Posts Tagged ‘John Negroponte’

Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn’t Learn During His Time in Honduras

The vice-presidential nominee supports policies that hurt the country that was the “turning point” in his life.

https://www.thenation.com/article/eat-pray-starve-what-tim-kaine-didnt-learn-during-his-time-in-honduras/

 

Early in Hillary Clinton’s primary contest against Bernie Sanders, Berta Cáceres, an indigenous environmental leader in Honduras, was murdered by a coup regime that Clinton, as Secretary of State, helped consolidate in power. Apart for one quick statement denying any wrongdoing—“simply nonsense,” a spokesman said of the charges that Clinton was in anyway responsible for Cáceres’s killing—the Clinton campaign largely ignored the issue. As far as I know, the only journalist who asked Clinton directly about Honduras was Juan González, during Clinton’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News. Clinton provided a wordy and vague answer. She admitted that the situation was bad, that activists were being slaughtered, but insisted that at the time she “managed a very difficult situation, without bloodshed, without a civil war, that led to a new election. And I think that was better for the Honduran people.” For the most part, criticism of Clinton on Honduras largely stayed on the margins of the primary process, even as the killing in Honduras continued and evidenced mounted that Washington was once again was funding old-school death squads (see the invaluable investigation by Annie Bird).

Now, having beat back that part of the Democratic rank-and-file that cares about dead feminist activists in small third-world countries, the Clinton campaign has gone full Sun Tzi, turning its Honduran weak point into a strength, or, à la Karl Rove, its vulnerability into a virtue.

In picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate, the campaign has front-and-centered Honduras—not as a victim of Clinton’s realpolitik neoliberalism but as a sacred space of healing poverty.

Kaine, a Catholic, spent nine months in Honduras, from 1980 to 1981, in the Jesuit mission in El Progreso, very close to the company towns and plantations of the storied multinational banana company, United Fruit.

The sojourn, Kaine says, changed his life. Honduras “was really the turning point in my life. I was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And I took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras,” Kaine told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “Every day I think of the lessons I learned from my friends there,” Kaine said elsewhere. The experience, he says, set him on his life’s journey to fight for social justice. Honduras “made him who he is,” said Kaine’s mother, Kathleen.

As soon as Clinton announced her pick, the liberal press converged, following the Clinton campaign’s talking points that spun Kaine as a progressive. “A Pope Francis Catholic.” Fine. To be expected. But that Honduras—Honduras!—is being highlighted as the beginning of Kaine’s conversion narrative truly is audacious.

James "Guadalupe" Carney sj

James “Guadalupe” Carney sj

Kaine, then twenty-two years old, showed up in Honduras during an especially consequential moment. The country in 1980 was quickly turning into the crossroads of Cold War. A year earlier, next door, Nicaragua’s Sandinistas had won their revolution. Father James Carney, a Chicago-born Jesuit priest who was executed in Honduras in 1983, recalled the moment in the Spanish-version of his memoir (published in English as To Be a Revolutionary): “If Nicaragua won, El Salvador could win, and then Guatemala, and then Honduras could win.” Carney said that in early 1980, El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, himself soon to executed, had declared that all conditions had been met for Christians to join the revolution:  Life had become intolerable; All non-violent avenues of reform had been tried and failed; And, considering the misery in which most people lived, it would have been impossible for the revolution to produce injustices worse than those that already existed. “The popular war for liberation in Central America was one single war,” Carney wrote.

At the same time, CIA operatives quietly began to move into the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa’s discreet Hotel Alameda, and began setting up the paramilitary network that would execute the Contra War against Nicaragua, a war that would claim 50,000 lives and lay the Sandinista Revolution to waste. CIA agents also began to work closely with Honduras’s security forces, which began their campaign of political disappearances in late 1979. On January 31, 1980, Guatemalan security forces firebombed the Spanish embassy, killing dozens of peasant protestors, including Rigoberta Menchú’s father, an atrocity that inaugurated a three year genocidal campaign that would claim hundreds of thousands of Mayan lives. In March 1980, Monsignor Romero was murdered. Ronald Reagan took

