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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

House Committee on Foreign Affairs Votes to Defund the Organization of American States

Today the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held the markup of the spending bill introduced by chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), "Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2012." The committee kicked off the markup by voting to completely defund the United States' contribution to the Organization of the American States (OAS). A full video of the markup is available here. You can also listen to the audio of the debate on the OAS here.

Although the bill will certainly die in the Democrat-controlled Senate, the hostile, highly partisan nature of the debate revealed exactly how divided Republicans and Democrats have become on Latin American issues. At one point there was a lengthy disagreement between representatives from the two parties over whether or not Cuba is a member of the OAS (it is not, although the organization lifted a 47-year-old suspension of the country's membership in 2009). The amendment passed 22-20 along party lines.

Below is a selection from the testimony of various representatives from the debate:

Republicans

  • David Rivera (R-FL)
    • “It kind of reminds me of that scene in Animal House where the college pledges, pledging the fraternity, as part of the ceremony to become a member of the fraternity you have to get paddled, and every time he gets paddled he says, ‘Please, sir, may I have another.’"
    • “How much longer are we going to say to the OAS, ‘Please, sir, may I have another?’ I understand a little bit about Stockholm Syndrome, where the hostage becomes enamored with their persecutor. And I don’t know if that’s going on with this administration or some who support involvement in the OAS, but maybe it is.”
    • "The OAS is an enemy of the U.S. and an enemy to the interests of freedom and security."
  • Connie Mack (R-FL and Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere)
    • "[The U.S. funding of the OAS] sends the message that if you want to belong to the ALBAS nations, the OAS is a good place to come move your agenda. To my side of the aisle, I say that there hasn't been an example of the OAS supporting freedom and democracy."
    • "In effect what you're doing is hurting the people of Latin America by continuing to support the OAS...There is a better way to support Latin America, and that is...to pass free trade agreements."
    • "I remind my friend that it was the OAS who was helping [ousted Honduran Presiden] Zelaya, who by the way was instigating the real coup in Honduras by trying to take over that country and trying to take away the right of its citizens to elect a president.
    • "Let's not continue to fund an organization that's bent on destroying democracy in Latin America."

Democrats

  • Howard Burman (D-CA)
    • "The notion that we are going to defund the OAS, undermine the organization's ability to maintain rank and file staff critical to advancing its important work, key areas such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, decrease our moral and political standing in the region...I can't think of anything Hugo Chavez would want more."
    • "I believe [a cap on OAS funding] will only strengthen the hand of Hugo Chavez."
  • Gary Ackerman (D-NY)
    • "I might offer an amendment to pull out of the world, to putting all this money into building a moat around the United States and put a dome over the thing. This is getting ridiculous."
    • "We are competing on this planet for the hearts and minds of people on behalf of the values you claim we represent... They look to us for leadership and inspiration, yet here we are, for a lousy 48 million dollars, willing to turn our back on our own hemisphere...This is more than folly. It's dangerous. We are on the precipice of leaving this planet."
  • Gerry Connolly (D-VA)
    • "The fact that any multilateral organization doesn't bend to our will is to be expected! That's why we roll up our sleeves and participate in the arena. This amendment is nothing but a retreat from our international responsibilities as a great power. And on false pretenses as well!"

This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey

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 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."
  • Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Zelaya in Washington this week

    Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is in Washington this week for a range of talks which include meetings with the Organization of American States (OAS) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    Despite the failure of the OAS mission to convince the interim government in Honduras to sign the San Jose Accord last week, both the OAS and the U.S. government still view the negotiated accord as the best, and only, solution to the current situation in Honduras.

    Last week, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza announced:

    We are going to continue the dialogue and the negotiations, and we will keep our lines of communication open. The message to the de facto government is still very clear: Why cause harm to the population when there is a very clear solution by way of the San José Accord? I hope that this is understood. If there is a good option that is reasonable and that takes into account the interests of all involved in the matter, one that offers all possible guarantees, I don’t see why we should choose a different path.

