Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Calls for Zelaya's return

The elections in Honduras are over and the National Party's Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was victorious, securing over 55% of the vote. However, several questions remain after the culmination of the country's widely disputed elections. Not only is the Western Hemisphere split on whether to recognize the elections, but the official voter turnout numbers are also in question, with numbers from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) reaching over 60% and the nongovernmental observer group, Hagamos Democracia, tallying voter turnout closer to 47%.

As Daniel Altschuler points out on the Americas Quarterly blog, this discrepancy "raises questions about the electoral tribunal's announcement. In particular, there is concern about the TSE's incentive to inflate voter turnout rates to raise the perceived legitimacy of the elections." RNS, on the Honduras Coup 2009 blog, noted this morning that the TSE turnout numbers are dropping as more votes are counted. This suggests that while turnout in the municipalities surrounding Tegucigalpa was high, the rest of the country did not turn out to vote in such high numbers.

Despite the region's lack of consensus on the legitimacy of Sunday's elections in Honduras, leaders meeting in Portugal at the 2009 Iberoamerican Summit released a joint statement condemning the coup d'etat in Honduras and calling for the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to carry out his constitutional term as president. The Honduran Congress is set to convene tomorrow to vote on Zelaya's return, and it appears that the region's leaders, whether they recognize the elections or not, find this to be the next step in returning democratic order to Honduras.

The statement (download PDF) released by the presidency of the Iberoamerican Summit reads:

The Iberoamerican heads of state condemn the coup d'etat in Honduras and consider the grave human rights and basic freedom violations unacceptable. In this context, they consider that the restitution of President Jose Manuel Zelaya to complete the term to which he was democratically elected ... is a fundamental step toward the return of constitutional normalcy.

...

The Iberoamerican heads of state will continue to actively contribute to the search for a solution that allows for a widespread national dialogue in Honduras and the return of a democratic regime to the Honduran people.

The Iberoamerican heads of state declare their firm commitment to the democratic principles of all of the Ibero-American countries to prevent any attempts to destabilize legitimately elected governments.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, also noted during a briefing yesterday that the election in Honduras was "only a step" toward the return of democratic order. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela said that the remaining steps included those found in the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord: the formation of a government of national unity, a congressional vote on the return of President Zelaya to office, and the formation and structuring of a truth commission (this step was included in the original San José Accords).

"[L]et me stress the most important point, and that is that while the election is a significant step in Honduras's return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it's just that; it's only a step. It's – and it's not the last step. Given the gravity of the coup d'état and the polarization that Honduras has undergone, both before and after the coup d'état, it's extremely important that Honduran leadership moving forward in the next few months attempt to follow the overall broad frameworks of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.

And by that, I mean that - what are the additional steps that need to be taken? A government of national unity needs to be formed. The congress has to take a vote on the return of President Zelaya to office. And another element of the San Jose Accords that I think would be very, very important as Honduras moves forward to try to reestablish the democratic and constitutional order is the formation and the structuring of a truth commission, which was also contemplated in the original Tegucigalpa framework and San Jose Accords."

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Honduran elections

Results (66.31% of urns counted):

  1. Porfirio Lobo (National Party) 937,006 (55.9% of valid ballots)
  2. Elvin Santos (Liberal Party) 639,481 (38.2%)
  3. Bernardo Martínez (National Innovation Party) 37,029 (2.2%)
  4. Felícito Ávila (Christian Democracy Social Party) 32,113 (1.9%)
  5. César Ham (Democratic Unification) 30,334 (1.8%)

Western Hemisphere countries recognizing the election result:

The turnout:

In the 2005 presidential elections, 46 percent of eligible Hondurans turned out to vote. Honduras' Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) has projected that more than 60 percent voted this time. The Honduras Coup 2009 blog reports that the pollster the TSE hired to make statistical projections and perform exit polling estimates a turnout of 47.6 percent. The pro-Zelaya "Resistance Front" is estimating turnout of 35-40 percent. Meanwhile, of ballots that were cast, 6 percent were blank or invalid.

Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela:

Having said that, let me stress the most important point, and that is that, while the election is a significant step in Honduras' return to a democratic and constitutional order after the 28th June coup, it's just that. It's only a step, and it's not the last step....

A government of national unity needs to be formed. The congress has to take a vote on the return of President Zelaya to office.

And another element of the San Jose Accord that I think would be very, very important as Honduras moves forward to try to reestablish the democratic and constitutional order is the formation and the structuring of a truth commission, which was also contemplated in the original Tegucigalpa framework and San Jose Accord.

And the truth commission would be a body that would look into the incidents and the situation that led to the coup, but at the same time, as the accord says, ... it also will provide the elementos, as it says in the accord, the elements to help the Hondurans make the necessary reforms to their constitutional process and to bring about a fuller reconciliation of the Honduran people. ...

The issue is not who is going to be the next president. The Honduran people decided that. The issue is whether the legitimate president of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d’état, will be returned to office by the congress on December 2nd, as per the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord.