John Negroponte USA regime destabilizer and advisor to death squads

John Negroponte
USA regime destabilizer and advisor to death squads

office in January 1981, and appointed John Negroponte ambassador to Honduras. Negroponte, who later in his diplomatic career would move on to larger operations in Iraq, helped cover up the activities of Battalion 316, a death squad that disappeared scores of Hondurans. On May 14, 1980, Salvador’s National Guard, along with a paramilitary unit, slaughtered at least 300 people trying to flee into Honduras across the Sumpul River. On December 11, 1981, the US trained Atlacatl Battalion massacred upward of 900 people in the remote Salvador village of El Mozote. Throughout the region, including in Honduras, “multinational ‘hunter-killer’ squads on the Condor model” began claiming victims. Thousands of refugees, from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, poured into Honduras.

It was into this whirlwind that young Tim Kaine flung himself on his voyage of self-discovery.

The Jesuit order was on the frontlines of Central America’s political upheaval. By no means were most Jesuits leftwing, but many, perhaps the majority, were at least broadly committed to what was called the “social gospel.” Some, like Father Carney in Honduras and Fernando Hoyos in Guatemala, committed themselves to the revolution and gave their lives. Others were more intellectual, deciding to master worldly knowledge, obtaining advanced degrees in political science, economics, sociology,

The Jesuits were dragged out in the yard in front of their campus home and were shot in the head, on November 16, 1989.

The Jesuits were dragged out in the yard in front of their campus home and were shot in the head, on November 16, 1989.

history, psychology, and anthropology, and then use that knowledge to work for social justice. The most well-known among this group were the six Jesuits who would be executed in San Salvador in 1989 by the Atlacatl Battalion (the same U.S. trained battalion that committed the El Mozote massacre).

By the time Kaine arrived in Honduras, the Jesuit mission in El Progreso was focusing its work on labor issues and the welfare of plantations laborers and their families.  Jeff Boyer, an anthropologist who did fieldwork in rural Honduras around the time Kaine was in El Progreso, tells me that the Jesuits “consistently endeavored to be thorn in the side” of the company, they had “no qualms going after United Fruit.” Boyer recalls a split among Honduras’s “North Coast Jesuits,” caused by, on the one hand, the rise of leftwing Liberation Theology and, on the other, the 1979 investiture of Pope John Paul II, a theological conservative who actively worked to weaken Liberation Theology in Latin America. According to Boyer, the U.S. Jesuits in Honduras tended to be more conservative, while younger Latin American and European Jesuits “consistently held democratic socialist positions.” (The one exception to this was Father Carney.)

In interviews, Kaine says his mentor in El Progreso was Father Jarrell “Patricio” Wade—known as Padre Patricio—a Jesuit who spent nearly his whole life ministering in Honduras and who passed away there in 2014 at the age of 81. By all accounts, Wade was a decent, caring, and well-liked cleric—a “bear of a man,” remembers Boyer—but his ethics were more pastoral than political. Father Carney says that Wade blamed his political work with peasants for provoking the growing repression against priests.  A “traditional Jesuit,” remembers Boyer, unable to see the need for structural change.

Jesuits con Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine met with Jesuits during Holy Week 2016 in El Progreso

Kaine was in Honduras for nine months (though two-year commitments for US volunteers were the standard for Jesuits). Mary Jo McConahay, a journalist with longtime experience in Central America, told me that it is “notable that Kaine’s work is being described as ‘missionary,’ as if fishing for converts, when it was anything but.” According to his own account, he provided politically neutral technical training, helping with a program that taught carpentry and welding. Yet, as Boyer tells me, “if Tim Kaine was working as a Jesuit volunteer in 1980, he could not have avoided become immersed in these socio-religious, political currents and cross-currents.  He would have been exposed to both conservative and generally more left and activist work of his hosts and mentors.”

Kaine, in other words, had found himself in the cauldron of the Cold War. “It was hot,” Boyer remembers of the Jesuit debates over what the proper course of action should be.

