Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

jueves, julio 30, 2009

Rant: No, A Beer Won't Fix Anything

In advance, I ask your pardon for a rant I am unable or unwilling to suppress. Today's White House Beer Summit On Race Relations And Police Practices has enraged me. Police Sergeant Crowley of the Cambridge PD didn't deserve an invitation for beer at the White House, he needed an appointment for a deposition in a federal civil rights case in which he and his superiors were the named defendants. But according to the Trad MediaTM, all of Crowly's vengefulness, his making an illegal arrest, his making a stupid, unjustifiable illegal arrest, his serving up a racist/classist illegal arrest of a person in his own home is now behind us. We're past all of the ugliness of his conduct. It has now been chilled (unless you have to live with brutality and oppression on a daily basis) with some beer. And pretzels. This I hasten to point out might solve Police Sgt. Crowley's immediate problem, including departmental discipline and federal civil rights action for damages, but it doesn't solve my problem. Or the country's. And I don't think it solves Prof. Gates's problem. It certainly doesn't solve the US's police problem. Not one bit.

So instead of an extremely heated, long overdue, loud and tenacious national argument about police exceptionalism, an argument that's been overdue in this country for decades, we have a tepid discussion of the symbolism of the kinds of beer consumed at the White House. Personally, I think we'd be a lot better off with the actual argument. An actual confrontation with the pervasive evil evidenced Professor Gates's arrest.

A brief bit of context, if you will. The reason why evidence seized by cops in illegal searches is suppressed in this country, is that numerous judicial slaps on the wrist over decades didn't make policeman follow the Constitutional Fourth Amendment law of search and seizure. So the Supreme Court had to introduce the suppression rule. Basically, if the constable blunders (or intentionally ignores the constitution and laws of the US) the illegally seized evidence is suppressed and the accused goes free. Has this rule, now in effect of almost 50 years, deterred the police from making illegal searches and seizures? No it has not. They do so with amazing frequency. This law has resulted only in numerous court decisions watering down the rule, handwringing that the accused should hnot be freed. It has not made police toe the line. It has made them surly. It has made the rogue cops. And the police clamor to be able to break the law with impunity has, to no one's surprise, cowered the courts. The courts would rather expand the cops' rights to break the law than require them to follow it. It's a legitimate question whether anything can make the police toe the line.

And what about Miranda warnings? The reason why Miranda warnings were required was that cops were extorting confessions from people they had taken into custody and their tactical manuals, explaining how this should be done, appalled even the US Supreme Court. Again, numerous judicial slaps on the wrist over decades didn't stop police from using coercive interrogation methods to extract involuntary confessions, so the Court required Miranda warnings to be given before there could be a custodial interrogation. Has this stopped police from coercing confessions? No it has not. This rule too has spawned numerous court decisions watering down the rule and judicial handwringing. It has not stopped police from coercing involuntary confessions. Now some states require that all interrogations be videotaped so that police might stop producing unreliable and false confessions of crimes. Will that work? Or will police find a way to subvert that rule also? I'm skeptical. What are police thinking when they coerce false confessions. What they are thinking is that they are doing God's work and that those of us who are not "on the job" don't know about the battle that goes on on the streets between good (the cops) and evil (those they arrest and interrogate).

Are these circumstances that prompt us to have a beer? I think not.

You can read in today's press that a lawyer in DC was arrested last night for shouting that he hated the police. Police evidently heard him express his opinion. This lack of "respect," the word used in the article, which as far as I can tell was a Constitutional exercise of free speech, was a reason for calling him a homophobic slur and arresting him for the bogus charge of disorderly conduct. Has the affaire de Gates made any difference to the DC cops who arrested him for lack of respect? Evidently not. Has it made any difference to any cops? Doubtful.

Can we fix this by having a beer? I doubt it.

There have been more than 135 exonerations of people who were on death row since the resumption of the death penalty in the US. The next exoneration, the next one that will be announced, is on its way, so there is right now somebody sitting on death row in a prison who doesn't belong there because s/he is innocent, completely and utterly innocent of the crime for which s/he was convicted and sentenced to death. And how did this innocent person in all probability get convicted and sent to death row? Chances are good it involves shoddy or intentionally improper police work. Can we estimate how many innocent people of the more than 2 million presently incarcerated in the US are actually innocent? No, we cannot. But we do know that when exonerations occur they come from involuntary, false confessions, jail house snitch testimony, and faulty or suggestive identification procedures. In two words, they come from police practices. The police are using the system to put innocent people in prison and perhaps to death. And this happens with regularity. It's far too common.

Can we eliminate the long term incarceration and potential execution of innocent people by having a beer? Not a chance. Can we address this issue? No.

Some may want to talk about how Obama's drinking a Bud Light means something, and how drinking Red Stripe means something, and how drinking a bland Coors product means something. That shows wonderful gifts in discerning the claimed political symbolism of today's tete a tete. That enrages me. Why? Because I'd like the see 1/100th of the same attention and analytical skills applied to correcting the obvious and pervasive police abuse in this country. I'd like to see it applied to correcting the racial disparities and wealth disparities among prisoners. I'd like to see it applied to making the criminal justice system fair.

