Just Foreign Policy News
July 8, 2009
Reuters, AP Legitimize Honduran Coup Regime as "Interim Government"
The New York Times and the Washington Post – like the State Department – refer in their news reporting to the "de facto" government in Honduras. But Reuters and AP refer to the "interim government" – suggesting the image that the coup leaders want to project.
Honduran Military: "We Won’t Take Orders from a Leftist"
Last week the Honduran military’s top legal adviser admitted to the Miami Herald that the coup was illegal. He also claimed that because of their "training" – much of it supplied by the United States – it would be "difficult" and "impossible" to "have a relationship with a leftist government."
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1) Writing in the Guardian, Mark Weisbrot debunks the claim that the coup in Honduras was provoked by efforts by President Zelaya to extend his term. The June 28 referendum was a non-binding poll on reforming the constitution; at most it might have resulted in a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country’s constitution; the same November ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January.
2) Pope Benedict called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, the New York Times reports. The Pope criticized the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for requiring cuts in social spending in the third world.
3) Afghan defense officials say Taliban fighters have retreated ahead of the U.S. Marines offensive in Helmand, prompting fears the U.S. effort has just moved the Taliban problem elsewhere, McClatchy reports.
4) Adm. Mullen warned the "window is closing" for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the Wall Street Journal reports. Mullen said Iran was likely just one to three years away from successfully building a nuclear weapon. Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs, said he supported the administration’s outreach to Iran despite a crackdown on protesters there. Leading lawmakers from both parties have suggested the White House delay or abandon its diplomatic outreach to Iran.
5) Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim said the coup government in Honduras could not withstand international political pressure, Xinhua reports. Amorim said the regime would not last long without the financial support of the World Bank and the IDB, oil supply and relations with the US. "It will not last a month, only a few days or weeks," Amorim said.
6) Israel-US talks failed to defuse the standoff over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, but analysts and aides say the two sides are looking for a face-saving compromise for Prime Minister Netanyahu to yield on continued growth, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
7) Business is booming in the Palestinian city of Nablus due to a removal of Israeli checkpoints under US pressure, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
8) Secretary of State Clinton said Iran’s crackdown on dissent over the election suggests the leadership may be unwilling to consider curbing its nuclear ambitions, a position that would prompt the U.S. to call for tougher international sanctions, Bloomberg reports.
9) U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they are suffering from a critical shortage of supporting Afghan forces, the New York Times reports. They say the Afghan forces are needed to establish trust and communication with citizens.
10) Colombia’s Vice-President Santos said the former deputy director of Colombia’s intelligence agency DAS had admitted the service was spying on the boss of the vice-Presidency’s Human Rights office, according to Colombia Reports. The former director of the DAS admitted to prosecutors his service was spying on government opponents. The DAS is accused of illegally having spied on opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, human rights workers, members of the church and the UN refugee agency.
1) US leaves Honduras to its fate
Washington is unwilling to take the side of democracy in Honduras by opposing the coup leaders it helped to train
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, Wednesday 8 July 2009
The military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras took a new turn when he attempted to return home on Sunday. The military closed the airport and blocked runways to prevent his plane from landing. They also shot several protesters, killing at least one and injuring others. The violence and the enormous crowd – estimated in the tens of thousands and reported as the largest since the coup on 28 June – put additional pressure on the Obama administration to seek a resolution to the crisis. On Tuesday, secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Zelaya for the first time.
In many ways this is similar to the 2002 coup in Venezuela, which was supported by the US. After it became clear that no government other than the US would recognise the coup government there, and hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets to demand the return of their elected president, the military switched sides and brought Hugo Chávez back to the presidential palace.
In Honduras, we have the entire world refusing to recognise the coup government, and equally large demonstrations (in a country of only seven million people, with the military preventing movement for many of them) demanding Zelaya’s return. The problem in Honduras is that the military – unlike Venezuela’s – is experienced in organised repression, including selective assassinations carried out during the 1980s, when the country was known as a military base for US operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Honduran military is also much closer to the US military and state department, more closely allied with the country’s oligarchy and more ideologically committed to the cause of keeping the elected president out of power. Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, a Honduran army lawyer who admitted that the military broke the law when it kidnapped Zelaya, told the Miami Herald: "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible." Inestroza, like the coup leader and army chief General Romeo Vasquez, was trained at Washington’s infamous School of the Americas (now renamed Whinsec).