None of this, however, comes across in anything Kaine says about his time in Honduras. Kaine didn’t run for public office until the 1990s, so there is no public record of what his opinion was of the Contra War, or the Guatemalan genocide, or the 1989 murder of the Jesuits in El Salvador, or what his Honduran mentors thought of Pope John Paul II’s efforts to neutralize Liberation Theology. Rather, Kaine, who has been talking about his time in Honduras at least since the early 2000s, when he was mayor of Richmond, uses his nine-month stay as a kind of platitudinous catch-all, to prove he is a true Christian to Virginia conservatives, to court the Latino vote, and, now, to convince rank-and-file Democrats he’s a progressive.

Recently, in a C-SPAN interview, Kaine was asked what he learned about “America” during his time in genocidal, insurgent, impoverished, revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, priest- and peasant-killing Central America in 1980-1981. “Happiness is not that correlated with wealth,” he said; and, since Honduras was a “dictatorship.… It really taught me about things that we take for granted here…having a government that is the rule of the law.”

That dictatorship was created and maintained by the US, a fact lost in Kaine’s uplift. Here’s a report from NACLA from 1981: “Honduras almost outdoes the stereotype of a banana republic. The vast plantations run by United Fruit (now United Brands) envelop the countryside, while Honduras is second only to Haiti in per capita poverty. It has seen 150 governments in 160 years, and spent the last 18 under military rule.” It should be noted that that 18-year dictatorship was installed by the JFK administration, in a coup, one of many in Latin America brokered by Washington following the Cuban Revolution. In 1980, exactly the moment Kaine landed in El Progreso, Honduras “was the second largest recipient of U.S. economic assistance to Latin America, despite a sparse population of three million. It has received $3.5 million in military aid since April 1980, with $10.7 million projected for fiscal 1982.” Happiness indeed is not that correlated with wealth—or at least the wealth that comes in the form of military aid from Washington.

One story that Kaine likes to tell—and he’s been telling it for a decade now, through his runs for Virginia governor and senator, and may again this Wednesday in his acceptance speech—is how he once tried to refuse a gift of food from a family with four, malnourished children. Padre Patricio accepted the food, and when Kaine asked how the Jesuit could take food from the needy, Patricio told him: “Tim, you really have to be humble to accept a gift with food from a family that poor.” Kaine say he has “not forgotten the lesson.”

All this Christian charity would be fine, had Kaine, during his time in public office, especially as Senator, taken political action to help make food less expensive in Honduras. But he supports NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA. Though he wasn’t in the Senate yet to vote on those treaties, he says anyone opposed to free trade exhibits a “loser’s mentality.” So while Kaine is decent on immigration, and has signed on a letter to Secretary of State, John Kerry, asking for an investigation into Berta Cáceres’s death, he has consistently supported economic and security policies that drive immigration and contribute to the kind of repression that killed Cáceres.

CAFTA has been an unmitigated disaster for the peasants Tim Kaine thinks about every day. It has flooded local markets with cheap, agro-industry produced corn and other products, leading to a collapse in the price of locally grown food stuff but a rise in the cost of food in general. Malnutrition increased under CAFTA, and, during some acute periods, so did starvation. The trade treaty makes it difficult, if not impossible, for local governments to impose regulations on certain industries, like mining. A recent report issued by Congress’ Progressive Caucus concluded that “free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have led to the displacement of workers and subsequent migration from these countries.”

In Honduras, extreme poverty has increased since CAFTA has gone into effect, as has political repression, especially following the 2009 coup. Kaine, as far as I can tell, has said nothing about that coup (his beloved Jesuits condemned it in no uncertain terms). Watching Kaine talk about Honduras, he does seem troubled by the country’s poverty and political repression. But like most neoliberal politicians, he disassociates in his political rhetoric the trade and security policies he votes for from the catastrophic consequences of those policies. As I wrote elsewhere about Clinton’s Latin American policies, “there’s no violence caused by over-militarization that more militarization can’t solve. There’s no poverty caused by ‘free trade’ that more ‘free trade’ can’t solve.”