Obama was right. The Gates affair provided a teachable moment. Too bad that the Trad MediaTM couldn't figure out what needed to be taught. Too bad that the President cowered before the long, blue line, when he should have confronted the real issues. Too bad that I'm writing this rant and that the moment for beginning to deal honestly with the police is now again relegated to the background. It's a topic for discussion in jails and prisons. Some beer hasn't solved the problem, but it's relegated it to obscurity. Until the next illegal, unconstitutional arrest of a celebrity.

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lunes, julio 27, 2009

My Impending Fifth Blogiversary

In August I will have been posting on this, my personal blog, The Dream Antilles, for five years. That's about 640 posts. Because of a host of unreliable hit counters, I don't have an exact number of how many people have visited this blog. I estimate that the number of hits is something between 50,000 and 100,000, but I can't really prove it. Maybe I'm exaggerating. Maybe not. Who knows?

This Blogiversary has to be some kind of an achievement:

"Douglas Quenqua reports in the NY Times that according to a 2008 survey only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days meaning that "95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled." Richard Jalichandra, chief executive of Technorati, said that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but it's probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views. "There's a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one."

So we live in a world in which most individual blogs are quickly dropped. I can easily understand why. The reason has to do with the need repeatedly to create content. It's easy to post once. But after that, the road is strewn with casualties and unposted rough drafts. In fact, it requires writing regularly, which anyone will tell you, isn't all that easy. Writing regularly is far easier in theory than in practice. In practice it requires something that looks and feels a lot like work, only you don't get paid for it.

Keeping an old style, individual blog afloat with original content has to be a labor of love. Or of obsession. In a way an old (more than 3 years is old) personal blog resembles a treasured fountain pen or beloved portable typewriter or even a well worn pencil. Using it becomes second nature. For me it has become something I do, whether or not anyone is looking. Why I would do this is a harder question by far. It has something to do with writing and having things I want to say about topics that interest me. In some ways it's like those other pursuits one embarks on just because they're there.

And most times, nobody's looking. Group blogs get far more hits in a day than I get in a month. Some blogs get as many hits in an hour as I've had in 5 years. None of that really seems to matter. I go on and on and on. I continue to have things I want to say, so I say them. If people read it, that's great. If they don't, I'll just continue to write and to hope that some fine day readers will discover my blog and get lost in it for an hour or two and that they'll enjoy the way it makes time disappear. After all, that's what it's here for.

Which brings me back to this Fifth Blogiversary. I have no idea how to celebrate this milestone. But I suspect that you, dear readers, might have ideas. Any suggestions you have are appreciated. That's why you can post comments.

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viernes, julio 24, 2009

Impossible Things, Things Like Health Care

Jorge Luis Borges (photo by Diane Arbus)

Some of Jorge Luis Borges's stories seem to be mined from that deep dream filled gap between being awake and being asleep. It's a magical space: vivid events occur that are at once as real as they are impossible. If the sleeper wakes, sometimes the impossibilities are revealed. And then there's wondering: how could anything that defies physical reality appear to be so real.

In "The Disk," a story from The Book of Sand (El Libro de Arena)(1975), the impossible object is the "disk of Odin":

"It is the disk of Odin," the old man said in a patient voice, as though he were speaking to a child. "It has but one side. There is not another thing on earh that has but one side. So long as I hold it in my hand I shall be king."

Ordinarily, objects are in three dimensions. Here one appears that has only a single side. Of course, it would be more or less invisible. And physically impossible on earth.

This, of course, is not entirely correct. The Moebius strip, discovered in 1858, has only one side and one boundary component. But that's not important to the story.

The person with the disk eventually "opened his hand, and [the narrator] saw the gleam of the disk in the air." But when he returned to where the disk was released, he couldn't find it. And he's been looking for it for years. In other words, the disk of Odin vanishes like a dream.

This kind of impossibility sometimes possesses far larger objects.

Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino tells us of this "Invisible City":

When you have forded the river, when you have crossed the mountain pass, you suddenly find before you the city of Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the Medusa-shaped chandeliers. If this is not your first journey, you already know that cities like this have an obverse: you have only to walk a semi-circle and you will come into view of Moriana's hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sack cloths, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tins, behind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam.

From one part to the other, the city seems to continue, in perspective, multiplying its repertory of images: but instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a face and an obverse, like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither be separated nor look at each other.

Alas, the city is a two dimensional solid, another escapee from the chasm between waking and dreaming.

In the moments between sleep and wakefulness these objects seem tangible to me. The city is flat, but it's a city. The disk glimmers. I know I'm dreaming, but I try to remember to hold onto the dream so that I will be able to examine it more fully when I am awake. But as I awake, as my sleep falls away, the fallacy arises, and the object I am clenching so tightly in my fist, disappears. What was it? I wonder, how could that be? What was that? But it's gone.

