Axel Oxenstierna was right

In 1648, if I’m not mistaken, Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna wrote to his son, who he was sending to negotiate the Peace of Westphalia after the Thirty Years War, “If you only knew, my son, with how little wisdom the world is run.”

Today that statement appears more true than ever.

Why? Because I’ve been exchanging some polite emails today with the person who handles Honduras in the U.S. Senate’s foreign relations committee. Instead of me telling you, let me just post it, in chronological order. [UPDATE 2010-09-27: The staffer asked that his words be removed, which I have now done. Just for the record, I did explain upfront when contacting the committee that I was doing research for a book, and I never implied that I intended for our exchange to be off the record.]

From: Ulf Erlingsson
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 11:46 AM
To: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Subject: Update on Honduras

First, thank you for taking the time to clarify the position of the committee. After our conversation I confronted the person who said that Kerry had stopped the planned arrest on June 25 and asked where he had got that information. He said he couldn’t remember, but it was for sure not from Llorens, “Llorens would never say anything”. He went on to say that he doesn’t think I will get any information from anyone until – pay attention – the truth commission has presented its report.

Incidentally, I proposed that truth commission to interim president Micheletti, and he put it in the proposal in San Jose. My intention was that the truth about why and how Zelaya was deposed should come out, but based on what this source said, it seems not likely to happen. That would be a shame.

What bothers me is WHY people would not talk until the commission is gone. I don’t believe it is because they are hiding a coup. Based on what I have heard in informal talks, it is rather because they are afraid that the truth commission is biased against them. And that the US is also biased against them, and will interfere with the sovereignty of Honduras, negatively affecting its democracy and the rule of law. I don’t know if this is true or not, I’m just telling you what impression I get, and it is disturbing to me.

I realize that you have come to a different conclusion, but let me tell you how I see it. When I grew up my neighbours had fled Germany, and I always wondered why the Germans had not stopped Hitler when he made himself a dictator. What happened in Honduras was that Zelaya in fact made himself a dictator. If the Congress and/or the Supreme Court had NOT deposed him, he would have been a dictator. A dictator is a dictator not because he says so, but because he oversteps his authority and THE OTHER BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT ALLOW HIM to do that. What Honduras democratic institutions did was NOT to allow him. They acted in defense of the constitution. If they overstepped the Constitution in some technical sense [it] is not a cause for reinstating Zelaya, Zelaya was already finished. If there was reason to depose also Micheletti, then the only one who could have taken the presidency was the next person in the succession line, the Supreme Court justice Rivera. And Micheletti made it clear that he was prepared to step down and let Rivera take over.

I have the impression that this view is shared by those who now will not talk about it… And I think you can understand why. If they feel they have done what they had to do for their country, but are being punished by the international community and the US for it, and not getting a fair deal, why talk?

Personally I believe that a judicial process would have been preferable, since it would avoid the political bias altogether. Unfortunately, as far as I know, the new president has effectively stopped all chances of judicial solutions. Incidentally, to me it signals that he has got something to hide himself – and it is for sure not being a part of any “coup” AGAINST Zelaya. As you surely know, he supported Zelaya’s ambition to overthrow the constitution, and many believe he still does.

My advise to you is to listen without prejudice to those involved, including not at least the attorney general and the supreme court. But how can you, when they have no visa to go to the US? There are many who suspect that the main reason to withdraw the visas wasn’t to punish them, but to avoid that they travel to the US and told the truth.


Ulf Erlingsson, PhD

From: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 12:25 PM
To: Ulf Erlingsson
Subject: Re: Update on Honduras

[removed on the author’s request]

I later decided to try to focus on finding some common ground, to be constructive, and wrote the following:

From: Ulf Erlingsson
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 4:21 PM
To: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Subject: Re: Update on Honduras

If I may give you a piece of advice in all sincerity, I believe that it would be more constructive for a positive development of law and order, democracy, and prosperity, both in Honduras and here, if we all focused more on the things we agree on, and draw the dividing line to those that do not agree on the need for rule of law and democracy. Look at the simple diagram I made. Your view is in the red field, mine is in the white. Until recently I believed that those were the only two, but now I have got it pointed out to me by the author of the book “The Good Coup” that there is a substantial group of people who actually believe it was a coup to depose Zelaya, but who support that (the blue field). These are the golpistas; both the white and the red are democrats.

I think you will find it more fruitful to cooperate with the democrats. The difference in view just reflects a difference in legal analysis, while the two agree on the importance of following the law (well, except those who want to overthrow the Constitution, of course).

