Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Newt Gingrich shouldn't ever have foreign policy influence

From a Fox News interview, in which he was asked about Honduras:

VAN SUSTEREN: So why - why is the United States backing Zelaya, who is currently hiding out in the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras? Why - why - if it's as you say?

N. GINGRICH: Because the sympathy for the left in this administration is unending, and the fact is Zelaya is the Castro, Chavez candidate to be the strong man of Honduras. The fact is in Nicaragua, Somoza's trying to change the constitution so he can be a lifetime leader like Chavez, and you're seeing the redictatorship of Latin America from the left, from people who are both anti-American and anti-rule of law.

A Freudian slip, or just living in the past? Anastasio Somoza, of course, was the Nicaraguan dictator who was overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979.

Also, I love the word "redictatorship."


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honduras decree

According to the NYT, after receiving criticism from all sides, including the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti says he will ask the Supreme Court to lift the decree. The pro-coup paper El Heraldo says the same. The legislative leadership has apparently said it would not approve the decree.

So the executive issues a decree, but needs the Supreme Court to lift it?

Article 187 of the constitution says that if "the causes that motivated the decree" have disappeared, it is no longer in effect. It does not say who makes that determination. But it is reasonable to assert that if the executive made the initial determination, he or she would then be able to argue whether the original cause was no longer in evidence.

But the same article says that Congress will be convoked and can "ratify, modify, or reject" the decree. In other words, Congress could vote right now without any other branch of government being involved. They would need a majority to be convoked (Article 190).

Therefore, unless there is something I am missing, the decree could be revoked at any time, and the judiciary does not need to be involved. The current situation is just stalling.

Days since the coup: 93
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 61


Monday, September 28, 2009

Perceptions of Zelaya's return

The U.S. Ambassador to the OAS has criticized Mel Zelaya for returning to Honduras before an agreement was reached:

"The return of Zelaya absent 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," Anselm said.

On the latter part, well, it doesn't help anyone to start talking about how Israeli mercenaries are trying to torture you. Even the Brazilian government told him to stop with that.

But here's the deal. Given the stalemate, odds were high that no agreement would have been reached before the November elections. The economy was/is hurting, but the coup government very clearly believed it could wait it out. The idea that negotiations would even occur seems absurd, since Micheletti said constantly that he would not negotiate. He gambled--reasonably--that when push came to shove the international community would eventually recognize the new government and go about its business. Panama had already indicated it would go that route.

There are, of course, many high-level private discussions going on, so maybe there are facts we don't know about. However, I wouldn't mind hearing an argument for how a negotiation could have successfully proceeded.

So you can call his return a lot of things, but foolish isn't one of them. Not if his goal is to return to the presidency. It was most definitely risky, but it is highlighting the illegitimacy of the coup government. That Micheletti is responding with such rampant disregard for the constitution or human life is tragic.

At least the U.S. did call the suspension of the constitution "deplorable" but I have yet to see whether the administration goes beyond that.


Suspension of the constitution in Honduras

According to Roberto Micheletti, Honduras is a "happy country" whose people have moved on since June 28.

According to this logic, I suppose Hondurans must really be enjoying suspension of their constitutional rights, outlawing of public gatherings, deportation of OAS officials, and censorship. According to La Prensa, the state of emergency is in place for 45 days (not quite enough to get to the election for the current decree). Even the military is making accusations against specific reporters.

As I've written before, Hondurans will likely determine the outcome of this conflict in the absence of increased international pressure. These happy measures are directed at plans to have large anti-coup demonstrations.

Days since the coup: 92
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 62


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Out of Captivity

I read Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle, the story of three contractors (Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes) working in Colombia for Northrop Grunman. Their small plane crashed in 2003 and they were taken hostage by the FARC. They were rescued in 2008 in an ingenious hoax the Colombian government put together.

This is a really interesting book. The strength the hostages (both the Americans and the Colombians, and many of the latter were in captivity much longer) showed is inspiring. Surviving years and years of abuse is amazing. Their strength is admirable. Yet while reading the book, I tended not to like the three much, even while feeling horrible for their plight.

And that plight is disgusting. Their account of life with the FARC is sickening. Being chained by the neck, deprived of food, enduring jungle diseases, and facing all sorts of abuse became commonplace for over five years. That is hard to contemplate. The details themselves are fascinating and provide a lot of into insight into how the guerrillas live daily.

