JFP News 8/21: Lat Am Scholars Urge Human Rights Watch to Speak up on Honduras
Just Foreign Policy News
August 21, 2009
LatAm Scholars Urge Human Rights Watch to Speak Up on Honduras Coup
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 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.
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1) President Karzai and his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, both claimed to be winning the Afghan presidential election as ballots were counted Friday, Carlotta Gall reports in the New York Times. But Western officials said it looked likely the two would face a runoff. The credibility of the vote Thursday was tarnished by new reports showing that violence in the south was greater - and turnout lower - than even already grim accounts on election day had suggested, the NYT says. In the southern provinces like Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul, turnout was as low as 5 to 10 percent, according to one Western official. Earlier claims by the government of deals with the Taliban to allow elections to go ahead did not materialize. Instead election day provided a bleak snapshot of the extent of the insurgents' influence in large parts of the country.
2) The US is reportedly blocking efforts in the OAS to declare that any presidential election that takes place under the coup regime in Honduras will not be recognized, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. The millions of Americans who supported Obama's campaign in the hope he would change US foreign policy probably didn't expect to see this administration fishing around for rightwing allies to help block Latin America from trying to reverse a military coup. But that appears to be the reality.
3) Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd and Patrick Leahy complained last month that Members of Congress were not even told of the military base negotiations with Colombia, "much less consulted on them," AP reports. Their letter also asked about the implications of further deepening relations with Colombia during revelations about alleged human rights violations by that country's military.
4) Iran seems to be signaling a readiness to address the nuclear issue, the New York Times reports. President Ahmadinejad's choice of a well-respected physicist, Ali Akbar Salehi, as a vice president and the head of Iran's nuclear agency has been greeted in the diplomatic and scientific community as signaling a possibly less dogmatic, more pragmatic nuclear policy. Two other recent developments have added to that perception. The first is recent indications Iran may be prepared to be more cooperative with the IAEA. The second was Ahmadinejad's decision to retain the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, and not to move a more conservative ally into that position. On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Security Council veto countries and Germany would meet Sept. 2 to discuss Iran's nuclear program.
5) Feminist organizations in Honduras have played a key role in organizing popular opposition to the coup, writes Laura Carlsen for the Center for International Policy. One of the things that provoked the coup was that the president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the day-after pill, noted one resistance leader.
6) Following the recommendation of President Preval, the lower house of the Haitian Parliament voted Tuesday to raise the minimum wage in the export sector (e.g. for export to the United States - JFP) from $1.29/day (70 gourde) to only $3.20/day (125 gourde), rather than the $5.12/day (200 gourde) which had been demanded and passed, Inter Press Service reports. Preval, under pressure from business owners, had refused to sign a bill which called for an across the board increase in the minimum wage to 200 gourde a day. Fifty-six percent of Haitians live below the "extreme poverty" level of one dollar a day and six out of 10 people live on less than two dollars a day.
7) Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin on Friday, AP reports. Prosecutors said the new law sets clear limits that keep Mexico's corruption-prone police from shaking down casual users and offers addicts free treatment to keep growing domestic drug use in check. Officials said the legal changes could help the government focus more on big-time traffickers. An official said that since President Calderon took office, there have been over 15,000 police searches related to small-scale drug dealing or possession, with 95,000 people detained - but only 12 to 15 percent of whom were ever charged with anything.
1) Two Claim to Lead Afghan Race for President
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 22, 2009
Kabul - President Hamid Karzai and his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, both claimed to be winning the presidential election as ballots were counted Friday. But Western officials here said it looked increasingly likely that the two would face a runoff.
The possibility of a second round of voting, even as the candidates leveled accusations of fraud at each other, raised the prospect of an extended period of uncertainly for the war-torn country. The credibility of the vote on Thursday was further tarnished by new reports showing that violence in the south was greater - and turnout lower - than even already grim accounts on election day had suggested.
The election commission called on both Karzai and Abdullah not to speculate about the results and to wait for the official count. Preliminary results were not expected until Tuesday, and final results at least two weeks after that.
Complaints of fraud and specific incidents of ballot stuffing continued to grow in the meantime and may assume increasing importance in a close race.
The extent of the violence and intimidation by Taliban insurgents not only called in question whether significant parts of the country had been heard in the vote but also the progress of the fight against the insurgency.
In the southern provinces like Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul, turnout was as low as 5 to 10 percent, according to one Western official. That is less than half of what it was in those regions in the nation's first presidential election five years ago.
Earlier claims by the government of deals with the Taliban to allow elections to go ahead did not materialize. Instead election day provided a bleak snapshot of the extent of the insurgents' influence in large parts of the country.
Turnout was moderate to high in the northern and central provinces and in the eastern province of Nangarhar and western city of Herat, both large population centers, but the overall turnout is expected to be about 40 percent, again lower than both the previous presidential election in 2004 and parliamentary elections 2005. At least some of the drop could be attributed to disillusionment with the struggling democratic government.
