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[en] MISF – Fear and Loathing in Honduras: Elections Under Repression

Fear and Loathing in Honduras: Elections Under Repression

May I Speak Freely Media
November 20, 2009

As Honduras’ Nov. 29 election day quickly approaches, the broader picture of whether the vote can truly be free and fair has so far escaped the attention of the U.S. government and much of the world’s mainstream press. While focusing on the terms of the Tegucigalpa-San José Accords, their compliance or lack thereof, and the seemingly two-dimensional Manuel Zelaya/Roberto Micheletti dispute over the country’s presidency, government and media observers alike have paid scant notice to the ongoing suppression of civil, constitutional and political rights of the dissenters, which seriously undermines any hope for an end to the political crisis, let alone an unfettered electoral process. As Bertha Oliva, director of the Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, testified in a Nov. 5 U.S. Congressional briefing, “Dialogue under repression isn’t dialogue … nor is dialogue that doesn’t recognize human rights.”
Free and fair?

International standards of free and fair elections, set out by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1994 and subsequently adopted by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2000 and the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, call for basic rights of political expression, movement within the country and an equal basis for campaigning of all parties. In an essay on the topic, Eric Bjornlund of Democracy International wrote, “The political environment should be free of intimidation.” On its face, these conditions don’t seem to be met in Honduras’ current political climate.

Honduran and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have expressed concerns over political repression and recognition of election results. Much of Latin America, including Brazil and Argentina, have announced they will not recognize the election results.

MISF has previously reported widespread media repression since the June 28 coup, including the September closure and seizure of assets of Radio Globo and Canal 36, two of the last independent opposition voices on air. The two stations have since resumed broadcasting, albeit with limited transmission capacity. Just today Reuters reported that Canal 36 news programming was interfered and prempted by cowboy movies.

MISF Associate Producer Oscar Estrada said that the stations are severely self-censoring, fearing a repeat of military reprisals. One Radio Globo journalist, Luis Galdámez, has persisted in criticizing the de facto government on his daily program “Behind the Truth,” and, according to Amnesty International, has been receiving death threats. On Nov. 19 it was reported that Canal 36’s broadcast signal was being interfered with and news programming replaced with cowboy movies.

The Honduran government on Oct. 5 issued a decree authorizing the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) to shut down any medium that calls for abstaining from the elections or that “incites hatred,” which, according to Estrada, is widely taken as code for speaking against the state. While Conatel hasn’t yet enforced the decree, Reina Rivera, director of the Honduran NGO Center for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (Ciprodeh), said she expected it will in the immediate run-up to election day.

Privation of civil liberties has also been reported by MISF. A Sept. 27 emergency decree restricting free speech, assembly and movement—all critical aspects of a free electoral cycle—which de facto president Micheletti had promised to annul, wasn’t repealed until Oct. 25, a few days before the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord was reached. That the decree has largely been replaced by more focused decrees issued by individual ministries much to the same effect.

In addition to the Conatel decree, the national police have issued a resolution, a demonstrably illegal act, that any march or protest requires 24 hours’ notice and permission from the police. In practice, however, this policy has only applied to leftist and independent candidates, for whose events the police are the first—and, as a consequence, last—to show up.

Another decree, issued by the Security Ministry, classifies as terrorism any takeover of public space by the resistance and the use of loudspeakers. To date, several leftist political rallies, which by necessity use sound systems, have been charged in this manner.

The dissolution of any agreement on the return to power of the deposed Zelaya—a precondition to election participation given by the Resistance Front Against the Coup and the popular independent candidate, union leader Carlos H. Reyes—has resulted in the effective disenfranchisement of the opposition in the elections. Reyes has officially withdrawn from the race and the Front, as have 102 of the 128 Innovation and Unity Party congressional and mayoral candidates, as well as a faction of Zelaya’s (and Micheletti’s) majority Liberal Party.

Many leftist organizations and Zelaya himself consider the election hopelessly unfair, have called for its boycott and have begun a process to legally contest and postpone voting.