For better or worse, having one author for three people means their voices are mostly indistinguishable, and they jumble together. They all talk military slang--for example, they live in a "hooch," not a hut or tent, and they are helos, birds, friendlies, references to "Nam," etc. And all are entirely ignorant of Colombian politics. They derisively label Colombian hostages as "politicals" if they were politicians, as if their own jobs had no political significance. In their eyes, they were there for a job, and it was apolitical. They also know nothing of South American politics, labeling both Hugo Chávez and Ricardo Lagos as "far left of center" (p. 85).

They seemed to feel they didn't need to know much: "I was an American, and I was going to act like an American no matter where in the world I was, and that was that" (p. 183). Ego in general is very much in evidence. It begins right away, as Marc notes that when going to work in the very early morning, they all just ignore stoplights and compete to see who can arrive first. Or as Keith put it, "I could be perceived as being the alpha male. That was a position I enjoyed" (p. 185).

Ultimately, the book is a sobering reminder that the FARC is both vicious and well-equipped to continue living in the deep jungle, while the so-called war against drugs (the three men were in a Cessna looking for coca fields) is largely failing. And many hostages remain.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hedging bets in Honduras

When asked point blank who he considers to be the Honduran president, National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo refused to answer, saying he called them both by their name to avoid getting tangled up in the situation: “yo a los dos llamo por su nombre para no meterme a rollos, a enredos." The pro-coup paper La Prensa summed it up as "Porfirio Lobo does not know who is president."

Now THAT is a politician. Too bad the reporter did not ask him what the definition of "is" is.

Days since the coup: 90
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 64


Friday, September 25, 2009

Classic Micheletti

Roberto Micheletti says the OAS can send a commission to Honduras. But not until next week. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have lost track of the number of times the coup government has agreed to something, but not until later in the week, next week, or the like. Two months to go until the presidential election, and he is once again betting he can wait it out.

The AP article also has a great quote in the context of the positions of the presidential candidates: "It's not easy campaigning in the aftermath of a coup."


Honduran dialogue

News about Honduras is basically abuzz about "dialogue." According to La Prensa, Roberto Micheletti has apparently accepted an OAS mission, at the urging of Jimmy Carter. That came after Mel Zelaya announced that Micheletti's own conditions for "dialogue" were so one-sided as to be unacceptable.

Dialogue is indeed positive, but only to a point. If the dialogue does not become negotiation, then it is largely pointless because it is only two sides talking at one another.

A lot depends on Hondurans themselves. If protests dwindle and most people go back to their daily routines, then the crisis might easily revert to its previous situation of ticking off the days until the election. Just as before, there is little overt international pressure on the coup government, or at least not enough to change its stance.

Days since the coup: 89
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 65


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Micheletti's negotiations

From CNN: Roberto Micheletti says that he is willing to have a dialogue anywhere with Mel Zelaya. But that he would also have him arrested. Just that little hitch.

Micheletti's willingness to engage Zelaya seemed to be a reversal of his position. On Tuesday, he had said in an interview with local network Televicentro that Zelaya's sudden appearance would not revive negotiations to have him return to power.

Actually, no. The position is the same. Micheletti is willing to talk, but not to negotiate. He has often said he will discuss the San José Accord as long as he does not have to accept any of it.

And, by the way, when the power went out in the Brazilian embassy, Zelaya supporters did it themselves.

Despite local reports citing police officials that authorities turned off the power to the embassy and surrounding area ostensibly to discourage looting, Micheletti said that a congregation of pro-Zelaya protesters at the embassy short-circuited the power themselves.

Remarkably, they also threw tear gas at themselves and beat themselves with batons.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

WSJ on Honduras

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial about the Honduran crisis, blaming the Obama administration for its handling of the situation. That is to be expected from the WSJ editorial board, but it is frustrating to see the same lies (it is too late, I think, to call them misrepresentations, misstatements, errors, or the like because the facts are so well known).

The essential argument for those who support Roberto Micheletti is that Mel Zelaya's ouster was entirely constitutional. So the editorial includes the following:

Mr. Zelaya was deposed and deported this summer after he agitated street protests to support a rewrite of the Honduran constitution so he could serve a second term.

We've gone over this a hundred times, and the best argument anyone can make is that "everyone knows" Zelaya would try for a second term, which is then taken as the same as evidence. But term limits were never mentioned in the referendum, and even the Supreme Court largely avoided the issue in its own supporting documents.

