[see update to these fieldnotes here]
This was a week full of think tanks, policy wonks, and State Department lies. I'll never have time to type of my dozens of pages of notes, and since they are so repetitive (as are the Obama administration's talking points), I will to a certain degree be summarizing here. In addition, the first notes are from Tuesday, and it's now Saturday, which is far too long a wait between notepad and keypad, and my memory is not what it once was...
Tuesday's event was at the Wilson Center in the Ronald Reagan building with full airport security, USAID, Border Security, and a big chunk of the Berlin wall. The first time I went to the maze-like building, a few days before the coup (doesn't everyone measure time as either before or after June 28th?), two federal police agents escorted me up and down stairs, through strange corridors, inside and outside past multiple x-ray machines, trying to find my credit union, which I now know is past the ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this") wall, down the curvy stairs to the left, through the middle set of nondescript doors, down the hallway past the other hallway and in the small room to the left, just past the ATM. No sign.
So this time I was lost again, but made it in just before the start. At the tables in front of the room were coffee and pastries, and fliers and free books. Book title: "Democratic Deficits: Addressing Challenges to Sustainability and Consolidation Around the World." Cover image of an old man's hand depositing a ballot in a ballot box. Democratic deficits? Really? This is why I have so much trouble speaking to political scientists.
Inside, familiar faces...Hugo Noé Pino, World Bank representative for Honduras but eloquent and critical of the coup, Roberto Flores Bermudez, golpista ex-ambassador who was speaking later in the week at the Heritage foundation and is now trying to position himself as neutral, some familiar non-profit & activist faces, the Telesur folks, a friend from the embassy. Folks sat around two long fancy tables sipping catered coffee and eating sweet bready things, although I couldn't help but notice the big piece of tape covering a rip in the carpet. The whole event was videotaped, and we were told the video would be put on the Wilson Center's site--hopefully that will happen soon.
The official roster was as follows: Norman García, Honduras; Leticia Salomón, Centro de Documentación de Honduras (CEDOH); Craig Kelly, U.S. Department of State. The speakers were introduced by a young overconfident ABD named José Raúl Perales, who later scolded me for somewhat forcefully asking Craig Kelly to give me one single concrete example to substantiate his claim that the State Department had taken a strong stand against specific human rights abuses in Honduras (apparently the hallway of the Wilson Center "[wasn't] the place" for that kind of question). Perales said something about Lobo's task, and the character and strength of Latin American Democracy being tested (I was counting on the transcript being up, so this isn't going to be precise), which I responded to in my notes with "what about U.S. democracy?' Really, don't we even care about the appearance of democracy? Because if we do, we've failed.
Someone was making eye contact across from me. Gabriela Zambrano, politely nodding hello. I assumed she had read my notes on our meeting by then, but who knows. I nodded back. We'll keep an eye on each other.
Although Salomón prefered to not go first, she was pushed into it by the others, who took an aggressively chauvenist "ladies first" approach. But it wouldn't have mattered which order she went in; her analysis was so ferociously clear that Kelly, and especially Garcia, just looked foolish. Salomón's notes, at least, were on the Wilson Center's site. You can see them (in Spanish) here. One thing that stood out to me was her observation that the days of and after the elections, people for the first time were raising their hands in the streets to show they were not stained; that they had not voted.
Norman García, an elite businessman/statesman fool, really made an ass of himself. He started out by poo-pooing Salomón's presentation ("I thought this was about democratic governance, not revisiting the events of June 28th"), and saying that what had happened--coup, de facto government, elections, was all agua bajo el puente. Like Obama (who gave war criminals a gold-plated gift with this one), he wanted to mirar adelante. He then gave what amounted to a high school presentation. "What is governance? Governance is..." In my notes, the following reads "blah blah blah," and I swear there really wasn't much more to it. It was a wikipedia presentation. He said he wanted to dispel myths. For example, Honduras is not the poorest country in the continent. It's like the third poorest. He cites HDI index and other truth-creating stats. Growth with equity and development must be a priority. Checks and balances, including civil society, participation (I write "á la Rahnema" in my notes). Just an amazing golpista disconnect that, after Salomón's brilliant analysis based on empirical facts, made him look like a total idiot.
Kelly, of course, was much smoother. Talking points in hand, he spoke like a politician. Like García and Obama, he prefered to talk about the future. Which makes sense. Why talk about the blood already on U.S. hands for its role in supporting the military regime, when acknowledging that would also expose our government to blame for the blood--so much more Central American blood--that will be on its hands in the coming months and years. He claims the U.S. issued the earliest denunciation of the coup (taking credit for the OAS's strong statement) despite the fact that the U.S. took over two months to even admit, officially, that a coup had taken place, and still refused to acknowledge it as a military coup. But despite the U.S.'s strong early denunciation (according to Kelly), there was a need to "match our principles with pragmatic solutions." With realpolitik pragmatism, he repeated Obama's lie that the same people who wanted the U.S. to not intervene elsewhere wanted the U.S. to intervene in Honduras. [no, once again, we only asked the U.S. to follow its own laws and stop intervening, stop supporting a military coup government] He claimed that "we spoke up very vocally about human rights abuses," a claim contradicted by, well, reality. The Guaymuras dialogue, he said, came from Honduras. "We stepped in at the last minute." The best part of the accord, according to him, was the truth commissions [the ones Pepe Lobo has pretty much promised to not have].
