Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thoughts on Honduras

Well, I think it's fair to say that the recent actions taken by the current de facto government of Honduras under the leadership of Roberto Micheletti have exposed the authoritarian and autocratic inclinations of this usurper government. Many U.S. conservatives have supported the Micheletti government following its installation in the wake of the military coup against the controversial, but duly-elected left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya. They have argued that the ouster of Zelaya was constitutionally defensible in the wake of Zelaya's misbehavior (some would argue Zelaya's treason), and that the subsequent Micheletti government were each necessary to preserve freedom and democracy in Honduras. But now that the Micheletti government has unilaterally suspended civil rights and constitutional guarantees by shutting down opposition media outlets and by preventing rights to free assembly, all in the name of "order," its former supporters in the U.S. have now responded with a deafening silence. Since the Micheletti government showed its autocratic nature, there is simply no way that anyone can continue to argue that this government is acting out of a commitment to democracy and freedom. And lest anyone seek to argue that the Micheletti government is the better of two bad alternatives, I would simply point out that as manipulative as Zelaya might have been, he never responded to his opposition by suspending constitutional rights. His opponents were always free to speak out against him, to organize and protest his behavior, and to flood the airwaves and their print media outlets with their criticism. It is the Micheletti government that, when faced with the public expression of opposition in an organized and peaceful, but determined, fashion, resorted to the behavior of dictatorships.

Given recent events in Honduras, I'd like to revisit the whole context of this crisis and offer some of my own opinions which have been germinating for a while.

First, let me starty by suggesting that the situation in Honduras was and is not as clear-cut and black & white as folks either on the left or the right have made it. Here is some food for thought. First, regarding the original claim by the coup supporters that Zelaya was seeking to establish the mechanism for instituting a Hugo Chavez style dictatorship in his own country, I think it is important to note that Zelaya was not specifically attempting to extend his term of office. In fact, what gets obfuscated in the polemics, is that what Zelaya had actually proposed was to insert in the upcoming election a ballot measure that would have been a binding referendum on the Honduran people's opinion regarding support for calling a constitutional convention with the purpose of reviewing the constitution and perhaps proposing amendments to the constitution, one of which would have included the Constitutional provision that limited a President to one term in office. The Supreme Court ruling against Zelaya was that it was illegal for him even to propose a "binding" referendum. So Zelaya then changed the measure to be a "non-binding" resolution. Whether or not one thinks Zelaya was simply playing fast and loose with the intent of the Supreme Court's ruling is another question. (And I happen think Zelaya WAS playing fast and loose. But, hey, that's politics!) However, that said, in a country governed by the Rule of Law, the next step would have been for the Supreme Court to decide on the legality of this "non-binding" referendum. But they never got that far before the coup took place. Secondly, contrary to what is currently circulating among much of the uninformed punditocracy and blogosphere, the Honduran Supreme Court did not order Zelaya arrested and deported. That's simply an untruth. The Supreme Court declared Zelaya in violation of their original ruling and thus subject to arrest and a subsequent trial for this violation of the ruling. In other words, the Supreme Court basically declared Zelaya to be in contempt of court. What the Supreme Court did not do was to authorize any particular authority to arrest Zelaya. It did not call for the military to detain Zelaya. And it certainly did not order, nor did it condone, his unwilling exile from the country under force of arms. That was done unilaterally by the Honduran military with some vocal support by members of the Honduran Congress.

Second, the Honduran Constitution is unclear on who actually IS the proper authority to arrest a President accused of illegal activity and what is the proper way of bringing to trial a President so-accused. There is nothing in the Honduran Constitution that affords the Congress or the military any authority to act in the way that they did. In this regard, the Honduran Constitution really is a badly-flawed document. Neverthelss, the proper way to deal with this lack of clarity in such situations in a liberal democracy is not for the Congress to make a power grab, as it did, in its struggle with the Executive; but rather for Congress to legislate a process whereby a rogue President is brought to trial and formally impeached.

With regard to the formal U.S. government position on the coup, I would say that the this position is not one of being pro-Zelaya and anti-Supreme Court, as some critics of the U.S. response have argued, but rather one of being pro-democracy versus anti-democracy. Here's the thing: how "democratic" can a country be considered if there are articles of its constitution that are simply un-amendable? Heck, even the most hallowed articles of the U.S. Constitution are not presumed to be un-amendable. Popular sovereignty (i.e. government of the people, by the people, and for the people), not to mention freedom, requires that no constitutional provision be sacrosanct such that it is exempt always and everywhere, forever, from popular sanction and approval. Imagine if the framers of the U.S. Constitution had written a provision into the document that basically stated that only property-owning white males had the right to vote in elections and that this provision could never be amended or repealed, and that any effort to do so would amount to treason. That is, in essence, what the Honduran Constitution says about Presidential term limits. There is something to be said (and perhaps not all good) about the quality of Honduras's democracy and the nature of freedom under a constitution that cannot be amended in some parts and which parts are thus completely and utterly beyond the scrutiny of the people whom the Constitution serves.