De facto president Roberto Micheletti:

On the way, many things have changed. Today, we are a nation whose sovereignty has been proved, with no fear of defending its sovereignty against even the largest [powers], and with the faith that if we act according to the law, we can achieve everything. Beyond paper and speeches, today our Honduras has gone out to confirm to the world that it is a dignified, free country, with no impositions and very proud of itself.

Resistance leader and independent pro-Zelaya presidential candidate Carlos Reyes:

We will keep rejecting any dialogue with the coup leaders. ... We've had it up to here with dialogues. Why should we go on with so much dialogue if, with these dialogues, we have lost five months and we haven't resolved absolutely anything.

The Honduran Congress is to vote Wednesday on whether to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya to head a "national unity government" until January 27, when Porfirio Lobo, the winner of yesterday's vote, would take office.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hearing: Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?

This post was written by CIP Intern Hannah Brodlie

This morning at 10:00 am the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing to examine whether to lift the travel ban to Cuba. The committee heard from those both in favor and against repealing the travel ban, and began with opening remarks by Chairman Howard L. Berman, who co-authored an article in Tuesday's Miami Herald with Senator Richard Lugar, entitled "Lift the Ban-- Let Americans visit Cuba." Rep. Berman did his best throughout the hearing to keep everyone's remarks to time, as well as keep the discussion civil, though the hearing proved to be contentious and lively, lasting just under four and a half hours.

The Committee heard testimony from six diverse witnesses (click on their name for a copy of their testimonies): General Barry R. McCaffrey, Ambassador James Cason (Former Chief of Mission, U.S. Interests Section, Havana, Cuba), Ms. Miriam Leiva (Independent Journalist and Founder, Ladies in White), Mr. Ignacio Sosa (Executive Board Member of Friends of Caritas Cubana), Ms. Berta Antunez (Sister of Former Political Prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ("Antunez") and Pro-democracy Activist), and Mr. Philip Peters (Vice President of Lexington Institute).

Below is an abbreviated play-by-play of today's hearing, "Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?". You can view a webcast of the hearing here.

In his opening remarks Chairman Berman stated, "... Let's face it. By any objective measure, the nearly fifty-year old travel ban hasn't worked... It's clearly time for a change... Letting U.S. citizens travel to Cuba is not a gift to the Castros - it's in our own national interest. Waiting for a concession from Havana before we do something on behalf of our own citizens perversely puts the Cuban government in charge of that decision."

From there however, many members of the committee expressed their strong disagreement with the Chairman's position on the issue.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said that if Americans want to go to a tropical climate, instead of traveling to Cuba to give their money to the Castro regime, they ought to travel to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or a destination within the Congresswoman's own state of Florida. Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV) echoed these remarks, and suggested that if you want to travel, don't go to Cuba, go to Las Vegas.

In response, Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said, "I was elected to be a Member of Congress, not a travel agent. American's should be able to travel wherever they want. They don't need our advice and shouldn't have to ask our permission."

Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) asked (rhetorically) why we would ever subsidize the enemies of the United States, recalling the old Soviet Union days. Likewise, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) (remember: "You Lie!"?) recalled growing up during the Cold War, remembering the great threat of Fidel Castro.

Ranking Member Connie Mack (FL) emphatically expressed his continued support for the travel ban, as he had to be repeatedly reminded by the committee chairman that his time was up.

Representative Ron Klein (D-FL) asserted that we may only consider lifting the full travel ban once the Cuban government responds in kind and responds to the legitimate claims of the U.S.

In support of lifting the ban, both Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Representative Lee pointed out that Cuba is the only nation in the world where Americans are forbidden to travel by their own government. Rep. Meeks argued that it is the freedom of the American people to be able to choose where they want to go.

The Testimony:

General McCaffrey argued that our current policy doesn't work. He stated that "We've got Mr.Castro with one foot in the grave" and a "power transition looming in the current years." While he underlined the fact that tourism is not the final solution, he emphasized that "I do not believe that the Cubans are in any way a threat to our national security interests " since the actual military capability of the Cubans is almost nonexistent.

Ambassador James Casen argued against lifting the ban. Among other things, he asserted that because Cuban authorities strictly limit interactions with foreigners, no American tourist would be able to find a regular Cuban in their hotel.

Ms. Miriam Leiva announced that she and her organization fully support lifting the travel ban. She appeared at the hearing via teleconference, unfortunately accompanied by a four-second delay in transmission.

Mr. Ignacio Sosa addressed the criticism that Canadian and European tourism has thus far failed to produce any change in Cuban society. He argued that American tourists are much more likely to share cultural and demographic ties with Cubans. He promoted the pursuit of policies "that increase people to people contact."

Ms. Berta Antunez detailed her struggles, particularly the struggles of Afro-Cubans, against the Castro regime and stated that allowing American tourists to enter Cuba would only aid the Cuban government and "would be fatal for us and the space we've won for ourselves."