Karzai will be most affected by the low turnout in the south, which is his base of support. On the other hand, the big turnout in the north and west showed that his alliance with the Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum paid off and brought the Uzbek vote in for him, diplomats said.
Karzai's staff insisted that his results were good, including in parts of the north, and that he was still on track to win the election outright. A candidate needs more than 50 percent to win in the first round. "Based on initial information from media and our observers from areas where ballots were counted already, it shows that President Karzai is ahead of other candidates," said his campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister and an eye doctor who has trailed Karzai in the polls, has been aiming to prevent a first-round win at all costs. But his campaign team suggested Friday that his results were good enough for him to win outright as well. "So far, the initial counts that we have from different provinces show that Dr. Abdullah is clearly ahead of President Karzai," said his spokesman, Sayed Aqa Fazil Sancharaki. "If we go like this until the end of ballot counting, Dr. Abdullah will be the winner in the first round."
2) Obama's deafening silence on Honduras
Seven weeks after the coup in Honduras, the US is hindering efforts to restore President Manuel Zelaya to power
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, Friday 21 August 2009 14.00 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/aug/21/honduras-coup-us-foreign-policy
Seven weeks after the Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras, the divide between the United States and Latin America continues to grow.
The strategy of the coup regime is obviously to run out the clock on President Manuel Zelaya's remaining months in office. A presidential election, in which Zelaya is not eligible to run because of Honduras' one-term limit, is scheduled for 29 November.
In response to that strategy, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) issued a declaration on 10 August that it would not recognise any government elected under the coup regime. It is worth noting that this was a unanimous decision. Even close US allies Colombia and Peru approved the declaration.
Then on 17 August, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, who has grown increasingly impatient with the delaying tactics, issued a joint statement with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico saying the same thing. Calderon is a rightwing president and was one of President George Bush's few allies in the region.
The next step would be for the Organisation of American States, where all countries in the hemisphere except Cuba are represented, to take this position. But it operates mainly by consensus, and the US is reportedly blocking that move. Of course, Washington can't be seen to be the sole opposition, so it has recruited some rightwing governments, according to sources involved in the OAS discussions: Canada and Panama, along with a couple of other small country governments that can be bribed or bullied into joining Washington's rapidly shrinking regional coalition of the willing.
The millions of Americans who gave their votes, contributions or energy to Barack Obama's presidential campaign in the hope that he would change US foreign policy probably didn't expect to see this administration fishing around for rightwing allies to help block Latin America from trying to reverse a military coup. But that appears to be the reality.
3) Clinton seeks to reassure on US-Colombia agreement
Foster Klug, AP, August 19, 2009
Washington - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought Tuesday to reassure Latin America that a pending agreement to give U.S. forces greater access to Colombian military facilities will not create permanent U.S. bases. The planned expanded American military presence in Colombia has worried both U.S.-friendly nations in the region and members of President Barack Obama's own political party.
The proposed agreement also has generated unease among some powerful U.S. lawmakers.
Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Patrick Leahy of Vermont sent a letter last month to Clinton complaining that lawmakers were not even told of the negotiations with Colombia, "much less consulted on them."
Given the lack of communication, the senators said the State Department should tell them what the agreement would mean for U.S. ties with other South American countries. The letter also asked about the implications of further deepening relations with Colombia during revelations about alleged human rights violations by that country's military.
Colombia's armed forces' rights record has long been questioned by leading Democrats in the U.S. Congress, including Obama when he was a senator.
Members of its military currently are under investigation in the alleged extrajudicial killing of more than 1,600 civilians, many of whom were lured to their deaths with promises of employment and then dressed up as rebels to boost enemy casualty counts.
4) Hints of Iranian Flexibility on Nuclear Issue
Michael Slackman, New York Times, August 21, 2009
Cairo - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has settled on a strategy of trying to consolidate power by surrounding himself with loyalists at home while appearing to signal to the international community a readiness to address the nuclear issue, political commentators, diplomats and scientists said on Thursday.
While much attention has been focused on Ahmadinejad's decision to try to pack his cabinet with loyalists, his choice of a well-respected physicist, Ali Akbar Salehi, as a vice president and the head of Iran's nuclear agency has been greeted in the diplomatic and scientific community as signaling a possibly less dogmatic, more pragmatic nuclear policy.
Two other recent developments have added to that perception. The first, according to diplomats and scientists, is recent indications that Iran may be prepared to be more cooperative with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The second was Ahmadinejad's decision to retain the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, and not to move a more conservative ally into that position.
On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia, the United States, Britain, China, France and Germany would meet on Sept. 2 to discuss Iran's nuclear program. The United States and France have given Iran until the end of September to respond to their most recent demands or face a new round of sanctions.