Kaine helps the Clinton campaign transform Honduras from a real place, engaged in political struggle, into an imaginary kingdom of banality. The sharp political and economic analysis of someone like Berta Cáceres, who before her death named Hillary Clinton and US policy as responsible for Honduras’s terror regime, is converted into the virtues of anonymous poor people offering up their ever-more costly (thanks to CAFTA) food as a life lesson in humility.  It’s a neoliberal Eat, Pray, Love.  Or, better, Eat, Pray, Starve.

of particular note is the role of John Negroponte – whose role in Honduras since the time of the contras is well known and it is suspected that he is the “author” of the Honduras coup that removed Zelaya for a more guaranteed and compliant government

Washington behind the Honduras coup: Here is the evidence

Repression intensifies

Global Research, July 15, 2009

http://www.globalresearch.ca/washington-behind-the-honduras-coup-here-is-the-evidence/14390

The US Department of State had prior knowledge of the coup. The Department of State and the US Congress funded and advised the actors and organisations in Honduras that participated in the coup. The Pentagon trained, schooled, commanded, funded and armed the Honduran armed forces that perpetrated the coup and that continue to repress the people of Honduras by force.

The US military presence in Honduras, that occupies the Soto Cano (Palmerola) military base, authorised the coup d’etat through its tacit complicity and refusal to withdraw its support of the Honduran military involved in the coup. The US ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Hugo Llorens, coordinated the removal from power of President Manuel Zelaya, together with Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon y John Negroponte, who presently works as an advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

From the first day the coup occurred, Washington has referred to “both parties” involved and the necessity for “dialogue” to restore constitutional order, legitimising the coup leaders by regarding them as equal players instead of criminal violators of human rights and democratic principles. The Department of State has refused to legally classify the events in Honduras as a “coup d’etat”, nor has it suspended or frozen its economic aid or commerce to Honduras, and has taken no measures to effectively pressure the de facto regime.

Washington manipulated the Organization of American States (OAS) in order to buy time, therefore allowing the coup regime to consolidate and weaken the possibility of President Zelaya’s immediate return to power, as part of a strategy still in place that simply seeks to legitimate the de facto regime and wear down the Honduran people that still resist the coup. Secretary of State Clinton and her spokesmen stopped speaking of President Zelaya’s return to power after they designated Costa Rica’s president Oscar Arias as the “mediator” between the coup regime and the constitutional government; and now the State Department refers to the dictator that illegally took power during the coup, Roberto Micheletti, as the “interim caretaker president”.

The strategy of “negotiating” with the coup regime was imposed by the Obama administration as a way of discrediting President Zelaya – blaming him for provoking the coup – and legitimising the coup leaders. Members of the US Congress – Democrats and Republicans – organised a visit of representatives from the coup regime in Honduras to Washington, receiving them with honors in different arenas in the US capital. Despite the fact that originally it was Republican Senator John McCain who coordinated the visit of the coup regime representatives to Washington through a lobby firm connected to his office, The Cormac Group, now, the illegal regime is being representated by top notch lobbyist and Clinton attorney Lanny Davis, who is using his pull and influence in Washington to achieve overall acceptance – cross party lines – of the coup regime in Honduras. Otto Reich and a Venezuelan named Robert Carmona-Borjas, known for his role as attorney for the dictator Pedro Carmona during the April 2002 coup d’etat in Venezuela, aided in preparing the groundwork for the coup against President Zelaya in Honduras.

The team designated from Washington to design and help prepare the coup in Honduras also included a group of US ambassadors recently named in Central America, experts in destabilising efforts against the Cuban revolution, and Adolfo Franco, ex administrator for USAID’s Cuba “transition to democracy” program. No one doubts that the fingerprints of Washington are all over the coup d’etat against President Manuel Zelaya that began on June 28. Many analysts, writers, activists and even presidents, have denounced this role. Nevertheless, the majority coincide in excusing the Obama Administration from any responsibility in the Honduran coup, blaming instead the lingering remains of the Bush-Cheney era and the war hawks that still pace the halls of the White House. The evidence demonstrates that while it is certain that the usual suspects who perpetrate coups and destabilisation activities in Latin America are involved, ample proof exists confirming the direct role of the new administration in Washington in the Honduran coup.

