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

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.

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

  • September 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Whilst your article contains a certain amount of speculation it is uncanny how the US relationships with Central America seem to repeat themselves. Arbenz in 1954; the Contra business, etc. One wonders if the Israelis were involved in some way in the recent Honduras mess as they were in the late 1970s/early 1980s in Guatemala when they armed the military and the associated death squads.

  • September 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    COHA nevers ceases to amaze me with their claims about “non-partisanship.” Have we defined the word “Coup” all of a sudden? The military is NOT in power in Honduras. The Honduran Supreme Court ordered Zelaya outsted and his VICE-PRESIDENT placed in his place, according to the Honduran Constitution. Zelaya attempted to install a Chavez-like rule about the president running for life and the Honduran people, legislators, and Supreme Court would not hear of it.

    What is it that makes this a “coup”??? The same political party is still in power.

    Is it perhaps because Zelaya is a leftist like Chavez and Obama, that he’s getting all this support from COHA and the State Department????


  • September 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Wow! Yet another Conspiracy Theory.

    How about this one? Zelaya wanted to stay in power as he himself stated on national TV. He was warned by Hondurans that he would be arrested but he continued, so the Honduran Supreme Court arrested him.

    There is a National Telephone Company plus 3 private mega companies and about 20 other minor ones. Who needs to nationalize an outdated phone company when you can start up a new one, if you have the cash for any of this?

    But those courts in Florida, USA must have it wrong that Zelaya’s cousin and buddies had been payed off. Justice in the States sucks I guess is what you mean.

    So, yeah. Venezuelan justice must have it right, so let’s follow their lead.

    Where do you people in COHA find these guys? At least, they should get complete facts.

  • September 17, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Dear Michaela D’Ambrosio,
    I am appreciating your article very much! However, the last comments show very clear to me how difficult it must be in “God’s own land”, the USA, to tell the truth or even to ask such challenging questions for people with respective, from generation to generation transmitted views, because of the profit of few, the “elite”. Thank you for your courage to do so! And thanks to Larry Burns for having posted it.
    May be, Obama needs such support by your information when wanting to keep to his promise of “change”.

    For full comment click here

  • September 17, 2009 at 4:30 am

    All of COHA’s “investigations” on Honduras since June 28 have been so blatantly partialized and they have spread so much false information that they would have made Joseph Goebbels proud. Zelaya was altering the Constitution by summoning a Constituent Assembly that very same day by an exuctive decree that would have dissolved Congress and the Political Parties. Apart from all the violations Zelaya did in three years, he planned to dismantle the Constitution. It was not a coup. It was a legitimmate Constitutional Succession based on Article 239 of the Constitution that states that any attempt to modify articles of the Constitution relating to form and duration of government is high treason and the leader who does it ceases in office. Is Noam Chomsky dictating U.S. foreign policy and writing for COHA? I never thought I’d see the day that the Republican Party would be more democratic, legal and informed than the Democrats.

  • September 17, 2009 at 6:44 am

    My comment referred to the second from “A.B.” I want to add and to tell him that the credibility of U.S. policy is since long at stake and so is the coverage by U.S. mainstream medias. Thanks to Internet everybody can research by him- or herself when honestly searching for the facts and compare them to each other.
    I am a German woman engaged in the campaign to free the Cuban Five which is shared by millions all over the globe.
    As Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban Parliament, recently and complete correctly said: “Many Americans do not know about the Cuban Five because they have not been permitted to know.
    Not only was the long trial of the Five maintained in the dark, Americans have not even been allowed to know that this case has been very much in the minds of many millions around the globe. The big corporate media that didn’t report their legal battle threw a similar curtain of silence around the wide, ever growing, movement of solidarity that the Cuban Five have received practically everywhere from Ireland to Tasmania, from Canada to Namibia. Churches, parliaments, human rights organizations, labor unions, writers, lawyers and peoples from all walks of life have expressed their concern and interest in all languages, English included.
    But the Supreme Court did not bother to listen.” Neither do the U.S. mainstream medias, so far.

  • September 17, 2009 at 7:19 am

    So finally the IRI’s cover has been blown and it is glaringly clear that once again the U.S. will protect its interests, meaning business interests who are friendly with U.S. Senators. Could just have well been the National Endowment for Democracy – same agenda. The first respondent is correct, in a way this is old news because the U.S. State Dept cannot resist demands from big business, never has, never will. The third respondent throws in the straw man of Hugo Chavez. So let me get this right, either Latin American countries have to turn over ALL state assets to someone like Mexico’s Carlos Slim who immediately buys out the competition to create a monopoly – or they are Chavezistas or Fidelistas and deserve to be ousted by the military? Give me a break. I wonder whether on the CNN program tonight anyone will ask a question concerning Otto Reich – McCain’s handmaiden – and his role in getting the terrorist Orlando Bosch released from a Venezuelan jail where he was incarcerated for blowing up 73 people in an airliner in 1976. Bosch now lives in Florida, a location to which the “war on terror” doesn’t extend.

  • September 17, 2009 at 7:50 am

    IRI’s work is not focused on privatization or the telecommunications industry. IRI, as does the National Democratic Institute, supports the strengthening of democratic institutions and processes. The bulk of IRI’s programming in Honduras is concentrated on helping city governments better serve their citizens. Our program and record is very clear and transparent there. We encourage those who are interested to learn more about our governance programming at: The other aspect to our program in Honduras seeks to help encourage political parties and civil society focus on substantive issues such as healthcare, roads, education and economic development. IRI stands by that work as well.

