On Saturday, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned to his native Honduras, nearly two years after being ousted in a military-backed coup d’etat. Thousands of supporters greeted Zelaya as he touched down in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. He was joined by an escort of representatives from various Latin American countries. Zelaya’s return came just days after the former president met with current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to sign a political deal (the so-called Cartagena Accord), which, in addition to allowing Zelaya’s return home, opens the door for a national vote over a possible constituent assembly and eases requirements for transforming the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) into an official political party.
The deal, mediated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos, also annulled – at least for the time being – of all remaining legal proceedings against Mel Zelaya.
As AP notes, the Organization of American States, which expelled Honduras shortly after the June 2009 coup, is expected to re-admit the Central American country ahead of the group’s annual meetings scheduled for this weekend. Thus far, the only Latin American country to have publicly questioned such a move has been Ecuador.
Nevertheless there do remain numerous questions about what the return of Zelaya and the likely re-admittance of Honduras to the OAS will mean for a national human rights situation that remains fragile, at best. Over a dozen journalists and more than 40 peasant and union activists have been killed since Lobo assumed office in 2010, many at the hands of paramilitary death squads, according to human rights organizations. The LA Times notes that former human rights ombudsman, Leo Valladares, was forced to flee the country because of ongoing death threats. Opinions (and links) on human rights worries from CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot in The Guardian, historian Dana Frank in The Progressive, and anthropologist Adrienne Pine at NACLA. Also an excellent report over the weekend from the UK’s Observer on the growing crisis of gender-based murder or “femicide” which, according to a new report from Oxfam Honduras and the Honduran NGO, the Tribunal of Women Against Femicide, is now the “second highest cause of death for women of reproductive age” in Honduras.
Honduras Culture and Politics, meanwhile, posts and comments on a variety of reactions to the Cartagena Accord from different political sectors in Honduras. Following Zelaya’s return speech Saturday, the LA Times speculated that the former president would “immediately reengage in politics” and might lead a new party formed out of the FNRP. After meeting with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and Porfirio Lobo over the weekend, Zelaya said Monday his goals now were to help in the organization of a national constituent assembly and aid in the construction of a “broad front” coalition similar to the one which has governed Uruguay since 2005. (Democracy Now with more in an exclusive interview with Zelaya).
For its part, the Lobo government made an about-face Monday on one of the issues which precipitated the ouster of Zelaya in 2009: Honduras’s deepening relationship with Venezuela. On Monday, the government said it will seek re-entry into Petrocaribe in order to receive discounted oil from Venezuela. In March of last year Mel Zelaya was named head of Petrocaribe’s political council by Venezuela.
Various bullet points from the last week:
· Reuters reports on possible next steps from Venezuela after the US enacted new sanctions against Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA last week. The US says PDVSA violated an economic embargo on Iran by sending the country fuel additives between December 2010 and March 2011. The sanctions, which affect a total of seven companies (including ones from the UAE, Israel, Singapore, and Monaco) will prohibit PDVSA from competing for U.S. government contracts, from securing financing from the US Export-Import Bank and from obtaining U.S. export licenses. They do not, however, apply to PDVSA subsidiaries like CITGO nor will they prohibit the export of crude oil to the United States. In Venezuela, the penalties have been met with swift condemnation by both the Chavez government and much of the political opposition (See, for example, a translation by the Center for Democracy in the Americas of an editorial last week by Tal Cual editor Teodoro Petkoff who calls the sanctions a form of “imperial arrogance”). AP reports on major demonstrations against the PDVSA sanctions in the capital of Caracas Sunday.
· In Colombia, lawmakers approved a long-awaited Victims’ Law last week. According to The Guardian, “the law aims to give financial compensation (of approx. $10,000) to every victim reported murdered or forcibly disappeared.” It could also mean the eventual return of millions of acres of land to some 3.4 million individuals internally displaced by the country’s decade’s long armed conflict. Last week the government said nearly 58,000 people remain missing because of that conflict and at least 15,600 of those persons are believed to have been “forcibly disappeared,” according to the UN high commissioner for human rights. Colombian Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras noted last week that the bodies of 10,000 disappeared persons have been recently identified for the purposes of compensating victims’ families.
· Peruvian voters will head to the polls this weekend to elect a new president. Most recent poll numbers show Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala running in a dead heat. According to a mock nationwide vote organized by Ipsos and released over the weekend, Fujimori holds on to 50.5 to 49.5 percent lead over Humala with null and spoiled ballots excluded. A CPI mock vote shows Fujmori at 51.8 percent and Humala at 48.2 percent. Reuters reports on the final televised debate between the two candidates Sunday, writing that it “reflected a race that has become increasingly heated and based on personal attacks.” The New York Times profiled Keiko Fujimori on Saturday. TIME, meanwhile, profiles the man who could be the country’s next first gentleman, Fujimori’s American husband and self-described “Jersey Guy” Mark Villanella.
· A variety of reports over the weekend look at the race to head the IMF. The lead contender for that position, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, began her campaign to replace the embattled DSK in Brazil this week, promising to continue IMF reforms that give emerging nations a larger say in Fund decision making. The Wall Street Journal says Brazil “stopped short of endorsing Ms. Lagarde, but Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said her commitment to continued overhauls was the sort of reassurance the country would need to throw its weight behind a candidate.” Mantega is expected to meet Wednesday with the other contender for the position, Mexican Central Banker Agustín Carstens. The paper says despite regional affinities and Carstens’ recent calls for “bailout flexibility,” the “orthodox” Mexican market economist seems a dark horse to overtake Lagarde.
· The New York Times reports today on the issuance of arrest warrants by Spanish judge Eloy Velasco Nuñez for 20 former Salvadoran military leaders accused of planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989.
· Al-Jazeera on the exhumation last week of Salvador Allende’s body to determine definitively whether the late Socialist president of Chile took his own life or was killed by the Chilean military during the September 11, 1973 military coup that toppled his government. In the LA Times, Peter Kornbluh and Marc Cooper comment.
· IPS with a look at Amnesty International’s noble history in South America’s Southern Cone during the 1970s and 1980s as the rights group prepares for its fiftieth anniversary celebration.
· McClatchy’s Tim Johnson (Mexico-Guatemala) and NPR’s Jason Beaubien (El Salvador) with new reports on organized crime in Central America’s violent Northern Triangle. And in The Nation last week, Human Rights Watch’s Nik Steinberg with an excellent essay on drug-induced transformation of Monterrey, Mexico.
· Latin American News Dispatch highlights the killing of two environmental activists in the Brazilian Amazon last week. As LAND reports, the double murder came just hours after Brazil’s lower house voted to pass a controversial bill to reform the Forest Code, allowing small farmers more liberty to cultivate and deforest protected environmental areas within the Amazon.
· Mercopress on last week’s meeting of UNASUR’s Defense Council in Argentina for the inauguration of the Defense Strategic Studies Centre (CEED).
· Also from Mercopress, a look at Uruguay’s assumption of presidential powers on the UN Human Rights Council next month, and an upcoming visit by the UN Sec. General to the country.