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.

USA may benefit from Cablegate

The leaking of thousands of diplomatic cables from USA by Wikileaks is of course an embarrassment for USA of giant proportions. However, it may actually benefit the country – especially its diplomatic service.

Now that a significant number has been released, we have got a number of revelations. An example: the US ambassador to Honduras, Charles Ford, considered in May 2008 then president Manuel Zelaya a threat to democracy. This was long before the latter started attempting to overthrow the Constitution of his country. In March 2009 Zelaya issued a decree about holding a referendum on a referendum on a Constituting Constitutional Assembly. The word “constituting” implies of course that the old constitution is thrown out first, which – self-evidently – is unconstitutional, undemocratic, illegal, and treasonous.

While it is encouraging to see that the US had so much insight into what was going on, the really revealing part is what does not appear in the cable. There is no suggestion or hint that the US should interfere in any undemocratic way itself. Rather, Ford’s advice to his successor is simply to stay close to Zelaya and keep repeating what the US interests are. Not to stab him in the back, but to keep behaving like a friend, albeit without trusting that he is a friend, because Ford did not consider Zelaya a friend of the US.

Where is the “smoking gun” for the “coup d’état”? Nowhere to be found. If anything, this indicates that Zelaya was the architect of his own destiny, intent to follow his secret mantra: “Socialism or Martyrdom – as long as I get rich in the process”.

What this and many other cables show is that the authors of them are, in general, well intentioned, and that they really believe in democracy and development to mutual benefit. The authors being persons in the US diplomatic service.

The lack of indication of any conspiracy should put those theories to rest. They are not helpful. They just lead to frustration.

During the Honduran political crisis in 2009 I had the opportunity to see this from the receiving end, when I as a blogger was in close contact with the Micheletti administration, trying to get first-hand news. The Micheletti administration was, as we all know, the target of the mother of all conspiracy theories, that of a military coup supported by the US, with all its implications. I could see how this conspiracy theory was created by hostile propaganda, and then distributed around the world by well-meaning, but uncritical media, bloggers, twitters, opinion-makers, politicians, and so on.

From the cables we now know that the US diplomatic service was aware of the activities of their enemies (the Castro-Chávez-Ahmedinajad axis), but the global public opinion was not. The public opinion bought into the axis’ propaganda. The leaking of these cables thus offer an opportunity of transparency, that will enable Americans, Europeans, Australians, Indians, and citizens of all other democracies, to erase the conspiracy theories from there mental maps. The more of the cables are released, the stronger this effect, but for full effect all have to be released.

Here is the conundrum. Consider Julian Assange. He should know what the content is, and if there are traces of conspiracies. He is right now spreading a conspiracy theory that he was set up in Sweden, as a way to get to WikiLeaks. However, the facts of the matter do not support that interpretation (see earlier posts here the last week). Why does he spread a conspiracy theory to his followers, if he wants to promote transparency and the truth? It doesn’t make sense.

The simplest explanation is probably that Assange himself cannot make sense of the Swedish accusations. Genus relations in Sweden are a bit different, women are much more assertive of their right to their bodies – and especially women who have or are working with those issues. Which is the case for one of the women he had casual sex with. She has every right to do what she did. Without knowing all the facts nobody should conclude that there is a conspiracy behind this; on the face of it, it all makes perfect sense. And as Assange’s Swedish lawyer told the press, justice does work in Sweden, he is not worried about the outcome.

As I see it, Assange would have been much better off accepting to be sent to Sweden, do the interview with the prosecutor, and trust that the case will be dismissed for lack of evidence. Unless, of course, he got someone pregnant. The Swedish legislation is quite strict about fatherhood and responsibilities. Or if he is HIV-positive; to get him tested for this was the original reason why the women went to the police, but Assange has steadfastly refused. If he has nothing to hide, why doesn’t he cooperate? And if he has something to hide, it is disingenuous to spread conspiracy theories designed to bolster his image among his followers. Bad taste. Assange seems to be falling prey to the very corrupting influence of power that he claims to be fighting against.

In all of this, the US diplomatic service comes out the winner. I take my hat off to them, and hope that foreign relations is moved entirely back to the diplomatic service and away from the “empire’s” military, since they have lost a tremendous amount of goodwill after previous leaks.

Prosecutor Hint in Assange Case?