All of this is so reminiscent of the Lankavatara Sutra, "Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise."

Which brings me ever so reluctantly to the elusive dream of a national, single payer health care system. In the dream, I am drinking rum and playing dominoes and smoking a cigar. My friends and I are quite intoxicated and it's very warm out. Somehow, my empty glass falls off the table, lands on the cement walkway, and shatters. Somehow, probably because of the drinking and the joking, I cut my hand deeply on the glass when I try to pick up the shards. My hand hurts, and it is bleeding badly. My friends are surprised that there's so much blood, so they wrap my hand in a bandage, and we head on foot, weaving and staggering, for the emergency room which is luckily only two blocks away. When we enter, a man sitting at a desk says to me and my friends, "I see you've cut your hand. Please come with me so we can take care of it. You can wait here. He'll be right back." And then, mirabile dictu, he takes me in and takes care of my hand. Just like that. I'm out of the ER in 20 minutes with 3 stitches and a nice, heroic, white bandage. It seems strange to me. Nobody asks me questions about insurance or citizenship. Or intoxication. They don't ask me or my friends to pay for anything. When I wake up, I realize it was a dream. It's impossible. I must have been in Cuba.

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viernes, julio 17, 2009

The Happiest Man In The World

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

And now, for something completely different. Really. I could relentlessly, clenching my teeth, continue to pound the keyboard to rant and fulminate about the latest outrages. We all do that. Or right now I could do something else, something that might even make me smile. Which brings me directly to Daniel Goleman's lovely piece in today's New York Times, "Sitting Quietly, Doing Something," which is about "the happiest man in the world."

Some anecdotes, though the entire article is well worth your time:
I recently spent an evening with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the Tibetan lama who has been dubbed “the happiest man in the world.” True, that title has been bestowed upon at least a few extremely upbeat individuals in recent times. But it is no exaggeration to say that Rinpoche is a master of the art of well-being.

So how did he get that way? Apparently, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice.
When I called him at his Manhattan hotel... he told me he was in the middle of a shower – but not in the usual sense. The shower, he told me, had run out of hot water midway. When he called the front desk, he was told to wait several minutes and there would be more hot water. In this situation, I probably would have been peeved. But as Rinpoche told me this, he was laughing and laughing.

The only momentary glitch I’ve witnessed — a few years back — was slapstick: he sat down in an office chair with a faulty seat that suddenly plunged several inches with a thump. Once when this chair had done the same to me I cursed and groused about it for a while. But Rinpoche just frowned for a second — and the next moment he was his upbeat self again.

Another fruit of these spiritual practices seems to be a healthy dose of humility. When Rinpoche told my wife that he was being billed as “the happiest man in the world,” he laughed as though that were the funniest joke he’d ever heard.

So I'm wondering about this man. And his happiness. And my happiness. Wouldn't being this happy be incredible fun? And wouldn't I be so much more fun to be around if I were happier? And wouldn't the happiness feelings drive whatever worry and anxiety I might be feeling right out of my mind? Wouldn't everything in my life and surroundings look and feel and actually be different? And better?

I've been a long time meditator, but unlike the great meditators whose minds are measured in laboratories, I'm sure I have nowhere near 10,000 hours of meditation. And I'd be lying if I said I was happy all of the time, or even the majority of the time. Sometimes I'm happy. Those times, sometimes, seem rare. Mostly, I think I'm in neutral. I have some equanimity. Sometimes, and I hope this is not the majority of time, like everyone, else I'm upset, afraid, depressed, anxious. I have negative feelings and emotions. Sometimes these occupy me for what seems like a long time.

So I wonder. What can I do to be more like Rinpoche? I want to be like Mike Rinpoche. Wouldn't that make the world a better place?

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jueves, julio 09, 2009

Sea of Green: Let There Be Democracy In Iran

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Iran Protests Continue


The movement for democracy in Iran persists. The New York Times reports that demonstrations have again erupted in the streets of Tehran, and that to no one's surprise, the Government has repressed them:

Iranian security forces fired repeated rounds of tear gas, and militiamen wielding batons moved in quickly to try to disperse thousands of protesters who massed in the streets of central Tehran on Thursday evening, witnesses said, defying government warnings and resuming a strategy of direct confrontation with the police nearly a month after Iran’s disputed presidential election.

The protesters set trash alight and threw stones. Motorists honked horns in solidarity, as shopkeepers closed for business but opened their doors to offer refuge to demonstrators fleeing from the militia forces, witnesses said.

There was no immediate word on arrests or injuries.

Throwing aside admonishments of a “crushing response” by the state security forces, the demonstrators gathered on the 10th anniversary of violent confrontations at Tehran University, both to mark that event and to commemorate the demonstrators who were killed in the turmoil after the June 12 election, which the protesters say was corrupt and invalid.

