Archive for the ‘US intervention in Honduras’ Category

US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown

American diplomat condemns campesino and indigenous groups for protesting land grabs for private development projects

January 7, 2014 7:15AM ET


In remarks last month, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske decried pervasive impunity in Honduras as the single biggest threat to human rights during an International Human Rights Day commemoration. In a country already plagued by grinding poverty and unrelenting violence, entrenched impunity does present a terrifying threat to justice. However, despite her own admission that the Honduran legal system is dysfunctional, Kubiske blamed those being oppressed by that impunity for taking the law into their own hands to defend their rights.

Kubiske specifically reproached peasant farmers in the fertile lands of the Lower Aguan Valley, who are engaged in a desperate struggle with local wealthy landowners and the government for control over their lands, which has left 113 members of their campesino community dead since the 2009 coup that overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Over the last two decades, campesinos lost the lands granted to them in the 1970s under agrarian reform initiatives through a combination of corruption, intimidation, intentional division, force and fraud. Efforts to seek legal redress were largely unsuccessful. Zelaya was ousted shortly after he vowed to institute measures that would reverse illegitimate land grabs by oligarchs, including Miguel Facusse Barjum, a palm-oil magnate. When land grabs continued under President Porfirio Lobo, a landowner, the campesinos, with no other options, resisted the encroachment by peacefully occupying their lands. State security and paramilitary forces responded with escalating repression and bloodshed. Last month, after a complaint lodged by Rights Action, an international human-rights organization, the World Bank’s independent auditor issued a report on its private lending arm’s funding for Dinant Corp., which is headed by Facusse Barjum. World Bank President Jim Kim has indicated that he is preparing an action plan in response to the findings. As the investigative process drags on, repression continues unabated in the Lower Aguan.

Kubiske also admonished the indigenous Lenca community in Rio Blanco, which organized a peaceful blockade to halt the construction of a hydroelectric dam on their ancestral lands after exhausting legal efforts to challenge its development. After the 2009 coup, the Honduran government passed a number of neoliberal laws, including one granting water concessions to international companies essentially privatizing water resources in the country and spawning proposals for a number of hydroelectric dam projects. Transnational investments have since poured in. But investors face a problem: Under international law, including the International Labor Organization Convention 169, projects on indigenous territories require the informed consent of those communities. One project, the Agua Zarca, has gone ahead as planned despite a resounding nay vote by indigenous assemblies as well as public protests. The project is run by Honduras’ Desarrollos Energeeticos S.A. (DESA) in partnership with Sinohydro, a Chinese-owned hydropower engineering and construction company. Agua Zarca’s funding has come from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which, according to a report by Rights Action, appears to be funded by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through the Central American Mezzanine Infrastructure Fund.

In recent years, the World Bank has retreated from funding large-scale hydroelectric dam projects after allegations of egregious human-rights violations and environmental concerns in Guatemala, India and other places. However, the bank has changed its policy and now supports hydroelectric projects, claiming it has instituted protections to prevent human-rights violations from recurring.

Given Honduras’ notoriously corrupt and ineffective legal system, the marginalized have no other option than peaceful resistance.

The Rio Blanco community filed numerous complaints, including to the special prosecutor for ethnic groups, the secretary for the environment and natural resources and the National Congress, with support from the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH). Because of pervasive and endemic corruption and inefficiency in the Honduran legal system, none of the complaints received a full and fair resolution of charges that construction of the dam and the associated repression violates international law. Finally, in April, when construction threatened irreparable harm to their community, the residents blocked access to the site. The government’s response to protesters was swift and brutal, triggering a cycle of forcible evictions and community resurrections of their blockade. Since the crackdown, threats against and intimidation of Lenca protesters continue to escalate. On July 15, COPINH leader Tomas Garcia was killed by state security forces as he led a protest march, and his son was seriously injured. Despite efforts of the dam’s proponents, the blockade continues, and tensions remain high.