[…] The Obama administration’s behaviour over the last eight days suggests that if not for this threat from below, the administration would have been content to let the coup government remain for the rest of Zelaya’s term. This was made clear again on Monday, at a press briefing held by the state department spokesman Ian Kelly. Under prodding from a reporter, Kelly became the first on-the-record state department official to say that the US government supported the return of Zelaya. This was eight days after the coup, and after the United Nations general assembly, the Organisation of American States, the Rio Group and many individual governments had all called for the "immediate and unconditional" return of Zelaya – something that Washington still does not talk about.
Meanwhile, on the far right, there has been a pushback against worldwide support for Zelaya and an attempt to paint him as the aggressor in Honduras, or at least equally as bad as the people who carried out the coup. Unfortunately much of the major media’s reporting has aided this effort by reporting such statements as "Critics feared he intended to extend his rule past January, when he would have been required to step down."
In fact, there was no way for Zelaya to "extend his rule" even if the referendum had been held and passed, and even if he had then gone on to win a binding referendum on the November ballot. The 28 June referendum was nothing more than a non-binding poll of the electorate, asking whether the voters wanted to place a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country’s constitution. If it had passed, and if the November referendum had been held (which was not very likely) and also passed, the same ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January. So, the belief that Zelaya was fighting to extend his term in office has no factual basis. The most that could be said is that if a new constitution were eventually approved, Zelaya might have been able to run for a second term at some future date.
[…] Clinton has just announced that she has arranged for the Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to serve as a mediator between the coup government and Zelaya. According to Clinton, both parties have accepted this arrangement. This is a good move for the state department, as it will make it easier for it to maintain a more "neutral" position – as opposed to the rest of the hemisphere, which has taken the side of the deposed president and the Honduran pro-democracy movement. "I don’t want to prejudge what the parties themselves will agree to," said Clinton in response to a question as to whether Zelaya should be restored to his position.
It is difficult to see how this mediation will succeed, so long as the coup government knows that it can sit out the rest of Zelaya’s term. The only thing that can remove it from office, in conjunction with massive protests, is real economic sanctions of the kind that Honduras’s neighbours (Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala) imposed for 48 hours after the coup. These countries account for about a third of Honduras’s trade, but they would need economic aid from other countries to carry the burden of a trade cut-off for a longer time. It would be a great thing if other countries would step forward to support such sanctions and to cut off their own trade and capital flows with Honduras as well.
2) Pope Urges Forming New World Economic Order to Work for the ‘Common Good’
Rachel Donadio and Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, July 8, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing a growing divide between rich and poor and urging the establishment of a "true world political authority" to oversee the economy and work for the "common good."
He criticized the current economic system, "where the pernicious effects of sin are evident," and urged financiers in particular to "rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity."
He also called for "greater social responsibility" on the part of business. "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty," Benedict wrote in his new encyclical, which the Vatican released on Tuesday.
More than two years in the making, "Caritas in Veritate," or "Charity in Truth," is Benedict’s third encyclical since he became pope in 2005.
[…] Indeed, sometimes Benedict sounds like an old-school European socialist, lamenting the decline of the social welfare state and praising the "importance" of labor unions to protect workers. Without stable work, he noted, people lose hope and tend not to get married and have children.
But he also wrote, "The so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders – namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society – in favor of the shareholders." And he argued that it was "erroneous to hold that the market economy has an inbuilt need for a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function at its best."
Benedict also called for a reform of the United Nations so there could be a unified "global political body" that allowed the less powerful of the earth to have a voice, and he called on rich nations to help less fortunate ones. "In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all," he wrote.
John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.
"One of the things he’s saying is that the global economy is escaping the power of individual states to regulate it," Sniegocki said. He said the encyclical also contained elements "very critical" of how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank "have required cuts in social spending in the third world."
3) Afghans: Taliban Have Escaped Helmand and Marines
Nancy A. Youssef , McClatchy Newspapers, July 07, 2009
Kabul – Taliban fighters and their commanders have escaped the Marines’ big offensive in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and moved into areas to the west and north, prompting fears that the U.S. effort has just moved the Taliban problem elsewhere, Afghan defense officials have told McClatchy.