The Times says that the protest was initially "festive," even though police in riot gear had shut down the streets. But then, as was threatened by the regime:

...the effort to halt the protest quickly turned violent, people at the scene said. A middle-aged woman ran through the crowd, her coat covered with blood stains. Trash fires burned, cloaking the streets in black smoke, as protesters lobbed rocks at security forces. Two men held a huge floral arrangement of yellow and purple flowers on green leaves in commemoration of those killed last month and in 1999, a witness said.

“Tell the world what is happening here,” one 26-year old engineering student demonstrator said. “This is our revolution. We will not give up.”

Asked what he wanted, he said, “We want democracy.”
And so, phoenix like, the demonstrations for democracy in Iran continue. The press embargo continues (the Times article was datelined from Cairo). The Government was not reported to fire bullets at demonstrators. However, reports of detention of large numbers of demonstrators and also their lawyers continue, as do reports of torture and disappearance. It was not reported what opposition leaders say about the current demonstrations, but their web sites continue to contest the election. And it appears that there may be a split in the clerical backbone of the Government.

The Twitter feed for #iranelection is still active, though the volume seems lower than last week. It continues to report the democracy movement.

I am delighted by the news. I was afraid that the democracy movement had been snuffed out. That it was over. But I see now that was not the case. The movement hasn't given up, and it is still asking us to stand in solidarity with it.

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martes, julio 07, 2009

Honduras: Talks Instead Of Further Confrontations

Mediation between the golpistas and Manual Zelaya will take place in Costa Rica. The mediator will be Oscar Arias. Zelaya will not attempt to return to Honduras and will participate in talks.

The political standoff in Honduras between deposed President Manuel Zelaya and the regime that ousted him will be mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in an arrangement the U.S. helped to broker.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the mediator’s role for Arias today after meeting with Zelaya in Washington, where the exiled leader came to rally support for his return to office. Zelaya agreed to join the talks, to be held in Costa Rica, rather than try to go back to Honduras. The de facto government also agreed, she said.

“It is a better route for him to follow at this time than to attempt to return in the face of the implacable opposition of the de facto regime,” Clinton said. “Instead of another confrontation that might result in loss of life, let’s try the dialogue process and see where that leads.”

The negotiations may provide an avenue for both sides to back away from a confrontation that has triggered fatal clashes between Zelaya’s supporters and the military. As tensions mounted following the military’s overthrow of Zelaya on June 28, de facto President Roberto Micheletti pledged to arrest him if he returns. Meanwhile, Zelaya has won backing from the U.S., Europe and every nation in Latin America.

Will this work to bring democracy to Honduras? Will this restore Zelaya to the presidency?

Many questions. Few answers.

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Honduras: How To Help Those Who Flee

Yesterday I asked for help. I was concerned because many poor people from Honduras have been fleeing the country, passing through Guatemala, and landing in shelters in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico. These shelters are ill equipped to deal with a large influx of refugees. I wanted to help those who will help the refugees. I have now found two reliable organizations in Mexico that do just that.

The military coup in Honduras is providing an unexpected test of Mexico's immigration and refugee policies. On Friday, July 3, dozens of Honduran nationals arrived at a church-run migrant shelter in the southern state of Oaxaca seeking refugee status because of the political situation in their country.

Alejandro Solaline Guerra, spokesman for the Mexican Episcopal Conference, said a group of Hondurans sought assistance at the House of Mercy in Ciudad Ixtepec on the Tehuantepec Peninsula. The migrant advocate said the bishops' organization will contact the National Migration Institute to request refugee status for the Hondurans under international law.

"Migrants from a country in a state of war should not be denied refugee status," Solaline declared.

The Honduran political crisis could aggravate an already conflictive situation in Mexico's southern border region. Despite the international economic crisis, thousands of Central Americans and other Latin migrants continue to cross the country's southern border en route to the United States. Along the way, migrants remain a favorite target of corrupt Mexican officials and bands of organized criminals.

I think that as the golpe de estado continues in Honduras and as the instability and repression grow, and the economy continues to be disrupted, more and more poor Hondurans will have to pick up and leave, fleeing across Guatemala and into Mexico. And I suspect that those who are running shelters all along the well traveled route from Honduras and across southern Mexico could help these refugees if they had money to do so.

The trip from Central America to the North has always been a difficult and dangerous one. The migrants often ride without shelter on the tops of trains.


(photos from

This is extremely dangerous. Many are killed or maimed by falling off the train because of lack of sleep or by trying to re-board the train if they have left it. And the migrants are routinely preyed on as they travel by gangs like Mara Salvatrucha and Mara's many rivals, corrupt police, coyotes, and others who routinely abuse, assault or rape them and steal their meagre possessions.

The trip is difficult even when it's planned in advance. It's more difficult when people are forced to drop everyting and leave because of political instability, Honduras's isolation from other nations, the end of aid, repression, and the withdrawal of civil rights.

I've found two organizations that run shelters for those fleeing Honduras in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico. I believe both are reliable. Both are run by the Catholic Church and have been providing sanctuary services for many years.