On Nov. 17, Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí announced that the 530 prosecutors of the Public Ministry will be actively seeking out and cracking down on anyone who commits “electoral crimes,” such as impeding the voting process, urging people to not participate, or destroying political propaganda, all of which will be punishable with a four-year prison sentence. The practical effect of these strictures is to further stifle opposition voices by stripping them of the one recourse they had left.

The international justice organization CEJIL reported to the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Nov. 10 about persecution and retaliation against judges and public defenders who have expressed opposition to the coup. “The acts against these officials are an illegal restriction of their rights and an intimidation tactic to silence their voices and those of the thousands of people who oppose the regime,” said Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of CEJIL.

Honduras rights advocate and former independent slate candidate Berta Cáceres, speaking with the Chilean publication El Clarín, noted that the Electoral Tribunal has engaged the military—the same body that has been illegally arresting, beating up and even killing members of the coup opposition—to supervise the balloting. She said whoever is elected on Nov. 29 will represent a “golpista” government.

Explaining an increasingly widely held view within the country, MISF’s Estrada said, “All the parties have begun to sound like one because [the military,] under its doctrine of national security, runs the country, and will continue to run the next government.”

Ciprodeh’s Rivera said reports are already coming in of heavy militarization in certain remote areas known for being armed, and she fears armed conflict. Ulises Sarmiento, a Liberal Party candidate for deputy in Olancho province and a strong resistance advocate, was attacked Nov. 18 by at least eight men armed with heavy weaponry and grenades. Two of his security detail, Delis Noé Hernández, 27, and José Manuel Beltrán, 35, were killed in the attack.

According to both Estrada and Rivera, the election has stoked fears among Hondurans on both the right, who fear unrest in the streets and the implementation of Hugo Chavez-style populism, and the left, who fear massive, possibly armed repression, and the legitimization of the coup through the voting process.
U.S. recognition

The United States has not only not made any acknowledgement of such apparently unjust and illiberal electoral conditions, but is indicating support for the election and recognition of its outcome.

As a primary broker in the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, the U.S. State Department initially seemed to be riding to the rescue in a last-ditch effort to reinstate Zelaya to power preceding the elections. However, when it became evident that Honduras’ Congress was not going to make a timely decision on Zelaya’s restitution and when Micheletti unilaterally formed the unity government, the United States insisted that the accord was still in force, indicating at a press conference on Nov. 6—a day after the deadline to reinstate Zelaya—that it would likely still recognize the election.

While this statement seemed to confuse many, it is clearly the official State Department position, since Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, echoed them a couple days earlier on CNN en Español, where he stated, “The future of Honduran democracy is in Hondurans’ [Congressional] hands,” answering affirmatively a question about recognizing the elections, no matter what transpires.

An end to the crisis?

Both Honduras and the United States want to see an end to the crisis, which is unlikely to come with the election. According to Estrada, “This will end one of three ways: by means of a patent campaign of terror that decapitates all the populist organizations; by way of an accord that brings about genuine constitutional reform; or, the third option, war.”

According to Estrada and Rivera, the election has stoked fears among Hondurans on both the right, who fear unrest in the streets and the implementation of Hugo Chavez-style populism, and the left, who fear massive, possibly armed repression, and the legitimization of the coup through the voting process.

For more information

Berta Oliva (COFADEH) Gives Testimony at Congressional Briefing sponsored by Rep. Grijalva D-AZ.” Quixote Center, November 12, 2009.

Bjornlund, Eric. “Free and Fair Elections.” Democracy International.

Casasús, Mario. “Bertha Cáceres: ‘El pueblo busca estrategias para el desconocimiento de las elecciones en Honduras.‘” El Clarin, November 11, 2009.

Con 530 fiscales perseguirán los delitos electorales: Rubi.” El Tiempo, November 17, 2009.

Entrevista Thomas Shannon en CNN 04-Nov.” YouTube.

