A day after de facto President Roberto Micheletti indicated a possible willingness to negotiate the return of Manuel Zelaya to a finish out his presidential term, the Honduran Congress delayed a vote on an amnesty bill that would be a sticking point for any such deal. Moreover, security forces in the country cracked down on pro-Zelaya protestors, casting a shadow over what the Miami Herald calls yesterday’s “ray of hope.” The AP adds that Zelaya also met with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, in Nicaragua, but left the meeting disappointed, with his foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, remarking that “nothing new came out of it.” “They (the U.S. diplomats) didn't come with a change, nor any new proposal,” said Rodas. The violent crackdown on Zelaya backers was perhaps the darkest moment of yesterday, however. While Zelaya backers blocked a main highway into Tegucigalpa, police used night sticks and tear gas to disperse the protestors. At least 25 were injured—one with a gunshot wound to the head—and 88 were arrested, according to the AP. And protestors took out their anger on the Red Cross, illustrating just how tense feelings are on both sides. Reuters take on Thursday’s events is even more grim. The wire service leads by writing “The de facto Honduran government insisted Thursday that it would not allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to office, dampening hopes of a deal to end a political crisis after last month's coup.” The report adds that Micheletti himself says he will not allow Zelaya back into power, contradicting reports yesterday that he had indicated a willingness to allow for this. “I've clearly said it before and I say it again, if there is a solution where I have to step down I will do it willingly, but I cannot allow Zelaya to return as president,” the de facto leader told reporters Thursday. And again Reuters writes that the former IDB chief, Uruguayan Enrique Iglesias, is being invited by the Micheletti to the country to “rekindle negotiations.” All signs would point toward this being a means of bringing intransigent business sectors into some forum for discussion over the crisis. Finally, Bloomberg says Zelaya may be overstaying his welcome in Nicaragua. The head of that country’s largest opposition party is repeating calls for Zelaya to leave his country, saying there is risk of armed conflict with Honduras because of his presence and citing drops in trade as primary reasons.
Also today, the Washington Post reports on the issue of extraditing drug traffickers in Colombia. Juan Forero writes that Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has complied with hundreds of extradition requests for drug kingpins. Indeed, Colombia extradites about four drug suspects per week to the U.S., says Forero, but more recently the extradition of what he calls “small to mid level suspects has become more the rule than the exception.” This is leading a number of defense lawyers, analysts, and even former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Myles Frechette, to question the efficacy of the current extradition system. It’s expensive they say and also may be suggesting that Colombia’s own justice system remains incapable of handling such cases, despite marked improvements in recent years. Others disagree, however. A high ranking official in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY, for example, tells the WP that if extradition did not exist, “we'd be severely hamstrung in our ability to stop narcotics trafficking.”
Three reports on Venezuela this morning look at the media, kidnapping, and the economy. First, in the Miami Herald, news that the Venezuelan National Assembly began discussion of a bill that could send individuals to prison for up to four years for spreading information that might be seen as inciting violence or could “affect Venezuela’s mental health.” The so-called Special Law Against Media Crimes appears to not only focus on the directors of private media operations as the bill’s text reads “every person who expresses himself through any communications medium, whether it be print, television, radio or any other nature.” Moreover, the paper writes that “media crimes” include “actions or omissions” that threaten “the social peace, the security and independence of the nation, the public order, the stability of the institutions of state, the public mental or moral health by generating a feeling of impunity or insecurity.” The AP reports from Caracas on a series of protests against insecurity in the country, particularly the recent spike in kidnappings in various parts of Venezuela. The AP writes that “Rampant crime is a top concern among Venezuelans. Mexico is the only country in Latin America with more kidnappings, according to Clayton Consultants, a crisis-management firm based in Herndon, Virginia. Lack of trust in law enforcement is another problem.” And the LA Times has an interesting report on home building in Venezuela. A new measure put into effect by the Chavez government is giving large refunds to home buyers. According to the LAT’s Chris Kraul home builders are having to give back inflation charges accrued over the period of home construction. One home builder says that this could bankrupt his business as inflation continues to rise. But others say the home building industry in the country has abused home buyers. “Undoubtedly, the construction companies need to recoup cost increases, but with little control over the process, some companies have also used the system to increase profits,” says Professor Miguel Tinker-Salas.
In editorials this morning, the Miami Herald calls on the Obama administration to step up efforts to find a resolution to the Honduran crisis but emphasizes that Zelaya’s return must be a conditioned one. “Mr. Zelaya, to be sure, is no friend of the United States, but this dispute is not about him. It is about sticking to constitutional procedures and keeping the military out of politics -- a bad habit of long standing that should not be indulged by those who claim to have Honduras' best interests in mind…Mr. Micheletti and his cohorts are right to insist that any deal for Mr. Zelaya's return should be conditioned on an enforceable understanding that he will not try to prolong his tenure. He should be in office just long enough to transfer power to the next constitutionally elected president and not one day longer,” the paper argues. And the Washington Post calls for new State Department action against Venezuela after Colombian claims that it found Venezuelan weaponry in the hands of FARC rebels this week. “The State Department is busy applying sanctions to members of Honduras's de facto government, which is guilty of deposing one of Mr. Chávez's clients and would-be emulators. Perhaps soon it can turn its attention to those in the hemisphere who have been caught trying to overturn a democratic government by supplying terrorists with advanced weapons,” writes the Post.
Lastly this morning, in a bizarre news story, animal rights defenders are smiling in Bolivia. The country recently passed new legislation that prohibits the use of animals in the circus. The Bolivian ban, reports the AP, is the first in the world that covers both non-domestic and domestic animals.