Shortly after Honduran papers claimed in June of last year that Kubiske called for the prosecution of those who engage in land occupations and human-rights defense, DESA filed charges against COPINH leaders Berta Caceres, Tomas Gomez and Aureliano Molina for inciting the blockades, land usurpation and other charges that found a sympathetic audience in the Honduran courts, which issued an arrest warrant for Caceres. With understandable skepticism that the court would provide her with a fair hearing, Caceres is in hiding. Threats of violence against her, her elderly mother and her four children continue. Amnesty International has indicated that if Caceres is incarcerated, she would be a “prisoner of conscience.” The criminalization of resistance sends an unmistakable message: The courts will protect the powerful and come down hard on those who challenge the status quo.

The wrong message

On International Human Rights Day, of all days, Kubiske should have sent a clear message to the Honduran government that its actions are unacceptable and that the rights of the marginalized need the most protection. Instead she offered tacit endorsement of the crackdown.

While condemning the organized civil disobedience of campesino and indigenous communities, Kubiske failed to mention how exactly they should protect their rights in a state that does not respect the rule of law. Honduran elites control the courts, the security forces and the legislative and executive branches. Given the country’s notoriously corrupt and ineffective legal system, which constantly fails to protect all Hondurans, the marginalized have no other option than peaceful resistance.

The Obama administration has a range of tools in its arsenal to encourage respect for human rights and the rule of law in Honduras. With the largest voting share in the World Bank and 30 percent of the voting shares in the IDB, which is also instrumental in funding development projects, the U.S. could push for making continued funding contingent on strict adherence to international human-rights standards. In addition, since the Leahy Law requires the U.S. government to withhold financial assistance to groups that commit verifiable gross human-rights violations, Washington should leverage its support for Honduran security forces to advance human rights. The law requires local embassies to vet the credibility of human-rights abuse reports compiled by nongovernmental organizations and media sources. Kubiske, therefore, is empowered to protect those targeted by the Honduran military and police. Instead of using that power, however, she has condemned the acts of dispossessed campesinos and indigenous populations. An alarming statement from a Honduran military official after the ambassador’s comments suggest that the military feels it can act with relative impunity from U.S. interference.

On Dec. 12, in a statement reported by La Tribuna newspaper and repeated elsewhere, Col. German Alfaro, commander of the U.S.-funded and -trained Honduran military Xatruch III forces in the Aguan Valley, declared that Annie Bird, a highly respected human-rights advocate, was being investigated for alleged subversive activities related to her work defending the human rights of the campesinos in the Lower Aguan. Bird is a U.S. citizen from Rights Action. Human Rights Watch expressed alarm about this development and denounced the U.S. for failing to repudiate Alfaro’s comments.

At least one news story included Bird’s photo, raising concerns that she will be targeted for an extrajudicial attack. Observers fear that the investigation is an attempt to intimidate and deter international human-rights defenders from working in Honduras or is a precursor to an imminent intensification of repression in the country. Others warn that Honduran authorities are testing international response to escalating violence in the aftermath of a contested presidential election, in which right-wing law-and-order candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner.

The United States has a long and shameful history of supporting anti-democratic and repressive regimes in Latin America. Despite its rhetoric on human rights, the U.S. government has failed yet again to use its influence in the region to promote justice for Honduras’ most vulnerable and besieged inhabitants.

Lauren Carasik is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

US Aids Honduran Police Despite Death Squad Fears
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras March 23, 2013 (AP)
The U.S. State Department, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year on the Honduran National Police, has assured Congress that money only goes to specially vetted and trained units that don’t operate under the direct supervision of a police chief once accused of extrajudicial killings and “social cleansing.”

But The Associated Press has found that all police units are under the control of Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed the “Tiger,” who in 2002 was accused of three extrajudicial killings and links to 11 more deaths and disappearances. He was tried on one killing and acquitted. The rest of the cases were never fully investigated.

Honduran law prohibits any police unit from operating outside the command of the director general, according to a top Honduran government security official, who would only speak on condition of anonymity. He said that is true in practice as well as on paper.
Celso Alvarado, a criminal law professor and consultant to the Honduran Commission for Security and Justice Sector Reform, said the same.