I think it would be wonderful if we could send small donations to these two organizations. Large donations aren't necessary. Remember that this is the internet and that many people sending small donations will be extremely helpful to those now struggling to provide assistance to people fleeing Honduras.

Hogar de la Misericordia, "Home of Mercy" is in Chiapas. They explain what they do:

"I was a stranger and you gave me shelter" (Mt 25, 35) The Church has always seen, in the migrant, the image of Christ.

Due to the great need to support our Central American brothers and sisters that pass through the parish of The Sacred Heart of Jesus in Arriaga, Chiapas, Mexico, the Casa del Migrante "Home of Mercy," opened its doors on October 7, 2004. Migrants are given shelter, food, clothing, medical attention, spiritual support and information regarding the dangers of their journey, thus reducing their vulnerability. The Home of Mercy is supported financially by the Social Pastoral of this parish.

We must remember that extreme poverty is the reason for migration. Every person has the right to live and today there is an imperative for those who live in extreme poverty: Migrate or die! These individuals have the right to migrate so that they and their families a dignified life

The migrants, like any person, regardless of their migratory situation must have their human dignity respected. The immigrant experience is one of fear and loneliness, as migrants leave behind their families and their homelands. Here we can show that the Church is in solidarity with, the suffering.

COMI, Centro de Orientación del Migrante de Oaxaca (Center for Orientation of Migrants of Oaxaca), is in Oaxaca. It, too, has a difficult mission:

Our objective is to support our migrant brothers and sisters from Oaxaca and Central America who feel compelled to leave their homes in search of a better future for their families.

Embracing Christian values, we welcome each migrant with compassion and respect, offering them an orientation about the risks, consequences, rights and obligations associated with emigration from Central America, Mexico and Oaxaca....

The COMI Office and the Good Samaritan House offer migrants:

* Housing and meals for three days and nights;
* An orientation about the risks, consequences, rights and responsibilities associated with international migration;
* Medical assistance through a collaboration with The Clinic of the People (La Clínica del Pueblo);
* Telephone calls;
* Assistance collecting a money order.

Other Activities:

* COMI operates as a communications center between the family and the migrant in times of crisis, offering a network of contacts with other institutions in the case of a family member´s death or in legal cases.
* COMI presents workshops about migration in regions of high levels of emigration throughout the Antequera-Oaxaca Archdiocese.
* COMI offers presentations to individual visitors and immersion groups about the economic, social and political causes of migration.
* COMI is a member of the migrant support network in Mexico and collaborates with the Mexican Episcopal Commission for Human Migration.
* COMI annually celebrates the Day of the Migrant in January.

Both deserve our support.

To contribute to COMI go here and scroll down to "To Make a Financial Donation".

To contribute to Casa de la Misericordia go here.

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lunes, julio 06, 2009

Honduras: And Now What?

President Zelaya is in El Salvador. The golpistas are talking to Washington and OAS. One person is confirmed dead after the airport confrontation. Today is a day for diplomacy.

If diplomacy fails to gain traction, we can expect a re-do of yesterday's confrontation, probably not at the same airport.

The best analysis of where we are today? Al Giordano.

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domingo, julio 05, 2009

Honduras: The Oligarchy Strikes Back

A major confrontation approaches. Or does it? The New York Times breathlessly reports the drama in the air:
Honduras' exiled president took off for home in a Venezuelan jet in a high-stakes attempt to return to power, even as the interim government told its military to turn away the plane.

Zelaya won wide international support after his ouster a week ago by the military, but the only prominent escort aboard his plane was the U.N. General Assembly president after Latin American leaders backed out, citing security concerns. Honduras' civil aviation director said Zelaya's plane was being redirected to El Salvador.

Several other planes carrying Latin American presidents, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States and journalists were leaving Washington separately, trailing Zelaya to see what happens in the skies over Honduras before deciding where to land.

Presumably, the Latin American presidents won't land in Honduras if Zelaya's plane is diverted to San Salvador.

And, of course, there's a corresponding drama on the ground:
Thousands of protesters descended on the airport in the Honduran capital in anticipation of the showdown. Police helicopters hovered overhead. Commercial flights were canceled, and outside the airport about 200 soldiers with riot shields formed a line in front of the protesters.

''The government of President (Roberto) Micheletti has ordered the armed forces and the police not to allow the entrance of any plane bringing the former leader,'' the foreign minister of the interim government, Enrique Ortez, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
So much for the golpista's threat that Manual Zelaya, the deposed president, would be arrested if he set foot on Hondruan soil. Evidently, the golpistas have decided that they have a tight hold on the country, and they fear the consequences of attempting to arrest Zelaya on Honduran soil. Their tactic is simple: the golpistas control the air force and the airport. They will keep Zelaya from returning, continue his forced exile. The demonstrators will see nothing.

Nonetheless, thousands of demonstrators are making their way to the airport:
Zelaya has urged loyalists to support his arrival in Honduras in a peaceful show of force.

''We are going to show up at the Honduras International Airport in Tegucigalpa ... and on Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa,'' Zelaya said Saturday in the taped statement carried on the Web sites of the Telesur and Cubadebate media outlets. ''Practice what I have always preached, which is nonviolence.''

