Thursday, July 30, 2009

Roller Coasters in Honduras...

Greetings again from Honduras. Well, the coup after math continues and it seems some light may be at the end of the tunnel. But when one solution arises another challenge presents itself. The roller coaster continues and although I don’t know who is at the controls, its one helluva ride. Such is life and such is the trend here in Honduras.

So for the light at the end of the tunnel, it appears now that Honduran leader Michelleti is showing support for a compromise that would return President Zelaya back to power (NYTimes)

Michelleti apparently called Costa Rican President Arias to say he is willing to work on the presented solutions and now needs help to gain support from Honduras officials. Arias presented a plan that would reinstate Zelaya, but with limited power.

Meanwhile Zelaya is posted out at the Honduran/Nicaraguan border. He first returned to the border last weekend where he caused a media frenzy, greeted supporters, then sticking his foot across the border.

The rumor of his return caused a 12PM curfew (yes midday) for all bordering departments (states as we know them back home). Most all stayed peaceful and it was mostly a big hooplah.

Today roadblocks and marches started back up as Zelaya called for Thursdays and Fridays to be national strikes. The blocks usually go on for 3-4 hours then dissipate. All are peaceful.

I only checked out a couple of articles on this as honestly, my interest in the situation begins to dither because life here seems back to normal. Peace Corps lifted all travel bans with the exception of volunteers needing permission to travel through the capitol Tegucigalpa.

Another good bit of news is that the new training class of volunteers, after being shipped to the Dominican Republic for a few weeks then being held up in Miami for a few days, have made it here to Honduras. It’s a clear sign that Peace Corps and the US Government are sure enough about the situation to send more Peace Corps aid to Honduras.

Also worked has picked up a bit. I am in full force trying to make and coordinate a new web page for my organization. This project is one experience let me tell you. Trying to learn how to make a good webpage from scratch, and having people not understand that it doesn’t take 2 weeks to make a good web page is more of a challenge than you think. I guess I could say it’s a great learning experience that is challenging me in many ways. My graphic design skills are quickly improving and I assume my web design skills will have to as well.

A fellow water/sanitation volunteer here in Santa Rosa and I took a trip on Wednesday out to an Aldea (small rural village) to meet a school director. We are going to start a project teaching the kids about geography and painting a giant world map with them. I am really looking forward to this. Getting out of the “city” and working in the rural area will be a nice breath of fresh air. I was always looking forward to these grassroots, “getting out there with the people” projects, as I call them.

Well, guess that’s all for now. Missing everyone out in Cali especially during these summer times. I miss the traditional events of the season. This summer will be the first time missing the horseshoe championship of the world (website). Its a time for horseshoes, good friends, and catching up. The event starts tomorrow. Best of luck to all competitors, I know I would win if I was there (I am a two time champ). Live up the summer times!

…until next time

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peace Corps and Honduras need a Resolution!

Greetings again from Honduras. Oh how this situation continues to spin in circles. It’s taking its toll on a lot of Peace Corps volunteers and frankly, is pissing me off. Many volunteers are losing hope and worse, getting upset at Peace Corps handling or taking it out elsewhere. The Peace Corps administration is doing all it can but how this situation plays out is out of our control.

So, here is the latest and greatest. Mediation between President Zelaya and the current government, who Zelaya calls the “coup regime,” were supposed to take place Wednesday and did not. President Arias of Costa Rica, the mediator, came up with a plan to reinstate Zelaya, have a unity government, and have early elections to get a new President in after that (CNN).

The current interim government said they would submit it through the government, the same government that ousted the president. Meanwhile, before the plan is even considered Zelaya is saying talks are over. Speaking in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, Zelaya said: "The coup leaders are totally refusing my reinstatement."

"By refusing to sign, [the talks] have failed."

President Zelaya has said he may try to return to Honduras as early as Thursday. If the plan is accepted it would be Friday officially(BBC).

The government kicked out the Venezuelan ambassador who then refused to leave saying the current government is not legitimate.

Roadblocks continue in some parts of the country by supporters. These are peaceful protests where people block cars and busses from crossing. Some volunteers have ran into these and simply walked through and around them with no problem.