“Every police officer in Honduras, regardless of their specific functions, is under the hierarchy and obedience of the director general,” he said.

The official line from Honduras, however, is that the money does not go to Bonilla.

“The security programs that Honduras is implementing with the United States are under control of the ministers of security and defense,” said Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, who negotiates the programs with the State Department.

But the security official attributed the contradiction to the politics necessary in a country in the grip of a security emergency.

With 91 murders per 100,000 people, the small Central American nation is often called the most violent in the world. An estimated 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. — and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America — pass through Honduras, according to the State Department.

The allegations against Bonilla, along with other concerns about police and military killings, prompted the U.S. Congress to freeze an estimated $30 million in Honduran aid last August. Most has been restored under agreements with the U.S. Department of State over the monitoring of Honduran operations receiving U.S. money.

The agreement doesn’t specifically mention Bonilla, but Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led a Congressional group that has questioned human rights violation in Honduras, said last week that he made his intentions clear:

“No units under General Bonilla’s control should receive U.S. assistance without credible information refuting the serious allegations against him,” Leahy said in an email to the AP.

That information so far has not been provided by the State Department, and the AP’s findings have prompted more questions.

“Senator Leahy has asked the State Department to clarify how they differentiate between what they told the Congress and what is being said by those within Honduran police units under his authority,” Leahy aide Tim Rieser said Friday. “Sen. Leahy, like others, made clear early on his concerns about Gen. Bonilla and the conduct of the Honduran police.”

Dozens of U.S. Congressmen, Leahy chief among them, have been raising concerns for many years about abuses of authority and human rights violations by the Honduran police, a force of 14,000 officers that is considered among the most corrupt in the world.

The AP reported on Sunday that two gang-related people detained by police in January have disappeared, fueling long-standing accusations that the Honduran police operate death squads and engage in “social cleansing.” It also found that in the last three years, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula.

The country’s National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the “18th Street” gang, one of the largest and most dangerous in the country.

California Rep. Sam Farr sent the AP report to every member of Congress on Friday, saying, “I share the concerns outlined in this article about the continued lack of investigations into human rights violations at the hands of Honduran law enforcement officials.”

U.S. law, according to an amendment that bears Leahy’s name, requires the State Department to vet foreign security forces receiving U.S. aid to make sure the recipients have not committed gross human rights violations. If violations are found, the money is withheld. The State Department in a report last August said Honduras met the provisions of the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act, which requires that the secretary of state provide Congress proof that Honduras is protecting freedom of expression and investigating and prosecuting all military and police personnel accused of human rights violations.

The department “has established a working group to examine thoroughly the allegations against (Bonilla) to ensure compliance with the Leahy Law,” the State Department report to Congress said. “While this review is ongoing, we are carefully limiting assistance to those special Honduran law enforcement units, staffed by Leahy-vetted Honduran personnel who receive training, guidance, and advice directly from U.S. law enforcement, and not under Bonilla’s direct supervision.”

When asked by AP if the specially vetted Honduran police units working with the U.S. Embassy still report to Bonilla, the Honduran security official said: “Yes, that’s how it works, because of personal loyalty and federal law.”

U.S. support goes to Honduran forces working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on anti-narcotics operations, and anti-gang, anti-kidnapping and border-security units, according to an embassy official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

On Monday, the State Department announced another $16.3 million in support to Honduran police and prosecutors to battle violence and money laundering and to improve border security. Some of the U.S. money will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla.

“I only report to the director general, all of the programs of the Honduran police are directed personally by him,” said Otoniel Castillo, a police sub-commissioner. “He has a personal and intense closeness to all projects of international cooperation, especially because of his good relationship with the U.S. Embassy.”

Assistant Secretary of State William R. Brownfield, who appeared on Monday with the country’s vice president to announce the new funding, did not answer questions.

“The United States undertakes stringent vetting procedures, as required by U.S. law, to ensure U.S. assistance doesn’t go to individuals or units in the Honduran police and military if there is credible information they’re linked to human rights abuses,” said William Ostick, a spokesperson in the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau of the State Department. “We’re in close communication with the U.S. Congress and Senator Leahy on this issue. Promoting human rights and the rule of law is, and will remain, central to our engagement in Honduras.”