5) Coup Catalyzes Honduran Women's Movement. Americas Program
Laura Carlsen, Americas Program, Center for International Policy, August 20, 2009
[Carlsen is director of the Americas Program at CIP.]
On the morning of June 28, women's organizations throughout Honduras were preparing to promote a yes vote on the national survey to hold a Constitutional Assembly. Then the phone lines started buzzing.
In this poor Central American nation, feminists have been organizing for years in defense of women's rights, equality, and against violence. When the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly exiled by the armed forces, women from all over the country spontaneously organized to protect themselves and their families and demand a return to democracy. They called the new umbrella organization "Feminists in Resistance."
On August 18, Feminists in Resistance sat down with women from the international delegation for Women's Human Rights Week, which they organized to monitor and analyze human rights violations and challenges for the organization. One after another they told their stories in a long session that combined group therapy and political analysis-a natural mix at this critical point in Honduran history and the history of their movement.
Miriam Suazo relates the events of the day of the coup. "On the 28th, women began calling each other, saying 'what's happening?'" At first no-one really understood the full extent of the coup, she says, but networks mobilized quickly and women began to gather to share information and plan actions. Independent feminists and feminists from different organizations immediately identified with each other and with the rising resistance to the coup. They began going out to rescue those who had been beaten and to trace individuals arrested by security forces.
For some, the shock of waking up to a coup d'etat wasn't new. "This is my third coup," relates Marielena. "I was a girl when the coup in 1963 happened. Then I lived through the coup in 1972. We lived in front of a school and I saw how my mother faced the bullets, we thought they were going to kill her … Later in the university in the 80s I lived through the repression with many of the women here … So this has revived the story of my life."
There is a saying in Honduras about the Central American dirty war that "While the United States had its eye on Nicaragua and its hands in El Salvador, it had its boot on Honduras." For the older women who remember the terror of that time when over 200 people were disappeared and hundreds tortured and assassinated, the current coup stirs up deep fears. Gilda Rivera, director of the Center for Women's Rights in Tegucigalpa, says, "I've had a messed-up life. I knew the victims of Billy Joya in the 80s … Now I've been to the border twice, I've lived with a curfew over my head. I wake up alone, terrified."
For the new generation of feminists, the catalyst came with the confrontation in front of the National Institute of Women on July 15. The day the coup-appointed head of the Institute was installed, Feminists in Resistance gathered to protest the takeover of "their" institution. Lesly says, "The police used their billy clubs, they grabbed me by the neck. I was filled with so much rage-I was drowning in it." Many women in the organization experienced a turning point in their lives that day. Adelai explains, "(The Institute) was my turf, something that belonged to me, and they attacked us there. That was a direct assault on our condition as women … What they did there really affected me personally."
Despite a lot of suffering, the women in the Feminists in Resistance meeting agree that the exhausting dynamic of constant mobilizations and repression has deepened their commitment. Their movement has also come together and developed closer ties to the general movement. When word got out that the feminists were being attacked at the Women's Institute, demonstrators from the entire demonstration of the National Front against the Coup immediately marched to the Institute to defend the women and show their solidarity.
Although the Front leadership continues to be mostly male, men in the movement have publicly recognized the contributions of the feminist organizations and women in the resistance. From recovering the wounded, to marching day after day, to developing analysis and strategy papers, women's organizations have played a critical role in opposing the coup.
At a meeting between leaders of the Front and Feminists in Resistance earlier in the day, Salvador Zuniga, a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organzations of Honduras (COPINH) and the Front, recognized that women have been among the most active and courageous in the resistance movement. He pointed out that the feminist movement is at the center of the rightwing reaction that led to the coup.
"One of the things that provoked the coup d'etat was that the president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the day-after pill. Opus Dei mobilized, the fundamentalist evangelical churches mobilized, along with all the reactionary groups," he explained.
The unprecedented role of women in the nation's fight for democracy opens them up as a target for repression. Zuniga concluded in no uncertain terms, "What I can say is that the feminist compañeras are in greater danger than any other organization. This has to be made public."
Besides being at the receiving end of the billy clubs and pistols along with the rest of the movement, women suffer specific forms of repression and violence; their bodies have become part of the battleground. Human rights groups including the Women's Human Rights Week international delegation have documented rapes, beatings, sexual harassment, and discriminatory insults. Army and police units routinely shout out "whores!" and "Go find a husband!" at the more and more frequent confrontations between the women and the coup security forces.
6) Export Workers Await Overdue Wage Increase.
Silvestre Fils Dorcilus and Elizabeth Eames Roebling, Inter-Press Service, Aug 19
Port-Au-Prince - Following the recommendation of President Rene Preval, the lower house of the Haitian Parliament voted Tuesday to raise the minimum wage in the assembly sector from 1.29 dollars (70 gourde) to only 3.20 dollars (125 gourde) per day, rather than the 5.12 dollars (200 gourde) which had been demanded and passed.
