US reaction to Honduran Crisis 2009

The wikileaked daily security briefing from the US Department of State, June 29, 2009, the morning after Honduras’ president Manuel Zelaya had been deposed, reveals that DoS did not label it a coup d’état. On the contrary, the text starts (in paragraph 13) with stating that “Honduran military forces arrested President Manuel Zelaya June 28 according to orders issued by the National Congress and the Supreme Court of Honduras.

Thus, with access to information from the ground in Honduras, USA DoS did not label it a coup. The text continues: “Zelaya was taken to a local air force base and flown to Costa Rica. Emergency Action Committee (EAC) Tegucigalpa subsequently met to discuss the ramifications of the seizure of the president by host-cost country military forces. The RSO noted the general climate in the capital was calm … Later in the day, Congress officially named Roberto Micheletti interim president”. The remainder relates only to the safety of US personnel on the ground.

From this security briefing, classified as SECRET//NOFORN (secret, no foreigners), two things are apparent: First, that the US Department of State did not regard the event as a coup; and second, that there is no indication of US involvement.

In combination with the cable sent by Ambassador Llorens July 23, this cable seems to confirm the suspicions in Honduras that the Department of State and the Embassy were not on the same page. While the DoS clearly seems to regard the change of president as legal, the ambassador clearly did not.

A detailed account of the events of June 28 have recently become available in a 622-page Spanish book by Honduran journalist Armando Cerrato (see Honduras Weekly). Among other things, he details how Zelaya was dressed, and what happened at his arrest, citing eye-witness accounts from the president’s own neighbors.

The very pajamas that Mel Zelaya was NOT wearing when he was flown to Costa Rica.
The very pajamas that Mel Zelaya was NOT wearing when he was flown to Costa Rica.

It turns out that a lot of the “facts” that has stirred the public opinion outside Honduras has been fabrications and propaganda lies. From the pajamas story to the concentration camps, insanely hysterical lies have been spread by Zelaya and his associates. Many of whom are criminals, according to another leaked cable, from the former ambassador – who warned of the power-grab that Zelaya was attempting.

The Truth Commission is still active in Honduras, so these leaked cables may be taken into account in their work to find out what happened. It is getting time to close this chapter. There are lots of facts that are not in dispute.

Nobody disputes that Zelaya was trying to hold a constituting constitutional assembly, nor that such an assembly is unconstitutional in Honduras. The difference is what weight one puts on the fact that it is unconstitutional. Zelaya’s supporters don’t care one bit that it is unconstitutional. His detractors do; they want rule of law.

Nobody disputes that the Supreme Court of Justice had ordered Zelaya to stop his plans. The difference is just that Zelaya’s supporters don’t care what the court says. His detractors do; they want rule of law.

Nobody disputes that Zelaya openly mocked the Supreme Court of Justice, the Election Tribunal, and the National Congress. The difference is just that Zelaya’s supporters don’t care. His detractors do; they want rule of law.

Nobody disputes that it was illegal for the military to send Zelaya in exile, but while Zelaya’s supporters regard that as proof of it being a military coup, his detractors don’t. They agree that it was illegal, but given that Zelaya would be deposed as president anyway by completely legal means, they see it as a justifiable crime to prevent the loss of life (the militaries have already been charged for it, and the court dismissed the charges for exactly that reason).

There is only one thing that speaks for it being a coup, and that is the way in which the president physically was removed from office. Everything else speaks for it being a constitutional succession in defense of an attempted coup by the president himself. So ask yourself, what matters more for justice: appearance, or substance?

USA warned Zelaya dangerous for democracy a year before he tried to overthrow the constitution

In a cable written by former US ambassador to Honduras, Charles Ford, to his successor Hugo Llorens, on May 15, 2008, Ford warns Llorens about Honduras’ president Manuel Zelaya in no uncertain terms.

The cable represents a staunch warning of an imminent threat to democracy in a country that traditionally had been a close ally to the USA.

Ford’s account reflects getting to know the Honduran president during two and a half years of sometimes rather close contacts. It led Ford to conclude that Zelaya is “almost a caricature of a land-owner ‘caudillo’ in terms of his leadership style and tone,” a ‘caudillo’ being akin to a dictator.

The ambassador’s description of the president is blunt: “Zelaya’s principal goal in office is to enrich himself and his family while leaving a public legacy as a martyr who tried to do good but was thwarted at every turn by powerful, unnamed interests” (the emphasis is mine). He hammers home this assessment by immediately adding that Zelaya ”would be quite comfortable as a martyr who tried but failed honorably in his attempt to seek out social justice for the poor.”

Ford finishes the summary of the cable by warning of the anti-democratic tendencies: ”[Zelaya] resents the very existence of the Congress, the Attorney General and Supreme Court. Over his two and a half years in office, he has become increasingly surrounded by those involved in organized crime activities” (again, my emphasis).

The cable ends on a rather pessimistic note: “I believe we can engage Zelaya intensely in the hope of so as to minimizing damage to Honduran democracy and the economy.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Charles Ford’s warning appears to have been prophetic. Manuel Zelaya tried to hold a referendum in 2009, aimed at establishing a “constituting constitutional assembly.” Since it would have implied to overthrow the constitution of Honduras, it was declared illegal and ordered stopped by the Supreme Court (see video account of events, and an analysis I made in April 2010).

As Zelaya ignored the court and persisted with the plans for a referendum on June 28, 2009, he was arrested by the military at dawn, on an arrest order from the Supreme Court. However, due to the military illegally exiling him the act was deemed a coup d’état by other countries, in spite of the Congress in Honduras voting by a large majority to replace Zelaya by the person who was next in the succession line, Roberto Micheletti. This decision was later upheld by Congress, again by a very large vote margin. After Zelaya’s deposal the attorney general filed charges for a number of large corruption scandals, also involving a person mentioned by Ford in this cable.

Today Zelaya is living in exile in the Dominican Republic, refusing to return to his home country to face corruption charges. Just as Ford predicted in the leaked cable, Zelaya has become a martyr for the poor and those who consider his deposal a coup d’état.

It is noteworthy that the cable that Hugo Llorens sent home July 24, 2009, after Zelaya’s deposal, ignores completely what happened before June 28. The only reference to it is by saying that there was “near unanimity among the institutions of the state and the political class that Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the Constitution” while at the same time saying that the violation was “not proven”.

This is disingenuous, since Zelaya had violated a direct court order, failing to take the required act within the deadline given (i.e., submit a report indicating obedience of a ruling, by June 25). The prosecutor thus had due cause to ask the court for an arrest warrant for the president, and the Supreme Court had the legal authority to issue that arrest warrant, as they did on June 26. Yet none of this is even mentioned by Hugo Llorens.

In combination, these two cables from Tegucigalpa released so far by Wikileaks, raise questions regarding the role of ambassador Llorens in Zelaya’s attempt to overthrow the constitution of the Republic of Honduras. The fact that Llorens and Zelaya knew each other from previous dealings in the 1990’s has been brought up before. This is something that the US Congress can look into, and I predict they will, once the Republicans take over the House next year. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, from Miami, has made herself known as a strong supporter of the defenders of democracy in Honduras, and she will take over the chairmanship of the foreign affairs committee. So I expect action, and that the truth will win in the end.