A headline in this morning’s edition of the Honduran daily La Tribuna, fervent defender of last year’s coup d’état against President Mel Zelaya, announces the search for the “gang member” that killed the daughter of veteran union organizer and anti-coup resistance figure Pedro Brizuela. The murder of Claudia Larisa Brizuela Rodríguez, which took place on February 24 in the Céleo González neighborhood in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, had not prompted any prior coverage in the mainstream Honduran press despite the papers’ usual predilection for homicide photographs.
Honduran journalistic traditions had also been disrupted in July 2009 by the murder during a demonstration at the Tegucigalpa airport of anti-coup teenager Isis Obed Murillo, whose picture appeared in the daily La Prensa only after his blood had been removed via the Photoshop program. La Tribuna refrains from erasing the pool of blood surrounding Brizuela Rodríguez’ body on her living room floor, or from explaining how it is that members of the National Criminal Investigation Directorate (DNIC) are “hot on the trail” of the alleged gang member when the only identifying information provided by witnesses is that he is short.
While hitchhiking through Venezuela last year, my friend Amelia Opalinska and I visited a number of Barrio Adentro (Inside the Barrio) clinics, part of the joint Venezuelan-Cuban health initiative begun by Hugo Chávez. The clinics, it turned out, offered free services not only to sick Venezuelans but also to non-sick foreigners who were merely intrigued by the concept of not having to pay for medical procedures—and by clinical decorative schemes, which included portraits of Latin American revolutionaries as well as colorful construction paper calendars advertising the birthdays of staff members, Hugo Chávez, and Fidel Castro.
The effectiveness of Venezuelan-Cuban medical cooperation has been demonstrated by post-earthquake aid to Haiti, whose oil debt to Venezuela has also been cancelled by Chávez. Other purveyors of aid have however sought to downplay contributions made by nations less predisposed to view natural disasters as a moneymaking opportunity.
The amnesty approved by the Honduran Congress the day before the January inauguration of President Pepe Lobo has recently taken effect, further legitimizing last year’s coup d’état against Mel Zelaya and prompting Honduran daily El Heraldo to produce a February 21 article entitled “Interested parties can now avail selves of amnesty law.” The article suggests that such parties consist of “Zelaya and his collaborators, who were seeking to overthrow the Constitution in order to authorize presidential reelection and introduce socialism into the country.”
The attempted introduction of socialism is not, however, listed as one of the 18 “violations of the law attributed to Zelaya” published in a July 2 La Prensa article justifying the coup, nor does the accusation explain why Zelaya’s minimum wage increase did not apply to employees of foreign-owned maquiladoras in Honduras. As for attempts to overthrow the Constitution, these presumably include number 11 on the list of alleged violations, which accuses Zelaya of “describing as ‘political’ the decisions made by the Public Ministry and the Supreme Court” according to which nonbinding public opinion surveys in order to gauge popular support for rewriting the Constitution are inherently unconstitutional. Not established in the El Heraldo article is whether the use of the adjective “political” by an elected head of state qualifies as a political crime currently pardonable by the Honduran amnesty law.
The second paragraph of a January 27 article in Venezuelan daily El Universal entitled “Riot leaves at least 7 dead and 17 wounded in La Planta” announces that “a little after 9 this morning, inmates in the La Planta prison, mainly in cell blocks 1, 2 and 3, initiated a shootout. Meanwhile the National Guard responded with shots from above.” The fact that the Caracas prison inmates have obtained materials with which to initiate a shootout suggests that the National Guard, tasked with prison security, may have had more to do with the scene than simply responding from above—something additionally suggested by the reaction of prisoners’ wives outside the complex to the arrival of more troops:
More than 60 members of the National Guard deployed around the penitentiary with antiriot gear but the inmates’ wives would not permit them to enter the premises and instead threw rocks at [them] while screaming ‘Assassins of the people’ and ‘You will not go in.’”
In line at the newly-inaugurated “arepera socialista”—a Caracas cafeteria offering cornmeal arepas, staple of the Venezuelan diet, at one-third the non-socialist price—a retired telecommunications employee named Ramón took advantage of the hour and a half wait to get through the door to list the issues on which he and his wife differed. A partisan of the opposition to President Hugo Chávez, the wife was reported to harbor the notion that milk not purchased at government-subsidized food shops was inherently more effective; Ramón maintained that there were more flexible members of the opposition, who complained continuously about Chávez but nonetheless indulged in socialist arepas and filled their gas tanks for less than a dollar.
The issue of Latin American ties with Iran has been invoked in recent years to justify a variety of behavior on the part of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, such as the attendance by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon at the 2009 meeting of the Organization of American States in order to counteract Iranian influence in the region. This particular counteractive effort was apparently successful, as neither anyone from the Iranian Foreign Ministry nor anyone else not belonging to an American state showed up; as for Israeli government concerns regarding the existence of Iranian embassies in Latin America and one-stop flights between Caracas and Tehran, it has also proven historically possible to reach Israel from Latin American cities, hence the 1983 training on Israeli soil of future Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño Gil.
The latest complaint among the Venezuelan opposition to President Hugo Chávez revolves around his decision to bring Cuban Minister of Information Technology and Communications Ramiro Valdés to Venezuela to help rectify the current electrical crisis, intensified by diminishing water levels at the country’s primary hydroelectric dam. According to a front-page warning in a recent edition of Venezuelan opposition daily El Nacional, “electrical experts and Cubans in exile” have come to the conclusion that Valdés does not possess the requisite skills to evaluate electrical crises and that his expertise is instead in internet censorship; no conclusion is offered as to how Cubans in exile spontaneously acquire expertise in whatever subject is currently being used to discredit the Castro regime.
A gentleman I spoke with at the February 4 opposition march at Plaza Brión de Chacaíto in Caracas had a different perception of Valdés’ qualifications and informed me that the minister’s only expertise was in assassinations, honed during the Cuban Revolution. As for more recent examples of political changes of direction that had involved assassinations, the gentleman qualified last summer’s coup in Honduras as magnífico and entirely democratic; he stressed that these labels did not apply to the thwarted coup of February 4, 1992, the anniversary of which was being celebrated at the pro-Chávez rally nearby—with superior levels of attendance, music, and the color red.