Weekend Edition April 25-27, 2014

Honduras: Gangsters’ Paradise

Nearly five years after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) first called on the Honduran government to protect Carlos Mejía Orellana, the Radio Progreso marketing manager was found stabbed to death in his home on April 11. “The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur consider this a particularly serious crime given the precautionary measures granted,” the Commission stated, assuming Mejía really was being guarded. But since the 2009 coup, asking the Honduran state to defend journalists is as effective as entreating a spider to spare a web-ensnared fly.

The coup, which four School of the Americas (SOA) graduates oversaw, toppled elected president Manuel Zelaya, and was “a crime,” as even the military lawyer—another SOA alum—charged with giving the overthrow a veneer of legitimacy couldn’t deny. A pair of marred general elections followed. Journalist Michael Corcoran recognized widespread “state violence against dissidents” and “ballot irregularities” as hallmarks of the first, in November 2009, which Obama later hailed as the return of Honduran democracy. And there was little dispute that the subsequent contest, held last November, was equally flawed. The State Department, for example, admitted “inconsistencies” plagued the vote, the same charge Zelaya himself leveled and an echo of the SOA Watch delegation’s findings, which identified “numerous irregularities and problems during the elections and vote counting process[.]” But while grassroots and governmental observers described the election in similar terms, they drew dramatically different conclusions about its validity. Canadian activist Raul Burbano, for example, acknowledged that “corruption, fraud, violence, murder, and human rights violations” dominated the situation. For Secretary of State Kerry, “the election process was generally transparent, peaceful, and reflected the will of the Honduran people.”

Kerry, to be sure, was referring to the class of “worthy” Hondurans, whose will was indeed reflected in the contest. One might be “a policeman, a lumber magnate, an agro-industrialist, a congressman, a mayor, an owner of a national media outlet, a cattle rancher, a businessman, or a drug trafficker”—all belong to this sector, Radio Progreso director Rev. Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J., known as Padre Melo, points out, adding that these “worthy” Hondurans use the state as a tool to maintain, if not enhance, their power. The results for the rest of the population are what you’d expect. The government no longer pays many of its employees, for example; Peter J. Meyer’s Congressional Research Service report on “Honduran-U.S. Relations,” released last July, cites “misused government funds” and “weak tax collection” as two factors contributing to the current situation, a kind of wage slavery sans wages. Doctors, nurses and educators toil for free throughout the country, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported last fall that over 43% of Honduran workers labored full-time in 2012 without receiving the minimum wage. That same year, nearly half of the population was living in extreme poverty—the rate had dropped to 36% under Zelaya—and 13,000 inmates now crowd a prison system designed for 8,000. In San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city after Tegucigalpa, some 5,000 children try not to starve to death while living on the streets; this figure includes 3,000 girls, aged 12-17, who roam the roads as prostitutes.

Confronting this reality—asking fundamental questions, like whose interests dominant Honduran institutions serve—“means living with anxiety, insecurity, suspicion, distrust, demands, warnings, and threats. It also means having to come to grips with the idea of death,” Padre Melo emphasizes, explaining that a reporter in Honduras “only has to publish or disseminate some news that negatively affects the interests [of] a powerful person with money and influence…for the life of that news reporter to be endangered.” Melo was making these points in July 2012, well before Mejía’s recent murder, but when it was already obvious that open season had been declared on Honduran correspondents. It’s likely that “few observers could have foreseen the deluge of threats, attacks, and targeted killings that has swept through Honduras during the last five years,” PEN International noted in January, highlighting “the surge in violence directed against journalists following the ouster of President José Manuel Zelaya in June 2009.” A great deal “of the violence is produced by the state itself, perhaps most significantly by a corrupt police force,” and now over 32 Honduran journalists—the equivalent U.S. figure, as a percentage of the total population, would be well over 1,200—are dead.