The Department of State

The new form of diplomacy of the United States, known as “smart power”, has played a principal role before, during and after the coup in Honduras. During a press briefing on July 1, spokespeople for the Department of State admitted to having prior knowledge of the coup in Honduras, clarifying that US diplomats had been meeting with the groups and actors planning the coup to encourage a different “solution” to their discontent with President Zelaya.[i] The State Department also confirmed that two high level representatives from the Department, which included Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelley, were in Honduras the week prior to the coup and maintained meetings with the civilian and military groups that later participated in the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected president. They state their mission was to “urge against” the coup, but evidently such verbal pressure was insufficient to discourage the actors involved in the coup, particularly considering the actions manifested by Washington contradicted those harsh words.

On the day of the coup, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton published a statement regarding the situation in Honduras. Despite the fact that governments around the world were quickly condemning the actions as a coup d’etat, Clinton’s statement did not recognise the events in Honduras as a “coup d’etat” and also did not call for the return of President Zelaya to power. Curiously, Clinton’s statements from day one have referred to “all parties” of situation, legitimising the coup leaders and somehow placing blame – publicly – on President Mel Zelaya for provoking his own overthrow: “The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago.”[ii]

And ever since, despite different references to a “coup” having occurred in Honduras, the Department of State has refused to legally classify what took place as a coup d’etat. By doing so, the US government would be obligated to suspend economic, diplomatic and military aid to Honduras, which apparently they are unwilling to do, since such a measure would substantially affect US interests in the Central American nation and the region. On July 1, the spokesmen for the State Department explained their wavering on the coup question: “In regard to the coup itself, I think it would just – it would be best to say that this was a coordinated effort between the military and some civilian political actors. Obviously, the military was the entity that conducted the forcible removal of the president and has acted as the securer of public order during this process. But for the coup to become more than an insurrection or a rebellion, you have to have an effort to transfer power. And in that regard, the congress – the congress’s decision to swear in its president, Micheletti, as the president of Honduras indicates that the congress and key members of that congress played an important role in this coup.”[iii]

This position of ambiguity, that condemns the events in Honduras as a violation of constitutional order but doesn’t go as far as classifying the situation as a coup d’etat and also doesn’t call for the reinstatement of President Zelaya to the presidency, was ratified again after the meeting held between Secretary of State Clinton and President Zelaya on July 7. Clinton made the following statement, “I just finished a productive meeting with President Zelaya. We discussed the events of the past nine days and the road ahead. I reiterated to him that the United States supports the restoration of the democratic constitutional order in Honduras. We continue to support regional efforts through the OAS to bring about a peaceful resolution that is consistent with the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter…We call upon all parties to refrain from acts of violence and to seek a peaceful, constitutional, and lasting solution to the serious divisions in Honduras through dialogue. To that end, we have been working with a number of our partners in the hemisphere to create a negotiation, a dialogue that could lead to a peaceful resolution of this situation.”[iv]

Now it was clear, after this meeting, that Washington would no longer consider Zelaya’s return to the presidency as a necessary solution but rather would lobby for a “negotiation” with the coup regime, that in the end, favours US interests. Sources that were present at the Organisation of American States (OAS) meetings that took place after the coup affirm that the presence of a high-level US delegation intensified the pressure against other States to urge for a “negotiated” solution that didn’t necessarily imply the return to power of President Zelaya.

This method of circumventing the main issue, manipulating the outcome and attempting to appear as though one position has been assumed when in reality, actions demonstrate the contrary, forms part of the new Obama doctrine of “smart power”, which purports to achieve imperialist objectives without demonising the government. “Smart Power” is “the capacity to combine ‘hard power’ with ‘soft power’ to achieve a victorious strategy. ‘Smart Power’ strategically uses diplomacy, persuasion, capacity building, military power and economic and political influence, in an effective way with a political and social legitimacy.” Essentially, it’s a mix of military force with all forms of diplomacy, with an emphasis in the use of “democracy promotion” as a principal tactic to strongy influence the destiny of societies, instead of a military invasion. [Note: Beware that “smart power” places an emphasis on the use of agencies like USAID and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to do the ‘dirty work’ of silently penetrating and infiltrating civil society organisations in order to promote a US agenda. This explains Obama’s call for an additional $320 million in “democracy promotion” funds for the 2010 budget just for use in Latin America. This is substantially a higher sum than the quantity requested and used in Latin America for “democracy promotion” by the Bush administration in its 8 years of government combined.]

