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.