    I don’t consider the negotiation closed. President Zelaya is coming next week, the delegation designated by Mr. Micheletti to negotiate is also coming, there will probably be a new meeting of the Permanent Council on this issue, and I will speak to several presidents in the coming days. There is still room for agreement, albeit increasingly narrow.

    The OAS is also considering a proposal to not recognize the upcoming elections in Honduras, while the United States is debating formally cutting off aid to the Honduran government.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    OAS mission to Honduras fails to sway Micheletti

    The Organization of the American States mission concluded its two-day trip to Honduras yesterday unable to obtain backing of the San Jose Accord by the Micheletti regime and its supporters. Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has accepted the Accord in its entirety, but the de facto government remains opposed to two points in the Accord: one calling for the return of Manuel Zelaya to power and the other calling for a temporary political amnesty for both sides.

    Here is an excerpt from the statement of the OAS mission that visited Honduras:

    Most of the actors expressed their agreement with the Fundamentals of the San Jose Accord, even though many of them raised concerns around the same. The powers and organs of the State expressed reservations about two points: one relating to the amnesty established in Article 205 point 16 of the Constitution of Honduras; and one which refers to the return to the powers of the State before June 28, 2009, which implies the return of Jos?© Manuel Zelaya Rosales to the Presidency of the Republic until January 27, 2010. For their part, the representatives of civil society opposing the Government of President Zelaya expressed fear of the consequences that his return to power could have for the peace and social stability of the country.

    ..

    While the Mission considers that steps forward were made during its visit, it must also recognize that full acceptance of the San Jose Accord lacks the support of Mr. Micheletti and the sectors that are akin to him.

    Also yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly announced at a press conference in Washington the United States' decision to temporarily suspend non-immigrant visa services in Honduras. Last month the United States revoked the visas of top interim government officials from Honduras in an attempt to pressure the Micheletti government to agree to the San Jose Accord, and yesterday's decision is a new, more forceful, approach being taken by the U.S. government. One U.S. official told the New York Times that the visa decision was "a signal of how seriously we are watching the situation" and that "Washington was considering other steps though it was premature to disclose these."

    Here is the State Department's statement:

    The OAS Foreign Ministers mission is in Honduras seeking support for the San Jose Accord, which would restore the democratic and constitutional order and resolve the political crisis in Honduras. In support of this mission and as a consequence of the de facto regime’s reluctance to sign the San Jose Accord, the U.S. Department of State is conducting a full review of our visa policy in Honduras. As part of that review, we are suspending non-emergency, non-immigrant visa services in the consular section of our embassy in Honduras, effective August 26. We firmly believe a negotiated solution is the appropriate way forward and the San Jose Accord is the best solution.

    News outlets report that interim President Roberto Micheletti is still resisting pressure to reinstate Zelaya and vowed that "there will be elections [in November] whether they are recognized or not." He also said that any economic sanctions imposed on Honduras will not sway his government and that "nobody is coming here to impose anything on us, unless troops come from somewhere else and force us."

    While it appears that the de facto government is holding strong, suspended visa services and the threat of economic sanctions could have some effect on support for Micheletti and force him to agree to the San Jose Accord before the November elections, especially if the United States starts to act more aggressively on behalf of restoring democracy in Honduras.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Update on Honduras

    Almost two months ago, on Sunday, June 28th, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office by the Honduran military and put on a plane (in his pajamas) to Costa Rica. The world immediately condemned the coup, yet the de facto government led by interim president Roberto Micheletti still remains in power and President Zelaya remains outside of Honduras.

    Since the coup, the United States, the Organization of American States and several Latin American governments have been working together to bring about a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the crisis, which has centered on calls to reinstate Manuel Zelaya as president and allow him to remain in office until his term ends in January 2010. In addition to negotiations between the two parties led by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, many efforts have been made to pressure the interim government to step down, including suspending the government from the OAS, revoking U.S. visas of top interim government officials, and cutting off various sources of aid to the country.

    However, the situation in Honduras has not improved and over the past week, two reports have been released citing human rights abuses carried out by the de facto government. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the OAS, released a report citing "an alarming pattern of widespread abuses and restrictions of civil liberties ... since the June 28 coup," and Amnesty International published a report "documenting repression and physical beatings carried out by Honduran security forces on supporters of President Manuel Zelaya."