The Swedish prosecutor has translated select articles of the Swedish criminal code to English, for the purpose of giving non-Swedish speakers a better idea of what Julian Assange, of Wikileaks fame, is accused of. Specifically, to counter the claims that it is politically motivated, one may assume. The text is linked from this English-language web page, but I’ll reproduce it here exactly as they have it, for discussion.

Chapter 6
Section 1
A person who by assault or otherwise by violence or by threat of a criminal act forces another
person to have sexual intercourse or to undertake or endure another sexual act that, having
regard to the nature of the violation and the circumstances in general, is comparable to sexual
intercourse, shall be sentenced for rape to imprisonment for at least two and at most six years.
This shall also apply if a person engages with another person in sexual intercourse or in a
sexual act which under the first paragraph is comparable to sexual intercourse by improperly
exploiting that the person, due to unconsciousness, sleep, intoxication or other drug influence,
illness, physical injury or mental disturbance, or otherwise in view of the circumstances in
general, is in a helpless state.
If, in view of the circumstances associated with the crime, a crime provided for in the first or
second paragraph is considered less aggravated, a sentence to imprisonment for at most four
years shall be imposed for rape.
If a crime provided for in the first or second paragraph is considered gross, a sentence to
imprisonment for at least four and at most ten years shall be imposed for gross rape. In
assessing whether the crime is gross, special consideration shall be given to whether the
violence or threat was of a particularly serious nature or whether more than one person
assaulted the victim or in any other way took part in the assault or whether the perpetrator
having regard to the method used or otherwise exhibited particular ruthlessness or brutality.
Section 10
A person who, otherwise than as previously provided in this Chapter, sexually touches a child
under fifteen years of age or induces the child to undertake or participate in an act with sexual
implications, shall be sentenced for sexual molestation to a fine or imprisonment for at most
two years.
This also applies to a person who exposes himself or herself to another person in a manner
that is likely to cause discomfort, or who otherwise by word or deed molests a person in a way
that is likely to violate that person’s sexual integrity.
Chapter 4
Section 4
A person who, by assault or otherwise by force or by threat of a criminal act, compels another
to do, submit to or omit to do something, shall be sentenced for unlawful coercion to a fine or
imprisonment for at most two years. Anyone who to such effect exercises coercion by
threatening to prosecute or report another for a crime or give detrimental information about
another, shall also be sentenced for unlawful coercion, provided that the coercion is wrongful.
If the crime referred to in the first, paragraph is gross, imprisonment for at least six months
and at most six years shall be imposed. In assessing whether the crime is gross special
consideration shall be given to whether the act included the infliction of pain to force a
confession, or other torture

Chapter 6

Section 1

A person who by assault or otherwise by violence or by threat of a criminal act forces another person to have sexual intercourse or to undertake or endure another sexual act that, having regard to the nature of the violation and the circumstances in general, is comparable to sexual intercourse, shall be sentenced for rape to imprisonment for at least two and at most six years.

This shall also apply if a person engages with another person in sexual intercourse or in a sexual act which under the first paragraph is comparable to sexual intercourse by improperly exploiting that the person, due to unconsciousness, sleep, intoxication or other drug influence, illness, physical injury or mental disturbance, or otherwise in view of the circumstances in general, is in a helpless state.

If, in view of the circumstances associated with the crime, a crime provided for in the first or second paragraph is considered less aggravated, a sentence to imprisonment for at most four years shall be imposed for rape.

If a crime provided for in the first or second paragraph is considered gross, a sentence to imprisonment for at least four and at most ten years shall be imposed for gross rape. In assessing whether the crime is gross, special consideration shall be given to whether the violence or threat was of a particularly serious nature or whether more than one person assaulted the victim or in any other way took part in the assault or whether the perpetrator having regard to the method used or otherwise exhibited particular ruthlessness or brutality.

Section 10

A person who, otherwise than as previously provided in this Chapter, sexually touches a child under fifteen years of age or induces the child to undertake or participate in an act with sexual implications, shall be sentenced for sexual molestation to a fine or imprisonment for at most two years.

This also applies to a person who exposes himself or herself to another person in a manner that is likely to cause discomfort, or who otherwise by word or deed molests a person in a way that is likely to violate that person’s sexual integrity.

Chapter 4

Section 4

A person who, by assault or otherwise by force or by threat of a criminal act, compels another to do, submit to or omit to do something, shall be sentenced for unlawful coercion to a fine or imprisonment for at most two years. Anyone who to such effect exercises coercion by threatening to prosecute or report another for a crime or give detrimental information about another, shall also be sentenced for unlawful coercion, provided that the coercion is wrongful.