  • September 17, 2009 at 8:20 am

    I see nothing wrong with well informed speculation, especially given the recent history of US-American involvement in Central America and of those people mentioned in this article.

    Whoever claims that Zelaya violated the Honduran constitution is either promoting the coup maker’s agenda, or has swallowed the propaganda of the de facto government, and the people that support Michelettis illegitimate government.

    The policies Zelaya was implementing before the coup were perfectly legal. He was not trying to get reelected. He was trying to perform a non-binding survey, with the intention of finding out if Hondurans wanted a fourth ballot-box in November’s elections. This fourth ballot-box would have to be approved by Congress and it would decide on the establishment of a National Constituent Assembly, like the one suggested by de facto president Micheletti in 1985 to reelect president Suazo, and the one set up by the Honduran military and the Americans in 1982 to write a new Constitution as a part of their counter-insurgency programs (Honduras’ 12th constitution). It is a perfectly legal and democratic procedure to write a new constitution, which is not equivalent to reforming the current constitution. The reason is that according to the constitution, Honduran people and their will are above the constitution itself. Zelaya was trying to legally open up for citizen participation in a rigid and undemocratic political system that Hondurans have not created themselves. His opponents violated the law to get rid of him. Colonel Bayardo Inestroza, the legal advisor of the military has accepted this in interviews with The Miami Herald and El Faro. A very good analysis made by a Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago is available here: The decrees that support Zelaya’s policies are also available in the Internet: PCM- 05-2009, PCM 019-2009, PCM 20-2009, PCM 27-2009. None of those decrees speak about reelection. I am all for well informed speculation, and we can speculate about Zelaya’s intention, but there this does not mean we can legally convict him for his actions. By the way, there hasn’t been a due process to establish guilt. He was kidnapped and flown off. Why?

    For full comment, click here

  • September 17, 2009 at 11:51 am

    The Arcadia Foundation has been a champion of democracy and an advocate for rule of law. When the President of any nation illegally attempts to prolong their executive position, it is a clear indicator of someone disregarding constitutional law and in this case, symbolizes corruption at the highest level of government. Robert Carmona-Borjas and the Arcadia Foundation believe that democracy is crucial for the effective exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights in their universality. The OAS charter indeed states that ‘ representative democracy is an indispensable condition for stability, peace and development ‘ within the regions of the Americas.

    The Arcadia Foundation will be building an open forum where we look forward to regularly engaging with those interested in the processes of combating corruption and promoting the values of democracy.

  • September 18, 2009 at 6:34 am

    I still have not seen any evidence proving that President Zelaya was trying to prolong his executive position in Honduras.

    I have on the other hand seen evidence that proves he was not trying to do this. It should be evident even if you read his file at the Supreme Court:

    His decrees never mention reelection or prolonging his period.

    It is acceptable to speculate about his intentions. But even this exercise is questionable, because his period would have been over before new elections.

    What is unacceptable is to present this accusation as a proved fact and his kidnapping as a legal conviction that resulted from due process. These lies will not become true by repeating them.

  • September 18, 2009 at 9:14 am

    While there is no evidence Zelaya was seeking reelection for himself, HE DID go public with his goal of reforming the law against reelection as part of the Constitutional Assembly. Video here:

    This DOES under the Honduran constitution open him to removal from office, by process unspecified in Constitution (as far as I read).

    The question is, why should the Honduran people be punished so severely for Zelaya’s loose lips. The messaging of the resistance is not the return of Zelaya because they love Zelaya and want him to remain as President, it is the return of Zelaya so that they can have their Cuarta Urna and write their own constitution.

    We need to get off of this ‘Great Man Theory’. The movement is not Zelaya, it is not Chávez, it is students, campesin@s, workers, feminists, queers, etc…and all these groups and individuals want a say in how their country is run. Hence they need a new constitution that doesn’t criminalize their participation in the society.

  • September 18, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Below is a link which highlights the decision of a Federal Court in Miami in which Lati Node, a US-based telecommunications company, pleaded guilty of bribery. The acts of bribery also pertained to dealings with high-ranking Honduran officers during Mr. Zelaya’s presidency (including his nephew Marcelo Chimirri). We can also confirm that the Arcadia Foundation was in part responsible for presenting this very case to US authorities.


    Hopefully, these findings will refresh those interested on evidence of corruption in Honduras during the Zelaya administration.

  • September 20, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Articles like this, in which critical links are based on “may” and “it is said” are what characterizes Fox News and other neocon publications. Sadly, it also means they carry little credibility.

  • September 22, 2009 at 1:47 am

    I very much would like to forward this article onto some on site in Honduras who are deeply concerned.
    How do I do that?

  • September 22, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    The Wall Street Journal's author of the America's column, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, has recently published an article in which she agrees with the stance of the Arcadia Foundation; that what transpired in Honduras wasn't a coup at all, but was in fact a leader who was deposed lawfully for violating the Honduran Constitution. The Wall Street Journal's version of events include facts left out in most other reporting, now backed up by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

    "… a report filed at the Library of Congress by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides what the administration has not offered, a serious legal review of the facts. 'Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system,' writes CRS senior foreign law specialist Norma C. Gutierrez in her report."

    All of the evidence to date clearly shows that the country of Honduras did the right thing both legally and morally. The actions of the Hondurans, the orderly transition to a new civilian leader (from the same political party as the ousted President) protected their constitution.

  • September 23, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    just let's work towards freedom in this county so that their people can stay there or go back to their homeland…this would make them happy.


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