Zelaya supporters said they got the message as they converged on the airport.

''We have no pistols or arms, just our principles,'' organizer Rafael Alegria said. ''We have the legitimate right to fight for the defense of democracy and to restore President Zelaya.''

And so, we wait. And we watch. The odds, I think, are that Manual Zelaya's plane will be turned away from Honduras, that the golpistas will continue to thumb their noses at the OAS and the rest of the world, and that the question of appropriate sanctions, including the removal of ambassadors and the permanent cutting off of aid, will be the next topic of discussion.

The coup has to go. Democracy has to be restored in Honduras. I'm waiting to see exactly how committed the US and Canada are to those propositions.

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sábado, julio 04, 2009

Honduras: Fuera golpistas!

An estimated 20,000 protest the coup

Well, well, well. The 3-day waiting period is over. And guess what? Nothing's changed, not really. The coup remains defiantly in power, the coup is withdrawing from OAS, Manual Zelaya is still in Costa Rica, his ministers are still in hiding in Honduras, the press is still embargoed. And demonstrations by both sides continue. For now, it's apparently a standoff. Diplomacy seems not to have made a change; next is economic sanctions.

The demonstrations in support of democracy have grown. El Tiempo reports:
El verdadero pueblo está en las calles apoyando al presidente en el exilio, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, aseguraron ayer más de 20.000 manifestantes que protestaron por la restitución del mandatario.

La marcha, una de las más numerosas que los simpatizantes de Zelaya Rosales han efectuado desde el domingo pasado, día en que se perpetró el golpe de Estado en su contra, paralizó en un principio el Bulevar Juan Pablo II desde horas de la mañana....

Seguidores de Zelaya Rosales aseguraron que ellos son la voz del pueblo.
a multitudinaria manifestación en apoyo a Manuel Zelaya compitió paralelamente con la concentración de quienes están del lado del actual gobierno, sin embargo, ambas estuvieron muy parejas en cuanto a la cantidad de participantes.

There were, of course, large pro-golpista demonstrations as well.

The New York Times is glum:
Honduras' refusal to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya despite an appeal by the top envoy for the Americas has put the impoverished nation on a collision course with the world community that could lead to its isolation.

Honduras said it would no longer recognize the Organization of American States charter, claiming the diplomatic body attempted to impose ''unilateral and indignant resolutions'' on the new government, which took power a week ago in a military-backed coup and forced Zelaya into exile.

OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza had demanded Zelaya be restored to office, and on Saturday the organization was to discuss suspending the Central American nation's membership. But Honduras' interim president, Roberto Micheletti, said ''the OAS is a political organization, not a court, and it can't judge us,'' according to a note to Insulza read on Honduras' television Friday night.

The move means Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, will leave the OAS and will not face sanctions by the organization, though it would not prevent other groups and countries from suspending aid and loans.

Nations around the world have promised to shun Micheletti. Neighboring countries have imposed trade blockades, the United States has halted joint military operations and European Union ambassadors have abandoned the Honduran capital. The World Bank already has suspended $200 million in financing, and the Inter-American Development Bank has put $450 million on hold.
Unfortunately, it's unclear whether the golpistas care about any of this. It depends on whom the burden from the loss will fall. If the burden falls primarily and disproportionately on Honduras's poor and not on the oligarchy, the sanctions will matter little to the coup. Only if the sanctions seriously impact the oligarchy, will they be an impetus to the restoration of democracy. It's unclear to me which of these is the case.

And the US? Will it withdraw its ambassador? Will it permanently cut off all non-humanitarian aid? Apparently this is in the works.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Friday expressing ''deep concern over restrictions imposed on certain fundamental rights'' by Micheletti's government, including a curfew and ''reports of intimidation and censorship against certain individuals and media outlets.''

Military cooperation has already been suspended. And so was US Aid last week. Here's the official description:

The State Department said Thursday it has put much of the U.S. aid program to Honduras on hold pending a legal determination as to whether the overthrow of elected President Manuel Zelaya last Sunday requires an aid cut-off. The United States meanwhile is cautioning Mr. Zelaya against an early attempt to return home.

The State Department's legal team will probably determine that the overthrow of President Zelaya does fit the definition of a military coup, thus mandating a U.S. aid cut-off.

In the meantime, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said Thursday the Obama administration has effectively frozen those parts of the U.S. aid program - mainly military and non-humanitarian assistance - that would be covered by an aid cut-off.
Put simply, the money is on hold until a determination is made.

And in the meanwhile, it's not at all clear what can be done to hasten the restoration of democracy in Honduras.

For my part, I support the restoration of democracy in Honduras, and I oppose the golpe de estado. I oppose the arguments made by coup apologists and from the oligarchy diaspora.

I say as loudly as I can, "Fuera golpistas!"

