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The Honduran coup must be overturned
The voices of militant ignorance on the right, particularly in the United States, have drawn a crude organizational chart to explain why people should support the overthrow of Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya by General Romeo Vásquez, legislator Roberto Micheletti and a supporting cast of uniformed and civilian characters. The script goes that Zelaya linked Honduras up with ALBA, a regional trade block promoted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and therefore Zelaya is a communist dictator who, moreover, went a step too far and violated the Honduran constitution. Thus, according to the dittohead talking points, Zelaya had to go.
But Zelaya is a member of the Liberal Party, and does not belong to any Marxist-Leninist organization. But in addition to ALBA, Zelaya led his country into membership in the US-inspired CAFTA. But ALBA's members, with the exception of Cuba, are countries headed by freely elected presidents.
Moreover, the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of Canada, Mexican President Felipe Calderón's rightist government, and even the militantly anti-communist Álvaro Uribe administration in Colombia have condemned the Honduran coup. While certain fanatics in Miami cheered General Vásquez, two organizations with close ties to the right-wing Cuban exile movement, Reporters Without Borders and the Human Rights Foundation, issued statements against the coup and its attendant closure of all news media that don't fully support Zelayas' overthrow.
A selective history, viewed through a distorting Cold War lens and an ill-informed pseudo-constitutionalism, doesn't describe what's happening in Honduras. But then, the American pundits and political leaders who are supporting the Honduran coup never were very accurate about describing foreign situations.
Yes, Zelaya defied the Honduran Supreme Court. That court ruled that the military holds supremacy over the nation's elected civilian leadership. It upheld an old tradition of the military holding real power, hiding behind civilian figurehead presidents. That's the "rule of law" that nobody else in the hemisphere, apart from a few extreme ideologues, cares to uphold.
Yes, Zelaya looked to other Latin American countries and not exclusively to Washington for economic and political alliances. He's hardly unique in that respect. MERCOSUR, ALBA, the Central American economic integration process, and the Caribbean common market are all examples of an historic power shift in the Americas. After George W. Bush alienated most of the hemisphere, Barack Obama is willing to work with rather than dictate orders to Latin American countries more disposed to look to one another than to the north when addressing their persistent common problems.
Soldiers storming presidential palaces, shutting down radio and TV stations, smashing their way into newspaper offices and rounding up dissidents? The Americas have been there and done that. But no more. Notwithstanding George W. Bush, it wasn't tolerated in Venezuela and it won't be allowed in Honduras.
The only question that really needs to be resolved is how Vásquez, Micheletti, the Honduran Supreme Court and their respective entourages can leave in a way that minimizes the bloodshed.
Time for a renovation job
on Panamanian education
We have a new education minister who's neither an educator nor a proven administrator, and who comes from the ranks of the Catholic right-wing organization Opus Dei. On the surface, that resume could be a recipe for conflict with the teachers' unions, most of which are under leftist leadership.
However, our broken-down educational system is neither a left nor a right issue, nor a labor nor a management issue. It's all of these things and more. It's a national crisis. Only the most despicable of this country's domestic and foreign enemies would be served by the continued influx of masses of young ignoramuses into our labor force and electorate.
To the crowd that just left office, Panama's public educational institutions were a petty cash box to rob and it really is in the country's national interest that people go to prison for that. Especially so because much of the worst of it, the looting of the Quality Education and Equity Fund (FECE), was carried out by Balbina Herrera's old San Miguelito entourage. That crowd's boss pretends to be "leader of the opposition" and would be the PRD presidential candidate again in 2014. We have thus been effectively warned that the same people intend to come back and do it again. A public accounting for what has gone on would be the most effective prevention of any repetition of the Torrijos administration scandals.
But Lucy Molinar can't devote much attention to prosecution and punishment. Yes, she'll be conducting an audit and will have to clean out as many corrupt or incompetent Ministry of Education employees as possible in short order. But she has to get schools, many in awful physical shape, many without all the teachers they should have, fully functional in short order. She has to deal with many irate parents, teachers and students. She has to figure out a way to save this school year that the Torrijos administration started a month late.
The weeks that come are times of administrative triage and first aid, but they should also be the days when peace talks between the government and teachers' unions begin.
We are not going to get complete agreement about such a broad and touchy subject as education, particularly in a time of growing economic crisis. However, there's enough common ground, enough of a national emergency that affects all classes, to reach an equilibrium in which such disagreements as there will be will elicit a rolling of eyes rather than street blockades.
We don't need any more Torrijos-style fake "dialogues," but there needs to be a basic agreement between the government and the teachers' unions in order to make immediate arrangements. Then, getting beyond this already severely disrupted school year Panama should have a broad national debate about education, from preschool through post-graduate. This debate must be predicated on a commitment to gather and use the resources to lengthen the primary and secondary school day, reduce class sizes, and build the new classrooms and hire the new teachers required to do these things. The renovation of primary and secondary education will require something of a revolution in higher education, including repeal of the PRD university "reforms," abolition of the University of Panama's authority over other institutions in favor of a more honest accreditation system, the rooting out of corruption and the dismantling of political patronage structures.
That's a heavy agenda for an education minister who comes to her post from a career as a television talk show host. Hold the spitballs, please. It's in Panama's interest that she doesn't fail, and that as quickly as possible the nation get to the point where we can argue about different educational philosophies without the extra added pressure of a collapsing public school system.
I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers.
W. Somerset Maugham
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