But this one is even better:

To avoid violence the Honduran military escorted Mr. Zelaya out of the country. In other words, his removal from office was legal and constitutional, though his ejection from the country gave the false appearance of an old-fashioned Latin American coup.

Escorted! What an odd word to choose. In legal terms, this is otherwise known as "forced into exile in violation of the constitution by a military acting according to its own whims without regard for the law." That is a coup.

I understand very well the anti-Zelaya arguments. But the lying is just sad.


Freedom of the press

Glancing through La Prensa, a pro-coup newspaper, I laughed to myself as I read this story. The curfew is paralyzing the country, the police made sure that La Prensa was distributed. Hondurans were therefore able to read about what a great job the police are doing in calmly combating the crazed Zelaya terrorists.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Honduran stand-off

The crisis in Honduras is evolving constantly, but now appears to be in a basic stand-off. The military and police forcibly cleared the area around the Brazilian embassy and cut off its power. Soldiers patrol the neighboring rooftops, and at times have launched tear gas into the embassy.

The airports are closed, which conveniently prevents any would-be negotiator (such as José Miguel Insulza) from arriving in the country. And pro-Zelaya media is being harassed.

This sort of situation seems unlikely to last long. I've been getting questions in class as well as via email about whether the Honduran police and/or military would storm the embassy. I would be surprised if that happened, though this crisis has been very unpredictable. Violating an embassy is very serious, and would contradict the coup government's message of peace and reconciliation. But bad decisions sometimes get made in the heat of the moment.

On the other hand, Brazil does not really want Zelaya there long. This is a major imposition for the Brazilians, and they felt compelled to agree less than an hour before he arrived. They do not want to shut down their embassy so that he can just hunker down for a lengthy period of time. Zelaya will want to be there just long enough to force dialogue with Roberto Micheletti.


Quote of the day: Honduras

"The State of Honduras is committed to respect the rights of Mr. Zelaya to due process."

--Roberto Micheletti, head of a government that refused to allow Zelaya a trial and instead illegally exiled him.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Where's Zelaya?

Look, this is just weird.

Mel Zelaya says he is in Tegucigalpa, but won't say where. His supporters are at the UN building there because a "senior Zelaya aide" says he was, but the UN says he isn't there. Roberto Micheletti says Zelaya is in a hotel in Nicaragua. The State Department says he is indeed somewhere in Honduras. Another rumor is that he is in the Brazilian embassy.

If he is indeed in Honduras, it is hard to imagine him hiding too long, and indeed it would not be very presidential. What happens when he goes public is impossible to predict. The coup government has said repeatedly that it will arrest him, but that will not be easy. Hopefully there will be some sort of dialogue, though I cannot think of any point of agreement.


CRS report on U.S.-Honduran relations

The Congressional Research Service updated its report on Honduras and it provides a clear summary of the crisis. Interestingly, Mary Anastasia O'Grady uses it to claim that the Obama administration lacks "legal basis" for calling it a coup. Here is the relevant part of the report on that issue:

Roberto Micheletti maintains that he is the legitimate president of Honduras, and that Zelaya’s removal was not a military coup. Indeed, Micheletti refers to the ouster as a “constitutional substitution,” despite the acknowledgement of the Honduran army’s top lawyer that the military likely broke the law by forcibly sending Zelaya into exile. Those involved in the removal maintain that their methods were necessary to avoid chaos and bloodshed. Micheletti has named a new cabinet, announced a preliminary plan of governance, and assured the public that general elections will be held in November 2009, as previously planned. The de facto president has also received strong support from some sectors of Honduran society, with thousands of people marching in support of Zelaya’s removal. A poll taken in the days after the ouster found that 46% of Hondurans opposed the military removal of Zelaya while 41% thought it was justified.

Despite Micheletti’s declarations that the country continues to function democratically, Honduran society generally has been under strict control since Zelaya’s removal. Following the ouster, a curfew was put in place, security forces have patrolled the streets, and a number of local an international television and radio stations have been shut down or intimidated. Additionally, members of Zelaya’s Administration, some members of the press, and at least one Congressional deputy have been detained or forced to go into hiding. Crowds of thousands of protesters have been dispersed—sometimes violently, and on July 1, the Honduran National Congress approved a decree suspending a number of constitutional rights. The decree allows security forces to enter private homes without a warrant, allows the detention of persons for 24 hours without charges, and suspends the rights of free association and free movement during curfew hours. While the curfew was lifted on July 12, it was reinstated on July 15, and remains in place in some parts of the country. Likewise, there continue to be reports of media censorship and political repression.

