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MIAMI HERALD Stirring the Honduran Pot – Latest Ingredient, Nicaragua

August 21, 2009

POLITICS IN CENTRAL AMERICA
Nicaraguans make proxy war of Honduran coup of President Manuel Zelaya
In polarized Nicaragua, lawmakers are linking their domestic political agendas to the drama next door in Honduras — and the specter of violence is growing.

Presidents of neighboring countries closed ranks around toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Monday, with some withdrawing their ambassadors and others closing their borders to commercial traffic with Honduras.

Leaders from throughout the region — including Cuba’s Raúl Castro — flew to Nicaragua for an emergency meeting, as international condemnation of Sunday’s coup grew louder.

Honduras, meanwhile, remained calm Monday although the military used tear gas to disperse some protesters around the presidential residence.

Presidents of neighboring countries closed ranks around toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Monday, with some withdrawing their ambassadors and others closing their borders to commercial traffic with Honduras.

Leaders from throughout the region — including Cuba’s Raúl Castro — flew to Nicaragua for an emergency meeting, as international condemnation of Sunday’s coup grew louder.

Honduras, meanwhile, remained calm Monday although the military used tear gas to disperse some protesters around the presidential residence.

The dueling Honduran governments agreed Tuesday to allow Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to mediate their political dispute, paving the way for a possible resolution to a crisis that has stretched for nearly two weeks and polarized the country.

Negotiations are expected to begin as soon as Thursday.

Arias’ role as mediator was announced soon after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met privately with ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, and as supporters of Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, arrived to press their case in Washington.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya made his way toward the Honduran border on Thursday, bracing for a showdown that could lead to the presidency, prison — or worse.

Speaking to reporters in Managua, Zelaya said he would cross into Honduras either Friday or Saturday with the hope of ending the nearly month-old political dispute that has divided his nation and rattled the region.

Since his ouster on June 28, Zelaya has vowed to reclaim the presidency. His rival, interim President Roberto Micheletti, has said Zelaya will be arrested on sight and must face charges of treason and abuse of power, among others.
BY TIM ROGERS
Special to The Miami Herald

MANAGUA — The aftershocks from the military coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on June 28 continue to rattle Nicaragua, where politicians are using the neighboring conflict as a proxy war to slug out their own internal disputes.

Though President Daniel Ortega insists a coup d’état in Nicaragua is unthinkable because of the military’s Sandinista roots, the upheaval in Honduras has intensified Nicaragua’s political polarization and led to a recent bout of violence in this already divided nation.

Mónica Zalaquett, director of the Center for Prevention of Violence, says the problem in Honduras has become a “political instrument” in Nicaragua, used by both the Sandinistas and the opposition to promote their own agendas.

“The problem of Honduras,” she said, “can be an opportunity to change the model of conflict resolution through dialogue, or it can be the path to total chaos and violence.”

So far, dialogue doesn’t appear to be winning out.

On Aug. 4, a group of four Nicaraguan opposition lawmakers who tried to travel to the Honduran border to express their discomfort with what they called Zelaya’s two-week “occupation” of northern Nicaragua were turned back 12 miles before the town of Ocotal. Sandinista and Zelaya supporters blocked their caravan on the highway and attacked their vehicles with sticks and rocks.

Four days later, a group of Sandinistas attacked a peaceful march in Managua and beat a journalist they accused of supporting the Honduran coup. Though the violence was strongly condemned by the Nicaraguan political opposition, business groups and the Catholic Church, Ortega justified the attack by saying the demonstrators had been “yelling in favor of the coup.”

ADOPTING THE CAUSE

Ortega has likened the coup in Honduras to a coup against all members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA), a leftist group of countries led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In the past, Ortega has said that an attack against one ALBA country is an attack against all.

Nicaraguan opposition leaders, too, have milked the situation in Honduras. They are using it to undermine Ortega’s attempts to follow the ALBA model of reforming the constitution to remain in power.

“The situation that Honduras is living today is a product of the constitutional violations by Manuel Zelaya and the intervention and meddling of Hugo Chávez,” said Nicaraguan opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre, upon returning from a trip to Honduras in late July to meet and greet the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti.

“We aren’t the government and so it’s not our role to recognize other governments, but as lawmakers, political leaders and Nicaraguan citizens, we recognize what happened in Honduras as a constitutional succession,” Montealegre said.

Lawmaker María Eugenia Sequeira said the situation in Honduras is “the first visible symptom of the abuses that Chávez is promoting in other countries.”

She said it should serve as a “warning bell” for what is happening in Nicaragua, too.

Opposition lawmakers have attempted to introduce a bill calling for Zelaya’s expulsion from Nicaragua, which has become his de facto home base during his six weeks of exiled suitcase diplomacy. They argue Zelaya’s use of Nicaraguan territory to call for insurrection in Honduras violates the constitution and is a flagrant abuse of his privileges as a guest here.

Wilfredo Navarro, first secretary of the National Assembly, said the legislative body is also launching a special congressional investigation of Zelaya’s activities during his recent stay in the border outpost of Ocotal.

Navarro said the commission will be investigating claims that Honduran gang members were among some 1,000 Hondurans who reportedly crossed into Nicaragua illegally to support Zelaya in late July and early August.

“We have reports that Hondurans have been stealing from farms in the Northern Zone because they don’t have any food to eat,” Navarro told The Miami Herald. “This is an offense to Nicaraguans.”

TRADING RHETORIC

Following the Aug. 8 Sandinista attack on the march that Ortega claims was in support of the coup, the criticism of the Nicaraguan government has become increasingly heated.

The Catholic Church released its strongest-worded condemnation to date, expressing its “profound worry and sadness” and criticizing the Sandinista government’s “policy of intolerance and total disrespect for the liberties of free expression and movement.”

Both the church and human rights organizations are denouncing what they call “paramilitary groups” formed by the Sandinista Front to squelch any expression of dissidence.

“[The Sandinistas] talk about changing the model of the country, but the model they are imposing is one of terror and intimidation,” said Gónzalo Carrión, of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights.

Carrión said Nicaragua needs to avoid at all costs entering into armed conflict with Honduras, which he says “would benefit the authoritarian project of Daniel Ortega” by allowing the government to further suppress rights as a wartime measure.

Ortega, who has already been accused by Micheletti of mobilizing troops in Nicaragua — a claim both Ortega and the Nicaraguan military have denied — insists Nicaragua doesn’t want war with Honduras. But Ortega has also sent mixed messages by quoting the adage, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Ortega critics say that strategy hasn’t worked out too well in Nicaragua’s past.

“The 1980s taught us painfully that those who prepare for war end in war,” said opposition politician Edmundo Jarquín, in a weekly radio address. “Ortega should have said, `If you want peace, prepare for peace.’ ”

Tim Rogers is editor of The Nica Times in Nicaragua.
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/v-fullstory/story/1195679.html

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