If the crime referred to in the first, paragraph is gross, imprisonment for at least six months and at most six years shall be imposed. In assessing whether the crime is gross special consideration shall be given to whether the act included the infliction of pain to force a confession, or other torture.

Note that some sentences are in bold. They are of course not in bold in the original Swedish text. So why is one segment in each article (what they translated as “section”; the Swedish word is “paragraf”) in bold? We can only guess.

It does seem to me, that perhaps those three segments in bold are highlighted to draw the reader’s attention to the relevant part of each article. It could provide a hint of what the accusations are, in parts that have not been made public. Or then again, it could be a random formatting error. Do you have a better explanation?

The only reason I even bother about this is because of the conspiracy theories that the USA would be behind Assange’s arrest. Conspiracy theories hurt the cause of everyone who is trying to fight against corruption and for a better world. They are distractions. By the way, has it ever occurred to those who spread conspiracy theories that they may have been created by “security services” precisely to confuse and divert attention away from their real agenda, their actual activities?

As for the actual allegations, I say let’s assume he is innocent until proven guilty, and let’s assume the two accusers are acting in good faith until proven guilty of the opposite (something for which they have not been charged, and although it is not completely impossible that they will be, it is extremely unlikely since they apparently just told the police what happened, and it was the police and prosecutor who labeled it rape, not the women in question).

Zelaya: Socialism or Martyrdom

USA considered Zelaya dangerous for democracy long before he tried overthrowing the constitution.

A secret cable has today been released by El Pais in Spain, written by former U.S. ambassador to Honduras Charles Ford, on May 15, 2008. It was written to inform his successor Hugo Llorens about the situation. The words and descriptions are so strong, so striking, so revealing of the background to the deposal (what some call a military coup) of Zelaya on June 28th, 2009, that I will just encourage you to read it for yourself. This text is on fire!

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 TEGUCIGALPA 000459

SIPDIS

MADRID FOR HUGO LLORENS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/14/2018
TAGS: PGOV, PINR, PREL, KDEM, ECON, SOCI, KCRM, ENRG, EFIN,
SNAR, SMIG, MARR, MASS, MOPS, HO
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT JOSE MANUEL ZELAYA ROSALES: PERSONAL

REFLECTIONS OF AMBASSADOR FORD

REF: OFFICIAL BIOS ON FILE

Classified By: AMBASSADOR CHARLES A. FORD FOR REASONS 1.4 (b and d)

1. (S) Summary: Honduran President Jose Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales is a throwback to an earlier Central American era, almost a caricature of a land-owner “caudillo” in terms of his leadership style and tone. Ever the rebellious teenager, 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. Various public statements over his tenure suggest he would be quite comfortable as a martyr who tried but failed honorably in his attempt to seek out social justice for the poor. He is comfortable working with the Armed Forces and until recently with the Catholic Church, yet 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. End Summary.

2. (S) I have gotten to know Mel Zelaya quite well over my tenure as Ambassador, and offer these personal reflections on his character, his views of the United States, and on what his presidency means for our interest in the region with the objective of informing future policy choices.

3. (S) Personally, I have found Zelaya to be gracious and charming, quite willing to tell me whatever he thinks I want to hear at that moment. For example, in the period June-August 2007, we must have met weekly, with his agenda focused on explaining his nomination of Jorge Arturo Reina (who lost his U.S. visa for past terrorist connections) as the UN Ambassador, his presence in Managua at Sandinista celebrations and his intentions with regard to Hugo Chavez. It was interesting to see how his explanations differed from meeting to meeting, almost as if he had no recollection of our exchange just a few days before.

4. (S) In the period May-June 2006, Zelaya pressed me hard to obtain President Bush’s approval of his plan to join PetroCaribe. When he met in early June with President Bush who confirmed our strong opposition to his intention, Zelaya later told me that he was surprised that this item had been on our agenda. In short, over an almost three year period it has become crystal clear to me that Zelaya’s views change by the day or in some cases by the hour, depending on his mood and who he has seen last.

5.(S) Not surprisingly, Zelaya has no real friends outside of his family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him. In the days preceding his inauguration, Zelaya without prior notification canceled a country team briefing for his new cabinet. Over a private lunch he explained that he trusted no one in his government and asked me the question: “Who is the most powerful; the person with a knife behind the door or the person outside the door who knows there is someone behind the door with a knife?” It is clear to me that tactically he will work with almost anyone, but strategically he stands alone.