What is really upsetting me about this whole situation, and not that there is much I can do about it, is the appalling rate of volunteers from my group deciding to go home. The count is now up to 10 total with 5 just in the last week and a half.

I really don’t know what to think of it. We have a travel ban which makes us all feel constricted and anxious when we can’t leave our sites to visit others for support or just get some fresh air. Funds are being pulled from foreign aid left and right, which result in work for a lot of volunteers being non-existent.

But damn it I am mad and don’t know who or what to be mad at. Honduras is a country that needs sustainable help and yet we are in political unrest with governments who, I think, are sincere about their ideas for the people but playing the who is bigger and tougher game. But now in trying to make things better they are only getting worse.

I was beginning to find a sense of calm and tranquility within myself. But all this is happening in a country with unrest and Peace Corps volunteers losing morale. My friends and other volunteers feel other strong feelings, enough to send them packing. It just gets to me. The PC group that has been here the longest (called H11…I am H14) are requesting to go home early or trying to finagle a way to get sent home. What the hell is happening here and what are we doing? Our country director even had to send out an inspirational message to keep people afloat.

I am here for the long run. I’ve made it through some tough times before and feel it will take a mountain of problems to even start thinking about going home. Believe me when I say Peace Corps is hard, mentally and emotionally. But this is what I signed up for. Hope for better times is all we have in difficult situations.

Peace Corps and this country need resolution to get back on track. Someone needs to figure it out.

It’s weird, adventurous, upsetting, and humbling to go through all this. At this point I am less clear about the situation than I have ever been. I don’t have all the answers, but I have what I feel. ..

On another note, I want to send my condolences to the Stancil family and the Burns family. Bev Stancil and Pat LaCoco passed last week and Sue Burns just this week. They were all friends of our family and am keeping them all in my thoughts. I ask you to do the same.

Times are turbulent and challenging. I was told just a few months ago that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. Very quickly I am starting to believe this.

…Until next time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Water Begins to Boil Again...

Greetings again from Honduras. Just when we thought things were settling down here in Honduras the water begins to boil again. There continues to be a sense of calm and peace here but our security and country director, along with news reports, continue to tell us the unrest is building.

President Zelaya and President Micheletti (I don’t know which one to call president, it depends on who you ask) met last Saturday with the president of Costa Rica, as advised by Hillary Clinton, to try to come to an agreement through mediation. The two never met face to face, Micheletti left the country late in the day. There was no resolution…big surprise.

On Tuesday Zelaya vowed to return home and told his people from Guatemala

“This weekend we are planning many internal activities in the country…We are not going to rest, and the public is not going to rest, because the right against oppression is a right that people have" (CNN).

Another mediation with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is scheduled for Saturday. This may or may not happen.

Zelaya also said that if this mediation process doesn’t work he will consider it failed, and resort to “other means.” He did not elaborate (CNN).

Micheletti spoke from the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa yesterday and stated…

“I state that if at any given moment there is a decision for peace and calm in the country, and he does not return, on the condition that ex-President Zelaya does not return, I am willing to step down”. After, Zelaya urged his supporters to continue protests and civil disobedience calling for his return. On Wednesday, Zelaya supporters continued daily marches in the capital Tegucigalpa (Democracy Now).

Who would be president if Micheletti happened to step down? I don’t know. He also said there was a possibility of early elections, that many say would cause all kinds of more unrest and is impractical.

Interestingly, a new poll shows Zelaya remains more popular than his ouster. According to Gallup, 46% of Hondurans hold a favorable opinion of Zelaya compared to 30% for Michelleti (Democracy Now). Often the poor, who are a majority of Zelaya’s support, go unheard. This is possibly their chance to show how strong they can be.

Peace Corps yesterday lifted a travel ban in the country and two hours later reinstalled it. I was particularly upset as I had a work trip planned to go to the eastern part of the country today. Unfortunately, I will have to wait it out. We are allowed to travel only within our region so I might go to Gracias (only an hour away) and visit some friends on Saturday. We will see what turns out.

Last weekend I did something I have been waiting to do for a long time in order to relax and celebrate the time of a German volunteer here in the office, Anna, whose last day is today. On Saturday three of us put on our ridin' clothes and went horse back riding. I know it sounds funny but it was amazing. We rode through some back country, saw beautiful views, and all in all it was a breath of fresh air. This was undoubtedly the peak of my calming point. Pictures are to come in my next video blog.