The ambassador

Journalist Jean-Guy Allard has revealed the origens of the current US ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens[v]. Per Allard, Hugo Llorens, a Cuban national from birth who arrived in the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan, is “a specialist in terrorism… In 2002, George W. Bush’s White House strategically placed the astute Llorens as Director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., which converted him into the principle advisor to the President on Venezuela. The coup d’etat in 2002 against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez occured during Llorens’ tenure, who was working together with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Otto Reich, and the very controversial Elliot Abrams. In July 2008, Llorens was named Ambassador to Honduras.”

On June 4, 2009, just weeks before the coup d’etat against President Zelaya, Ambassador Llorens declared to the Honduran press that “…One can’t violate the Constitution in order to create another Constitution, because if one doesn’t respect the Constitution, then we all live under the law of the jungle.”[vi] Those declarations were made in reference to the national opinion survey on the possibility of convening a constitutional convention during 2010, that would have taken place on June 28th if the coup d’etat against President Zelaya hadn’t occured. The commentaries made by Llorens evidence not only his position against the survey, but also his interference in the internal affairs of Honduras.

But Llorens wasn’t alone in the region. After his nomination as US Ambassador in Honduras – position that he was assigned to due to the urgent necessity to neutralise the growing presence of leftist governments in the region and impede the regional potency of ALBA – several other US ambassadors were also named in neighboring nations, all experts in destabilising the Cuban revolution and executing psychological warfare.

The diplomat Robert Blau arrived first to the US embassy in El Salvador, on July 2, 2008, named as second in command. In January 2009, Blau became the Charge d’Affairs at the Embassy. Before arriving to El Salvador, Blau was subdirector of Cuban affairs at the Department of State in Washington, after working for two years at the US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, as a Political Counselor. His work with Cuban dissidents was so successful that Blau was honored with the Department of State James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence. Llorens and Blau were old friends, after working together as part of Otto Reich’s team in the State Department.

Soon after, Stephen McFarland was named as US Ambassador in Guatemala, on August 5, 2008. McFarland, a graduate of the National War College in the US, similar to Hugo Llorens and Robert Blau, and also a former member of Combat Team Number 2 of the US Marines in Iraq, was the second in command at the US embassy in Venezuela during William Brownfield’s tenure. Brownfield is known for achieving a substantial increase in State Department funding and strategic support for the Venezuelan opposition. After Venezuela, McFarland was sent to the US Embassy in Paraguay to oversee the construction of the large US military base in that country that borders Bolivia. McFarland was also Director of Cuban Affairs at the State Department and his resumé claims he is an expert in “democratic transitions, human rights and security matters.”

Ambassador Robert Callahan arrived to Managua, Nicaragua, also at the beginning of August. Callahan has worked at the US embassies in La Paz, Bolivia, and San José, Costa Rica, and was a distinguished professor at the National War College. In 2004, he was sent to Iraq as press attaché at the US Embassy in Baghdad. Upon his return, he established the press and propaganda office at the newly created Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) in Washington, which today is the most powerful entity in the US intelligence community.

Together, these ambassadors – experts in coup d’etats, destabilisation and propaganda – prepared the terrain for the coup against President Zelaya in Honduras.

Funding the coup leaders

Just one month before the coup against President Zelaya occured, a coalition of different organisations, business associations, political parties, high level members of the Catholic Church and private media outlets, was formed in opposition to Zelaya’s policies. The coalition was called the “Democratic Civil Union of Honduras”. It’s only objective was to oust President Zelaya from power in order to impede the future possibility of a constitutional convention to reform the constitution, which would allow the people a voice and a role in their political process.