    Seven OAS-member foreign ministers and OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza are now making what appears to be a last ditch effort to resolve the political crisis with a two-day visit to Honduras. The delegation, which the United States "firmly supports," will meet with both Zelaya supporters and coup supporters (including business leaders, Supreme Court justices and members of the interim government), with the goal of restoring democracy with the return of President Zelaya and acceptance of President Arias' proposed framework solution, known as the San José Accords. However, both the interim government and the Supreme Court have called such a solution "non-negotiable."

    The elections in Honduras are now only two and a half months away, and it appears that the de facto government is trying to hold out until November, with the belief that "once the vote is deemed free and fair, all will be forgiven and Honduras can start the new year with a clean slate." However, the OAS mission believes a solution must be found prior to the elections or the results will be illegitimate.

    To catch up on all of the news coverage on the situation in Honduras since the coup, click here.

    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Responses to Sunday's coup in Honduras

    On Sunday, Honduran troops arrested President Manuel Zelaya, following orders from the country's Supreme Court, and placed him on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas. Zelaya was removed from office on the day Honduras prepared to vote in a non-binding referendum asking whether they support a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution in order to allow him to run for another term after his current term ends in January 2010.

    Both the Honduran National Congress and the Supreme Court supported the removal of Zelaya, as they called the referendum unconstitutional and had already ordered the military to not assist President Zelaya in the "illegal" referendum vote in its usual role of distributing ballots.

    Two senior administration officials from the United States held a teleconference in response to Sunday's events in Honduras. According to the two officials, the United States, in concert with the Organization of American States (OAS) and other Central American countries, had been working "in an effort to facilitate dialogue among the different and competing institutions, and especially to try to address the larger issue of political polarization inside of Honduras.... We were consistently and almost constantly engaged over the last several weeks with our partners working with Hondurans trying to ensure that the political conflict around this survey that President Zelaya had proposed was resolved in a peaceful way that respected the democratic institutions and the constitutional order of Honduras." These efforts, however, were not successful, and while the Obama administration had been in contact with the Honduran armed forces prior to Sunday, "they have ceased to take those calls."

    The administration officials characterized the event as an "unsuccessful" coup and still see Manuel Zelaya as the "constitutional president of Honduras," despite the swearing in of congressional leader Roberto Micheletti as the interim president by the Honduran Congress on Sunday afternoon.

    The tone of the teleconference with the senior administration officials centered around an effort to peacefully and democratically find a solution to conflict in Honduras through multilateral diplomatic efforts. In response to a question about whether the United States would consider a request for military assistance, one of the senior administration officials responded that "We very much believe that this is a situation that can be solved without recourse to the hypothetical that you laid out, and we are working very hard to ensure that that occurs."

    Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the international community and condemned the Honduran military's ousting of President Zelaya on Sunday. They called for all parties in Honduras to respect democratic norms and the rule of law and to resolve any political disputes peacefully through dialogue.

    Below are official statements made by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, the two senior administration officials, the OAS, and the United Nations in response to Sunday's coup in Honduras.

    President Obama:

    I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

    The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago.

    Two U.S. senior administration officials

    Senior Administration Official One: Obviously, this has been an event that has been a long time in brewing. We and other regional partners have worked very hard to try to address the underlying causes of it, to address the political polarization in Honduras, and especially to facilitate dialogue between competing institutions to ensure that there was a democratic resolution of the differences in Honduras and a resolution that respected constitutional order.

    It’s profoundly regrettable that that was not the case and that this morning the military moved against President Zelaya, detaining him, and then expelling him from the country to Costa Rica. As noted, we’ve condemned this action. We view President Zelaya as the constitutional president of Honduras, and we’ve called for a full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. And we will continue to work with our partners in the OAS and elsewhere to ensure that that happens, but then also to begin to address the underlying political polarization and problems that led to this.