These killings are part of a broader Honduran trend, namely what Reporters Without Borders calls “a murder rate comparable to that of a country at war—80 per 100,000 in a population of 7 million.” One crucial battlefield is the Bajo Aguán Valley, where at least 102 peasant farmers were killed between January 2010 and May 2013. The conflict there can be traced back to the ’90s, when a “paradigm promoted by the World Bank” spurred “a massive re-concentration of land in the Aguán into the hands of a few influential elites,” Tanya Kerssen writes in Grabbing Power, her excellent book. These land barons, particularly Dinant Corporation’s Miguel Facussé, thrived as “the Aguán cooperative sector was decimated,” some three-quarters of its land seized, Kerssen concludes. Campesinos, suddenly dispossessed, first sought legal recourse, which failed. They subsequently “protested and occupied disputed land,” Rights Action’s Annie Bird observes in an invaluable study (“Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguán Valley in Honduras,” February 2013), prompting government authorities to review the legitimacy of World Bank-promoted territorial transfer. But the June 2009 coup ended this appraisal, and since then Honduras’ 15th Battalion, Washington-aided “since at least 2008,” has “consistently been identified as initiating acts of violence against campesino movements,” with police forces and Dinant’s security guards getting in on the kills, Bird explains

After Brazil, Honduras is the most dangerous place on the planet for land-rights defenders, according to “Deadly Environment,” a new Global Witness investigation, which notes that “more and more ordinary people are finding themselves on the frontline of the battle to defend their environment from corporate or state abuse, and from unsustainable exploitation.” At least 908 worldwide died in this conflict from 2002-2013, and Washington’s “counterdrug” policies in the region have helped raise the stakes, Dr. Kendra McSweeney’s research suggests. “In Honduras, the level of large-scale deforestation per year more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2011, at the same time as cocaine movements in the country also showed a significant rise,” BBC correspondent Matt McGrath summarizes her findings. “Once you start fighting” the traffickers, McSweeney elaborates, “you scatter them into more remote locales and greater areas become impacted,” as smugglers clear forests to build airstrips and roads, and “worthy” Hondurans in, say, the palm oil and ranching sectors capitalize on booming drug profits.

“Today it’s the same” as it was in the 1980s, Honduran activist Bertha Oliva remarked a year ago, referring to the decade when “the presence of the U.S. in the country was extremely significant,” and “it was clear that political opponents were being eliminated.” Obama’s Honduras policy is Reagan’s redux, in other words. The thousands of child prostitutes and street children, the prisons teeming with inmates, the scores of slaughtered peasants and dozens of murdered journalists—all indicate the type of nation Washington helps build in a region where it’s free to operate unimpeded, revealing which “American values” really drive U.S. foreign policy.

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.


U.S. intervention in Honduras: From Negroponte to Posada Carriles

July 2, 2009

Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Honduras coup, John Negroponte, Luis Posada Carriles, Central America, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was overthrown in a military coup on Sunday, is irate about U.S. interventionism in his country. That’s not too surprising in light of the history. For years, successive U.S. diplomats in Tegucigalpa have cultivated close ties with right wing elements in Honduras while seeking to head off progressive change. If Zelaya is ever reinstated as President, the U.S. will have to work hard to erase Hondurans’ bitter memory of belligerent American ambassadors.Consider for a moment the case of John Negroponte, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. Negroponte worked in his post at the height of the U.S.-funded Contra war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. At the time, Honduras served as a vital base for the Contra rebel army. Negroponte played a significant role in assisting the Contras, though human rights groups criticized him for ignoring human rights abuses committed by Honduran death squads which were funded and partially trained by the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, when Negroponte served as ambassador his building in Tegucigalpa became one of the largest nerve centers of the CIA in Latin America with a tenfold increase in personnel.

The authorities built an airbase at El Aguacate for the Contras, which was reportedly used as a detention facility where torture occurred. The area also served as a burial ground for 185 dissidents whose remains were only uncovered in 2001. Jack Binns, Negroponte’s predecessor in Tegucigalpa and a Carter appointee, maintains that when he handed over power to Negroponte he gave the newcomer a full briefing about human rights abuses committed by the military. Negroponte denies having any knowledge about such occurrences.