Finally, I would always urge folks to think about what is proper conflict resolution between the co-equal branches of government in a liberal democracy. If we would not tolerate the manner of dealing with our own President in the way that Honduras has dealt with its own President, then there is an inconsistency within our own notions of what constitutes proper democratic governance. And when it is coupled with the idea that Honduras can't be expected to live up to the same standards of democratic governance that we in the U.S. would expect because Honduras is, after all, a third world banana republic, then this inconsistency is also very relativist, not to mention patronizing. We should always expect that our democratic allies would not simply have the military round up the country's President in his pajamas, force him into exile, and install a new government over the course of 24 hours. The question I keep asking folks who supported this coup: Would we tolerate this if it happened in our own country? Or in Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Australia, etc.? I doubt it. And why is that? The answer to this question is simple: we fashion ourselves as people more accustomed to dealing with such crises through a strict adherence to the Rule of Law and never through a reliance on the force of arms, much less through the use of the national military.

In short, if anyone supports a military ouster of a President, a President who was never given a fair trial under due process of the law with the right to mount a legal defense in a legitimate trial in front of a duly constituted jury, however that process might take shape, just because Honduras is a third-world basket case that doesn't know a better way to deal with such problems, then shame on you. We should expect more from our Democratic allies, and not settle for the REAL third world basket case solution (i.e. a military coup) that actually took place.

All this is not to say that I support Zelaya or even that I like the man. Frankly, I'm not much of a fan of his, nor do I think he's operating with any measure of sincerity himself. He certainly has demagogic and anti-democratic tendencies like Hugo Chavez. But, even still, I can't claim to be an advocate of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law if I accept the manner in which Zelaya, who, for better or for worse, was the duly-elected President of Honduras, was removed from office and thrown out of the country.

For a good summation of the case against the ouster of Zelaya on constitutional, and legal procedural grounds, go here.

Fujimori Sentencing

In light of our country profile on Peru this past week, I have provided a link to this article. It seems that Alberto Fujimori, Peru's former president, has been sentenced to his fourth prison term. After pleading guilty to illegal wiretaps and bribery, Fujimori will now serve six years in prison, as well as paying a hefty fine.

Possible Return to Office for Zelaya?

The Associated Press is reporting that there is an increased effort in Honduras to end the coup crisis which might end with Zelaya being reinstated as President with limited powers until his original term is over. More suprisingly, this proposition is coming from some of the very people who helped orquestrate his ouster. Considering that this crisis has paralyzed Honduras, the poorest nation in Central America, for the past 3 months, a return to normalcy at any cost would be the best thing for the Honduran people.

Olympic Games in Brazil

I love the Olympics and was immediately drawn to this NY Times article. Rio de Janeiro is one of four cities left that is still in consideration for the 2016 Summer Olympics. 1968 was the last time the Summer Olympics was held in a Latin American country (Mexico City, Mexico) and 1992 was the last time the Summer Olympics was held in a Spanish speaking country (Barcelona, Spain). Brazilian president Lula da Silva is in full support of the Olympic bid for his country as is 85% of Rio's residents. Rio is hoping to use its status as a future Olympic site to improve and upgrade its infrastructure, attracting more tourists, much like Barcelona did in 1992.

(Photo from

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mario Vargas Llosa

Since our LAST class is discussing a novel next week written by the famous peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, I began to read his biography and provided an excerpt below:


Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈmaɾjo ˈβarɣas ˈʎosa]) (born March 28, 1936) is a Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, and essayist. Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America's most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading authors of his generation. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom.[1]

Vargas Llosa rose to fame in the 1960s with novels such as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros, 1963/1966[2]), The Green House (La casa verde, 1965/1968), and the monumental Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969/1975). He continues to write prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973/1978) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films.

Many of Vargas Llosa's works are influenced by the writer's perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. Increasingly, however, he has expanded his range, and tackled themes that arise from other parts of the world. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with literary modernism, to a sometimes playful postmodernism.

Like many Latin American authors, Vargas Llosa has been politically active throughout his career; over the course of his life, he has gradually moved from the political left towards the right. While he initially supported the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa later became disenchanted. He ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990 with the center-right Frente Democrático (FREDEMO) coalition, advocating neoliberal reforms. He has subsequently supported moderate conservative candidates.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Leaders of Modern Flamenco Music

I don' t know if anyone else has heard of this band but Rodrigo y Gabriela, an acoustic guitar duo from Mexico City, is in my opinion one of the most talented flamenco groups out there right now. Rodrigo Sanchez (lead guitar) and Gabriela Quintero (rythem guitar) started out playing heavy metal music in Mexico City but then relocated to Dublin, Ireland and switched to acoustic/flamenco music. They have recently released their second album, 11:11, and are beginning another tour.

