Friday, July 03, 2009

Latin America: Honduras, Colombia: Military coup stands pat in H; C's prez Uribe alienates voters on 3rd term proposal

Coup drives deep divide in Honduras
Supporters of ousted President Zelaya blocked streets Wednesday,
vowing to protest until he is reinstated.

by Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer (Christian Science Monitor, Jul 1,1k9)

Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The leftist president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has managed to bring together world leaders of all stripes in a rare show of unity against his ouster Sunday. [Apparently, he was removed to Costa Rica.]

But he has also left this Central American nation as polarized as ever – and the signs of division abound all over the capital city, in graffiti splashed across walls and streets snarled by ad hoc protests.

...Mari Cruz Amador, a school teacher, says her wish is simple: "We want our elected president, not the president who put himself as president."

As they marched by, Rolando Salgado, a vendor of construction products, shook his head. "Manuel Zelaya cannot come back as president because he broke the law," he says. "The person responsible for all of this tragedy is Manuel Zelaya."

President Zelaya was pushed out in the name of democracy after forging forward with his bid to let presidents seek re-election beyond a single four-year term, despite widespread rejection of the move that even the Supreme Court deemed illegal.

A longstanding class divide

Honduras, one of the poorest nations in the region, has long been divided along the same class lines that characterize most of Latin America. The elite have historically had a tight grip on the political scene, but Zelaya vowed to empower the poor, raising salaries and supporting single mothers. "He is the only person generating change in this country," says Angel Castro, a hospital administrator in Tegucigalpa.

But many say he become too closely aligned with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and other leftist leaders, particularly in his bid to change the Constitution to allow presidents to run for more than one term, and it ultimately cost him control – at least for now – of his country. ...

It has been four days since Hondurans awoke Sunday morning to find that instead of voting in a nonbinding referendum to consider drawing up a constituent assembly, their president no longer was in power.
Then there's Colombia:
A year ago this week, Colombia's President Álvaro Uribe was on top of the world. Employing a clever ruse, one of the country's elite army units miraculously (and bloodlessly) rescued 15 hostages who had been held in the jungle for years. The world applauded the operation's stealth and savvy - and the release of the rebels' top political hostage, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, as well as three U.S. defense contractors and 11 soldiers and police.

Colombia, it seemed, was coming back from the edge, and the country was ecstatic. Two days after the July 2, 2008, hostage rescue, a Gallup poll of Colombians (those with telephones in the four largest cities, at least) put Uribe's approval rating at a remarkable 86 percent. Already, the cattle rancher and conservative president had been well regarded among Colombians for battlefield gains against the 45-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgency, a drug-money-fueled leftist force that systematically targets civilians for murder and kidnapping. Uribe oversaw a military buildup that reduced the guerrillas' size by half and limited its range of operations. He negotiated the demobilization of tens of thousands of pro-government paramilitary militias, reducing -- though not eliminating -- those groups' murderous activity.

But what goes up must come down, and Uribe's luck has certainly done so in recent months. By early May 2009, Gallup put Uribe's approval rating at 71 - still pretty good, but its lowest in two years. A plurality of Colombians told the pollster that the country was on the "wrong track." There are bigger problems at work here than a normal come-down: Uribe's spectacular progress in security and economic matters has slowed, and scandals have taken their place in the news.

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