Hon­duran Lob­by­ing Ex­poses More Truth About U.S. In­volve­ment in 2009 Coup

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The pro­gres­sive former pres­i­dent of Hon­duras had just been re­moved from of­fice and his coun­try. The deed was barely weeks old when the Hon­durans who led the coup came to Wash­ing­ton to lobby for help – in clean­ing up the im­age of those who had led the coup.

In 2009, Manuel Ze­laya, the then cur­rent pres­i­dent of Hon­duras, was in­volved in lead­ing sev­eral rad­i­cal re­forms. One of the big­ger ones in­volved a mu­chover­due at­tempt to raise the min­i­mum wage for the poor. A sec­ond one, much more pro­found in na­ture, was his at­tempt to get the coun­try’s pop­u­lace to vote on con­vert­ing Hon­duras into far more of a democ­racy than ever be­fore. Both moves were in di­rect op­po­si­tion to the pre­vi­ously em­pow­ered Hon­duran mil­i­tary, who rep­re­sented the mon­eyed Hon­duran oli­garchs and sup­ported many of the causes cham­pi­oned by then U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Ze­laya had also be­gun aligning his coun­try with other more pro­gres­sive Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, in­clud­ing Venezuela, with its leader Hugo Chávez, who had been much vil­i­fied by the United States, mostly be­cause Chávez had run op­er­a­tions that coun­tered what Amer­i­can forces had done in the same coun­try. Ze­laya also formed strong bonds with Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bo­livia. He even ar­ranged to have Hon­duras be­come a part of the Bo­li­var­ian Al­liance for the Peo­ples of Our Amer­ica (ALBA).

The coun­try’s leg­is­la­tors were get­ting ready to vote Ze­laya out of of­fice on June 25, 2009, even though that was not within their con­sti­tu­tional author­ity. That move was tem­po­rar­ily de­railed by Hugo Llorens, the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to Hon­duras, who ob­jected to the un­con­sti­tu­tional at­tempt to change out the gov­ern­ment.

That move was short-lived, be­cause other means were al­ready well in place to get Ze­laya out be­fore he could do any fur­ther dam­age to those the old ways of power had sup­ported.

On June 28, 2009, Ze­laya was taken from his quar­ters at gun­point by Hon­duran spe­cial forces with their heads cov­ered in hoods. He even­tu­ally ended up in Costa Rica, ex­iled from his home coun­try. On the way there, his cap­tors made an in­ter­est­ing air re­fu­el­ing stop at the Palmerola Mil­i­tary Air Base, then con­trolled by the U.S. mil­i­tary.

Based on all that had been re­vealed at the time, it did look like the U.S. gov­ern­ment had knowl­edge of the coup be­fore it hap­pened, though much of that was based on hearsay rather than solid proof. There was also the mat­ter of the mil­i­tary coup lead­ers mak­ing that stop at a U.S. air­field and the cu­ri­ous in­dif­fer­ence to the coup on the part of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment at the time. As Hil­lary Clin­ton noted in an ear­lier au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, the fo­cus of the United States at the time was to “[strate­gize] a plan to re­store or­der in Hon­duras and en­sure that free and fair elec­tions could

be held quickly and le­git­i­mately, which would ren­der the ques­tion of Ze­laya moot.”

What was “the ques­tion of Ze­laya” that was go­ing to be ren­dered moot? Part of it was that, start­ing with Ze­laya him­self and then quickly fol­lowed by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS), the Mer­co­sur trade bloc and the 23-na­tion Rio Group, a size­able num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions came out quickly to de­cry Ze­laya’s re­moval from of­fice as an il­le­gal coup. They de­manded the re­moval of the coup lead­ers now in charge in Hon­duras, fol­lowed by Ze­laya’s im­me­di­ate re­in­state­ment. They all likened this to the way coun­tries flipped lead­er­ship back in the 1970s, both by blood­less as well as bloody over­throws.