6. (S) Zelaya also has been quite erratic in his behavior. Despite his often harsh public rhetoric, such as describing U.S. immigration policy against illegal aliens as “persecution” by “fascists”, Zelaya would meet again with President Bush in a heartbeat. At one point he even planned to go uninvited to a bilateral Bush-Berger meeting in Guatemala. Zelaya not only allowed the first visit of a U.S. warship to mainland Honduras in 22 years, but he delivered a ringing speech extolling bilateral relations on the ship’s deck, only briefly expressing pride in Honduras’ capture and execution of the American interventionist William Walker. Always suspicious of American intentions, he inexplicably submitted to a psychological profile at my Residence – twice. His erratic behavior appears most evident when he deliberately stirs street action in protest against his own government policy – only to resolve the issue (teacher complaints, transportation grievances, etc) at the last moment. This approach to problem solving seems to be Zelaya’s way of gaining acceptance, challenging the established political power structure, and moving his agenda – which is not populist or ideological, but is based on popular appeal.

7. (S) Zelaya remains very much a rebellious teenager, anxious to show his lack of respect for authority figures. Cardinal Andres Rodriguez has told me that not only did he not graduate from university but he actually did not graduate from high school. The Cardinal should know, as he was one of his teachers. The problem is that Mel has acted in this juvenile, rebellious manner his entire life and succeeded in reaching the highest office in the land. No need to change now. He will continue to lead a chaotic, highly disorganized private life.

8. (S) There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime. Zelaya’s desperate defense of former telecommunications chief Marcelo Chimirri (widely believed to be a murderer, rapist and thief) suggests that Chimirri holds much over Zelaya himself. Zelaya almost assuredly takes strong medication for a severe back problem and perhaps other drugs as well. His vehement attacks on the press have reportedly endangered journalists opposed to Zelaya’s policies. His style and tone in order to get his way is one of intimidation and bullying, threatening tax inspections and worse rather than substantive debate on issues. Zelaya’s inability to name a Vice Minister for Security lends credibility to those who suggest that narco traffickers have pressured him to name one of their own to this position. Due to his close association with persons believed to be involved with international organized crime, the motivation behind many of his policy decisions can certainly be questioned. I am unable to brief Zelaya on sensitive law enforcement and counter-narcotics actions due my concern that this would put the lives of U.S. officials in jeopardy.

9. (S) Finally, Mel is very much a son of Olancho, aware of his roots in the land and his family’s ties to Honduras since the 1500’s. Unlike most other Honduran leaders in recent times, Zelaya’s view of a trip to the “big city” means Tegucigalpa and not Miami or New Orleans. While he and his family have been part of the Honduran landscape for 400 years, they have not until recently inter-married with the Honduras elite in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. His son’s marriage in 2006 to one of the country’s leading Honduran-Arab families was very important to Zelaya yet a complex event, signifying acceptance into the very elite group that he so very much resents.

10. (S) I have found Zelaya’s real views of the United States hidden not too very deeply below the surface. In a word, he is not a friend. His views are shaped not by ideology or personal ambitions but by an old-fashioned nationalism where he holds the United States accountable for Honduras’ current state of poverty and dependency. Zelaya’s public position against the Contra War and against the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Force Base are manifestations of this underlying viewpoint.

11. (S) Other behavior by the President confirms, in my view, the depth of his feeling. While Zelaya was open to our point of view of the selection of key members of his Cabinet, he was absolutely closed to listening to us on his appointment of his Ambassador to the OAS and to his appointment of Jorge Arturo Reina as Ambassador to the UN. The Honduran voting record in the UN in terms of coincidence with US positions is at the lowest point in decades.

12. (S) More revealing, at public events with key officials present, Zelaya will make clear that anyone interested in becoming President of the country needs first to get the blessing of the American Ambassador. Personally, in private conversations at the Residence, Zelaya has recounted to me, multiple times how a previous American Ambassador had ordered the President of the Honduran Congress to accept the Presidential candidacy of Ricardo Maduro, even though in Zelaya’s view Maduro was Panamanian-born and thus ineligible. Other sources have documented Zelaya’s views on this point where his anger and resentment are more apparent than in his exchanges with me. It is clear by the way he recounts the story that on one level he resents very much this perceived dependency yet accepts it exists and looks to me to define for him the rules of the game. He becomes frustrated at times when he believes I am not carrying out this responsibility.