Otherwise I am back to work, getting the design done for the NGO’s new web page and doing other small design projects. I am hoping to get a map/geography project up at the school soon.

That’s what we got for now. Due to this interesting situation many volunteers are starting to feel suffocated and locked in due to all the restrictions and uncertainty and I completely understand. A lot of funds and work has been halted. However, I am in good spirits and hope for the best. A certain calm has come over me about the situation here.

Day by day life happens for me in Honduras, what comes next is the mystery and part of the great adventure.

…Until next time

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Zelaya Tries to Return While Peace Corps and My Mind Are In Limbo

Greetings again from Honduras. Everything continues to be calm here in Santa Rosa. Many of the other volunteers continue to say that things are calm in their sites too. The unrest and protests continue to be in the larger cities of San Pedro Sula and the capitol of Tegucigalpa.

I did get to celebrate the 4th of July with friends here in Santa Rosa. In was fun, had some drinks, but no 4th of July Tahoe style.

The big news here is that on Sunday (former) President Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras. He was aboard a Venezuelan jet with the UN ambassador. A huge crowd of Zelaya supporters gathered at the airport then tried to breach the fences. Army trucks had parked on the runway to prevent Zelayas plane from landing, which it did attempt 3 times. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd (BBC Video). Live fire was reported and there were 2 confirmed deaths. Zelaya’s plane eventually landed in El Salvador.

The US Embassy has come out with a travel advisory which states…

“Due to the current unstable political and security situation, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa recommends American citizens defer all non-essential travel to Honduras until further notice…Demonstrations both against and in favor of the new regime are expected to continue in the coming days throughout the country, including in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, El Progreso and Roatan. Demonstrations to date have been generally non-violent and there have been few reports of injuries”

However, I do know of people who have traveled here, problem free, in the past week. The Tegucigalpa airport is closed but others are open. If you or anyone you know is thinking of traveling, the choice is yours.

Zelaya is in Washington DC today to talk to Hillary Clinton. This meeting should be interesting. Especially since yesterday, Hugo Chavez, President of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela spoke over the phone with some press people saying " that he thinks that the US is involved in supporting the Honduras military de facto regime.” (AC). Zelaya and Chaves are known to be good buddies, and Chaves is rumored to be behind Zelaya’s move for a new Honduras.

For PC safety concerns, we are not allowed to travel to the two biggest cities in Honduras, San Pedro Sula and the capitol, Tegucigalpa. This is where most of the demonstrations are taking place. We are also not permitted to take “personal time” which is when volunteers take a two-night stay away from site just to get away. Essentially, we can’t travel anywhere and stay the night until further notice. I wouldn’t be able to do this anyway until July 16th because of Peace Corps rule about not traveling my first two months in site. I hope this is lifted by then.

So there it is, protests continue, president Zelaya failed to return, and a resolution may not happen until the new elections in November. My state of mind is still in a bit of limbo. It is difficult to get behind work that may be cut in the near future. However, I have returned to work to try and get some projects moving. The international community continues to withdraw support and aid to Honduras, a country who desperately needs it. For these reasons, I hope a resolution comes soon.

On another note, I want to give a special “hola amigos” to my boys Huff and Stapes of Two Jacks in the Hole Radio. This is a great podcast that also goes live on Wednesday nights from 8-10PM PST on pokerroad.com. Don’t be fooled it’s not a poker show, but is hilarious and guaranteed to make you laugh. Good for anyone looking to be entertained. “At worst, it’s the best podcast ever.” Check them out at twojacksinthehole.com or huffandstapes.com .

Alright, I will let you know more when I can.

…Until next time

Friday, July 3, 2009

Peace Corps Rides it Out...Resolution Probably Peaceful

Hey folks. Greetings from Honduras. I am trying to have periodic updates on the situation here to keep you updated. There is a lot of info on the web, just not on major pages. Google search Honduras along with the current date and you are sure to get some good info.