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viernes, julio 03, 2009

Honduras: One Day Left

With one day left before OAS imposes sanctions on the coup, José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, is in Honduras today delivering the OAS's message that Manual Zelaya must be reinstated as president. If he's not reinstated, presumably by tomorrow, Honduras will be expelled from the OAS and various other sanctions may be imposed. The US is studying whether what happened in Honduras fits the legal definition of a "coup." If it does, cutting off all aid to Honduras is statutorily required.

According to the New York Times, Insulza isn't in Honduras to negotiate. He's just there to deliver the ultimatum in person:

O.A.S. officials acknowledged that he would talk to members of Congress and the Supreme Court, both of which played a part in the president’s removal. But Mr. Insulza insisted that he “was not going to Honduras to negotiate.” Instead, he said, he was going to urge the new government to relent and reinstate the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, before the O.A.S. made good on its threat to suspend Honduras from its ranks.

Meanwhile, some diplomats say that Zelaya's role in his arrest and deportation to Costa Rica has to be acknowledged:

“The coup was certainly an affront to the region, but there is a context in which these events happened,” said Peter Kent, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, noting that Mr. Zelaya was a highly polarizing figure who clashed with the Supreme Court, Congress and army. “There has to be an appreciation of the events that led up to the coup."

It is unclear how this "appreciation" fits into a resolution of the problem. Perhaps it means that the golpistas should be given amnesty.

In response to the threat of sanctions and a unified OAS position on the coup, one which the US is supporting and following, Micheletti and the golpistas have mentioned moving the presidential election forward as a way to resolve the crisis. That idea appears to have gained little traction.

You'll also notice that if the coup and the nation's reaction to it was on the front page of the Trad MediaTM, it wasn't there for long. It's not there today. A reason, apart from US inattention to events in this hemisphere, might be the degree to which the coup has effectively suppressed information about diplomacy and demonstrations in Honduras:

Many Hondurans have a limited view of the crisis since the interim government has interrupted television transmissions and closed some stations loyal to Mr. Zelaya since his ouster.

Local journalists have claimed harassment, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing the army’s brief detention of seven international journalists on Monday, has asked the authorities to allow all media “to report freely and without fear of reprisal.”

Mr. Micheletti, in a news briefing on Wednesday, said media restrictions were put in place to control public order because some organizations were urging Mr. Zelaya’s backers “to go and do what they did, breaking windows, hitting people, assaulting.”

But Esdras Amado López, the owner of a television station, Channel 36, called the government hypocritical: “This is against the Constitution that the new government says it is protecting. I have a license. I have a right to inform the people. This is an unconstitutional order.”

WSJ reports that the coup government has actually taken control of some media in the country.

Meanwhile, the curfew and withdrawal of rights continues in Honduras, as does what appears to be a continuing press embargo. There is one day to the deadline.

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jueves, julio 02, 2009

Honduras: : Diplomacy And A Harsh Curfew

With the 3-day period imposed by OAS for the restoration of democracy and the Presidency of Manual Zelaya in Honduras slowly ticking down, diplomacy is proceeding between OAS and Roberto Micheletti's government. The military coup has imposed a harsh curfew, a feature of which is the withdrawal of various civil rights. Neither side has so far blinked. No progress in resolving the coup has been reported.

According to the New York Times OAS diplomacy to end the military coup in Honduras is proceeding. The United States role in this apparently is to give a cold shoulder to the coup, to cut off joint military operations, and to threaten a cessation of all aid if Zelaya is not restored to the presidency.

As the public standoff between Honduras and the rest of the world hardened, quiet negotiations got under way on Wednesday to lay the groundwork for a possible return of the nation’s ousted president, Manuel Zelaya.

After a marathon session that stretched close to dawn, the Organization of American States “vehemently” condemned the removal of Mr. Zelaya over the weekend and issued an ultimatum to Honduras’s new government: Unless Mr. Zelaya is returned to power within 72 hours, the nation will be suspended from the group.

Diplomats said they had rarely seen the hemisphere’s leaders unite so solidly behind a common cause.

The new Honduran government was equally resolute, warning that there was no chance Mr. Zelaya would be restored to office and that the nation would defend itself by force.

Both sides have stated their positions. Both appear inflexible. Has there been any movement? No. The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, went to Tegucigalpa today for further talks. Proposals being discussed involve an amnesty for the golpistas, Manual Zelaya saying he won't seek an additional term, and restoration of Zelaya as President. Also, members of the Congress in Honduras are reportedly looking for a compromise. Details of those proposals aren't available.

Meanwhile, according to the Times, the conflict in Honduras continues to be highly polarized:

Demonstrations for and against the new government continued in Tegucigalpa and other cities across the country [on Wednesday]. Then, in a move to crack down on the opposition, the nation’s Congress approved a decree on Wednesday that applies during the overnight curfew and allows security forces to arrest people at home and hold them for more than 24 hours.

“It’s for the tranquillity of the country,” said the new president, Roberto Micheletti.

The government has accused pro-Zelaya demonstrators of vandalism and violence, noting that a grenade, which did not explode, was hurled at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Those who oppose the government, meanwhile, accuse the security forces of stifling dissent through brutality.