13. (S) Most noticeable to me has been his avoidance of public meetings with visiting US officials. Whether Cabinet officials or CODELs, Zelaya always is a gracious host, but never comes out of the meeting to have his picture taken publicly with our visitors, as he is so anxious to do with other visitors from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. Almost all of our meetings take place at my Residence rather than at the more public setting of the Presidential Palace. He made no attempt to disseminate his may photo ops with President Bush after the June 2006 meeting in Washington. The fact is that the President of the country prefers to meet quite often in the privacy of my Residence but not to be seen in public with American visitors.

14. (S) Finally, Zelaya recently is fond of saying that we need to improve our communication, which I interpret to mean that we need to agree with him more often. A similar fate has befallen Cardinal Rodriguez who used to meet, as I do, regularly with the President. As the Cardinal in recent months has found himself in disagreement with Zelaya and is not participating publicly in his projects, Zelaya is working increasingly with pastors in the evangelical community. The Cardinal recently told me that he and the President hardly speak now as the President is unhappy that he doesn’t agree with the direction Zelaya is taking the country. For Zelaya, communicating means agreeing unquestionably with his point of view.

15. (S) GOING FORWARD: The last year and a half of the Zelaya Administration will be, in my view, extraordinarily difficult for our bilateral relationship. His pursuit of immunity from the numerous activities of organized crime carried out in his Administration will cause him to threaten the rule of law and institutional stability. Honduran institutions and friendly governments will need to be prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras forward.

16. (S) We will need, in my view, to continue to engage Zelaya whenever we can in order to minimize damage and to protect our core interests. As a rebellious teenager, he will need a significant space to move, in but we must be very direct in our conversations with him as to our core interests. Despite his feelings towards us, he does respect the role the U.S. Embassy is still perceived to play in Honduran society and will expect us in private to be direct and clear in our views. Using an analogy from American football, we will need to continue to carry out an aggressive bend but not break defensive game plan in the run up to the next elections in November 2009. In this way, I believe we can engage Zelaya intensely in the hope of so as to minimizing damage to Honduran democracy and the economy.
Ford

My observation: After having read this, nothing of what happened in 2009 should be any surprise. Ford predicted it in significant detail more than a year in advance, even down to Zelaya’s willingness to fail trying to help the poor, and to be prepared to become a martyr. Exactly what he is now in the Dominican Republic, not interested in coming home, as president Lobo is finding out when trying to assist him. He is just where he wants to be, a martyr, a symbol, content with having become infamous while almost destroying his country. It should give pause to those who have supported him. But will it?

War of the Nerds

We may be witnessing the beginning of a whole new form of civil war, waged in cyberspace, and thus not in any particular country. An appropriate name may be War of the Nerds, since it is being waged in front of the keyboard rather than in the field. The issue is for or against WikiLeaks. The initial battles of this war has been described by CBS News (Dec 3rd, Dec 8th). Here is a timeline.

A complicating plot in the war are the accusations of rape and sexual molestation that has been waged against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, from two women in Sweden. This has led to conspiracy theories of links to CIA. After having read the little factual information that is out there (most of the facts are secret due to the ongoing investigation and privacy protection of the accusers), it seems to me that we are faced with a cultural misunderstanding.

WikiLeaks supporters (one may assume) have seen the accusations as so bizarre, and the prosecutor’s reaction as so out of proportion, that they have suspected a trap. Also Information Clearing House, in a piece that was an obvious Cuban propaganda article, accused one of the women of being a CIA operative.

The fact is that she is a Social Democrat, having a rather high position within an organization affiliated with the political party that ruled Sweden for much of the 20th Century, a party that is clearly anti-imperialist. She has visited Cuba and written critical of both the government of Cuba and of USA, instead expressing support for the social democrats on Cuba, a group that (according to her article) is not supported in any way by USA. She is also a feminist. To assume that she would be working for CIA reveals a tremendous ignorance about Swedish politics.

The other woman allegedly accuses Assange of having had unprotected sex with her while she was asleep. Since she was not in a position to say “no” it was not consensual, and thus it qualifies as rape in Swedish law (there are other accusations but the details are not public). Rape is a serious crime, so an international arrest warrant is not strange in this case. One does not need to resort to a conspiracy theory to understand what is happening; it is perfectly logical. Sweden and the Swedish women are acting from their laws and their frame of reference. For them it is completely irrelevant what happens in the US; US politics is not only irrelevant but unknown to them, to the extent that the very words left and right are associated to different sets of ideologies in Sweden and USA. To try to interpret their acts from a US perspective is as meaningful as the Chewbacca defense in South Park.