Honduran channel says de facto govt blocks signal.” Reuters, November 20, 2009.

Honduras: Honduran radio journalist fears for his life: Luis Galdámez.” Amnesty International, Novermber 16, 2009.

IACHR concludes its 137th period of seessions.” Organization of American States, November 13, 2009.

Parks, James. “Trumka: Free Elections Not Possible Now in Honduras.” AFL-CIO Now Blog, November 16, 2009.

Poder Judicial persigue a jueces opuestos al golpe.” VosElSoberano, November 14, 2009.

U.S. Department of State. “Daily Press Briefing.” November 6, 2009.

U.S. Department of State. “Daily Press Briefing.” November 18, 2009.

Zelaya Rosales, Manuel. “Carta Presidente Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales al Presidente Obama.” November 14, 2009.

Zelaya to legally contest Honduras elections.” Agence France Presse, November 18, 2009.

Honduran channel says de facto govt blocks signal.” Reuters, November 20, 2009.

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About: Founded in 2001, May I Speak Freely Media (MISF) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting social change through media. Twenty-five years after the Honduran military, with support from the United States, committed brutal human rights abuses against its citizens, MISF Media is working with human rights advocates, international NGOs and grassroots organizations to document rights abuses and justice efforts in Honduras, help victims tell their stories, raise public awareness, and prevent the repetition of past U.S. foreign policy mistakes. Offering journalism, historical records, and other educational material, www.mayispeakfreely.org serves as a resource for policy makers, rights advocates, academics, journalists, activists and the general public. MISF Media is a fiscally sponsored nonprofit project of Media Island International, Olympia, Wash.

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[en] DeMint: Administration Commits to Recognize Honduran Elections


Commentary accompanying the press release on Republican Senator Jim DeMint’s own website: “Senator secures commitment for U.S. to back Nov. 29 elections even if Zelaya is not reinstated.”

Commentary from a Honduras solidarity activist involved with the Latin American Solidarity Network in Toronto: “This is what a cool half a million can buy in the US when you hire a high powered lobby firm, the Cormac Group, run by a former aide to Senator McCain and also connected to Hilary C.”

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November 5, 2009 – WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced he has secured a commitment from the Obama administration to recognize the Honduran elections on November 29th, regardless of whether former President Manuel Zelaya is returned to office and regardless of whether the vote on reinstatement takes place before or after November 29th. Given this commitment, which Senator DeMint has requested for months, he will lift objections on the nominations of Arturo Valenzuela to be Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Thomas Shannon to be U.S. Ambassador to Brazil.

“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections,” said Senator DeMint. “Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”

“My goal has always been to work with the administration to get the policy on the Honduran elections reversed. Now that this goal has been achieved, I will lift my objections to the two nominations.

“This marks an important step forward for the brave people of Honduras. They are proving, despite crushing hardship and impossible odds, that freedom and democracy can succeed anywhere people are willing to fight for it.

“The independence, transparency, and fairness of their elections have never been in doubt. And now, thanks to the Obama Administration’s welcome reversal, the new government sworn into office next January can expect the full support of the United States and I hope the entire international community.”

“I trust Secretary Clinton and Mr. Shannon to keep their word, but this is the beginning of the process, not the end. I will eagerly watch the elections, and continue closely monitoring our administration’s future actions with respect to Honduras and Latin America.”

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[en] Yves Engler, rabble.ca: Canadian media silent on Honduras coup

| August 17, 2009

The dominant Canadian media’s coverage of the coup in Honduras has been atrocious.

Even a close observer of the Canadian press would know almost nothing about the ongoing demonstrations, blockades and work stoppages calling for the return of elected President Manuel Zelaya.

Since Zelaya was overthrown by the military on June 28 the majority of teachers in Honduras have been on strike. Recently, health workers, air traffic controllers and taxi drivers have also taken job action against the coup.  In response the military sent troops to oversee airports and hospitals across the country.