I ranke these guys skill-wise with artists like Esteban and Eric Clapton when it comes to acoustic guitar. And their earlier heavy metal style playing is evident in their fast-paced playing and covers of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Metallica's "Orion." My personal favorite is "Satori." I would definately recommend Rodrigo y Gabriela to anyone who has ever been a fan of acoustic guitar. Here's a link to their website:

Mass Grave found in Colombia

I recently found this article about a mass grave found in Colombia.

Colombian officials had found 17 bodies in a ranch of a now deceased militia leader. The bodies had shown signs of torture and were dismembered. The article also mentions that they were likely killed due to drug-related conflicts of interests between some guerrilla groups. Over 2,500 bodies have been found in Colombia in such graves since 2005.

I thought that this would be a nice tie-in with one of the articles for next class about the drug situation in Latin America and just how far and deep this problem goes.

Why Poor Countries are Poor

I am taking a class called Comparative Politics and we just today
talked about "Why Poor Countries are Poor." I found it interesting
that one of the theories we discussed is the idea that countries,
especially those in Latin America, that only produce agricultural
products, will suffer due produce's inelastic demand. Thus no matter
the wealth of the United States, there won't be a higher demand for
bananas if wages go up. I just thought it was an interesting theory of
why Latin America seems to be stuck in a perpetual state of economic

Friday, September 25, 2009

Honduran Coup - what will happen to President Zelaya?

Democracy Now! has done an awesome job at following the coup in Honduras. As most probably know, Zelaya returned to the country a few days ago, finding safety in the Brazilian embassy. While it is unlikely that the Honduran military would enter the Brazilain embassy for fear of making a real enemy out of Brazil (a much bigger country one might note), the military has been finding other ways of retaliating - mainly by arresting many and killing a few of Zelaya's supporters.

Food to Economic Stablity in Peru

Peru is now trying to make its cuisine the new sushi. I think this idea is a great way to expand Latin America's influence in the global arena and to bring development to Latin America. As the article says, if more and more Peruvian restuarants open in the world and their foods get popular, people will want genuine Latin American crops and what not.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two Honduran Presidents

The developments in Honduras over the presidential race are extremely bizarre. The deposed president, Manual Zelaya, snuck back into Honduras and has been sheltering himself in the Brazilian embassy. Neither Zelaya nor the current president, Robert Micheletti, will begin talking in an effort to resolve the very pressing issue.

Castro and Obama on Climate

I found an article from the BBC that cites quotes from Fidel Castro on Obama's stance on climate change. Castro actually praises Obama for saying the United States has been too slow take action on climate change. I thought this was very interesting considering the past relationship between Castro and presidents of the United States.

"Curfew lifted, Hondurans seek normalcy"

AP article
It's good to see that Honduran life is normal again after Zelaya's return. I wonder how long before they need another curfew....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Country of World Records!

I was looking at the New York Times today and I found an entertaining slideshow about all of the ridiculous world records Mexico holds. Here is the link. There are some funny ones like the 13,000 people that danced Micheal Jackson's "Thriller" in Mexico City. Could you imagine? Others are just disturbing; for example, a tattoo artist is suspended for 3 hours by hooks in his back! Check it out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This article talks about the first year of Raul Castro's presidency. The article characterizes his time in office as effective, especially when considering the natural disasters and economic crisis that Cuba has dealt with. It also discusses the president's success on opening Cuba to the international community. It says that Raul has also renewed it's Cold War treaty with Russia. Many where unsure if communism would hold up in the country but it seems to be surviving.  
-Here's a link to Raul Castro's biography 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shift in Mexican Politics?

I came across this New York Times Article titled "Economic Decline Lifts the Prospect of A Vocal Populist". The populist they are referring to is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the mexican politician who was narrowly defeated by Felipe Calderón in the 2006 presidential election. The article suggests that due to the recent economic decline in Mexico, the people are beginning to lean more towards the left on political issues and support for Andrés Manuel López Obrador is gradually increasing. Mexico is, for the most part, a conservative nation, and I think that it is interesting that a political shift to the left is slowly occurring. I also think it is interesting that the economic decline is the catalyst for this change. I am very curious to see how Mexican politics will be in the next few years, and this article provides a good indication of what may be to come. You should all check it out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Healthcare in Mexico and how our changes might affect Latino immigrants