I should point out that since the Honduran constitution forbids forced exile, it is not just "likely" that the Honduran military broke the law.

Days since the coup: 85
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 69


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Russia and Cuba

In February, I noted that President Obama had not changed U.S. policy regarding Georgia or about Ukraine or Georgia joining NATO, so Russia was still interested in maintaining a Latin America presence in response. However, I speculated that since the missile shield policy would likely change, that might be enough to reduce Russia's military connections to the region.

That may well be wrong, as a senior Russian military officer says they will modernize Cuba's military, and warships may be on the way for a visit.

``Although maintaining a military presence in Latin America has logistical and financial problems for Russia, it will still force the United States to address the Russian presence in its backyard,'' wrote Stratfor, a private geopolitical analysis firm based in Austin, Texas.

This is a very important point. The cost for Russia is nontrivial, and I doubt Cuba has much to spend on Russian weapons to counteract that cost to any significant degree. But obviously the announced change in missile shield policy was not enough.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Micheletti on TV

What do you do if you're a president who took power as the result of a coup and you want to sway public opinion in the U.S., but your visa has been revoked? Put on a flowery shirt, go on Fox News and say this is a "happy country."

He is interviewed by Greta Van Susteren, who admits she does not know Honduran law or the constitution, but that as she understands it, the June 28 vote was supposed to give Mel Zelaya a second term. For that and other falsehoods, just watch the big guy in the loud shirt.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stereotypes and drugs

Negative stereotypes about people of Latin American descent--especially Mexicans--are deeply embedded in the debate over immigration, and they are as well in the fight against drugs.

The U.S. Forest Service has apologized for suggesting that campers who eat tortillas, drink Tecate beer and play Spanish music may be armed marijuana growers, calling it "regrettable" and "insensitive."

This is stupid on so many levels, and is a reminder of the remarkable degree of ignorance out there. But even if you arrested a lot of people who had those characteristics, correlation is not causation.

I also wondered whether they did not suspect campers who drank Dos Equis.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Arms purchases in Latin America

I am glad a Latin American president is talking about this. From the joint press conference with Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez and Secretary Clinton:

PRESIDENT VAZQUEZ: (Via interpreter) With respect to the arms race, not only is our country worried, but we have already expressed time and again our position against an arms race. We believe that it is quite inconvenient to the region to devote such significant economic resources toward purchasing arms. And – but it’s a fact, and we can’t deny it, that the countries are buying weapons.

And to make things worse, our region is the region that has the worst distribution of wealth. So with – under those conditions, it is still worse to be devoting those resources to weapons. South America has millions of people living in poverty, and there are thousands of children that die across Latin America and South America because of child diarrhea or diseases that could be prevented.

So because of all these reasons, all that should lead the governments of South America to decide to devote more money to promote health, to promote education and education to prevent diseases; to spend that money, instead of spending it in weapons, spending it in housing, good housing for our people, and to further deepen investment, especially in the field of education.

So we should devote our energies and resources to fight against the real scourges of our societies, that are drug – such as drug trafficking and terrorism. That would be certainly a much better use of our resources.


Honduran presidential candidates

Four of the six Honduran presidential candidates are in Costa Rica to meet with Oscar Arias. His goal is to convince them to pressure Roberto Micheletti into accepting the San José Accord, and to reiterate that the winner will not be recognized internationally. The candidates are Elvin Santos (Liberal Party), Porfirio Lobo Sosa (National Party), Felícito Avila (Christian Democrats), and Bernard Martínez (Innovation and Unity).

According to La Prensa, the four candidates have met and agreed they will come with the unified position that the coup was constitutional and the Honduran people want the elections to move forward.

Ultimately, Arias will have to explain precisely what he hopes the candidates will do. Otherwise this exercise will consist of vague pressure that will either have no impact or make them more resentful. It is certain that Micheletti and others have been telling them not to worry, because after the elections all the sanctions will end no matter what people say.

Days since the coup: 80
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 74


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mexico and drug law

The New York Times offered five people (such as Jorge Castañeda) the opportunity to comment on the recent changes in Mexico regarding decriminalization of small amounts of drugs. Once you winnow out the platitudes, the responses seem to converge on certain issues:

First, the law will have little or no impact on the broader drug war or violence.