Mr. Philip Peters said that "conditionality has yielded no leverage for the United States." He argued that the travel ban creates divisions along ethnic lines, where one group may travel without restrictions and the rest of us may not. He also conceded the point that American travelers will not magically transform the political situation in Cuba. However, it will increase our influence at a pivotal time in Cuban history. In addition, he pointed out that the Cuban government has tried to make the U.S. a scapegoat for the failure of its own policies; reversing this policies would place the blame where it belongs: on the Cuban government.

Follow-up Questions:

A very unprofessional exchange occurred between Representative Ros-Lehtinen and General McCaffrey, when Ros. Lehtien quoted Gen. McCaffrey on intelligence and national security matters. Answering, Gen. McCaffrey pointed out that Ros-Lehtinen had failed to address him as "General," instead calling him "Mr. McCaffrey." Gen.McCaffrey said that "I'm offended by your deliberate marginalization of my viewpoints," and the exchange was mostly downhill from there. Ros-Lehtinen continued to to interrupt him, saying "I have five minutes, I can do whatever I want with my time." Gen. McCaffrey called her views silly and said they don't "represent reality."

Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) followed, saying "I want to go on the record and say that I consider you a great American patriot," to much applause. Rep. Delahunt then cited a letter signed by a number of major military personal, which said that "U.S. policy has not only failed in its principle objectives, but has harmed our interests across the board." Responding, Gen.McCaffrey said, "I think it's a very sensible viewpoint."

Representative Delahunt also responded to a point made by Ambassador Casen: "I had never heard the viewpoint that it would be useless [to lift the travel ban] because we don't speak Spanish and no one's gonna talk to us," and quoted the census statistic cited by Mr. Sosa, that 34.5 million Americans speak Spanish as their first language.

Representative Flake called out Ambassador Casen for assuming that American tourists who travel to Cuba "go their for rum, sex- this list of pejoratives; I think it's deeply offensive to Americans who go there for a number of reasons." He then asked Casen whether he could cite a time when we've had a travel ban that has actually fostered democracy. Incredibly, Casen answered, "Well, I don't think we have a travel ban."

Ranking Member Mack announced that he'd found the silver lining to the day's hearing: we should apply the same restrictions on travel to countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria, a suggestion which was not taken seriously. Mack went on to admonish Mr. Sosa for bringing racial and ethnic politics to the discussion, and for somehow suggesting that U.S. policy and the American people are to blame for the Castro regime. Mr. Sosa denied saying these things.

Representative Barbara (D-CA) Lee responded to Ranking Member Mack, asserting that the issue of race is both relevant and important to mention.

Representative Woolsey (D-CA) aptly compared the discussion to "an old song. Something we've all heard before, except it does not fit the 21st century." She then asked whether there is a difference of opinion between first and second generation Cubans? The general consensus among the witnesses was "yes."

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) asked Gen. McCaffrey and Mr. Peters if they would help get him in to Cuba to visit political prisoners. Both men answered in the affirmative. He also brought up the issue of cop-killer JoAnne Chesimard, who killed a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 and then fled to Cuba where she has lived ever since.

Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), who supports lifting the travel ban, discussed the similarities between the struggles of African Americans in the United States and Afro-Cubans, and offered her personal support to Ms. Antunez in her non-violent struggle for human rights in Cuba.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Update 14: Honduras

Elections in Honduras will be held in 11 days, and very little progress has been made on advancing the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord. The Accord was signed by ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti on October 29th and declared "dead" by Zelaya on November 5th.

Since the apparent crumbling of the Accord, very little has advanced, despite the United States' attempts to keep the process moving by sending deputy assistant secretary of state Craig Kelly to Honduras twice to meet with both Zelaya and Micheletti. Zelaya has dug in his heels, calling for a boycott of the November 29th elections by his supporters and sending President Obama a letter stating that he will not accept any deal to restore him to office that legitimizes the coup.

Yesterday, the Honduran Congress announced that it will not convene to vote on Zelaya's restitution, a step required by the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, until December 2nd - 3 days after the presidential elections are to be held.

Here are more details about the most recent events in Honduras' political crisis:

  • For two days, from November 10 - 11, deputy assistant secretary of state Craig Kelly traveled to Honduras to meet with both ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti in an attempt to get both sides to abide by the terms of the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord. He left the next day without any apparent advancement in the Accord, but appeared positive, telling the press "There is still a lot of work to be done along the way ... but I believe it is important for both sides to keep talking."

    According to the State Department's twitter feed, @dipnote, deputy assistant secretary Kelly returned to Honduras yesterday to continue to advance dialogue between the two parties and attempt to move the Accord forward.

  • Much criticism has emerged against the United States' role in the collapse of the accord it helped negotiate. Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), said, through his spokesman, that the "State Department's 'abrupt change' of policy toward Honduras 'caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate.'"