    Senior Administration Official Two: It’s very important to recognize that there are multilateral efforts underway here, and ultimately the answer is going to rise in a resolution of the political tensions that led us to this moment among the Honduran institutions themselves that the outside international community, working through the Organization of American States, working collaboratively, can help that process along. But this is not a process that should be interfered with bilaterally by any country in the Americas. That has been very clear from our position and should be the position of all governments in the Western Hemisphere that this is a situation that needs to be resolved free from external influence and interference.

    OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza:

    The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, after finding out the details about the situation in Honduras, strongly condemned the coup been carried out by a group within the military against the Government of President José Manuel Zelaya.

    Mr. Insulza demanded that the rebels reveal the whereabouts of President Zelaya, and called on the Honduran people, the nations in the Americas and the international community to join forces against this grave disturbance of the democratic process currently being enjoyed throughout the Continent.

    Secretary General Insulza called an urgent meeting of the Permanent Council of the hemispheric institution today at 11.00 (EST) at the OAS Headquarters in Washington, DC.

    OAS Permanent Council Resolution:

    THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES,

    CONSIDERING the grave situation taking place in the Republic of Honduras as a result of the coup d’etat against the government of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order, which the Permanent Council rejects and repudiates;

    CONCERNED with the break-down of the constitutional order in the Republic of Honduras;

    REAFIRMING the importance of strict adherence and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States;

    REITERATING the principles established in the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on the strengthening and preservation of the democratic institutional system in member states, and

    RECALLING CP/RES. 952 (1699/09) of June 26, 2009, relative to the situation in Honduras,

    RESOLVES:

    1. To condemn vehemently the coup d’état staged this morning against the constitutionally-established Government of Honduras, and the arbitrary detention and expulsion from the country of the constitutional president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.

    2. To demand the immediate, safe and unconditional return of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to his constitutional functions.

    3. To declare that no government arising from this unconstitutional interruption will be recognized.

    4. To instruct the Secretary General of the OAS to urgently attend the meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), that will take place in Managua, Nicaragua, and in accordance with Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to carry out all necessary consultations with the member states of the Organization.

    5. To vehemently condemn all acts of violence and especially the reported arbitrary detention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Rodas, other Ministers of Government, as well as the Mayor of San Pedro Sula, and associated individuals, and to demand that their physical safety and security be respected and that they be released immediately.

    6. To immediately convene a special session of the OAS General Assembly to take place at the headquarters of the Organization, on Tuesday, June 30, 2009, to take whatever decisions it considers appropriate, in accordance with the Charter of the Organization of American States, international law, and the provisions of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

    7. To instruct the Secretary General to transmit the resolution to the Secretary General of the United Nations.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

    The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the latest developments in Honduras. He expresses his strong support for the country's democratic institutions and condemns the arrest today of the constitutional President of the Republic. He urges the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country and full respect for human rights, including safeguards for the security of President Zelaya, members of his family and his government. He calls on all Hondurans to engage peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation to resolve their differences.

    The Secretary-General welcomes the prompt diplomatic efforts of the Organization of American States, whose Permanent Council is holding a special meeting this morning. He trusts that international and domestic efforts will succeed in the promotion of a peaceful solution to the crisis through democratic means.

    The United Nations stands ready to provide assistance in overcoming this crisis.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    Latin American and Caribbean Public Security Ministers Convene in Mexico City

    Public Security Ministers representing 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries are meeting in Mexico City for the First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, a forum convened by the Organization of American States (OAS) to consider joint strategies to tackle "the scourge of crime and violence worldwide."

    Upon opening the two-day meeting, OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, said that insecurity in Latin America "is an epidemic or a plague that kills more people than AIDS."

    The goal of the meeting is to develop an international strategy against organized crime called, an "Agreement for Public Security in the Americas," that will focus on narcotrafficking and kidnapping in addition to common crimes and violence.

    Below you will find links to various articles about the meeting:

    In Mexico, OAS' Insulza calls for regular meeting of security ministers and joint action to tackle transnational crime, OAS Press Release (in English)

    OAS: Crime is an "epidemic" worse than AIDS, El Nuevo Diario (in Spanish).

    Calderón Convenes a Common Front Against Crime before the OAS, El Universal (in Spanish).

    The OAS believes insecurity in Latin America is worse than any economic crisis, Hoy (in Spanish)