Cuban-Americans Rally Support for Honduras Government
By Brian Wagner
23 October 2009
The ongoing political crisis in Honduras is drawing attention from Cuban-Americans in Miami, who are concerned about the spread of leftist governments in Latin American. Cuban exiles are backing the de facto government, even as Washington supports the ousted Honduran president.
Collecting food and medical supplies is a common tool for many Cuban-Americans to offer person-to-person assistance to people on the island. Community leaders say donating basic goods like milk powder and aspirin, which can be scarce in Cuba, has a major impact for Cuban families struggling to survive under Communist rule.
A new call for donations, however, is focusing on a different community altogether. Silvia Iriondo is president of the group Mothers and Women against Repression in Cuba.
Iriondo says her group wants to stop Honduras from suffering the same fate as Cuba, and it is seeking to defend democracy in Latin America.
Iriondo and other Cuban-American activists are collecting food, medical supplies and financial donations to aid Hondurans, and show support for the nation's de facto government. Organizers say many Hondurans are hurting since foreign aid groups have suspended assistance in response to the ouster of leftist President Manuel Zelaya in June. The United States has blocked more than $30 million to Honduras, and says it will withhold up to $200 million unless Mr. Zelaya is returned to office.
Cuban-American leaders agree with supporters of the de facto government, who say Mr. Zelaya was seeking to cling to office and impose a socialist regime. Cuban-American doctor Armando Quirantes is helping to organize donations for Honduras.
Quirantes says the same thing happened in Venezuela and Ecuador, and people in Nicaragua are fighting to stop a leftist takeover there.
Quirantes cites allegations that Venezuela and other leftist leaders have sent mercenaries to Honduras to undermine the de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti. Mr. Micheletti has made similar claims about foreign and domestic troublemakers to defend his decision to suspend some civil rights.
Some Hondurans say the concerns about foreign intervention started under Mr. Zelaya. Miami-based businessman Gerardo Padilla says many people were taken aback by the ousted leader's foreign policy goals.
Padilla said there was a fear the country would become socialist especially after Mr. Zelaya made a speech saying Cuban and Venezuelan teachers were coming to the country to teach children what the term "socialism" meant.
To some, the crisis in Honduras recalls memories of Cold War battles pitting the United States and its allies against the spread of leftist groups in Central America. Larry Birns directs the Washington think-tank Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
"Micheletti really feels he is the sentinel at the gate, and that he is representing Western values," he said.
Birns says the strategy has failed for Micheletti, however, because liberal and conservative governments across the hemisphere have given unanimous support to ousted President Zelaya.
Still, some in Washington are reaching out to Mr. Micheletti. The de facto leader has hosted a string of Republican lawmakers, including some of the harshest critics of Cuba and Venezuela. After a recent trip to Tegucigalpa, Miami Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called on U.S. President Barack Obama to review his policy toward the crisis.
There is no surprise that conservatives and President Obama disagree on the Honduran crisis, says Vicki Gass of the non-profit group Washington Office on Latin America. But she fears the Republican stance is driven more by Washington politics than genuine concern for Honduras.
"The issue is Obama and his policy of multilateralism and his foreign policy. They [Republicans] are looking for anything to hit him over the head with," she said.
Mr. Obama and many European governments are warning they will not recognize November elections in Honduras, if the de facto government remains in power. Ros-Lehtinen has said the U.S. policy is undermining the vote, when it should be doing more to resolve the political crisis.
Negotiators for Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti have been meeting for more than two weeks, but have yet to reach a deal about who will preside over the upcoming vote.
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