    One group, the Alliance for Global Justice, sent out an urgent action alert earlier this week, calling for people to call their senators and tell them to vote 'no' on Thomas Shannon' confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. The alert argues that Shannon is "not fit to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Brazil" because "Either Shannon defied President Obama’s instructions and plotted with the coup regime to keep it in power, or he was fooled by thuggish coup leader Roberto Micheletti into supporting a hoax that the coup regime had no intention of honoring."

  • Last Tuesday, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, said he would not send observers to monitor the November 29th elections, while many of the OAS's member countries said they would not recognize the election winner unless Zelaya was reinstated.

    In response, the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, Lewis Amselem, said: "I've heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras. I'm not trying to be a wiseguy, but what does that mean? What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?" This prompted us to ask, in an earlier blog, where is the Obama administration's nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the OAS?

  • Zelaya has been calling for a boycott of the elections by his supporters, and in protest of the coup d'etat, 110 mayoral candidates and 55 deputies have pulled out of the elections.

    However, despite the continued controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the upcoming elections, Honduras' Supreme Electoral Court announced that already has confirmed over 250 international observers for the November 29th elections. While a detailed list of the observers has not been provided, the Honduran National Party announced that it invited around 100 observers, among them ex presidents Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia), Armando Calderón and Alfredo Critiani (El Salvador); Vinicio Cerezo (Guatemala), Vicente Fox (Mexico) and Alejandro Toledo (Peru). According to the National Party, "the majority of the invited have confirmed their attendance and in some cases will send a representative."

  • Over the weekend, Zelaya sent President Obama a letter, in which he said he will not accept any deal to restore him to office if it legitimizes the coup government. In the letter, Zelaya also stated that he will not accept the legitimacy of the upcoming elections and accused the Obama administration of reversing its stance on whether the elections would be legitimate if he was not in office.

    In the letter, Zelaya writes: "The future that you show us today by changing your position in the case of Honduras, and thus favoring the abusive intervention of the military castes ... is nothing more than the downfall of freedom and contempt for human dignity. ... It is a new war against the processes of social and democratic reforms so necessary in Honduras."

  • The president of the Honduran Congress, José Alvedro Saavedra, announced that Congress would not convene until after the elections to vote on Zelaya's restitution - setting the vote date as December 2nd.

    According to Reuters, this move by the Congress was most likely made in an effort to win more international support for the elections. "The delay could leave a door open to negotiators to continue looking for a way to end the deadlock. A 'No' vote before the election might have increased international rejection of the result of the presidential election."

  • Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    The many levels of Mexico's violence

    Many factors contribute to Mexico's ongoing violent drug war. While stopping the flow of drugs and weapons is of critical importance, many internal realities play a significant role in the Calderón government's inability to quell the violence by merely deploying additional troops and police officers to the high-conflict areas.

    Recent articles on Mexico indicate that corruption, rule of law, poverty and a lack of trust in the police have combined to create an environment in Mexico where it is faster to take justice into one's own hands, more profitable to be involved in the illicit economy, and exceedingly difficult to reform the broken municipal and local police forces.

    Corrupt police force
    The Los Angeles Times published an article on the difficulty Mexico faces to "reverse a legacy of police corruption that has tainted whole departments, shattered people's faith in law enforcement and compromised one of society's most basic institutions." Despite the government's attempts to reform the corrupt police force into a new model stressing "technical sophistication and trustworthiness," the country has a tendency to trade in "one corrupt police agency for another." The article argues that this habit must be overcome if real change is to emerge with the new police model.

    Vigilante groups
    Vigilante groups are becoming more prominent in the violence-ridden areas of Mexico due to the lack of trust in the police force, as reported by both the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

    Just last Wednesday, police had to rescue four suspected kidnappers from a mob of angry residents who wanted to punish them themselves. And two weeks ago, the mayor of one northern Mexico city, San Pedro Garza Garcia, announced that he had created a special group, which might act outside of the law in some ways, in order to clean up criminal elements in his city. This group was made public after the new mayor announced that a group of kidnappers who had terrorized his city were dead four hours before the police had found the bodies. When questioned about how he knew before the police, the mayor admitted it was thanks to the new special group.

    We're tired of sitting around on our hands and waiting for daddy or mommy Calderón to come to fix our fights. We in San Pedro took the decision to grab the bull by the horns.... Even acting outside the limits of my role as mayor, I will end the kidnappings, extortions and drug trafficking. We are going to do this by whatever means, fair or foul.

    Poverty and politics
    The BBC also published an article yesterday on the difficulties the Mexican government is facing in defeating the drug cartels that have such a firm grasp on some cities. In addition to corruption and a lack of trust in the police, the article cites poverty and the current elitist political model as important underlying factors. According to the article, an "unsustainable economy" in cities such as Ciudad Juárez has driven "many into the arms of drug cartels," with the drug trade offering 30 times more money than one could earn as a teacher.