Second, it may have an impact on reducing police corruption, which usually required a bribe to avoid being hauled in for possession.

Third, it will not lure more Americans to Mexico to take drugs.

What the authors were not asked to do, and should have been, was to discuss whether the reforms taking place in Mexico and Argentina mark a real shift in thinking across Latin America, or will likely remain isolated cases. If the former, then eventually it could (could, not would) influence policy making in the United States. Tony Payan (from UTEP) mentions the issue briefly, but it would have been interesting to probe in more detail.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Honduras and Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council couldn't start on time because the Honduran representative (who was originally named by Mel Zelaya but now is loyal to Roberto Micheletti) wasn't allowed in as an observer. Naturally, he blamed it on Hugo Chávez.

Rumor has it that he also wished to introduce a measure defining "pajama kidnapping" as "a fun filled vacation to Costa Rica."


Undocumented immigrants and community college in NC

My op-ed on undocumented immigrants and community college was just published in the News & Observer.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

More visas

The Obama administration has always been applying incremental and gradual (even glacial) pressure on the Honduran coup government. The latest is taking away the diplomatic and tourist visas of 17 coup government officials, including Robert Micheletti. He was miffed:

He complained that the letter addressed him “not as the president of Honduras” but as speaker of Congress, his position before elected head of state Mel Zelaya was dragged from the presidential palace on June 28 and flown to Costa Rica.


An important question is whether these and other measures will hold after the November presidential election. Talking to the press, Micheletti repeated for the Nth time that he would not accept the San José Accord, and therefore there is no more negotiation. Thus, for the Nth time he demonstrates his belief that Honduras can make it to November, at which point the pressure will subside.

And if my counting is correct, then the Honduran crisis is at the halfway point between the coup and the election.

Days since the coup: 77
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 77


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fidel's fashion

Given all his public appearances, Fidel Castro once again appears not to be deceased. Analysts have spent decades trying to track his health. Now they're going on step further, by analyzing his clothes to determine whether he might return to power. Seriously. With phrases like "tropical business casual."


Friday, September 11, 2009

Who coups?

The left blames the U.S. for Mel Zelaya's overthrow, and now Roberto Micheletti himself felt the need to deny that the U.S. is going to overthrow him. Apparently there are rumors of U.S. military planes flying around. He even went so far as to say that if there was an invasion, "I would be the first to know." Good for him! As ms at Honduras Coup 2009 points out, if this was a rumor started by the opposition, it was quite effective.

All rumors of U.S. involvement presuppose that the Obama administration cares much about Honduras. It doesn't. The gradual sanctions show that the administration really wants this crisis to solve itself without its involvement.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Immigration round table

I was invited to participate in a round table on comprehensive immigration reform today, with the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton. The Obama administration will not pursue reform until next year, but is organizing these meetings across the country to get input on four main issues:

1. Work site protection and workplace enforcement
2. How to address the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country
3. What an effective enforcement regime would look like
4. How do we decide who gets to come in a future migrant flow?

It was a diverse group, including the mayor, sheriffs from around the region, a state legislator, immigration lawyers, and members of advocacy groups. In general, I was heartened by Secretary Morton's clear interest in reform, as he was active in the failed effort to pass legislation in 2006-2007. The idea is to learn how to get it done right, which obviously is a daunting task. But these types of events demonstrate the commitment to learning more. (Of course, this does not tell us what will be feasible politically!).

As an academic, it is also nice to have the chance to summarize your own research conclusions (for me, it was political demography, which is the central theme of my book) to a high-level policy maker.


Quote of the day: Cuba

"We Cubans are crazy for waiting. If there's no line in Cuba it's because the place is closed."

--Cuban university student waiting to use the Cuban intranet.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Elections in Honduras

The Obama administration is being criticized for saying that it will not recognize the Honduran presidential election if there is no political settlement first (see, for example, Elliott Abrams as representative). The basic argument is that elections offer a way out of the crisis, and life can go back to normal. I have a few thoughts on this.

First, if the administration wants a negotiated settlement, then it has to make sure that multilateral leverage succeeds in convincing the coup government to agree. The worst case scenario is for the administration to talk tough, then ultimately just flounder until the election.

