Archive for the ‘Cuba’ Category

Military Coup in Honduras

June 29, 2009

The name of this blog was derived from a Warren Zevon song called “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, which contains the following verse:

Now I’m hiding in Honduras/I’m a desperate man/Send lawyers, guns and money/The shit has hit the fan!

So it would be very apropo for me to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Honduras.

On Sunday morning, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by military personnel and then forcibly taken to an airbase while still in his pajamas.  From there, a waiting plane took him to Costa Rica where he is still in exile.  The Honduran Congress announced that it received and accepted a letter of resignation from Zelaya, but the ousted president claims he never wrote or signed such a document.  Roberto Michetti, who was serving as the president of the National Congress, has taken over Zelaya’s position.

Prior to the coup, Zelaya had alienated conservative segments of Honduran society with his leftist policies at home and abroad.  He also angered powerful people when he recently called for a national referendum to alter the constitution and get rid of presidential term limits, an act which the Supreme Court said was illegal.  When Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the head of the armed forces, refused to help organize the referendum Zelaya fired him, but Velasquez was reinstated after the Supreme Court and the Congress declared his ouster unlawful.  The military is politically influential in many Latin American countries, and the Honduran military may have come to see Zelaya as a political threat and decided he needed to be removed from office.

The Obama administration joined the international community in condemning the coup and refusing to recognize the new government.  Nevertheless, some have suggested that the US secretly supported the removal of Zelaya, who has allied with leftist regimes hostile to the US (such as Cuba and Venezuela) and critized some American policies.  The US has military ties with Honduras as it does with many Latin American countries, a fact which conspiracy theorists point to as evidence of US involvement or acquiesence in the putsch. 

Given the history of US involvement in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, it is understandable why some are automatically suspicious whenever a leftist government is overthrown in the region.  However, it is difficult to see why the Obama administration would risk its international standing at this moment in history merely to effect regime change in Honduras, a country with almost no strategic or ideological significance.  It would be much more plausible to blame an attempted coup in Venezuela, an oil rich nation with a vehemently anti-American president who is believed to be supporting communist insurgents in Colombia, on the US (there was a failed coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002 and Washington was accused of being involved).  Like most conspiracy theories, the one about Ameircan involvement in this latest coup is not very credible.

The UN Human Rights Council

May 11, 2009

In an op-ed piece published in the New York Times yesterday (www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/opinion/11/havel.html), Vaclac Havel, former President of the Czech Republic who led the effort throw of the yoke of communist tyranny in his country, railed against the conditions surrounding the upcoming elections for the UN Human Rights Council, a body which is supposed to oppose human rights abuses and protect victims of those crimes.  The elections will be virtually uncontested, and states that egregiously violate human rights such as China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia will have seats on the council.

Havel does a nice job of pointing out the farcical nature of the UN Human Rights Council, and his article is definitely worth reading.

Engaging with Cuba

April 30, 2009

In a conciliatory gesture, the Obama administration recently eased restrictions on telecommunications with Cuba and now allows unlimited money transfers and travel for people with relatives in one of the few remaining communist states.

Yesterday, Cuban President Raul Castro dismissed the change in US policy as “achieving only the minimum,” and said that his regime would not take any immediate steps to appease the American government.

He put the onus for rapprochement back on Washington, saying “It is not Cuba who has to make gestures.”

Relations between the US and Cuba have been hostile since the early 1960s when Cuban President Fidel Castro allied with the Soviet Union and the Kennedy administration imposed an economic embargo on the island nation and cut off diplomatic ties.  Although there have since been calls in the US for lifting the embargo and establishing normal relations with Cuba, no American administration has been willing to do so, partly out of fear of alienating anti-Castro Cuban-American voters in Florida, a key electoral state.

Now that the Cold War is over, Fidel Castro has relinquished power to his brother, and a younger generation of Cuban-Americans that supports more open relations is politically active, there appears to be less opposition to engaging with the Cuban regime.  The Obama administration, which has championed engagement with hostile regimes as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, might be more amenable than previous administrations to improving relations with Cuba.

Arguments for closer ties argue that the embargo has clearly failed, given that the communists remain in power nearly 50 years after the policy was implemented, and therefore serves no purpose.  Some believe that a greater US presence in the country will undermine the autocratic regime and help usher in democracy.  Pro-engagement partisans point to the US relationship with communist China and say that the US should have a similar relationship with Cuba for economic and political reasons.

Opponents argue such a policy would prop up the communists and enable them to stay in power because the Cuban economy would improve significantly if US dollars start pouring into it.  They also claim that normalizing relations will signal American acquiescence to a brutal dictatorship.

It is unclear if the Obama administraiton will take further steps to improve relations with Cuba.  Its general policy of trying to work with antagonistic regimes suggests that it will, although Cuba is a relatively minor foreign policy problem for a president who has many more pressing issues on his agenda, and therefore Obama might not be willing to expend much time, effort and political capital to deal with it.