    In their own way, each of these articles points to a similar conclusion - the Mexican government's current strategy of sending in more troops and firing local police is not sufficient. More attention is needed on tackling corruption, improving the rule of law, and strengthening the judiciary. While most importantly, reliable security and alternative economic opportunities for the local population are necessary to deter even more citizens from entering the illicit and dangerous economy of drugs and murder.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Colombia letter circulating in House of Representatives

    This is cross-posted from the Center for International Policy's Colombia-focused website, "Plan Colombia and Beyond."

    A very good letter to Secretary of State Clinton, asking for several badly needed changes to U.S. policy toward Colombia, is currently circulating in the U.S. Congress. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) and Mike Honda (D-California) are asking their colleagues in the House of Representatives to sign on.

    Please call your member of Congress and ask them to sign on to this letter. It is circulating at a good time, as the Obama administration develops the 2011 aid request it will issue to Congress in February. If the letter goes to the State Department with lots of signatures, it will have real influence on the future of U.S. assistance to Colombia.

    Here is the alert and calling instructions from the Latin America Working Group. The text of the letter is here.

    As of November 6th, this letter, written by Representatives McGovern, Schakowsky, Payne, and Honda, is circulating throughout the halls of Congress with a clear message: let's spend our taxpayer dollars on supporting victims of violence, not funding military abuses. This is our chance to get Congress behind the changes that we want to see and have our government start standing by our brothers and sisters in Colombia.

    The letter makes a strong case for why there is no time to waste in changing our policies towards Colombia. It paints a vivid picture of the Colombian government's failure to protect human rights, raising issues like the killing of civilians by the army, the persecution of human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis of over four million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Echoing what we have been saying for a long time, it demands a cut in military aid and an increase in support for victims and those who are working for peace and justice in Colombia. It also calls for an end to harmful and ineffective aerial fumigations, investing instead in drug treatment in the United States. To get all the details, click here to read the full letter.

    But, this letter needs the support of many members of Congress to be effective. So, that's why we need you make sure your congressional representative signs on now.

    Click here to contact your representative today.

    And don't stop there: Tell your friends. Tell your family. Or just go ahead and forward this on to your whole address book! We won't get another chance like this again for a long time, so let's pull out all the stops and make it happen together!

    From November 6th through 24th, a letter calling for change in U.S. policy towards Colombia will be circulating through the House of Representatives. This letter has our message, calling for a decrease in U.S. aid for Colombia's military and an increase in support for human rights and humanitarian efforts.

    Now, it's up to us to use our grassroots power to get at least 70 representatives to back up the initiators of this letter—Representatives Jim McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, Donald Payne, and Mike Honda—by adding their signatures before it is sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The best way to persuade your member of congress to sign on is by calling his/her office and speaking directly with foreign policy staff, so please do it today!

    Below we've given you simple instructions for making that call. Although it isn't quite as effective as a phone call, if you would prefer to send an email to your representative, click here.

    How to Make an Effective Call

    1. Check to make sure your Representative has not signed on yet. Click here to check our updated list of co-signers. Then, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be put through to your member of Congress. If you don't know who your representative is, click here. Ask the receptionist if you can speak with the Foreign Policy aide. If he/she is not available, ask to leave a message. Below, we've provided a script that you can use in your phone call, but feel free to add any personal stories or thoughts that you'd like to share.

    Call script:

    "I am a constituent calling to encourage Representative ____________ to sign on to the Dear Colleague letter written by Representatives McGovern, Schakowsky, Payne, and Honda, which calls for change in U.S. policy towards Colombia. This letter to Secretary of State Clinton asks that our government be honest about the human rights conditions in Colombia and make changes in the aid package. The U.S. should stop spending taxpayer dollars on the military, which has been found to be killing innocent civilians and illegally wiretapping human rights defenders, journalists, and Supreme Court judges. Instead, we should be supporting refugees and displaced people, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and small farmers who are trying to turn away from coca. And we also need to invest in drug treatment centers here at home. I strongly urge Representative ______ to take a stand for human rights and sign on to this letter today. To get a copy of the letter and to sign on, please contact Cindy Buhl in Rep. McGovern's office. Thank you."

    2. After you've made your call, if you have time, send a quick email to Vanessa, at vkritzer@lawg.org, so we can track how many phones we're ringing.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    The Obama Administration's Ambassador to the OAS

    In April of this year, at the Summit of the Americas, President Obama proclaimed his commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean, based on common interests and shared values.

    I pledge to you that the United States will be there as a friend and a partner, because our futures are inextricably bound to the future of the people of the entire hemisphere. And we are committed to shaping that future through engagement that is strong and sustained, that is meaningful, that is successful, and that is based on mutual respect and equality.

    Seven months later, though, the United States' image throughout Latin America and President Obama's commitment to a new relationship with the region both appear shaky. This owes to the apparent failure of the U.S. backed Tegucigalpa-San José Accord in Honduras and the increasing tensions between Colombia and Venezuela as a result of the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.