For more than a week protesters from all corners of the country walked 20 km a day and on Tuesday tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the country’s two biggest cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. These demonstrations prompted the de facto regime to re-impose a curfew in the capital, which had been in effect in the weeks after the coup.

This resistance — taking place under the threat of military repression — has gone almost entirely unreported by leading Canadian media.  So has Canada’s tacit support for the coup.

Last Tuesday the ousted Honduran Foreign Affairs Minister told TeleSur that Canada and the U.S. were providing “oxygen” to the military government. Picked up by numerous Spanish language newspapers, Patricia Rodas called on Canada and the U.S. to suspend aid to the de facto regime.

During an official visit to Mexico with Zelaya last week, Rodas asked Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who was about to meet Harper and Obama, to lobby Ottawa and Washington on their behalf. “We are asking [Calderon] to be an intermediary for our people with the powerful countries of the world, for example, the U.S. and at this moment Canada, which have lines of military and economic support with Honduras.”

To my knowledge, no Canadian media reported Rodas’ comments. Nor did any Canadian media mention that Canada’s ambassador to Costa Rica, Neil Reeder, met coup officials in Tegucigalpa last week. The Canadian media has also ignored the fact that Canada is the only major donor to Honduras yet to sever any aid to the military government.

Latin American (and to a lesser extent U.S.) media have covered Ottawa’s tacit support for the coup more closely than the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen and most of the rest of the Canadian media. When Zelaya tried to fly into Tegucigalpa a week after the coup Canada’s minister for the Americas, Peter Kent, told the Organization of American the “time is not right” for a return. The New York Times ran two different articles that mentioned Canada’s anti-Zelaya position while Bloomberg published another.  Many Latin American news agencies also printed stories about the Conservative government’s position; however, the Canadian media was uninterested.

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A few weeks later Zelaya attempted to cross into Honduras by land from Nicaragua.  Kent once again criticized this move. “Canada’s Kent Says Zelaya Should Wait Before Return to Honduras,” read a July 20 Bloomberg headline.

A July 25 right-wing Honduran newspaper blared: “Canadá pide a Zelaya no entrar al país hasta llegar a un acuerdo” (Canada asks Zelaya not to enter the country until there’s a negotiated solution).

After publishing a number of articles about Ottawa’s position in the hours and days after the coup, Mexican news agency Notimex did a piece that summarized something this author wrote for rabble.ca.

Then on July 26 Notimex wrote about the Canadian Council for International Cooperation’s demand that Ottawa take a more firm position against the coup.

Both of these articles were published (at least online) by a number of major Spanish-language newspapers.

Finally, a month after the coup there was a small breakthrough into Canada’s dominant media. CBC radio’s The Current provided space for Graham Russell from Rights Action, a Canadian group with a long history in Honduras, to criticize Ottawa’s handling of the coup.  Unfortunately, Russell’s succinct comments were followed by the CBC interviewer’s kid gloves treatment of Minister Peter Kent. Still, the next day the Canadian Press revealed that Ottawa refused to exclude Honduras from its Military Training Assistance Program, a program rabble.ca reported on days after the coup.

Uninterested in the Conservative government’s machinations, the Canadian media is even less concerned with the corporations that may be influencing Ottawa’s policy towards Honduras.  Rights Action has uncovered highly credible information that Vancouver-based Goldcorp provided buses to the capital, Tegucigalpa, and cash to former employees who rallied in support of the coup.

As far as I can tell, the Halifax Chronicle Herald is the only major Canadian media outlet that has mentioned this connection between the world’s second biggest gold producer and the coup.

Under pressure from the Maquila Solidarity Network, two weeks ago Nike, Gap and two other U.S.-based apparel company operating in Honduras released a statement calling for the restoration of democracy.