There are some reports from news organizations and people here in Honduras. As far as safety goes I continue to feel calm and safe. Here in Santa Rosa people are just waiting out the situation without a big stir. Peace Corps is keeping us up to date as much as they can. We are permitted to travel but with strict provisions. However, with roadblocks and the uncertainty of unrest most of us decide not to.

If you didn’t know from my other blogs we have one of the most powerful and well known security heads in Honduras working as our safety director. He has power, the knowledge, resources and personnel to keep us safe. The US embassy even tried to hire him away from Peace Corps. Essentially, I am rarely worried because we will know if we need to watch out for something.

As far as the political unrest goes, the OAS chief diplomat Jose Miguel Insulza is said to be here today to push for the reinstatement of Zelaya. He said he would not talk to new president Micheleti’s government because that will legitimize it. The OAS has demanded that they reinstate Zelaya by tomorrow (Saturday) when Zelaya is said to come back to Honduras. Zelaya, if put back in power, agrees to continue his final months until the election and not try to modify the constitution again (TBO/AP).

Zelaya stated"I have never been afraid, and I have acted on my principles, for which I am prepared to die.”(yahoo/AP). If Zelaya returns he will be arrested by Honduras military for which they have said they will incarcerate him for at least 20 years on charges of treason, breaking constitutional law, and numerous other charges. Confirmed reports also show bags and bags of millions of Lempiras (Honduran Currency) were found in Zelayas home (yahoo/AP). Some say he was paid by other regimes to move forward with a plan for a different Honduras.

Communication about the situation to the Honduran people still continues to be a problem. Communication has been so limited that an influential pro-Micheletti congresswoman, Marcia Villeda de Facusse, said she learned of the OEA mission on Thursday from news reports (msnbc/AP), not even her own government.

Most of the marches and protests are taking place in the capitol, Tegucigalpa, and San Pedro Sula in the northwest. These cities are off limits for most foreign agencies and Peace Corps.

The international community is now strongly against the current government in Honduras. Central American leaders temporarily cut off aid and borders to Honduras. Today they were re-opened but who knows what will happen in the next coming days. Yesterday (Thursday) the US stated it is suspending most aid to Honduras. The Peace Corps is not part of this plan and evacuation on the part of Peace Corps is nowhere is sight according to our country director.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in all the Americas and is said to be feeling the hit already (cnn/AP). Aid is being suspended from all over the world with $300 million to $450 million in financing from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank currently on hold (yahoo/AP).

So right now it really only appears there is political unrest but no civil unrest. Tomorrow there are marches to take place all over the country with the message of keeping peace during this time. There is a national curfew indefinitely from 10pm to 5am throughout the country. Regarding the return of President Zelaya, Micheletti states, “"For the peace of the country I would prefer that he did not come, because I do not want one drop of blood shed by any Honduran" (yahoo/AP).

There are many unconfirmed reports from sources inside Honduras that state Zelaya supporters are taking up arms and attempting to form a militia, especially in the eastern parts of the country, where arms are evident. Teenagers and young men were said to be hiding in houses to prevent being drafted for the new opposition. The reason for this is to maintain peaceful means in case the current army turns on Zelaya supporters. But again, this is no reason to be worried, it’s a small collection of people.

Other people think differently. Check out (this article).

Similarly, earlier reports stated that two battalions of the army split in support of Zelaya. Unconfirmed reports said these were men only dressed as soldiers to gain more support for Mel.

Large marches and roadblocks are taking place in many parts of the country but violence is minimal if not non-existent. The strong majority if not all of the country is for a peaceful resolution. Please don’t let the few videos and pictures of unrest sway you.

Another good source says that during the coup video was taken by the army to prove it was non-violent and only carried on as just cause from the government. Possibly this video is being sent to the OAS to prove so.

Fear is not in the air but uncertainty is. When Zelaya will return is still uncertain, but will certainly cause the height of the unrest. This weekend will be a key part of the solution process.

Unfortunately this means 4th of July celebrations will be minimal if existent at all for Peace Corps Volunteers. Its unfortunate but I hope everyone has a great celebration back home. Raise a glass for me.

Don’t worry too much about us down here. Peace Corps is taking good care of us and it looks like we are just going to ride out the situation while the country solves thier problem peacefully. I have faith in that.

…until next time