Second, it is true that many legitimate elections have been held under authoritarian conditions. However, in those cases (such as Chile) the primary political actors had all agreed on their legitimacy. So Honduras is not a good comparison in that regard.

Third, simply accepting the elections would be the equivalent of accepting the coup. The essential questions surrounding Zelaya's ouster--illegal actions by the military in particular--would go unexamined. The signal would be that coups are fine as long as you eventually hold elections. In other words, the "poder moderador" model would hold.

Days since the coup: 73
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 81


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15-October 15. Reuters put together a very nice compilation of facts based on Census data. I highly recommend taking a look.

I've been doing a lot of work on Latino immigration to the U.S. South, so the following are factoids that particularly interest me and may well be a surprise to some people:

The number of states with at least a half-million Hispanic residents --
Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts,
Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas,
Virginia and Washington.
Source: Population estimates

The Carolinas
The states with the highest percentage increases in Hispanic population
between July 1, 2007, and July 1, 2008. South Carolina's increase was 7.7
percent and North Carolina's was 7.4 percent.
Source: Population estimates


Monday, September 07, 2009

Uribe's third term

I've written many posts on the efforts to give Alvaro Uribe a third term. Although there has been a lot in the news recently, I didn't have much to add (for recent stuff see Steven Taylor). Andres Oppenheimer, however, adds a new angle. If Uribe gets it, then he will find it even more difficult to work with the U.S. Congress.

Another well-placed congressional source told me that a third Uribe term ``is going to make our ability to make progress on the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement -- and broader funding on [the U.S. anti-narcotics aid] Plan Colombia -- difficult. Many Democrats see Uribe as a human-rights violator who is turning into something like a little king.''

I'm not sure whether a third term would really put the kibosh on a free trade agreement, but there is no doubt that the FTA faces an uphill battle and so every vote counts. Uribe's quest for power will overshadow (and possibly damage) his policy goals.


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Samuel Logan's This Is For The Mara Salvatrucha

I read This Is For The Mara Salvatrucha by Samuel Logan, who blogs at Security in Latin America. I was quickly sucked into the story of Brenda Paz, a teenager originally from Honduras who became involved with the MS-13. The book begins in Texas, but for the most part the events are in northern Virginia. Being present at a murder launches a sequence of events that eventually leads Brenda to make an effort to cooperate with police and leave the gang. The narrative moves quickly and smoothly, and especially since I did not know the outcome, I kept wanting to find out what happened to her. It is not a fun book, but is a very illuminating one.

One of the themes I found most interesting was that so many members, even very high up in the organization, were willing to work with the police after being arrested. Ironically, one member who was cooperating with police ordered the murder of another for the crime of cooperating with the police.

A troubling part of the conclusion, however, is that the gang learns from past experiences. The narrative takes place 4-6 years ago or so, and things have changed since. As Logan notes, the criminal enterprise has expanded, the gang is less reliant on tattoos (which makes them easier to spot) and they are becoming more business savvy.

Further, for so many people the gang is their only means of feeling human connection. It was extremely hard for Brenda to stay away from her friends, even though she knew it was very dangerous. She did not like being alone and had no one else to relate to. Getting people to commit to an entirely new life is a daunting task.

On a separate note, another critical issue is the fact that police cooperation with local Latino communities is essential for obtaining information. Programs like 287(g) make an already tricky situation that much harder. People with valuable knowledge are not likely to talk if they fear deportation.


Zelaya's peregrinations

You have to admire Mel Zelaya's persistence. Since his overthrow, he has been traveling almost constantly, and that has kept his profile up. His visits often do not achieve many concrete results, but it is notable that no government in the world supports the coup. Not even the IMF does. By the logic of coup supporters, I suppose that means the IMF must be a leftist dupe.

Zelaya was just in Guatemala for the second time, where Alvaro Colom reiterated that his government would not recognize the elections. From there he was returning to Nicaragua, presumably to the border, and he said something vaguely about events this weekend.

It is also forcing itself into the presidential campaign. Rafael Leiva Vivas, Director of the Academia Diplomática de la Cancillería, says that he is preparing a document for all the presidential candidates outlining how Honduras must change its foreign policy. Without giving details, he said that Honduras must address the fact that all of its traditional allies are now opposing the Micheletti government, thus creating a foreign policy of "dignity." Unfortunately, he does not recognize that the most obvious response would be to rethink the behavior that caused these problems in the first place.