    Restoring confidence in a renewed U.S. approach will be a long process, but one step that could be taken quickly is the confirmation of President Obama's nominee for the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the Organization of American States (otherwise known as the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS), Carmen Lomellin.

    On September 14th, President Obama announced Lomellin's nomination, which was sent to the Senate the following day. Almost two months have passed and Lomellin's nomination still has not been confirmed by the Senate. While the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally held Lomellin's confirmation hearing last Wednesday, the Committee must still vote on her confirmation before she can assume her post at the OAS.

    Here is her biography released by the White House:

    Ms. Lomellin is currently the Director of Outreach for the Organization of America States (OAS). She previously served as the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women within the OAS, where she focused on hemispheric policies and issues affecting women, particularly in the areas of gender equality, economic empowerment and human rights. Prior to her time at the OAS, she served as White House Liaison and Senior Policy Advisor to the Director at the Office of Personnel Management in the Clinton Administration. Ms. Lomellin also worked in Presidential Personnel at the White House and as Adviser on Hispanic Affairs for the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach. Prior to her time in Washington, Ms. Lomellin held various positions in Chicago, including serving as Director of the Private Industry Council of Chicago for Mayor Richard M. Daley. She has worked for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund as Director of Leadership Development, and for Chicago United, a civic think tank, as Director of Economic Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from St. Joseph's Calumet College and a Masters in Business Administration in International Business from De Paul University.

    Presently holding the position of acting U.S. Ambassador to the OAS is the Bush administration's appointee, Lewis Amselem. In July 2008, Amselem was appointed to be the Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS. Prior to this position, he was the Foreign Policy Advisor at the United States Southern Command, where he "provided assistance and expert advice to the Commander on issues involving SOUTHCOM's mission as it relates to the formulation and execution of foreign policy." More on his career can be found here.

    Amselem has been described as an ultra-conservative Bush administration holdover, and the statements he has made on the United States' behalf regarding Honduras have often sounded out of sync with the Obama administration's line. Two examples:

    • November: "I've heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras. I'm not trying to be a wiseguy, but what does that mean? What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?"
    • September: "The return of Zelaya [without] an agreement is irresponsible and foolish. He should cease and desist from making wild allegations and from acting as though he were starring in an old movie."

    Yesterday, State Department Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley reiterated the United States' commitment "to continue to support the OAS process" in Honduras. The Obama administration nominee for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, finally assumed the post yesterday, after his nomination was held for months by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC).

    As the political crisis in Honduras and the tensions from the United States' increased military presence in Colombia continue, the Obama administration ever more urgently needs its own OAS ambassador.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Update on Honduras: 13

    One and a half weeks ago, on October 30th, it appeared that the political crisis in Honduras, instigated on June 28th after then-President Manuel Zelaya was removed from the country in his pajamas, was nearing an end. A high-level delegation of United States officials had left Honduras with an agreement signed between ousted President Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that an historic breakthrough had occurred in Honduras.

    As last week progressed, however, the "historic" deal appeared to be crumbling. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said the United States will recognize the November 29th elections in Honduras whether or not Zelaya is reinstated, the Honduran Congress delayed a vote on the reinstatement of Zelaya, one of the steps required by the signed agreement. Zelaya sent Secretary Clinton a letter asking her to restate the United States' opinion on his reinstatement to the presidency, and finally, Micheletti created a unity government without Zelaya's participation, prompting Zelaya to denounce the deal as "dead."

    Over the weekend, the Verification Commission appointed to oversee the implementation of the steps required in the signed Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, and an OAS delegation attempted to restart talks and move the deal forward. Yet this morning, it still appears to be where it was on Friday - stuck. And the elections are 19 days away.

    The United States released a statement expressing disappointment at both sides' failure to implement the agreement, though it has left behind its calls for Zelaya's reinstatement and now rests its recognition of the November 29th elections on the new agreement, which does not guarantee Zelaya's return.

    Here is a summary of events in Honduras since the Tegucigalpa-San José agreement was signed last Thursday.

  • On Friday, October 30th, it was announced that a deal had been signed late Thursday between ousted President Zelaya and de facto President Micheletti. Article 5 of this accord deferred the decision on Zelaya's restitution to the Honduran Congress:

    The National Congress, as an institutional expression of popular sovereignty, in the use of its powers, in consultation with the points that the Supreme Court of Justice should consider pertinent and in conformity with the law, should resolve in that proceeding in respect to "return the incumbency of Executive Power to its state previous to the 28 of June until the conclusion of the present governmental period, the 27 of January of 2010

    .
    The accord also:

    • Called for the formation of a Government of Unity and National Reconciliation;
    • Called for the creation of a Verification Commission to give "witness of the strict completion of all the points of this Accord;"
    • Denounced the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly or reform of the "unreformable" articles of the constitution;
    • Transferred oversight of the upcoming elections to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal;
    • Called for the normalization of the international community's relations with Honduras;
    • And set up a timeline for implementing the steps outlined in the agreement, with the appointment of the Verification Commission by November 2nd and the appointment and installation of the Government of Unity and National Reconciliation by November 5th.
  • From Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced "we've had a breakthrough in negotiations in Honduras." She continued to express the historic nature of the event, saying "I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue."
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, in a teleconference on October 30th, announced that the agreement "effectively opens a pathway to resolve Honduras' current political crisis and that will allow the international community to support Honduras' elections on November 29th."