The withdrawal of civil rights is serious. It includes curtailing the right to assemble and to seek redress from the Government as well as the right not to be held without charge for more than 24 hours. These measures apparently permit the Government to detain the opposition if the arrests are made during the curfew:

According to Honduras' El Tiempo, the following constitutional guarantees have been suspended:

* Article 69, which guarantees the personal freedom.
* Article 71, which states that no one can be detained or held incommunicado for more than 24 hours without an arrest warrant.
* Article 78, which guarantees freedom of association and freedom of assembly.
* Article 81, which states, "Everyone has the right to free movement, to leave, enter and remain in national territory."

El Tiempo reports that with the aforementioned guarantees suspended, "no one can hold meetings, neither public nor private, be it in the streets, in churches, in their own homes, or in union or guild halls."

Meanwhile, Kristin Bricker reports:

he anti-coup movement's momentum appears to be building across Honduras, with protests reported across the country. Meanwhile, international pressure builds against the coup government.

Over the past two days, anti-coup protests were reported in Tocoa, Colon; San Pedro Sula; La Ceiba; El Progreso, Yoro; Tegucigapla; Intibuca; El Paraiso; Olancho; Santa Barbara; and all over President Zelaya's native department of Olancho. Moreover, the BBC reports that citizens have blocked major highways in Copan and Tocoa. The BBC's sources on the ground in Honduras say anti-coup protests have occurred in the majority of Honduras' departments.
And so, we sit and wait. I hope there will be a diplomatic resolution of the problem and a restoration of democracy in Honduras. In the meanwhile, there is very little any of us can do except to watch and to spread the news.

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miércoles, julio 01, 2009

Honduras: Three Days To Glare At The Opposition

A Woman Injured Monday In An Anti-Coup Demonstration

The Thursday confrontation between deposed Honduran president Manual Zelaya and the Roberto Micheletti and his Honduran military coup has been delayed until Saturday.

CNN reports:
Ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya said Wednesday he will not return to his home country until at least Saturday, after a three-day international deadline to reinstate him.

Zelaya had said earlier he would return to Honduras on Thursday. Provisional Honduran President Roberto Micheletti said Tuesday that Zelaya would be arrested on multiple charges if he returns.

The Organization of American States passed a resolution early Wednesday saying that Zelaya should be returned to power within 72 hours. The United Nations unanimously passed a similar resolution Tuesday afternoon.

The refusal to reinstate Zelaya, according to the OAS, will cause it to suspend Honduras's OAS membership. Many OAS members have already withdrawn their ambassadors and cut off relations with the Micheletti coup government. The US has had nice words to support democracy, but has taken little if any action to restore Zelaya.

Unfortunately, and despite virtually universal condemnation, Micheletti continues to talk tough. In an interview with AP he continued his bravado and his defiance:

A defiant Roberto Micheletti said in an interview with The Associated Press late Tuesday that "no one can make me resign," defying the United Nations, the OAS, the Obama administration and other leaders that have condemned the military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya....snip

[The OAS's three day] period for negotiation prompted Zelaya to announce he was putting off his plans to return home on Thursday until the weekend.

Micheletti vowed Zelaya would be arrested if he returns, even though the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador have signed on to accompany him along with the heads of the Organization of American States and the U.N. General Assembly.

Zelaya "has already committed crimes against the constitution and the law," said Micheletti, a member of Zelaya's Liberal Party who was named interim leader by Congress following the coup. "He can no longer return to the presidency of the republic unless a president from another Latin American country comes and imposes him using guns."
Micheletti, according to AP,

said he would not resign no matter how intense the international pressure becomes. He insisted Honduras would be ready to defend itself against any invasion.

...snip "No one can make me resign if I do not violate the laws of the country," Micheletti said. "If there is any invasion against our country, 7.5 million Hondurans will be ready to defend our territory and our laws and our homeland and our government."
Put another way, the confrontation is delayed. It is not diffused.

And the US government? What about its role in restoring democracy to Honduras? According to the New York Times,

[T]here were calls by Venezuela and Nicaragua for the United States to impose tough economic sanctions.

The United States, which provides millions of dollars in aid to Honduras and maintains a military base there, is the only country in the region that has not withdrawn its ambassador from Honduras. France and Spain have also recalled their ambassadors.

“There is a lot of concern about hurting the people of Honduras any more than they have already been hurt,” said a senior administration official, referring to American reluctance impose sanctions. “There’s enough trouble and poverty in Honduras already.”
Does this mean that despite President Obama's words on Monday that, "We stand on the side of democracy, sovereignty and self-determination," the US will not take decisive action to restore democracy in Honduras? That it will stand by, that it will permit the coup to prevail?

This would be a good time to communicate with the White House to urge that it join the other nations in this hemisphere and back up its nice words with actions designed to restore democracy in Honduras. Any other course buttresses the coup and undermines US claims that it supports democracy throughout the hemisphere.

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