The movement of the Taliban into those areas has prompted complaints from German and Italian commanders, whose troops operate there, and have prompted questions about whether the United States has enough troops to pursue the Taliban while at the same time carrying out Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s plan to "clear, hold and build" in areas wrested from Taliban control.
Last week, National Security Adviser James L. Jones told McClatchy that no additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan this year, even as some NATO nations threaten to draw down their presence. Jones’ comments raised the ire of commanders here, who asked why the administration asked them to conduct a 60-day strategy review if such a major decision already has been made.
Violence here is at its highest levels since the Taliban fell in 2001. Even with the addition of 17,500 troops that President Barack Obama has ordered to Afghanistan, commanders fear they won’t have enough troops to clear large swaths of the country and then hold them.
Since the Marines began their offensive on Thursday, Taliban fighters have moved to northern Helmand province near Baghran, an area controlled by German forces, and the eastern edge of Farah province, largely under Italy’s control, said Gen. Zahir Azami, the Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman.
4) U.S. Military Chief Warns Of Rising Nuclear Threat
Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2009
Washington – The top U.S. military officer warned that the "window is closing" for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration in the wake of last month’s disputed elections.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he supported the administration’s outreach to Tehran despite a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters there.
He also cautioned that a possible Israeli military strike on Iran risked destabilizing the broader Middle East and triggering retaliatory Iranian attacks elsewhere in the world.
But Adm. Mullen told a Washington think tank that Iran was likely just one to three years away from successfully building a nuclear weapon, which means that the U.S. and its allies are running out of time to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program. "Iran is very focused on developing this capability," he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The clock is ticking and that’s why I’m as concerned as I am."
[…] Adm. Mullen’s comments come as the administration grapples with how to recalibrate its policy toward Tehran amid indications of election irregularities in favor of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In interviews over the weekend, President Barack Obama said that his administration remained open to direct negotiations with Tehran. The president also said that the U.S. opposed any Israeli military strike on Iran, rebuffing suggestions that Vice President Joe Biden had signaled a change in administration policy when he told a television interviewer that "Israel can determine for itself" whether to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Still, the fallout from the Iranian political crisis has left the administration in a bind. Leading lawmakers from both parties have suggested that the White House delay or abandon its diplomatic outreach to Iran, a cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy.
5) Honduran coup not to last long: Brazilian FM
Xinhua, July 6
Rio De Janeiro, – Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Monday that the Honduran interim government, which took over after a coup in late June, would not resist the international political pressure.
The minister said the new regime would not last long without the financial support of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), without oil supply and relations with the United States. "It will not last a month, only a few days or weeks," Amorim said at a press conference.
Amorim believes that the natural way for the country is the return of the deposed President Manuel Zelaya. According to the minister, the coup in Honduras does not fit the reality of today’s world. "There is no longer a place in the world for a coup like this, in which you arrive in the morning with a machine gun and put the president out of the country in his pajamas."
6) US, Israel looking for a way to resolve settlements dispute
In talks in London Monday, Israel’s defense minister said the two sides had made progress, but still had ‘a way to go.’
Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, July 06, 2009
A new round of Israel-US talks in London failed to defuse the standoff over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, though analysts and aides say the two sides are looking for a face-saving compromise for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to yield on continued growth.
After a three-hour meeting with Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reported progress but added, "there’s still a way to go," Ha’aretz reported on its website.
Israel is open to a temporary settlement freeze, but is demanding a conciliatory gesture from the Palestinians or the Arab states so Netanyahu can deflect political criticism from supporters already upset at his recent endorsement of a Palestinian state. An advisor to Netanyahu said the settlement issue is secondary and both sides want to put the dispute behind them.
"Even if the matter of a temporary freeze comes up, it can’t be a unique or an isolated issue," says Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and foreign policy aide to Netanyahu. "In every quid pro quo there has to be a quo. Israel will want to hear what we can expect from the other side."
A joint statement released after the meeting named the formula for promoting "regional peace" between Israel and its Arab neighbors: Israel must lift blockades in the West Bank and "act" to curb settlement activity, while the Palestinians must boost security and the Arab states move toward normalization of ties with Israel. Mitchell is expected to visit the region in the coming weeks for talks with Netanyahu.
In recent weeks, Israel has tried to parry favor with the US by lifting restrictions on Palestinian movement around the West Bank, but it hasn’t alleviated pressure on the settlement issue.
