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Sat, 28 May 2011 12:44:15 -0400
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Zelaya's Return to Honduras: A Step Forward, But Will
Political Repression Continue?

By Mark Weisbrot
Guardian (UK)
May 28, 2011

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/28/honduras-usforeignpolicy

Former Honduran President Zelaya's return home today
has important implications for the Western Hemisphere
that, we can predict, will be widely overlooked.
Zelaya was ousted from the presidency when he was
kidnapped at gunpoint by the military on June 28, 2009.
Although no hard evidence has yet emerged that the U.S.
government was directly involved in his overthrow, the
Obama administration did everything it could do to help
the coup government survive and then to legitimate
itself through elections that most of -the rest of the
hemisphere, and the world, rejected as neither free nor
fair.

Zelaya's return represents a partial reversal of that
coup d'Etat and Washington's efforts to consolidate it,
just as President Aristide's return to Haiti after
seven years in exile, on March 18th -- despite furious
efforts by the Obama Administration, and even President
Obama himself, to prevent it - is a partial reversal of
the 2004 U.S.-organized coup that overthrew the
democratically elected government of Haiti. And it is
another demonstration of how the Western Hemisphere has
changed: the agreement for Zelaya's return was mediated
through the governments of Venezuela and Colombia, with
no U.S. involvement or even lip-service support until
it was over.  Instead, the mediation process had the
unanimous support of Latin America and the Caribbean,
who endorsed it through their new organization, CELAC
(the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).
CELAC contains all the countries of the Organization of
American States except the U.S. and Canada. It was
formed in February 2010, partly as a response to
Washington's manipulation of the OAS in the aftermath
of the Honduran coup.

The Obama administration lost a lot of trust throughout
the Hemisphere as a result of its support for the
Honduran coup government, and so it was not surprising
that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was smart
enough to endorse the Cartagena agreement (for Zelaya's
return) after it was signed. She had been lobbying,
without success for the past year and a half, to get
Honduras admitted back into the Organization of
American States, from which it was kicked out after the
coup. It is assumed that this accord will pave the way
for Honduras' re-admission, so she can spin it as a
victory for Washington.  But it clearly is not.

The accord met some of the demands of President Zelaya
and his allies, but not others.  It allows for the
participation of the National Front for Popular
Resistance, which struggled against the coup and
subsequent repression, as a legal political party.  It
also states that people can organize plebiscites of the
kind that Zelaya was overthrown for organizing.  And it
has guarantees for the safety and security of not only
Zelaya, but others who fled after the coup and remain
in exile;  as well as non-enforceable human rights
guarantees.

And that is the big problem: human rights. Less than a
year ago Human Rights Watch noted that "Honduras has
made little progress toward addressing the serious
human rights abuses since the 2009 coup." It cited the
cases of eight journalists and ten members of the
National Front for Popular Resistance who had been
murdered since President Porfirio Lobo took office, as
well as the impunity for the human rights abuses
committed by the coup government.  If anything, the
repression has gotten worse since then.

Three Honduran journalists have been shot since May 11;
two of them, TV station owner Luis Mendoza and
television reporter Francisco Medina, were killed.
Paramilitary groups have killed over 40 campesinos
since Lobo has been in office. Trade unionists have
also been killed, including Ilse Ivania Velásquez
Rodríguez, a striking teacher whom Honduran police shot
in the face, at close range, with a tear gas canister
in March.

The OAS will likely vote on Wednesday to re-admit
Honduras, but there will be some struggle inside the
organization to attach some conditions. It goes without
saying that Washington will push for unconditional re-
admission. President Correa of Ecuador, himself the
victim of a coup attempt in September, has publicly
stated his opposition to the re-admission of Honduras
altogether, partly on the grounds of the impunity for
the people who carried out the coup and post-coup
repression. Dozens of Honduras' human rights
organizations and social movements have similar views.

But it is better to have Zelaya back in the country
than outside of it.  He will have a voice that can
possibly break through the right-wing media monopoly,
and if he uses that to oppose the repression there, it
can have a positive impact. As elsewhere in the
hemisphere, the media - controlled largely by wealthy
elites -  is a major obstacle to progress.  In Honduras
it mostly supported the coup and promoted the falsehood
that Zelaya and his supporters were foreign agents,
much like the propaganda of the Arab dictators facing
demands for democracy in the Middle East. These themes
spilled over to the international media, where they
remain visible to this day.

On the positive side, it is good to see Latin American
countries taking control of the mediation, with
Washington relegated to the sidelines. The biggest
mistake they made after the coup was to allow Hillary
Clinton, along with Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, to
hijack the mediation process. Clinton's goal was the
exact opposite of restoring democracy in Honduras, and
she succeeded.  There will be many struggles ahead for
the Honduran pro-democracy movement, and they will need
a lot of solidarity and help from outside, especially
in opposing the repression.  But this accord is at
least a step in the right direction.

___________________________________________

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