Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Another Coup in Honduras?

The Vice President of the Honduran Congress, Marvin Ponce, is making waves by claiming to have evidence that powerful sectors of Honduran society could be plotting to overthrow the government of President Porfirio Lobo, just as President Zelaya was ousted in 2009.  Ponce told El Tiempo last week that these unnamed interests seek to take advantage of insecurity generated by Lobo’s recent efforts to clean up the country’s police force, and using the situation to weaken Lobo politically. "These groups want to make use of the police crisis and are linked to a section of the Armed Forces, which they could use to cause a coup," said Ponce.

The Democratic Unification (UD) party congressman went even further in comments he made to El Heraldo on Thursday, in which he insinuated that the United States could be behind this potential plot. Pointing to the U.S.’ recent decision to disqualify Honduras for a Millennium Challenge grant and to withdraw its Peace Corp volunteers from the country, he claimed that the country was falling victim to an “ongoing geopolitical game between the Embassy of the United States and powerful political and economic groups that want a government which serves them.”  

He also cited a recent Washington Post article on the state of drug violence in Honduras as further proof of a U.S.-driven destabilization campaign, seemingly overlooking the fact that the Post is an independent publication.

These allegations have been interpreted by some as proof of the weakness of Honduran democracy. After asking why certain Honduran elites would consider another coup just two years after the country’s first in 30 years, RNS of Honduras Culture and Politics points out “those who carried out the first coup, who did the unthinkable, got away with it, unpunished in any fashion.”

However, it’s worth remembering that this is not the first time that rumors of a coup against Lobo have surfaced. In September 2010, just eight months after taking office, Lobo warned that his critics were planning to overthrow him because of his efforts at reconciliation with the pro-Zelaya camp, though he later scaled this back, saying that carrying out another coup would be like “reaching Pluto.” Because of the public and international outcry after the coup, it’s likely that it has simply become a trigger issue for politicians hoping to attract attention.

Honduras Weekly editor Marco C├íceres even accuses Ponce of “cynically attempting to manipulate things by dishing out gobs of misinformation in a contemptuous plot to further destabilize the situation in Honduras himself, and thus enhance the electoral prospects of his opposition party and its allies.”

News Briefs

  • The Washington Post takes a look at the effects of the “American Great Wall,” the 649 miles of fencing along the1,969-mile U.S. southern border. Calls to “complete the danged fence” have been popular amongst Republican politicians for the past several years, with Newt Gingrich even signing a pledge to support the construction of a “double fence”  last month. But while the barriers have been effective at stopping unlawful vehicle traffic, border control officials say they are ineffective at stopping migrants and drug smugglers who cross on foot.
  • Milenio has published an analysis of the state of the drug war in Mexico, claiming that the notoriously violent Zetas drug cartel controls more territory than the powerful Sinaloa Cartel. Indeed, the former allegedly operates in more than half of the states in the country.
  • The U.S. press has been relatively flooded with articles on the increasing influence of Mexican cartels in Central America. The Associated Press reports that the Sinaloa Cartel is ramping up meth production in neighboring Guatemala.  According to the AP, the Central American country could be producing as much as or more of the drug than Mexico, which is generally considered the top source of U.S.-bound meth.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post focuses on Costa Rica, long considered a relative haven of democracy and security in the region. While it is still the least violent country in Central America, the homicide rate has nearly doubled since 2004. The Post also has an investigation on drug trafficking in Honduras, where U.S. officials estimate that 25 to 30 tons of cocaine pass through each month.
  • Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC, have agreed to free six members of the security forces that they have taken prisoner, thanks to negotiations with Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz. Though the release was initially scheduled for January, EFE reports that it could take up to two months.
  • Environmental protestors in Cajamarca, Peru have resumed demonstrations against a proposed $4.8 billion gold mine in the area. The government declared a state of emergency in the area in December after clashes broke out between activists and police, and El Comercio reports that Prime Minister Oscar Valdes has said that the it will re-evaluate the measure again should the protests resume.
  • The Economist’s Americas View blog highlights the difficulties associated with cracking down on corruption in Brazil, using the efforts of the notoriously corrupt Senator Jader Barbalho to overcome anti-corruption laws and retake a seat in the senate as an example.
  • On December 23rd, Cuban president Raul Castro pardoned some 2,900 prisoners on the island, citing the upcoming March 26th visit by the pope as grounds for a humanitarian gesture. The Guardian reports that those convicted of murder, espionage or drug trafficking were not included in the amnesty, although several political prisoners were granted the pardon. The AP reports that one political prisoner who began a hunger strike because he was not included in the amnesty has died of an apparent heart attack.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced  on December 27th that she has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and will undergo treatment on January 4th.  Her tumor is allegedly not aggressive, and she is not expected to need chemotherapy. Her vice-president, Amado Boudou, will serve in her place until she returns to office on January 24th. This makes her the fifth Latin American leader to have been diagnosed with cancer recently, joining the ranks of Hugo Chavez, Fernando Lugo, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
  • Hugo Chavez, commenting on the fact that all of the above are leftists, pondered aloud last week whether or not the U.S. has developed the technology to give cancer to leaders hostile to its interests. In a particularly clever response, Dr. Emilio Alba, head of Spain’s Oncology Association, pointed out that “the technology already exists, in the form of  X-rays, UVA rays, the atomic bomb, tobacco, alcohol and asbestos.”