Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Archive for December 10th, 2010

Honduras dictatorship, day 334 #cablegate

Posted by Charles II on December 10, 2010

Thanks to Adrienne for linking to the new Wikileaks cable on Honduras, a cable dated 5/15/08 from Ambassador Charles Ford at the end of his tenure (Hugo Llorens was appointed on May 5th and took the oath on August 6th). The coup is about 14 months away, and the first public exposure of its existence by Romeo Vasquez Velasquez is about four months away. The cable is a chatty resumé of Ford’s opinions about Zelaya.

The addressees are interesting: Secretary of State (Rice), Ambassador of Spain, Southcom (military and foreign policy adviser), Commander of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano, CIA, DIA, NSC, SECDEF, Millennium Challenge Corp., and others.

While the tone of the cable is personally contemptuous toward Zelaya (of which in a minute), what stands out are these lines (typography corrected):

There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime….

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. … 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. …

Honduran institutions and friendly governments will need to be prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras forward.

Since this is addressed to the organs of the US government which conduct coups, it is not difficult to see the arc of the coup beginning with this memo. Notice that the basis of the Ambassador’s judgment that Zelaya is, in effect, an enemy, is that Zelaya opposes the illegal war the US waged in Central America in the 1980s. In effect, Ford is endorsing criminality. Also note that Zelaya’s desire for the US to move out of Soto Cano/Palmerola, a place linked in Honduran memory to death squads and a site that Honduras wishes to use for a commercial airport to replace the obsolete and dangerous Toncontin airport is cast as enmity.

In addition to this memo, there is a roughly contemporaneous (hence, influenced by Ford) report by the OIG that reads in part:

The Ambassador enjoys unfettered access to President Manual “Mel” Zelaya, who desires of good relations with the United States, but not reflexively in tune with U.S. goals, including the focus on corruption and rule of law in Honduras. Another complication is Zelaya’s penchant for creating problems that only he can solve, for political gain….

…United States policy emphasizes meaningful democracy, rule of law, transparency, anticorruption, and economic competitiveness—all concepts that run somewhat counter to the interests of the Zelaya government and the business oligarchs who have essentially run Honduras as a private business for 200 years. The degree of personal corruption at very senior levels prevents close association. The current Honduran president himself is erratic in word and deed

There is this line, which expresses how disconnected from reality US policy is:

When the Zelaya government adopted an agricultural policy to subsidize basic grains production, the MCC Director and other embassy elements stressed that horticulture is where Honduras’ competitive advantage lies.

In a hungry country where tortillas and rice are staples, the US wants Honduras to grow export crops like bananas and flowers, crops whose profits will benefits the oligarchy.

Returning to the Wikileaks cable, the contemptuous tone is expressed as follows:

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….

Over his two and a half years in office, he has become increasingly surrounded by those involved in organized crime activities….

I have found Zelaya to be gracious and charming, quite willing to tell me whatever he thinks I want to hear at that moment.

…Zelaya’s views change by the day or in some cases by the hour, depending on his mood and who he has seen last.

…Zelaya has no real friends outside of his family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him….

…Zelaya also has been quite erratic in his behavior….

Zelaya remains very much a rebellious teenager, anxious to show his lack of respect for authority figures.

…Mel has acted in this juvenile, rebellious manner his entire life … He will continue to lead a chaotic, highly disorganized private life. …

There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime….

…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….

Zelaya’s view of a trip to the “big city” means Tegucigalpa and not Miami or New Orleans. … [Aside: and some people’s idea of a trip to the “big city” is London or Beijing, or at least New York City, Ambassador.]

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. …

For Zelaya, communicating means agreeing unquestionably with his point of view….

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….

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.

So, the Ambassador thinks he’s dealing with a crooked, mentally ill, teenager, and he thinks his contempt is invisible. The fact that the Ambassador thinks that opposition to the Contras is evidence of enmity is striking.

Ford is also loose with accusations. He accuses Jorge AntonioArturo Reina Idiaquez of having terrorist connections. At the time, Reina was UN Ambassador and no [added 12/12: valid] charges had ever been brought against him, nor have been. I am unable to discover any substantiation for this allegation, and it may well come out of the Contra Wars.

Ford accuses Marcelo Chimirri, a nephew of Zelaya who was indicted by the Honduran dictatorship’s courts of taking bribes in the Hondutel case of being “widely believed to be a murderer, rapist and thief.” There is no evidence for the former two, and the latter is yet to be proven.

Ford’s obtuseness is also evident from this comment:

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.

The possibility that Zelaya might have been pointing out the domineering of the United States and its willingness to dismiss Honduran law when suitable for its own goals did not occur to Ford. Similarly with this quote:

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.

Why not? Could it be that Ford was not exactly popular in Honduras?

Crossposted, with some edits, to DK.
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Update: El Pais is covering the story (not very well, I would say), but I don’t see that The Guardian or The New York Times are doing so. So, Latin America will be furious at us, and Americans will have no clue as to why.

Also in the news, the International Jurists Commission told Honduras that they can’t return to legitimacy until the courts are truly independent. Sloppily translated, they said, “Under international law, it’s impossible to legitimate a coup d’etat by means of deeds or with the development of seemingly constitionalist theses regarding the doctrine de factor which contradict those same principles of democracy”
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Update: I should also credit María Luisa Rivera at Wikileaks for a well-written, thoughtful article.

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