The Honduran Coup: Was it a Matter of Behind-the-Scenes Finagling by State Department Stonewallers?

By: COHA Research Associate Michaela D'Ambrosio

Following the June 28 Honduran coup d’etat ousting President Manuel Zelaya, speculation began to be heard concerning the roles played by senior U.S. officials in orchestrating the overthrow of the country’s leader. Links connecting these officials and their motives involving Honduras have been uncovered, raising many questions, some of which have yet to be answered. What still remains to be clarified is why the Obama administration at first had taken a relatively benign stance to the illegitimate government, restricting $30 million in aid to Honduras but still failing to label the ousting of the democratically elected president a “military coup,” which automatically would have cut off much greater sums of financial assistance.

U.S. Corporate Interests at Work
Who were these outside officials who may have been involved in the planning and execution of the coup and what other possibly compromising actions may they have been associated with in recent months? Evidence points to Senator John McCain, Otto Reich, the heavily ideological policy advisor on Latin America for the McCain campaign, and Robert Carmona-Borjas, a Venezuelan lawyer, columnist and academic, all of whom may have had significant financial and politicized ties to the U.S. telecommunications industry. Senator McCain and the International Republican Institute (IRI), of which he is chairman, have both received significant funding from AT&T. In return, the IRI has fought tirelessly against Latin American democracies that refuse to privatize their telecommunication companies. By chance, Zelaya has been one of the chief opponents to privatization. Additionally, connections between this corporate agenda and Carmona-Borjas, who fled to the U.S. in 2002 after Chávez had been briefly ousted, have since been discovered. Carmona-Borjas is now a co-founder of the Arcadia foundation, an institute that has launched fierce attacks against Zelaya, accusing him of alleged fraud and corruption involving Hondutel, the Honduran state telecommunications company that he has refused to privatize. A fierce opponent of Zelaya and an acquaintance of Carmona-Borjas, rightwing ideologue Otto Reich has contested any reinstallment of the Zelaya administration. Perhaps this is because his firm, Otto Reich Associates, is the paid agent of a number of clients promoting the free trade ideology in Latin America, which has closely coincided with the push for privatization of the Honduran telecommunications industry. Now, with Zelaya at least temporarily removed from office, the history of the U.S. having its way in Latin America appears to be repeating itself with McCain, Carmona-Borjas, and Reich all playing a coordinated role in maintaining influence over a country that historically has been a prototype of the classic Central American banana republic.

U.S. Administration’s Knowledge Prior to the Coup
One also may speculate how much foreknowledge the present U.S. administration had over the planning and implementation of the coup. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly were in Honduras the week prior to the coup, meeting with figures who later participated in the ousting of Zelaya.

Somewhat questionable behavior was also displayed by current U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens and former Ambassador John Negroponte. Llorens is on record as stating that, “One cannot violate the constitution in order to create another constitution,”(Eva Golinger, Washington and the Coup in Honduras: Here is the Evidence). This chiding of Zelaya is based on a false inference that he was contemplating altering the constitution in order to extend his own term, when his call for a referendum was meant to stage a consultation with the electorate in the future to discuss extending upon the one presidential term.

Following the coup, when asked by journalist Allan Fisher if he had previous knowledge of the events that took place on June 28, Llorens replied with a laugh, “No, no, not really”(Belén Fernández, U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens Discloses Secrets of the Honduran Coup). The somewhat flip nature of his reply calls into question how much U.S. officials actually knew about the planned coup. His predecessor as ambassador, several decades before, John Negroponte, shares Llorens’ casual disposition regarding Democratic niceties. Negroponte, who is famous for his selective amnesia when it came to recalling the details of his knowledge of the operations of Honduran death squads in the 1980’s during the period of the U.S.-Contra War against the Sandinistas, had visited Honduras just prior to the coup to discuss with Zelaya his opposition to turning the U.S. airbase at Palmerola into a civilian airport. He used this same trip as an opportunity to sit down with future coup leader Roberto Micheletti and other opposition members. Evidence pointing to U.S. officials having prior awareness of the coup is difficult to ignore.

Confusion as a Result of the Obama Administration’s Reaction
Finally, we are left to ponder the confusing position and the multiple shifts taken by the Obama administration over the possibility of U.S. involvement, or at least knowledge, of the oncoming coup and the State Department’s adamant insistence that unlike almost every other member of the OAS, it would not withdraw its ambassador from Tegucigalpa, nor cut off all assistance to the de facto regime. By stonewalling the issue, Washington gave immeasurably aid to the coup regime, and weakened the likelihood that the constitutionalist president of Honduras would be allowed to return.

Why did the administration wait more than two months to suspend a significant amount of aid to the interim government, which provided the Micheletti administration with precious time to consolidate its rule and use up much of the remaining period that Zelaya had left in his presidency? And why has there still been no formal recognition that June 28 was a military coup, which is a blatant violation of democracy? Perhaps these questions can be partially explained by the economic and strategic interests of those individuals and corporations referred to above. Moreover, Zelaya’s increasing use of Chavista-like rhetoric and image as a twenty-first century Bolivarian tribune, proved deeply disturbing to Washington policy makers. We are left asking the question whether it was an illusion that the Obama administration would be the New Jerusalem for progressive interests in the Americas. After witnessing the meager elements of its Cuba policy, its snarling indifference to Venezuela, and its languorous deportment to the coup makers in Honduras, we may be witnessing what could be the third term of the Bush administration.

An abbreviated version of this article will be appearing in the next issue of Interconnect, a newsletter working to build the Latin American solidarity movement.