I thought it might be interesting to look at the healthcare systems in some countries we will be studying. I know the thought getting sick in a foreign country has always terrified me, just because I never thought a poorer country could have the same healthcare quality as the US. I was surprised to see positive descriptions of Mexico, El Salvador, and Nicaragua's healthcare systems. I think they are probably more directed to tourists being able to get care there, but I was still impressed with how the doctors are trained and reviewed. I also thought about the Mexican teenager, who died after a transplant at Duke due to a blood type mismatch. I then remembered all of the arguments over her family's right to sue since they were not citizens of the US and what not. I also believe she had gotten here illegally, so that increased the controvesy. I am wondering how that situation will be handled once our healthcare system is reformed, especially since many Americans have concerns over their tax dollars going to treat illiegal immigrants' health issues. The whole healthcare debate has definitely brought illegal immigrant issues back on the table. I agree with this concern, but I also do not want the Latino immigrants to suffer even more than they already do when it comes to healthcare. I am interested to find out what will happen in regards to all of these healthcare issues.

Articles about healthcare in Latin America:
El Salvador

Finally, a New York Times article on healthcare reform and the illegal immigrant debate.

Cuba Back to Basics

I was looking at videos on, and I found this particular one very interesting, especially with the readings we did this week about neocolonialism. The neocolonial period was all about economic growth in Latin American countries, and now, in this time of financial crisis, Cuba is having to return to a time before industry existed, in order to save them money. Luckily, President Obama has lifted the United States' restrictions on the amount of money that Cuban Americans are allowed to send home.

"Black-Brown" Conflict post Katrina

A week or two back when we were discussing Passing Unseen, I came upon this article. It's from the LA Times and although a few years old, it directly talks about the "Black-Brown" conflict we talked so much about in a past class. I hope you enjoy reading it!

American Business Strategy

I recently stumbled upon a joke concerning the views of American business and Mexico and I thought it was very fitting considering our Latin American Studies class were currently discussing the outside intervention into Latin American affairs during the neocolonial period. Here it is:

American businessman was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs. The American then asked the Mexican how he spent the rest of his time. The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor." The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. "You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise." The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will this all take?" To which the American replied, "15-20 years." "But what then, senor?" asked the Mexican. The American laughed, and said, "That's the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You'll become very rich, you would make millions!" "Millions, senor?" replied the Mexican. "Then what?" The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chance of Improved ties between the United States and Cuba

I stumbled across this article while reading the news on Despite the extension of the decades old trade embargo by the Obama administration, the Cuban government is holding direct talks with State Department officials about the possibility of opening up direct mail with Cuba again.

Hopefully it won't be too long for the whole trade embargo is lifted so I can get my hands on some authentic Cohiba and Montecristo cigars!

Guatemalan Food Crisis

President Colom of Guatemala has declared a national food crisis and is seeking international aid to buy food for many Guatemalans. Here is a short video from Al Jazeera English Publications that expands on the depth of the crisis.

As we have discussed in class, there are high levels of inequality in Guatemala and the Mayan population (40 percent) is especially marginalized.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tomorrow, Mexico celebrates its independence day!

The entire country is going to celebrate and participate in the Grito de Independencia.

Here is an article about the celebrations: Independence Festivals Gain Momentum.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Here's a link to a blog that I visited a lot before and during my exchange. It gives a nice glimpse into Brazilian language, culture, and sometimes a little politics. It updates pretty regularly, and it is just filled with a lot of random information.

Friday, September 11, 2009

New presence on Texas-Mexico border

This AP article that I read in the Seattle Times reports Texas governor Rick Perry's announcement that he will send teams of Texas Rangers to the Mexican border. The article didn't mention the scale of it, and his election opponent called it an "empty promise", so it will be interesting to see if this move has any effect on the Mexican gangs that are allegedly causing border violence.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Gang Issues in El Salvador

I thought this article from the NY Times was interesting and pertains to our class's discussion of gang violence and formation in El Salvador. I know it's from a few days ago, but the article shows how far the "epidemic" of gang violence has reached within El Salvadorian society. A French filmmaker, making a documentary on gang violence, was murdered. The website for his film, La Vida Loca gives the viewer a better look at gang life in El Salvador.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Gearing Up Again

The Cuaderno Latinoamericano will be gearing up again in conjunction with a group of new student bloggers. Although it has been dormant for some time, I expect it to become lively in short order.

To kick off the Cuaderno Latinoamericano again, I'd like to point you to a recent CNN piece on the thriving Latino community in New Orleans four years after Hurricane Katrina.

It's a very brief article, but a nice little update. And one of the two principle voices in this piece will be helping some of the student who will be posting here at the Cuaderno Latinoamericano keep their fingers on the pulse of the local Latino community.