"It’s my sense that the US is not letting up," says Yossi Alpher, the coeditor of Israeli-Palestinian online opinion journal Bitterlemons.org. "The pressure has got the Netanyahu government squirming, bargaining for a way out," he said, adding that he sees signs of Israel backing down.
7) In Palestinian town, business booms after Israel relaxes checkpoints
Nablus residents wonder whether the change means Israel is serious about peace or is simply an effort to placate the Obama administration.
Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 2009
Nablus, West Bank – The downtown streets in this Palestinian city bustle with pedestrians and echo with the bleating of taxis vying for road space.
During the recent Palestinian uprising, activity in the second-largest city and commercial capital of the West Bank was choked off by Israeli security roadblocks and frequent gunfire from roaming militant gangs. But for the first time since 2000, the Israeli military has loosened movement restrictions around Nablus, opening up the city to Palestinians around the West Bank and to Arab citizens of Israel who come to shop.
"Work is great. We have not had this amount business in years," says Hamada Abu Islam, a toy-store owner in central Nablus who attributed the change to improved local law enforcement and the easing of Israeli checkpoints near the city. "I hope it will stay this way."
While the Israeli military says the relaxation stems from better-performing Palestinian security services, the move follows weeks of an open diplomatic rift between the Jewish state and the Obama administration over West Bank settlement expansion.
8) Clinton Warns Iran of Potential for Tougher Sanctions
Ali Sheikholeslami, Bloomberg, July 8
Iran’s crackdown on dissent over the June 12 election suggests the leadership may be unwilling to consider curbing its nuclear ambitions, a position that would prompt the U.S. to call for tougher international sanctions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
"Even though we are cautiously pursuing a policy of engagement, we are doing it with our eyes open," Clinton said in an interview with Venezuela’s Globovision network. "We understand that, given the problems Iran has just demonstrated, it may not be possible – in which case we would ask the world to join us in imposing even stricter sanctions on Iran to try to change the behavior of the regime."
[…] "We obviously are concerned about Iran’s regime, the pursuit of nuclear weapons, which would be very destabilizing in the Middle East and beyond, the support for terrorism that Iran still pursues," Clinton said in the interview, which was televised in Venezuela late yesterday.
The violent suppression of election protests shows that "Iran has not respected its own democracy," she said.
9) Allied Officers Concerned By Lack Of Afghan Forces
Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, July 8, 2009
Nawa, Afghanistan – One week after several battalions of Marines swept through the Helmand River valley, military commanders appear increasingly concerned about a lack of Afghan forces in the field. "What I need is more Afghans," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province. He accompanied the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, during a visit with troops at Patrol Base Jaker here on Monday.
General Nicholson and others say that the long-term success of the operation hinges on the performance of the Afghan security forces, which will have to take over eventually from the American troops.
General Nicholson said the American force of almost 4,000 had been joined by about 400 effective Afghan soldiers. "The net increase in Afghan security forces is zero" since the brigade arrived a few months ago, he said. The lack of Afghan forces "is absolutely our Achilles’ heel," added Capt. Brian Huysman, commander of Company C of the First Battalion, Fifth Marines in Nawa.
Captain Huysman said the Afghan forces were critically important in establishing trust and communication with citizens. "We can’t read these people; we’re different," he said. "They’re not going to tell us the truth. We’ll never get to build and transition" – the last phase of the operation – "unless we have the Afghans."
American military officials say they want at least a full brigade of Afghan forces in Helmand, thousands more than are here now.
10) Colombian VP says former DAS official admitted wiretaps
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 07 July 2009 07:54
The former deputy director of Colombia’s intelligence agency DAS had admitted the service was spying on the boss of the vice-Presidency’s Human Rights office, vice-President Francisco Santos said Tuesday. "I had a very hard confrontation with mister Narvaez, who then was adviser of the DAS [before becoming deputy director], wherein he told me he supposedly was wiretapping Carlos Franco. I kicked him out of the office," Santos told radio station W Radio.
Santos says he never allowed the official back in his office again. However, Santos never denounced the wiretaps or took action against the illegal practice.
The former director of the DAS, Andres Peñate, also admitted to prosecutors that his service was spying on government opponents, a local radio station reported Monday. The DAS is accused of illegally having spied on opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, human rights workers and even members of the church and the UN refugee agency.
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