Saturday, July 18, 2009

Honduras: The Article 239 Deception

Photos from the MiMundo blog.

With last ditch talks underway at this moment in Costa Rica, actions may soon outpace legal questions. But one of the most common and insidious claims being made the coup-plotters needs to be addressed head on.

Readers paying attention have likely heard the notion that President Zelaya brought his removal on himself. That he violated a sacred clause of the Constitution and therefore had to be removed. Sophisticated readers will know that this nonsense is usually based on a reading of Article 239.

Article 239 does indeed talk about the removal of any official that even proposes the removal or alteration of to Presidential (one) term limits. While quite draconian, the Article is said to be justified in response to the history of dictators in Central America.

The only problem is that Article 239 has not even been mentioned by the Honduran Courts ion this case, let alone officially invoked against Zelaya. There are 81 pages of Supreme Court mumbo-jumbo mentioning every other possible Article violation, but Article 239 is not one of them.

What the Court documents intended to do is justify the detention and trial of President Zelaya, under the provisions of a special tribunal (the only way a sitting President can be judged). To be clear, none of supposed violations cited in the documents include the automatic removal provision. A trial and sentence would have to be rendered in any case.

Instead, we know what happened. The military high command decided to kidnap the President and ferry him out of the country, rather than detain him. The military's own lawyers have admitted this was an illegal act. Therefore the Congress had to make up a way to pass the Presidency from Zelaya to Micheletti. Someone manufactured a fake resignation letter from Zelaya, which was voted on and that was that.

With universal international condemnation, the coup plotters knew they were in trouble. They had to convince the US to play along, so they hired American PR gurus with close ties to Sec of State Hillary Clinton (Larry Davis and Benncliff). And these folks get sympathetic (blatantly false) editorials like this and this printed in the US press. Article 239 forms the basis of their arguments. They condescendingly tell us to "google it" when it is clear they have not even read the Court documents they claim to be lecturing us about. Nice

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cuba-US Migration Talks Start Back Up

For the first time in 5 years, Cuban and US diplomats sat down to discuss the lapsed migration accords. Things seems to have gone pretty well. Both sides aired their grievances and released positive statements. The Cubans invited the Americans to come to Havana in December for another round - an interesting move. I wonder when the last time a high State Dept official landed in Havana?

I challenge anyone to disagree with the Cuban statement that the (supposed US goal of) "legal, safe and orderly migration from Cuba would not be achieved under the US 'wet foot/dry foot' policies." This is something that could and should be changed pronto by Obama. The Cuban Adjustment Act is the other half of the special Cuba migration policies that need to die - from Congress I think. All Cuba wants is to be treated like any other country. Luring people with automatic US residency (and "refugee" assistance) causes a lot of people to see 90 miles as an easy boat ride.

Cuba is also asking to resume cooperate on illegal human smuggling. This should be a no-brainer, as it has become an much larger issue since it was originally part of the 1995 Clinton migration accords. Mexican gangs like the Zetas appear to have taken over the enterprise.

The US' demands are not quite as straight forward, or on topic. We want our Diplomats and Embassy staff (often spies) to be able to have the free roam of the island again. Of course, the last time this was allowed US diplomats pushed the envelope of domestic interference with their close work with the dissidents. The US claims this is related to migration because Embassy staff needs to check on those returned to Cuba to make sure they are not harassed or discriminated against. Nevermind that the State Dept. admits this doesn't happen in Havana (where they do check up supposedly).

The US is also essentially asking for a new place to jeep Cuban returnees (with a deepwater port). They are asking for a Cuban refugee camp essentially - on Cuban soil, but administered by the US presumably. I don't understand how Gitmo Bay is too shallow for Coast Guard ships? What? Aren't these usually small vessels? And don't much larger US naval ships use the Bay at Gitmo without a problem? Someone will have to explain this one to me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

US Warns Latin Nations to Improve Treatment of US Corporations

Obama decision puts Ecuador on notice - US groups

President Obama has pleased the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups by using trade benefits as a political weapon against supposed bad treatment against US corporations. Nevermind that these benefits are supposed to be tied to drug cooperation, not economic policies. Nevermind also that no actual violations were mentioned - though the words against Ecuador are implied to be about the ongoing environmental trial against Chevron (a case where Chevron rejected utilizing US courts because they thought they'd get better treatment in Ecuador). Forget about facts and what the law is supposed to be about. Obama does not try to hide that the real purpose of these trade benefits is so Washington can use them as leverage to that our Southern neighbors continue to bend over backwards to please US corporations, or else...

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has put Ecuador on notice that it could lose valuable U.S. trade benefits unless the Andean country improves its treatment of foreign investors, U.S. business groups said on Wednesday.

Although Obama decided on Tuesday to extend Ecuador's trade benefits for six months, the concerns raised in a report he sent to Congress suggests the preferences may not be extended again, said Myron Brilliant, vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"We welcome the increased -scrutiny of Ecuador's eligibility going forward," Brilliant said in a statement.