The simple explanation seems to be that Julian Assange behaved inappropriately in a culture he was not familiar with, and that this has nothing at all to do with WikiLeaks or the “War of the Nerds”. The threats of prosecution from the USA are not related in any way, shape, or form to the legal case in Sweden.

The War of the Nerds

Returning to the topic, what this is about is information, access to it to be precise. To deny others access to information is a prime tool for power. That includes wars. A dictator does not have to pretend, but in a democracy the power elite has to use some device to preserve their information superiority. A key tool is to classify information based on a self-proclaimed necessity for state security. In modern warfare, USA has declared an intent to have absolute global information superiority.

We can see three kinds of challenges to this objective by the US. First state actors. The Soviet Union was the only one that could stand a chance, but eventually they collapsed. This left USA as the sole superpower.

Second we have the terrorists. These are non-state actors that use physical means, in an asymmetric war. The problem is that the winner ultimately is the one that has the moral high ground, and since terrorists do immoral things, they can only get sympathy if the enemy does even more immoral things. For instance, ETA had a lot of support in the Basque areas during Franco’s dictatorship, but most of that support evaporated once democracy was introduced in Spain.

The third challenge is against the information infrastructure itself. This is where the hackers come in. This is the War of the Nerds. The opening salvo is to expose the truth, to reveal the hidden information. The reaction from the Empire must be to stop this leak, since its power is threatened by it. Of course, until the leak is severe enough, the Empire will not act, since it would make it look week. But when the leak really may hurt it, it will strike back.

Cablegate

The few cables that have been released so far have mostly contained gossip, things that are generally known to the politically savvy persons in the country that the cable was sent from. Only in some cases have embarrassing statements and secrets come out. In other words, if the Empire is upset it is not because of what has been leaked already, but because of what may come.

What could these secrets be? There is one obvious sore spot, a deep inflammation in the world of foreign policy, and that is Palestine. Most Americans support Israel, and thus their government does it. However, the American people support Israel only because they don’t know the truth. There can be little doubt that the American government knows the truth (Jimmy Carter has even written about it).

Americans tend to believe that Palestine was a largely empty land when the Jews, in the Zionist plan, started settling the land. They also tend to believe that those Jews were descendants of Jews that were forced to leave that same land thousands of years ago.

Arabs, on the other hand, know that Palestinians lived in Palestine already when the Jews first arrived over three thousand years ago, and that the Jews arrived as conquerors, their “God” allegedly having “given” them the land. They also know that at the end of the Ottoman Empire, there were about 10,000 Jews living in Palestine, in peace with a much larger population of Palestinians, and that there was no “empty land” in the country. Furthermore, they know that close to 1 million Palestinians were driven into exile when the state of Israel was established by the Zionists. They were driven from their homes, their lands, the graves of their ancestors. And they know that they still live in refugee camps to this day, in other Arab countries.

Returning to Cablegate, what dangerous secrets is it that the US government is hiding from its people?

The Palestinians that have been desperate enough to engage Israel as freedom fighters have been labeled “terrorists”. When the superiority of Israel became so extreme that guerilla warfare in Palestine saw rendered all but impossible, the asymmetrical war was continued outside Israel. Again they were labeled terrorists, now with more justification. When Arabs from other countries joined the asymmetrical war in sympathy with Palestine, the propaganda painted them as Moslem extremists. By implying a religious reason for their fight, the nexus with the conflict in Palestine was hidden from the US public.

If the cables shed light on how the US government conspired with either Israel of Zionists in fabricating this propaganda, it would be earth-shattering for international diplomacy.

It would, however, be good for peace and democracy.

As it stands, forces such as Ahmedinejad in Iran, Castro on Cuba, and Chávez in Venezuela, are exploiting the legitimate grievances of those who are disenfranchised by the US policy. They are courting them and pretending to be their friends. In reality, of course, they are evil forces, dictators, who are just shamelessly exploiting a weakness that the democracies have exposed.

That is why it would be best for peace and democracy to come clean, to be transparent, to wash the laundry and go on. Hold an election and get new people in, it’s a democracy, isn’t it?

It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future. However, WikiLeaks may have documents ready to leak that can expose not just the primordial propaganda lie since WWII, but also documents on the way banks operate, that may cause people to realize how the banks have been systematically stealing the profits from working men and women for decades. This creates a long list of potential enemies to WikiLeaks: The powers behind governments, the powers behind banks, the powers behind media, the powers that support Israel. In short, the entire US / EU power elite.