But wait, there’s more: Negroponte also participated in a secret and possibly illegal quid pro quo in which the Reagan Administration bribed Honduran authorities with economic and military assistance in exchange for support for the contra rebels. Efraín Díaz, a former Honduran Congressman, remarked of Negroponte and other U.S. officials, “Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.” As a result of its cooperation with the U.S. war on Nicaragua, Honduras was rewarded with tens of millions of dollars in American military aid. If Negroponte had actually reported to Congress that the Honduran armed forces were involved in human rights abuses, the aid would have been jeopardized.

By the time Manuel Zelaya was elected President in Honduras in late 2005 Central America had finally emerged from its war torn past and was seeking to forge a new and more peaceful future. But Charles Ford, the Bush-appointed ambassador in Tegucigalpa, seemed determined to continue in the footsteps of Negroponte by pursuing a belligerent foreign policy. Just a mere eight days after Zelaya was inaugurated, Ford asked the Honduran President to provide asylum to Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile linked to several terrorist attacks against the Castro government.

A former CIA agent, Posada’s crimes included the masterminding of a bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 that resulted in the deaths of all 73 passengers onboard, amongst other brutal attacks. In 2003 Posada was arrested in Panama in possession of a large quantity of C-4 explosives. He intended to use them to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro who was in Panama to attend a diplomatic summit. Posada later escaped and fled to the United States.

Zelaya indignantly refused Ford’s request. “I told him [Ford] that it was impossible to grant a visa and political asylum to Posada Carriles because he was accused of terrorist crimes and they (the United States) defend this kind of terrorism; they defend it and I am sure of that,” Zelaya remarked. Speaking with journalists later, the President wondered, “Could it be the case that any Honduran is not aware that the U.S. Embassy here has always interfered with coup d’etats, promoting invasions in Latin America…and wars?” Throwing diplomatic caution by the wayside, the irate Zelaya continued “Were we note victims of the Cold War during the 1980s, when attacks were launched on Nicaragua from Honduran soil…and Honduras was lent out as a base from which to conduct war-like actions?”

Ford, a big booster of the U.S. free trade agreement with Honduras, apparently did not approve of such remarks nor did he warm to Zelaya after the Honduran cultivated a diplomatic alliance with leftist Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Just as he was about to leave Tegucigalpa after serving out his three year stint, Ford said that a large portion of remittances sent by U.S.-based Hondurans back to their home country were the product of illicit drug trafficking. Incensed, Zelaya charged that the U.S. was the “chief cause” of drug smuggling in Latin America and the Caribbean. Ford was being “belligerent,” Zelaya affirmed, simply because Honduras had pursued diplomatic relations with Venezuela.

As payback for Ford’s diplomatic insolence, Zelaya delayed accreditation of the new U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens out of solidarity with Bolivia and Venezuela which had just recently gone through diplomatic dust ups with Washington. “We are not breaking relations with the United States,” Zelaya said. “We only are (doing this) in solidarity with [Bolivian President] Morales, who has denounced the meddling of the United States in Bolivia’s internal affairs.” Defending his decision, Zelaya said small nations needed to stick together. “The world powers must treat us fairly and with respect,” he stated. To top it all off, Zelaya sent a letter to newly-elected President Obama in December. In it, the Honduran President urged Obama not to pursue “interventionist practices.” “Ambassadors should…avoid inappropriate public pronouncements…Meddling opinions are damaging and set the political climate on edge,” Zelaya wrote.

Llorens, who was formerly Director of National Security for Andean Affairs at the National Security Agency, doesn’t seem to share his predecessor’s penchant for diplomatic gaffes. Still, there’s nothing fundamentally novel to his approach to foreign policy in the region. A booster of the drug war and free trade, he offers up the same old and tired proscriptions of his earlier colleagues. If Zelaya is restored to power, Obama should make a clean break with the past and appoint a new ambassador. The new President has said he would like the U.S. to relate to Latin America as an equal partner and not simply impose its own will and dictates. Now is his chance to demonstrate that good will.