The Emergency Committee for American Trade, which lobbies on behalf of U.S. multinational firms, said Obama's report reflected "the negative experiences of many U.S. companies that have operated in Ecuador over time."

Without mentioning any company by name, Obama noted concerns about two outstanding investment disputes involving U.S. companies in Ecuador. One appeared to refer to a case brought by 30,000 Ecuadorean plaintiffs against Chevron Corp (CVX.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which bought Texaco in 2001.

The plaintiffs say Texaco polluted the jungle and damaged their health by dumping billions of gallons of contaminated water over more than two decades before leaving in the early 1990s. "The company argues that the Ecuadorian government bears legal responsibility for any damage under the terms (of) a release agreement," Obama noted in his report.
Ecuador and other Andean nations have long had U.S. duty-free access for most of their goods under a drug fighting program that dates to 1991.

Last year, Congress extended the benefits for Colombia and Peru through Dec. 31, but set a mid-year review of Bolivia and Ecuador's eligibility due to mounting complaints about the deteriorating treatment of U.S. investors.

Not long after that renewal, former President George W. Bush suspended Bolivia from the program, citing its poor cooperation in the U.S. war on drugs.

Obama upheld Bush's decision on Bolivia in his report to Congress, but decided to renew Ecuador's benefits through the end of the year.

Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said on Wednesday he would closely watch Ecuador and Bolivia's behavior over the next six months in deciding whether to support renewed benefits in 2010. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Does Obama Really Want Democracy Restored in Honduras?

While the right-wing is busy denouncing President Obama for joining every nation of the world in condemning last week's military coup in Honduras, the reality is that the role being played by Washington is much more complex and contradictory. With each passing day, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Obama Administration is not committed to restoring democracy in Honduras.

The stakes are becoming much higher. Already we have at least 4 or 5 killed by security forces. We have thousands of injured. We have at least 651 arrested with no rights to habeus corpus. We have an indefinite suspension of citizen's constitutional human rights and free media. Soon we may have a lot more unless the US gets serious.

We should have known something was up when Obama's first reaction to the coup stressed the danger of "outside interference" when we knew the State Department had been intimately involved with events prior to the coup and that outside help would be the only thing to restore Zelaya to his rightful Presidency. We know the US holds all the possible diplomatic cards, given our tight economic and military relationships with the coup plotters, but we have refused to play them. Making the hesitation to support democracy clear the State Department pointedly refused to call a coup a coup, because it would have economic and diplomatic consequences. Comments coming out of Washington have been increasingly out of step with the world in categorically condemning the reasons for the coup.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported that US officials tried to persuade Zelaya from making the trip to his homeland yesterday. This could not have been just to "prevent bloodshed" (echoing the putschists), for the plane could have simply and easily been diverted to our Soto Cano military base. Refusal to consider that option shows where Honduran democracy rates in the scheme of things. Maintaining an Imperial outpost easily outweighs democracy I guess.

And check out this jaw-dropping quote from Davidow - Obama's "Special Advisor" to Latin America (from the Pose piece above):

"The threats against democracy in Latin America, and I don't in any way minimize what's happened in Honduras . . . are not those coming from military coups, but rather from governments which are ignoring checks and balances, overriding other elements of government.

I was amazed not only because of its foreign policy implications, but also in the timing. This clearly signals US displeasure with Zelaya and takes the position of the coupsters in the forthcoming legal arguments, whether in Tegucalpa or the Hague. We can debate the (frightening and hypocritical) larger point another day (I wonder if Mr. Davidow believes that Roosevelt "stacked the courts" and Garcia in Peru shuts down TV stations), but it is now clear to me at least, where the intellectual sympathies of this State Department lie.

Zelaya is supposed to return to Washington tomorrow, to meet with Hillary Clinton. I would advise him to tell her to play real diplomatic hard ball with the putschists (ie. some real consequences) or the US will be held partially responsible for whatever comes next. Forces are quickly radicalizing, particularly with the apparent killing of a youth yesterday.

Zelaya realizes the coupsters merely want to delay any action and hope the world moves on to other things (maybe another infomercial star will die). Now that a meeting with Hillary Clinton has been set for tomorrow, it appears the spotlight will be firmly on Washington. Zelaya has made his point to Washington clear:

"Starting tomorrow, the United States, which has tremendous power, should take action."

"Specifically, the strongest government in economic matters, in aspects of the sphere of the dollar, for us is the United States. If they decide to live with the coup, then democracy in the Americas is over... In this sense, I ask the powers that have economic and commercial influence to apply measures when legitimate institutions of society side with barbarity and terror to commit abuses as in Honduras."

If they don't, more radical moves by Zelaya's real friends will be the obvious result. And the US will bear the blame because it wanted to play it both ways. Hope and change? Not if Obama insists on putting Cold War dinosaurs like Davidow in charge of his Latin American policies.