With half of its operations in the country Montréal-based Gildan activewear, the world’s largest blank T-shirt maker, refused to sign this statement. According to company spokesperson Genevieve Gosselin, Gildan employs more than 11,000 people in Honduras. Without a high-profile brand name Gildan is particularly dependent on producing T-shirts and socks at the lowest cost possible and presumably the company opposed Zelaya’s move to increase the minimum wage by 60 per cent at the start of the year.  Has Gildan actively supported the coup like Goldcorp? It is hard to know since there has yet to be any serious investigation of the company’s recent activities in the country.

The Canadian media’s coverage of the coup demonstrates the importance of independent media. We need to support news outlets willing to challenge the powerful.

Yves Engler is the author of the recently released The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and other books. The book is available at blackbook.foreignpolicy.ca. If you are interested in helping to organize an event as part of the second leg of a book tour in late September please contact: yvesengler[at]hotmail[dot]com.

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article published by http://rabble.ca

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[en] Narco News: US Secretary of State Clinton’s Micro-Management of the Corporation that Funds the Honduras Coup Regime

Records Demonstrate that the Secretary Has Hands-On Control of the Fund that Gave $6.5 Million to the Regime After the June 28 Coup

By Bill Conroy and Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 11, 2009

In recent days, Narco News has reported that, in the three months prior to the June 28 coup d’etat in Honduras, the US-funded Millennium Change Corporation (MCC) gave at least $11 million US dollars to private-sector contractors in Honduras and also that since the coup it has doled out another $6.5 million.

The latter revelation – that the money spigot has been left on even after the coup – comes in spite of claims by the State Department that it has placed non-humanitarian funding “on pause” pending a yet-unfinished review.

Narco News has further learned – based on a review documents available on the websites of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the US State Department – that Secretary Clinton, as chairman of the MCC board, is not just a figurehead in name only. She has played an extremely active role in governing and promoting the fund and its decisions.

An August 6 statement by MCC acting chief executive officer Darius Mans praises Clinton and President Obama for their balls-out support of MCC:

Now, well into a new administration and era, I am encouraged by the level of support MCC has been given by Congress and senior government leaders. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, chair of MCC’s board, confirms, “President Obama supports the MCC, and the principle of greater accountability in our foreign assistance programs.” The Secretary herself has referred to Millennium Challenge grants as a “very important part of our foreign policy. It is a new approach, and it’s an approach that we think deserves support.” Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew has said, “MCC is getting off the ground and making real progress.

Secretary Clinton’s official “blog” at the State Department reveals that the June 10 meeting of MCC’s board – just 18 days before the Honduras coup – was on the Secretary’s schedule:

Here’s what Hillary has on her plate for today, June 10th:
10:00 a.m. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Board Meeting and Luncheon.

Last March, the previous MCC acting executive director Rodney Bent wrote:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chaired her first MCC Board meeting this week. I was pleased to be part of this historic transition, and I welcomed Secretary Clinton’s active participation at the meeting. Her presence and the presence of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other public and private sector Board members signal the importance of MCC’s ongoing commitment to delivering change in the lives of the world’s poor.

A recent move by the Clinton-led MCC board documents that the US-funded corporation has already discussed the cutting of funds to another Central American country, Nicaragua, based on criticism of its government, and that this was the topic of MCC’s June 10 session, chaired by Secretary Clinton. The Christian Science Monitor reported:

LEÓN, NICARAGUA – US concerns over last year’s questionable municipal elections in Nicaragua could be strong enough to cause leftist President Daniel Ortega, a cold-war nemesis of the US, to lose $64 million in development aid. In a Wednesday meeting with the board of directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an international development initiative started during the Bush administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss whether to cancel the remaining portion of a $175 million compact awarded in 2006.

In December, the US government froze new aid after expressing serious concern about “the government of Nicaragua’s manipulation of municipal elections and a broader pattern of actions inconsistent with the MCC eligibility criteria.”