    Shannon also noted, in response to a question on why there was any thought that the Honduran Congress would return Zelaya to the presidency, that it was "because of the political dynamic inside the country."

  • By Monday, there was speculation that Assistant Secretary Shannon had made a deal with the presidential candidates and the Micheletti negotiators to guarantee Congress' vote to restore Zelaya to the presidency. Leading presidential candidate Porfirio Lobo announced that "I have not reached an agreement with the United States nor in any moment did I make a secret pact in a private meeting with Thomas Shannon." The negotiators for Micheletti also announced that "there is not an agreement under the table."
  • U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos were named as the international representatives for the four-member Verification Commission. The other two members represent Honduras' two major political parties.
  • On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress was set to meet to discuss plans to vote on the issues outlined in the agreement. However, congressional leaders decided not to call Congress out of recess, and to instead delay the vote on whether or not Zelaya should return to the presidency. The Congress also requested opinions on the legality of Zelaya's return from the Supreme Court and the attorney general.
  • On Wednesday, ousted President Zelaya sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to "clarify to the Honduran people if the position condemning the coup d'etat has been changed or modified." In response to the letter, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly noted that "Our position has been very clear from the very beginning that we did consider what happened in June in Honduras to be a coup. We've made our position on President Zelaya and his restitution clear. This is a - we believe he should be restored to power. This is now a Honduran process that was started by the agreement over the weekend."
  • Thursday evening, the deadline for the creation of the National Unity Government, ended with Zelaya's refusal to submit his list of members for the new Unity Government and Micheletti's decision to create the Unity Government anyway, with himself at the head.

    Earlier in the day, Zelaya warned that he would withdraw from the deal unless Congress held a vote on restoring him to the presidency, though the Micheletti government felt that Congress' vote was not as essential to the agreement as the creation of the unity government. As a result, Zelaya did not submit his recommendations for members of the new government and Micheletti announced he had "finalized the process of confirming a unity government," prompting Zelaya to pronounce the accord "dead," as reported by the BBC.

  • The United States promptly released a statement on Friday describing the State Department's discontent in relation to the way both parties had behaved, though the statement continued to express the Administration's confidence in the Accord:

    We were particularly disappointed by the unilateral statements made by both sides last night, which do not serve the spirit of the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord.... Complete and timely implementation of the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord is the path to that future, and the formation of a Government of Unity and National Reconciliation is the next vital step forward.

  • The Organization of American States also issued a statement on the failure to implement the Agreement.

    The Secretary General declared that the OAS will continue in all of its efforts to move forward the process of dialogue and urged President José Manuel Zelaya and Mr. Roberto Micheletti to reach an agreement in the formation of a Government of Unity and National Reconciliation that should, naturally, be presided by he who legitimately holds the office of President of the Honduran nation.

    To that end, "it is also essential that the Honduran National Congress issue its sovereign declaration on the pending point of the San José Agreement regarding the restoration of the Executive Power to its state prior to June 28 and until the end of the current term of government, January 27, 2010," Insulza said.

  • On Thursday, Senator Jim DeMint lifted the hold on the confirmations of Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and Thomas Shannon as the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, after accepting the United States' role in allowing the Hondurans decide the fate of their political system through a vote in Congress and recognition of the upcoming November 29th elections. According to a press release on the Senator's website, the announcement came after he "secured a commitment from the Obama administration to recognize the Honduran elections on November 29th, regardless of whether former President Manuel Zelaya is returned to office and regardless of whether the vote on reinstatement takes place before or after November 29th." The release continues, quoting Senator DeMint: "I trust Secretary Clinton and Mr. Shannon to keep their word, but this is the beginning of the process, not the end."

    This announcement led to concern that the United States is determined to recognize the November 29th elections regardless of whether the Tegucigalpa-San José Accords are fully implemented, and therefore has given the Honduran Congress and the Micheletti government an excuse to hold on to power. During the daily press briefing last Friday, Department spokesman Ian Kelly was repeatedly asked if Senator DeMint's statement was correct. Spokesman Kelly did not have an answer, however an official response to those questions was released on the State Department website later in the day, which ended with this statement: "Our commitment is to the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord and its implementation. Our commitment to support the Honduran elections is the product of that agreement. Failure to implement the accord could jeopardize recognition of the election by the international community."

  • Latin American countries, including Brazil, are "loudly demanding Mr. Zelaya's return," according to the Wall Street Journal. This had created speculation that the United States' role and image in Latin America could be jeopordized if the U.S. does not hold to their initial call for Zelaya's reinstatement.