On WikiLeaks side we have the hackers. Forget Ahmedinejad / Castro / Chávez, they are just opportunists. The only ones with WikiLeaks are the normal, everyday Internet users. May the force be with you.

Albatross Expedition 1947-48

Today I’ll write about science. Notably about one expedition that, curiously, touches upon the two perhaps hottest contested scientific debates in the 20th century: continental drift (plate tectonics), and global warming (greenhouse effect, climate change).

S/S Albatross
S/S Albatross. Archive photo from Göteborgs Universitet.

Albatross was a four-masted school ship of a Swedish shipping line, Boström. Using piston corers, developed by Kullenberg, they took up to 20 m long sediment cores, ten times longer than what had previously been achieved. When analyzed, the cores gave insight into the history of the oceans, and thus the planet, over millions of years. The most notable discovery was the somewhat regular periodic variations during the last million years, corresponding to recurring ice ages. The Albatross expedition laid the foundation of paleo-oceanography.

Among the results were a number of perplexing observations, that eventually all were explained in the framework of continental drift. After the continental drift-hypothesis was introduced in 1912 it was first the subject of lively debate, then largely rejected, and then, decades later, accepted in a revised form, i.e., plate tectonics. (Actually, Alfred Wegener only re-introduced it in 1912, since it had first been proposed by Abraham Ortelius in 1570.)

After having heard for decades how these strange observations on the Albatross expedition had contributed to the eventual acceptance of the revised hypothesis for continental drift, I decided to try to verify how it really happened. So I asked one of the participants in the expedition, prof em Gustaf Arrhenius. This is his e-mail reply, dated 2010-12-05 (“SIO” means Scripps Institute of Oceanography, at La Jolla, UCSD):

In 1947 – 48, the time of the Albatross Expedition, Wegener’s theory was talked about mostly as an eccentric idea, failing on the basis of the forbidding flow properties of mantle rocks but there were influential proponents such as Umbgrove.

Albatross, introduced, through Waloddi Weibull, the revolutionary technique of sound reflection for measurement of the thickness of the sediment but it was applied mainly to the Atlantic – Weibull was on board only on the first section there. No particular attention was paid to the different thickness on the ridges – the only observational evidence was from core 48 on the East Pacific Rise where under I think about six meters of sediment we hit gas loaded basaltic glass attesting to the enhanced volcanic activity. The subsequent work by Kurt Boström demonstrated by geochemical means the regional importance of volcanism on the midocean ridges

Another puzzling piece of information came from Hans Petterson’ only successful single heat flow measurement, suggesting an abnormally low value on a station away from the Pacific Ridge. It was later realized as the first indication that most of the heat from the Earth’s inferior flows out through the midocean ridges.

Weibull’s technique was later taken up by Russel Raitt at SIO who made numerous thickness measurements in the Pacific, noting low values but nobody understood them and none of all these observations were placed in the context of sea floor spreading and continental drift.

The finding by Vacquier of the magnetic striping of the East Pacfic ocean floor was to become the trigger of the eventual discovery. Initially nobody understood this remarkable phenomenon. An early near-hit was made by Ronald Mason who found indications of magnetic reversals in cores from the SIO Capricorn expedition but as a British socialist gadfly he was not encouraged to continue at Scripps – thus the intellectual initiative was transferred to England where the breakthrough discovery was made by Matthews and Vine.

So, although many seemingly anomalous observations were made during the Swedish Deep Sea Expedition and elsewhere in the 1950’s that would later prove to be pieces of the puzzle, no conceptual new thinking about continental drift arose from the Albatross work. Instead its major new contribution came to be the discovery of the detailed sedimentary record of the Pleistocene – Recent climatic changes in the equatoral ocean.

You are absolutely right that the unique, pace setting and world encompassing Swedish Deep Sea Expedition has been largely and amazingly forgotten, more so in Sweden than abroad where its techniques were voraciously adopted and further developed and its results used as a basis for a whole new fertile branch of science, culminating in the international deep sea drilling program.

Some of the background for this sad loss of memory of the last and greatest heroic Swedish effort in global exploration has been discussed in an article, unfortunately in Swedish, that I published some time ago;

Arrhenius, Gustaf 1990. Svenska djuphavsexpeditionen med Albatross – ett retrospectiv. Ymer 8-34.