Kelly continued that just because the situation was controversial, that there was a de facto regime, etc., was no reason to trash the elections. After all [talking point #1] the candidates were selected long before the coup, and the TSE was appointed long before the coup [i.e., the coup changed nothing, conditions don't matter; also, no mention of the fact that the TSE members were illegally appointed not that long, actually, before the coup]. Oh, and there were observers there, from lots of countries [no mention that the only countries officially there were the U.S. and Taiwan, and that every other country, international organization, and even the Carter Center had refused to take part in the elections they recognized in advance as being fraudulent, and that the other observers were all from golpista agencies funded by the State Department]. "We don't agree with the numbers given [by Salomón, which actually reflected the TSE's own statistics, though not their claims]; you have to look at the numbers (here he claimed that the 15% of voters residing in the U.S., who he had already admitted have historically voted in very low numbers, would account for the missing 15% participation)...The conclusion of most international observers [again, take "international" with a bit salt lick here] was that there were high levels of participation. Hondurans had the chance to speak for themselves." [Here I'd agree. And what they said, loud and clear, was that a majority of them did not view these elections as valid].
Perales wouldn't call on me, despite making pseudo-apologetic eye contact about 15 times. One of the first people he called on was some NDI representative who had saved the seat next to him for Otto Reich (who came in partway through Salomón's speech). This is a guy who witnessed a brutal military attack on non-violent protesters in San Pedro Sula (he's in the video). He blathered for several minutes about how grateful the little people of Honduras were to have their elections, and how they all told him how happy they were to have the chance to exercise their democratic right to vote, and that they were sure this signaled the end to the crisis.
Here's the question I didn't get to ask, as scribbled down in my notebook (really):
U.S. recognition of the Honduran elections hinges on TSE magistrate Escobar's claim that 62% of the Honduran electorate voted. The TSE's own numbers, as posted in the Marriott Tegucigalpa on election night, were under 50%, and this includes voters abroad. You can't claim an extra 15% would have voted. They had the chance, as you yourself saw when you went to visit the illegal polling station here in DC. The claims of high turnout constitute fraud. So yes, Hondurans did speak, by rejecting elections that no legitimate international observers agreed to monitor because of human rights violations on which, despite your claims to the contrary, the U.S. has not taken a strong stance. Neither the OAS, nor the Carter Center, nor any government other than the U.S.--which also funded a whole slew of specious private organizations--and I believe Taiwan, agreed to act as monitors because the conditions were not present for free and fair elections. Those truly independent observers who were present, journalists and human rights workers, witnessed and videotaped both empty polling stations and violent attacks on peaceful protesters in San Pedro Sula, landing numerous Hondurans in the hospital. Mr. Kelly, have we thrown the concept of free and fair out the window?
At the end, a friend really wanted to try to tell Mr. Kelly what was really going on, because maybe, if he only knew what was really going on, he would take a different stance. I told her to save her breath. He knows damn well what's going on in Honduras, and he's gambling on it not turning into a civil war that will be blamed on his government. It's a dangerous chess game, and neither human beings nor human rights have a place in his (or the Obama administration as a whole's) political science periscope. But she couldn't help herself, and went to let him know. I got out.
I had RSVP'd for an event the next morning at the Interamerican Monologue, but just couldn't bring myself to go. Their events are generally just so horrible, and I couldn't handle more of their simplistic neocon tripe ("Run, everybody run! Chavez is coming!"). Plus it was at 8:30am. Scratch. So on Wednesday I went only to the talk at Georgetown (also required an RSVP) with Rodolfo Pastor de María y Campos of the Honduran embassy, Victor Rico, Secretary of Political Affairs at the Organization of American States, and Michael Shifter, who I'd avoided seeing at the Monologue in the morning.
The Georgetown event was actually a breath of fresh air. I'd braced myself for the worst; although I knew Rodolfo' presentation would be great (it's posted here a few links back), I wasn't sure what line the OAS guy would follow right now, what with their "crisis of legitimacy" over this thing, and I expected the Shifter to basically follow Republican and/or State Department talking points (not really different at all on Honduras), based on the previous times I've seen him speak, and his writings. But Rico was clear in, among other things, condemning the coup and in blaming Micheletti for both the economic devastation wrought by the dictatorship and for breaking with the accords [the State Department, though admitting their embarrassment with Micheletti's appointing himself head of the "unity government" and no one from the opposition, claims this was merely a misunderstanding, whereas Zelaya's reaction amounted to a breach of contract]. And Shifter suprised the most, by being relatively even-handed. I guess since I expected the worst, when he came out as a mere realpolitricktser, he seemed like practically resistance.
[off to a live Radio Globo interview!? To be continued...]