There will be people who disobey the law, but the main thing is to rally for the idea of following the law, and to acknowledge the arguments of the opponents as well. If we cannot do that, then we end up in a political situation dominated by loud-mouthed extremists, not unlike the situation today in, eh, the USA…


From: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 16:27 PM
To: Ulf Erlingsson
Subject: Re: Update on Honduras

[removed on the author’s request]

I appreciate that he took the time to respond, but frankly, it might have been advisable to read the email he was responding to first, to avoid beating down open doors. As for the claims that he made in the first response, there is that little problem that in all the cases that I have tried to investigate, I have never found evidence to support it. It is not very professional to write the way he does, especially for someone employed by an actual government. Let alone in a superpower.

To Honduras I say, don’t try to become like USA. Put your ambition level much higher than that!

6 thoughts on “Axel Oxenstierna was right”

  1. Note what he says at the end: “And now the golpistas are trying to destabilize other Central American democracies.” That is a rather explosive statement IMHO.

  2. Excellent points. Thank you for your valiant efforts, even if they were ignored! Keep me on your mailing list!

  3. This (Foreign Relations) guy is incredibly misled. I just can’t believe he’s in a power position. So frustrating…

  4. Some things the staffer wrote in the mails sounded quite outlandish to me, and I wondered where he had got that from. Like this:

    “we have very different views of the coup and the golpistas’ behavior, including their disgraceful human rights record, their massive corruption, and their continued obstacles to democratic progress. … How many reporters, campesinos and other citizens have they killed?”

    I think I have found the source now: The report from Manuel Zelaya to OAS (link: That report is a travesty, but perhaps since it fits into the ideological expectations of the left, they accept it seemingly uncritically. What is required to break through is that they realize that at least something is a lie. Here is one thing: He says that they were being constantly tortured in the Brazilian Embassy. By whom, the Brazilian ambassador? Seriously, that is a totally outlandish claim that is easy to disprove for anyone.

  5. Good work Ulf, thanks for all of your effort on behalf of Honduras. The staffer’s ignorance of the facts is amazing. It sounds like he got his information from Tele Sur.

  6. This blog post was posted on Facebook, and these comments are from there. I encourage that staffer to read these spontaneous comments from people with first hand knowledge of Honduras, to see how they react to his statements (I’ve anonymized the comments):

    Expat 1: “I’m stunned speechless. Now, I would just ask, do the people in the State Dept making decisions about Afghanistan or Korea or Iraq or Iran or Venezuela or ANYWHERE have a similar lack of knowledge about those countries and what happened and is happening in them?”

    Honduran-American: “So now people from Honduras are trying to destabilize other countries? WTF we can’t even fix our, worse to go and mess on others. That shows what the MOFO democrats make out of Honduras. They afraid we got balls and will put any communist ahole like Obama out of order. there has been no point in my short life that I am more ashamed to say I am a US Citizen than now.”

    Expat 2: “They sound useless. No further comment. God help all of us!”

    Expat 3: “Close minded people populate the political arena everywhere. Politicians and those who work in politics are there because they obviously can’t make it in real business without lying & cheating so they migrate into politics.”

    Expat 4: “Unfortunately, I find that intelligence is not a requirement to hold a political office. This has been affirmed so many times to me over the years. I am not a super intelligent individual just one who asks questions of those that should know the answer to and more often than not I walk away shaking my head and asking why I even bother in the first place…… this is just confirmed once again…”

    Honduran 1: “I am dumbfounded! I am afraid of those in Washington DC! I believe that [Expat 3] is so right – they can’t make it anyplace else! People better start waking up – there needs to be a “house cleaning”!!!”

    Expat 1: “[Expat 4], we always complain about the idiots in the Honduran government. I guess we’ve been here so long that we forgot about the idiots in our own (old) government. But those emails were absolutely astounding in their ignorance.”

    Honduran 2: “What a mess.”

    – and on another thread on this same topic:

    Expat 1: “After reading your article, Ulf, (which I posted here) I don’t think there is anything that I could possibly say to convince anyone of anything. I’m absolutely stunned by his emails. Why don’t you suggest that he come to Honduras and just stroll down a street anywhere to see how “intimidated and threatened” the Honduran people are. How ridiculous.
    It is stunning how people in Washington who are making decisions which affect Honduras have ABSOLUTELY no knowledge of Honduras or Hondurans.”

    Honduran 3: “The problem is that the minute i say I’m an Honduran, people just scream out: “well, you’re on the internet so obviously you must be a golpista burgeois!” And according to Marxist “logic” if I’m burgeois then I respond solely and naturally to my class interest. nevermind that they as part of the “pobre pueblo” are also on the internet. I’m sorry to say this but I’ve found no support at all from europeans… they simply assume that if I understand English, I’m on the Internet and against Zelaya then I’m an oligarch son of a bitch. Its prejudice at its best!”

    Expat 1: “I get the same (or similar) thing. Never mind that I wrote about corruption and the bad treatment of the poor before — now I must be oligarchy.”

    -I will email these comments to the staffer. Hopefully it will open his eyes to the possibility that he has been accepting statements from one side (i.e. Zelaya) too uncritically. God willing he will go to Honduras and look for himself.

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