Days since the coup: 70
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 84


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Uribe and Chávez

In the midst of all the anti-Chávez marches (including here in Charlotte) it is interesting to note the results of recent Gallup polls from Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

"Uribe is more popular than Chavez ... Chavez can count on the sympathy of 29% of the Ecuadorians, but Uribe has 37% and President [Rafael] Correa obtained 51% in the last week," Cedatos-Gallup director Polivio Cordova told television network Teleamazonas.

Uribe is even popular in Venezuela.

In Colombia, Uribe is approved of by 69% of the interviewed, Correa only by 13% and Chavez by 14%.

In Venezuela, Chavez is only barely more popular than his Colombian counterpart. 48% of the Venezuelans said to approve of their leader, while 46% were positive about Uribe. Correa can count on the sympathy of 3% of the Venezuelans.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Where I agree with the coup government

After the State Department announced more sanctions, one response from coup supporters is that the country needs to depend less on the United States, and strengthen ties to Europe and Asia. I couldn't agree more, and it is unfortunate that it took this much conflict to hammer the point home. It certainly would be difficult, since the economic relationship is also deeply tied to immigration. For example, in the past Mel Zelaya himself has traveled to Washington to lobby the Bush administration about immigration crackdowns.

Regardless, diversification would be a good strategy for the country. The ultimate goal is to get to a point where you don't have everyone looking to the U.S. to resolve political crises.

Days since the coup: 68
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 86


Thursday, September 03, 2009

(Not so?) Done deal

The State Department (seems not to have?) finally cut all non-humanitarian aid to Honduras.

"The Secretary of State has made the decision, consistent with US legislation, recognising the need for strong measures in light of the continued resistance to the adoption of the San Jose Accord by the de facto regime and continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras," a state department spokesman said.

So the current question becomes whether the coup government can actually limp along until the elections. This has to hurt quite a bit. How those elections are perceived, both domestically and internationally, is a future question.

UPDATE: Or not? The BBC reported all non-humanitarian aid, while other news outlets like the NYT say it is only $22 million of aid that was previously already suspended.

Meanwhile, the AP says it doesn't know how much aid was terminated.

What a mess. The State Department wants to look firm but cannot even get its story out in a coordinated manner.


Zelaya's promise to return (again)

After meetings in Washington, Mel Zelaya said that he was planning to return to Honduras if negotiations did not work out: "I am going to return to the country, to be with the people. I am organizing myself for this moment, which will come sooner rather than later." He also referred vaguely to using "fighting strategies" to do so.

The State Department indicated this was unhelpful. I disagree. I think it is irrelevant. I think most people will ignore Zelaya because he has said something like that over and over, without doing anything. It's been a month since he did the cross-border two step.

Perhaps at some point Zelaya's patience will actually run out, and he will risk bodily harm to return. But saying so repeatedly without acting makes it seem less likely.

Days since the coup: 67
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 87


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The displaced in Colombia

It is nice to see Time magazine examining the issue of the displaced in Colombia, which gets far too little attention in the mainstream media. The title of the article is perfect: "If Colombia is Winning Its War, Why the Fleeing?"

Last year, 380,000 Colombians were forced off their land amid fighting between rebels, paramilitaries and the army, a 24% increase from 2007's figure, according to the Bogotá-based human-rights group Codhes (the Spanish acronym for the Human Rights and Displacement Office). Colombian officials, in turn, put the number of displaced at 294,000 for just the first six months of last year. "It's the million-dollar question," Marie-Helene Verney, spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Colombia, says of the perplexing trend. "Something is going on."

The article did not mention another factor, namely the tens of thousands of Colombians fleeing into Ecuador. Overall, it is a humanitarian disaster.

Perhaps the Colombian government can use the same rationale as the U.S. does with regard to the drug war, where it claims that both increases and decreases of coca cultivation are signals of success. More displaced people means you're winning even more!


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Zelaya and the State Department

Mel Zelaya is in DC to talk both with the OAS and the State Department:

The State Department official said the delegation is waiting to find out whether the interim government will change its hardline stance against a Costa Rica-brokered plan that would allow Mr. Zelaya to return to Honduras and complete his term.

Um, what? The coup government announced yesterday that Zelaya could not return as president, would get no amnesty, and there would no third choice as president. But it is making enough of an appearance of negotiation to keep draaaaaaaagging it out.

Days since the coup: 65
Days until the scheduled presidential election: 89


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