At the June 10 meeting, the MCC board approved partially terminating the agency’s foreign-aid compact with Nicaragua — resulting in some $62 million in U.S. foreign aid being withheld from that nation, which shares a border with Honduras. And in May o f this year, the Clinton-led MCC board approved the termination of the agency’s compact with Madagascar in the wake of a coup in that nation. However, no such action has been taken by the MCC board, to date, in the wake of the Honduran coup.

In the context of President Obama’s statement last weekend that those who urge the US to take stronger action against the Honduras coup regime “think that it’s appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate,” calling it “hypocrisy.” The revelation that Clinton and MCC have already sanctioned the elected government of Nicaragua and its private sector in ways that it so far refuses to sanction the illegal coup regime of Honduras and its private backers has revealed one important fact: That Washington has already determined that “it’s appropriate” to deny MCC funds to a country for lighter and more transient reasons than those that exist to sanction a coup regime in another.

Didn’t a certain US President, last weekend, speak the word “hypocrisy” in the context of the US and the Honduras coup?

If “it’s appropriate” to sanction Nicaragua for lesser reasons, why not apply the sanction of denying MCC funds to a criminal coup regime in Honduras that Washington claims it has “paused” giving money, but that it continues to fund?

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Published by Narco News: http://www.narconews.com/Issue59/article3760.html

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[en] U.S. State Dept: “we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup”

Welcome to Honduras! Las Manos, July 25, 2009. Photo: Sandra CuffeWelcome to Honduras!!! Smiling civilian government officials greet visitors and tourists traveling across the border into Honduras. Phew! Glad it’s not a military coup! (photo: Sandra Cuffe @ Las Manos border, July 25, 2009.)

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“We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing…” – Robert Wood, Department of State Deputy Spokesman

Robert Wood
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 6, 2009

excerpt regarding Honduras:

QUESTION: There’s a similar report on Honduras, actually, about it this morning that a assistant secretary has written Senator Lugar to say that the U.S. is softening its stance on the Honduras coup and does not want to place any sort of lasting penalties on the Honduran Government – the interim government. Is that true? Or how would you best characterize the position —
MR. WOOD: The best way I can characterize this, Kirit, is that we are not softening on our position with regard to Zelaya. We have been – as you know, we have been working hard to try to get both parties to take up seriously the San Jose Accords. We think it’s the best way forward for resolving the political situation, political crisis in Honduras. We believe this is the best mechanism for it. And we’re going to continue to try to convince both parties and go from there. But a coup took place in the country, and –
QUESTION: Well, you haven’t officially legally declared it a coup yet.
MR. WOOD: We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Why does it take so long to review whether there’s a military coup or not?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are a lot of legal issues here that have to be carefully examined before we can make that determination, and it requires information being shared amongst a number of parties. We need to be able to take a look at that information and make our best legal judgment as to whether or not –
QUESTION: It seems to be taking a very long time.
MR. WOOD: Well, things take time when you’re dealing with these kinds of very sensitive legal issues. So we want to make sure that –
QUESTION: Have you made a decision on whether to impose additional sanctions on the de facto government?
MR. WOOD: No decision has been made to do anything right now, other than support the San Jose Accords and the mediation process.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But have you made a determination whether – whether – not to impose sanctions? I mean, this report and this letter to Senator Lugar suggests that you’ve made the decision not to impose sanctions.
MR. WOOD: Look, I’m certainly not going to talk about the details of the correspondence that we have had with a congressperson or senator. I’m not going to do that from here. I can – what I can tell you is that the United States is doing everything it can to try to support the return to constitutional democratic order in the country. And we’re going to do what we think is best to try to move that process forward.
QUESTION: But my question wasn’t about the letter. My question was whether you’ve made the decision not to impose new sanctions on Honduras?
MR. WOOD: And what I’m saying to you is that where we’re focused right now is on supporting that process and trying to get the two parties to come to some sort of a political settlement. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add on that question.

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[en] GRITtv: Laura Flanders interviews Rick Rowley & Sandra Cuffe

August 4, 2009.

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[en] The REAL News: Honduras – Where Does Washington Stand?

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