parts and components related to the safety of civil aviation," said a State Department spokesman, Andrew J. Laine.
While the shift does not change the letter of the law of the sanctions, which were passed by Congress in 2003 and cannot be modified without Congressional consent, administration officials said it was significant because it indicated a change in how the White House would view requests by companies for waivers to sell their wares to Syria.
It is also another notable instance of the Obama administration opening the door to Syria on what it calls a basis of mutual interest and respect - and as part of a broader strategy of trying to get the country to turn away from its alliances with Iran and Islamic militant groups. In June, the administration said it would send an ambassador to Syria for the first time since 2005.
Under the Syria Accountability Act, as the sanctions are known, the president can work through the Commerce Department to grant exemptions for national security reasons in one of six categories, including one that allows for the sale of airplane parts to ensure safe civil aviation. Under the Bush administration, however, a limited number of such exemptions were granted.
"We are going to look at these waivers, especially on airplane spare parts, and our predisposition is going to be, view them favorably, as opposed to the prior administration's policy," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
The sanctions have powerful backers in Congress, and the initial reaction against any effort to ease them was swift.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she was "deeply troubled that the United States would make unilateral concessions to the Syrian regime and ease pressure on Damascus, even as the State Department recently reported to Congress that Syria continues to pursue advanced missile and chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities and to sponsor violent Islamist extremist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas."
Representative Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat from New York, who helped write the sanctions bill, said that while granting such exemptions was "perfectly legal" under the act, he would urge caution. "Syria, from what I can see, has not changed its spots," he said.
Mr. Mitchell's weekend visit to Syria for talks with Mr. Assad was his second trip there in two months. Administration officials said that Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Assad also tentatively agreed that a future delegation from the United States Central Command and Iraq would travel to Damascus, Syria's capital, and discuss greater cooperation in securing the Syria-Iraq border against insurgent traffic, a high priority of the Obama administration.
9) Militant Jewish Settlers Set up 11 Outposts in the Occupied West Bank
Defying calls from the US to freeze settlements, young Israelis set up tents and huts on hilltops
Rachel Shabi, Guardian, Tuesday 28 July 2009 16.22 BST
Israeli settler groups have set up 11 new outposts in the occupied West Bank, in a direct rebuttal of mounting US calls to freeze settlement activity.
Young Jewish groups are reported to have set up the structures - mostly tents and huts on hilltops - in the West Bank over Monday night, in a move timed as a precursor to the meeting between the US special envoy, George Mitchell, and Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu today. On Monday, hundreds of settlers set up an outpost near the Palestinian village of Tulkarem, reportedly without intervention from the Israeli army.
Today, the Israeli army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, said he had not received orders to prepare for the evacuation of outposts in the West Bank.
Netanyahu and Mitchell said they had made progress in their meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the settlements issue, but reported no firm development.
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