    Over the weekend, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who played an important role in the initial drafting of the San José Accord, also made a statement on the breakdown of the new Accord. According to the Spanish newspaper El Dia, Arias affirmed that "the de facto Honduran Government never had the will to solve the political crisis resulting from the coup d'etat, and specified that 'they are only looking for, through delaying tactics, time to pass and for the elections to come (on November 29th), risking that the future Government will not be recognized by some countries.'"

  • According to RAJ at the "Honduras Coup 2009" blog, there is confusion on whether or not the Supreme Court will meet this week to discuss the legality of Zelaya's restitution. Reports early in the day yesterday suggested that the Honduran National Congress announced it will wait until November 17th for the reports it has requested from the Supreme Court and the attorney general. A later report suggested that the Supreme Court had determined it would not give the report to Congress because "it has an appeal of the decree that removed him from power before it." Yet a report issued around 8:00 pm Monday night suggested that the Supreme Court will convene on Wednesday to "analyze if the restitution of Manuel Zelaya Rosales should proceed, as the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord indicated."
  • Thursday, November 5, 2009

    A step forward in Colombia-Ecuador Talks

    This post was written by CIP Intern Hannah Brodlie

    In September, Ecuador and Colombia began the process toward reestablishing diplomatic ties. This week, the two countries took another important step toward that goal, despite fears that the process would be jeopardized by both the new U.S.-Colombia military base agreement and an arrest warrant issued by an Ecuadorian judge for Colombian General Freddy Padilla.

    Diplomats from both countries met on Tuesday in Cotacachi, a town in northern Ecuador, and announced that they have agreed to name embassy charges d’affaires by November 15. The charge d’affaires will head each embassy’s mission in the absence of an ambassador. In addition, the two countries agreed to further strengthen the Bi-National Border Commission (COMBIFRON), and to continue working towards friendly relations.

    In 2008, Ecuador withdrew its ambassador from Colombia after the Colombian army crossed the Ecuadorian border to launch an ultimately successful attack on a FARC camp, killing FARC leader Raúl Reyes. After many months of tension, Colombia and Ecuador have recently begun to try to mend the diplomatic rift. The process suffered a setback when an Ecuadorian judge issued a warrant for the arrest of former Colombian defense minister Juan Manuel Santos and General Freddy Padilla, the head of the Colombian armed forces, for their role in the 2008 invasion of Ecuador. However, yesterday afternoon the charges against Santos and General Padilla were dropped.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Social Agenda for Democracy in Latin America: Leadership beyond Politics?

    This post was written by WOLA Intern Ursela Groat

    On Tuesday, six former Latin American presidents, including Alejandro Toledo of Peru and Vicente Fox of Mexico, met in Washington D.C. to present their initial report entitled “The Social Agenda for Democracy in Latin America for the Next Twenty Years.” The report, which is endorsed by twenty former presidents from the region, is part of an initiative by the Global Center for Development and Democracy that will be presented to sitting Latin American presidents at the Ibero-American Summit later this month. Download the executive summary of the report here.

    The “Social Agenda”, as Mr. Toledo put it, is an initiative “by Latin America and for Latin America” to replace the so-called Washington Consensus of the ‘90s by providing policy guidance and recommendations on social reform and economic policy to current Latin American heads of state. The report presents 16 policy recommendations that are aimed at decreasing poverty, strengthening democratic institutions, and creating sustainable and fair economic growth. Some of the specific initiatives include reforming the educational system, expanding conditional cash transfers to the poor and increasing microfinance credit availability. The policy recommendations, which were fairly uncontroversial, were presented alongside a proposal for monitoring their progress in terms of economic growth and institutional strengthening.

    On one hand, the report is a recognition of the failure of the Washington Consensus to promote sustainable development and decrease poverty in Latin America and on the other, an attempt to provide a counterbalance to trends of, as Mr. Fox referred to them, “authoritarian radicalism” and “demagoguery” that have emerged in the region. The leaders argued that the poverty and social exclusion that have resulted from these failures have led to a loss of faith in democracy, and consequently, an erosion of democratic institutions in the region.

    The tagline for the summit in D.C. was “Liderazgo más allá de la política,” or “Leadership beyond politics,” but while it was refreshing to hear all the ex-presidents speak about social inclusion, solidarity, and sustainable growth, it was obvious that this report is not free from the politics of the region. The leaders themselves implicitly recognized this fact as they joked about how their signatures would make the current presidents less likely to accept the report because they criticized the policies of the current leaders of their countries. Also problematic is the fact that the report has no teeth to guarantee implementation in any way, and that it does not deal with several controversial issues in the region such as drug-trafficking, migration, or how to address the rising tide of “demagoguery” it criticizes.

    How this report is received by the current presidents of Latin America at the Ibero-American summit this month will indicate whether or not they are willing to move beyond politics to tackle the endemic issues that prevent Latin America from social and economic progress.