A sec­ond part of it, which is only now com­ing to light, is that while U.S. am­bas­sador Llorens ap­pears to have been act­ing in good faith to find a way to block the up­com­ing coup, oth­ers within the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment were al­ready work­ing hand in glove with those plan­ning the over­throw. Rather than ex­plain­ing that the United States and the Hon­duran mil­i­tary had worked to­gether on the coup, it ap­pears that what the U.S. State Depart­ment was scram­bling to do was em­brace the con­fu­sion of the mo­ment and get the mil­i­tary coup so­lid­i­fied and sup­ported as the new gov­ern­ment of record.

Al­though the coup was suc­cess­ful and the mil­i­tary group was now in charge, in the weeks im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing Ze­laya’s over­throw, there was a lot of noise be­ing raised by those other coun­tries who said the coup must be un­done. It is here that the at­tempt to keep U.S. in­volve­ment in the coup a se­cret be­gan un­rav­el­ing.

The United States, ever want­ing to ap­pear the moral author­ity when mat­ters such as democ­racy and coups come up – even when the truth was of­ten quite dif­fer­ent – took Llorens’ po­si­tion as the one for the pub­lic to see. The U.S. gov­ern­ment did not take a strong stand against the coup it­self but was care­ful to avoid say­ing it was sup­port­ing the coup. It even re­voked the visas of se­nior Hon­duran civil­ian and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials as a means of ap­pear­ing to take the side that the former regime might have been fa­vored as a mat­ter of pub­lic pol­icy.

Know­ing the truth of the mat­ter and need­ing help, two Hon­duran colonels were sent to the United States in the early days after the coup. They were sent there to help con­vince U.S. of­fi­cials that the coup was fully con­sti­tu­tional and de­served the pub­lic back­ing of the United States.

While they were there, those colonels met with sev­eral U.S. of­fi­cials and, via their own ex­ist­ing con­tacts and be­cause of the dif­fer­ence be­tween Amer­i­can pub­lic ver­sus pri­vate pol­icy on this mat­ter, their pres­ence be­gan to break open in­for­ma­tion about what had re­ally been go­ing on all along.

They ap­par­ently re­ceived back­ing of some sort from the Cen­ter for Hemi­spheric De­fense Stud­ies (CHDS), a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area school where many hun­dreds of Hon­durans had taken cour­ses. It then leaked that, ac­cord­ing to sources, Gen­eral John Thompson, the aca­demic dean, had pro­vided “be­hind-the-scenes as­sis­tance in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to Hon­duran coup plot­ters.”

As the at­tempt to get more sup­port from Wash­ing­ton con­tin­ued fur­ther, pub­lic state­ments soon be­gan to come out of Wash­ing­ton that former re­form gov­ern­ment leader Ze­laya should in­stead be con­sid­ered as aligned with Venezue­lan pres­i­dent Hugo Chávez – as a way of tar­nish­ing his rep­u­ta­tion.

The catch in all this was that by get­ting these sorts of back­ing from within the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment and its “al­ter ego” in­sti­tu­tions like the CHDS, a trap of sorts had been laid. The rea­son is be­cause all those meet­ings sud­denly be­came far eas­ier to root out – all the way to their sources. In the United States, some de­tails that were dis­cussed ear­lier in this ar­ti­cle came from Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act (FOIA) re­quests for in­for­ma­tion. In Hon­duras, there were leaks after sys­tem­atic and risky in­for­ma­tion dig­ging by for­eign and do­mes­tic jour­nal­ists.

Even as this ar­ti­cle was be­gin writ­ten, fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the truth of the Hon­duran coup was com­ing out. The Amer­i­can hypocrisy in this mat­ter is also be­com­ing very vis­i­ble, with a pub­lic side that falls very short of com­plain­ing about the coup as un­law­ful and a pri­vate side that shows that the U.S. po­lit­i­cal ma­chine is more ef­fi­cient than ever in sup­port­ing the regime with the most to of­fer the United States.

Photo by pres­i­den­ci­ae­cuador, cc

Photo by Pe­dro Lu­peron, cc

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