With talks still stalled, the de facto regime in Honduras sent the military to the Brazilian embassy this week to “play loud rock music, military band tunes, church bells” and, yes, “recordings of pig grunts” over loudspeakers. This according to a Reuters photographer inside the embassy. The embassy’s most famous resident, Mel Zelaya, called the noises “torture,” adding that the “powerful sound systems that can be heard from 20 blocks away. ... We can't fall asleep.” Beyond the use of “sound torture,” numerous statements over the last two days would seem to indicate there is absolutely no positive movement toward the reinstatement of Mr. Zelaya to the presidency, even in a limited capacity. “We obviously believe that (Zelaya's return) is not possible. We believe he violated the law,” Arturo Corrales, a lead negotiator for Micheletti, recently remarked. Mr. Micheletti’s Defense Minister, Adolfo Sevilla was even more emphatic. After saying Zelaya and Co. should be happy the military is only playing music in front of the embassy instead of bombing the building, as the Minister said they apparently do in other countries, Sevilla went on to argue that there is “zero” chance that Zelaya be reinstated, short of a foreign invasion. And speaking at the Brazil Summit in Sao Paulo, former OAS Sec. General (and ex-Colombian president), Cesar Gaviria also seemed pessimistic. According to Gaviria, “It’s impossible to bring Zelaya back to power since the Court, the Congress, and the military are not with him.” Continuing, the former Colombian official said he believes a “transition government must be found” and an “international monitoring process” set up for November elections. [Another participant in the Brazil Summit, former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, blasted Brazil for giving Zelaya shelter in its Honduran embassy].
In other Honduras news, the OAS presented its most recent Honduras report yesterday in Washington. Despite huge setbacks this week, Sec. General Insulza insisted that the OAS is not willing to simply stop negotiating. “The talks have stalled and it’s necessary to continue to push them forward,” Insulza said Wednesday. Meanwhile, in Honduras, a new decree has been issued by the de facto government which says all demonstrations, marches and public meetings must be approved by the National Police 24 hours in advance, regardless of their purpose. Once again, the current regime in power says the order is in line with “articles of the constitutions and current police laws,” a claim some analysts strongly disagree with.
Around the region this morning:
· The Miami Herald reports on a Congressional hearing held Wednesday on the persecution of human rights activists in Colombia. Activists who testified before the House panel said, in the words of the MH, they are “under constant attack for their work, facing murder, death threats, illegal surveillance, arbitrary detentions and prosecutions.” Margaret Sekaggya, United Nations Special Rapporteur, also spoke before the House Human Rights Commission panel, saying she remains very worried about “a pattern of harassment and persecution against human rights defenders” in the country. At least 11 rights activists were murdered last year, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, and in the first nine months of this year, nine human rights workers have been reported killed.
· Also on the issue of human rights, the Washington Post this morning reports on the bizarre case of Gustavo de la Rosa, perhaps the most prominent human rights activist in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. De la Rosa was recently detained by U.S. Customs officials at the US-Mexico border and is now apparently being forced to accept asylum in the U.S., even though he was never seeking it. According to a recent Customs and Border Protection statement: “If during the [border] interview someone entering the country expresses a fear for his life, our officers are required to process them for an interview with an asylum officer. Our officers are not authorized to determine the validity of the fear expressed. The applicant does not have to specifically request asylum, they simply must express fear of being returned to their country.” The story comes as the murder rate in Juarez hit a new high this week. New statistics show that 1,986 homicides have occurred this year, compared to 1,171 for the same period in 2008. This month alone nearly 200 individuals have been killed, an average of 7 murders/day.
· In Rio de Janeiro, the death toll in an ongoing battle between drug gangs and Brazilian police rose to 33 Wednesday, after seven suspected drug traffickers were killed by security officials.
· The LA Times reports on China’s advances into the Gulf of Mexico in search of oil. “The state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp., or CNOOC, reportedly is negotiating the purchase of leases owned by the Norwegian StatoilHydro in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the source of about a quarter of U.S. crude oil production,” writes the paper.
· The BBC reports on new attempts by the Venezuelan government to reign in the country’s undisciplined police forces, by setting up, for the first time, a national police force. According to the BBC, “The government hopes to phase out some of the agencies with the worst reputations, such as the metropolitan police in Caracas, and replace them with the new force. A code of conduct has been launched and recruits will be obliged to take classes in human rights. In addition, any officer who has charges pending against him or her will not be allowed to join.” [Also, new polls show that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s approval rating has fallen from 61 percent last February to 53 percent last month. Inflation, economic stagnation, and faulty public services seem to be most on the minds of those who disapprove.]
· And finally, Andres Oppenheimer writes [critically] in the MH today on Spain’s role in pushing the EU toward a softer position vis a vis Cuba.