The Albatross Deep Sea Expedition provided the first data for Quaternary climate, the periodic fluctuations between cold Ice Age conditions, and luke warm interglacial periods as the one we have enjoyed the last 10,000 years or so. Roughly speaking, with a period of 100,000 years the climate shifts between cold and luke warm, with the cold phase taking up 90% of that time.

The existence of a previous Ice Age had been accepted since 1867, if my memory does not fail me, and already by the end of the 19th century scientists understood that it might come back. In fact, the cold spell known as the Little Ice Age ended less than 100 years ago, having started in Medieval times.

When Svante Arrhenius, grandfather of Gustaf, introduced the greenhouse gas theory around 1897, he allegedly hypothesized that the CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels could help warm the planet and stave off or at least delay the onset of the next ice age.

It is pretty much accepted by now that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) does occur, although it is not yet settled among scientists to what extent this is relevant for the future climate. The ongoing debate on climate change has been said to be the modern equivalent in intensity and fixed positions to the 20th century debate on continental drift. In the middle of this we find the Albatross Expedition, as a testimony to the value of field science, and of letting the facts speak.

The incipient seismic profiling used on Albatross has since been developed into a tool that allows petroleum geologists to make three-dimensional models of kilometer-thick sediment beds with sub-meter resolution. Also other field methods were pioneered on the Albatross. As Arrhenius writes, the ground-breaking nature of the expedition was phenomenal. It deserves a place in the textbook history chapter, no doubt about it.

A Honduran Synthesis

Looking at Honduras from a long distance, in space and also more and more in time since last year’s political crisis, this is what I see: A democratic country that is de facto controlled by an oligarchy, through deep-running corruption and state control that goes way beyond what most western democracies would be comfortable with. By price fixing and splitting up the business in segments, so that each of the main Families gets some solid source of income, status quo is preserved. The result is a rich elite, but a poor country.

The anthithesis of this, the opposite extreme, is communism, such as the so-called Socialism of the XXI’st Century, that Venezuela and Cuba are doing their best to spread in Latin America. The methods include buying presidential candidates or presidents, such as Zelaya in Honduras, who then set in motion a process to change the country’s constitution. The new constitution calls for democratic socialism with a large degree of populism. In essence, populism is the opposite of institutionality. The effect of this change, if implemented fully, is a formally democratic dictatorship, where the ruler has at his disposal a herd of election cattle. Since this isn’t the first time in history that this strategy has been used, several countries have articles in their constitutions designed to make it impossible. Honduras is one of those countries.

What happened in Honduras June 28, 2009, was the end of an attempt to overrun the constitution and introduce the antithetical form of government, by a person who himself belongs to the oligarchy: Manuel Zelaya. It was an attempt at replacing one corrupt system with another corrupt system (in fact, even more corrupt according to many sources). Instead of an elite ostensibly ruling for the upper class, it would be part of the same elite ostensibly ruling for the working class. But of this came naught, since all the institutions of government objected to it in unison, and stopped it.

During the months that followed, there was a widespread hope that finally corruption would be dealt with, that the rule of law would be established, and that liberal democracy had triumphed in Honduras. Even the color of this movement reflected that; instead of blue or red, this was the white movement, using the color of peace. Rather than dominated by the elite or the working class, this was a movement of the middle class, a newly politically awakened middle class.

A year after the election of a new president – Porfirio Lobo from the nationalist party – it seems that his ideal is very close to the old thesis: Keep the rich in power. He allows the extreme left to express their opinions, partly because they have the international spotlight on them still, partly because their message is so foreign to most Hondurans that they do not constitute a serious opposition. However, he has repeatedly expressed discontent with criticism from the middle class, and even gone as far as to silence critics by threatening to withdraw their citizenship. It seems that the middle class is where he sees the real threat coming from – and he would be right.

It is only the educated middle class that can bring about a real liberal democracy under the rule of law in Honduras. However, as yet there is no obvious leader for the movement (and, I might add, it may not be good for a person’s health to be that leader, in a country where even congressmen are chased down and murdered in broad daylight).

Still, we can already see that there is a political void, a space that a savvy politician could take and make into his or her platform for the next presidential election. To position himself, or herself, is key. To be seen as the synthesis, as appealing to the majority in the middle, while not alienating any reasonable person on either side. There are ample campaign themes available for the one who wants to run for the middle, but which one(s) to pick will depend on the candidate’s background.