This exemption must now be approved by the Haitian Senate. Preval, bowing to pressure from business owners, had refused to sign a bill which called for an across the board increase in the minimum wage to 200 gourde a day.
He returned the bill to Parliament on Jun. 17, recommending instead that the minimum wage for an eight-hour day be fixed at 125 gourde. The "assembly sector" is defined as those industries whose products are dedicated to re-exportation.
The close vote of 38 for to 36 against, held by secret ballot as permitted in the Constitution, opens the way to a resolution of the disturbances that have rocked the Haitian capital since April.
Industry leaders had threatened that if they were forced to pay the minimum wage of 200 gourde a day, as proposed, many of the more than 300,000 workers might lose their jobs.
According to the U.N. Development Programme, the unemployment rate in Haiti now stands at 50 percent. Fifty-six percent of the population lives below the internationally recognised level of extreme poverty of one dollar a day and six out of 10 people live on less than two dollars a day.
Workers at the SONAPI industrial park have been staging wildcat strikes and work stoppages since the beginning of August.
More than half of the 23,000 workers there are women between the ages of 18 and 35. They have held marches along the road from the industrial park, which is near the airport, to the Parliament building, carrying banners and chanting: "Up with the 200 gourde! Down with the 150!" and "The bosses, the president, the leaders, must see our sorry state!"
One of the protesting women, Esperencia, explained a bit about her work life. "We workers work every day except Sunday, from 6:30 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon. Sometimes, it is later than that, if there is an order to finish. And sometimes it is without any rest," she told IPS.
Esperencia was joined by Dieulla, who has worked with her at an assembly factory since 2006. Both women preferred that only their first names be used.
"We must rise at 5:00 AM to be at work at that time," Dieulla said. "This wage of 70 gourde has been the same since 2003. It is a pittance. With 70 gourde we cannot even meet our own needs, let alone those of our children. The bosses offer no advantages to the workers. Many of the workers are only paid as day workers, from week to week."
According to Haitian law, the minimum wage is to be periodically adjusted for inflation.
Eddy Labossiere, a university professor and president of the Association of Haitian Economists, indicated that the inflation rate in Haiti in some years has been at 20 percent and has even gone as high as 40 percent since the minimum wage was set at 70 gourde. Labossiere acknowledged the charges that raising the minimum wage would raise costs, but said," I think that a 15 percent profit is reasonable and that the adoption of the 200 gourde set out in the new law would only be justice for the workers."
Jean Kesner Delmas, director of the National Society of Industrial Parks, said that he is aware of the poor working conditions in the factories and hopes that that a decision will be reached so that work can resume. "I am for an effective raise in the minimum wage in the assembly industry. It is inconceivable and impossible that a Haitian worker can live with 70 gourde today given the high cost of living in Haiti," he said.
7) Mexico decriminalizes small-scale drug possession
Mark Stevenson, Associated Press, Friday, August 21, 2009 7:49 AM
Mexico City - Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin on Friday - a move that prosecutors say makes sense even in the midst of the government's grueling battle against drug traffickers.
Prosecutors said the new law sets clear limits that keep Mexico's corruption-prone police from shaking down casual users and offers addicts free treatment to keep growing domestic drug use in check. "This is not legalization, this is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty," said Bernardo Espino del Castillo of the attorney general's office.
The new law sets out maximum "personal use" amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities no longer face criminal prosecution.
Espino del Castillo says, in practice, small users almost never did face charges anyway. Under the previous law, the possession of any amount of drugs was punishable by stiff jail sentences, but there was leeway for addicts caught with smaller amounts. "We couldn't charge somebody who was in possession of a dose of a drug, there was no way ... because the person would claim they were an addict," he said.
Despite the provisions, police sometimes hauled in suspects and demanded bribes, threatening long jail sentences if people did not pay. "The bad thing was that it was left up to the discretion of the detective, and it could open the door to corruption or extortion," Espino del Castillo said.
Anyone caught with drug amounts under the new personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment, and for those caught a third time treatment is mandatory.
The maximum amount of marijuana for "personal use" under the new law is 5 grams - the equivalent of about four joints. The limit is a half gram for cocaine, the equivalent of about 4 "lines." For other drugs, the limits are 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams for LSD.
Mexico has emphasized the need to differentiate drug addicts and casual users from the violent traffickers whose turf battles have contributed to the deaths of more than 11,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.
Officials said the legal changes could help the government focus more on big-time traffickers. Espino del Castillo said since Calderon took office, there have been over 15,000 police searches related to small-scale drug dealing or possession, with 95,000 people detained - but only 12 to 15 percent of whom were ever charged with anything.
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