The “Democratic Civil Union of Honduras” is composed of organisations including the National Anticorruption Council, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP), Council of University Deans, Workers’ Federation of Honduras (CTH), National Convergence Forum, National Federation of Commerce and Industry of Honduras (FEDECAMARA), Association of Communication Media (AMC), the Group Peace & Democracy and the student group Generation for Change.

The majority of these organisations have been the beneficiaries of the more than $50 million annually disbursed by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for “democracy promotion” in Honduras. In fact, a USAID report regarding its funding and work with COHEP, described how the “low profile maintained by USAID in this project helped ensure the credibility of COHEP as a Honduran organisation and not an arm of USAID.” Which basically means that COHEP is, actually, an arm of USAID.

The spokespeople for the Democratic Civil Union of Honduras representing, according to them, “civil society”, declared to the Honduran press on June 23rd – five days before the coup took place against President Zelaya – that they “trust the armed forces will comply with their responsibility to defend the Constitution, the Law, peace and democracy.” When the coup took place on June 28th, they were the first to immediately claim that a coup had not occured, but rather “democracy had been saved” from the hands of President Zelaya, whose crime was to attempt to give voice and visibility to the people. Representing the biased middle and upperclasses, the Democratic Civil Union has qualified Zelaya’s supporters as “hoards”.

The International Republican Institute (IRI), entity that receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), received more than $1.2 million in 2009 to work with political groups in Honduras. IRI’s work has been dedicated to supporting “think tanks” and “pressure groups” to influence political parties and “support initiatives to implement political positions during the campaigns in 2009.” This is a clear example of intervention in the internal politics of Honduras and evidence of NED and IRI funding to those groups involved in the coup.

The Washington lobby

Republican Senator John McCain, ex US presidential candidate, helped coordinate the visit of a coup regime delegation to Washington last week. McCain is well known for his opposition to governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries in the region considered “anti-imperialist”. McCain also maintains very close ties to the Cuban exile community in Miami. McCain is also Chairman of the Board of the International Republican Institute (IRI) that has funded the coup participants in Honduras. McCain offered the services of a lobby firm in Washington, closely tied to him, the Cormac Group, that organised a press conference for the coup regime delegation at the National Press Club on June 7th. McCain also helped set up several meetings in Congress with the traditional Cuban-American representatives and those general “Chávez-haters”, such as Connie Mack, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mel Martinez.

But beyond the Republican connection to the Honduran coup regime, there is a even more damning link to the current Democrat administration in Washington. Lawyer Lanny Davis was hired by the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL) to lobby in favour of the coup regime and convince the powers in Washington to accept and recognise the de facto government in Honduras. Lanny Davis was special counsel to ex President Bill Clinton from 1996-1998 and he is a close friend and advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Davis is organising a diplomatic offensive and public relations blitz in favour of the coup regime, including the strategic placement of advertisements in important US media that seek to legitimise the de facto Honduran government, and he is organising meetings and hearings with members of Congress, the State Department and the White House. CEAL represents the conservative business community in Latin America, including those that have promoted and participated in previous attempts to oust democratic governments via coup d’etats and/or other forms of sabotage. For example, the Venezuelan representative of CEAL is Marcel Granier, president of RCTV, the television station that heavily participated in the 2002 coup against President Chávez and that consistently has violated Venezuelan law in order to promote its political agenda.

As part of this offensive, Lanny Davis arranged a special hearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, attended by high level members of Congress and overseen by Democrat Elliot Engel (congressman from New York). Testimonies were given at the hearing by representatives of the coup regime from Honduras and others who have supported the coup – directly and indirectly – such as Michael Shifter from the InterAmerican Dialogue, Guillermo Pérez-Cadalso, ex Honduran foreign minister and supreme court judge, and the infamous Otto Reich, a Cuban-American well known for his role in the majority of destabilisation activities against leftist and progressive governments in Latin America throughout the eighties. Reich, who was named Special Advisor on Latin America to President George W. Bush, also played a key role in the 2002 coup against President Chávez. As a result of this hearing, the US Congress is currently trying to pass a resolution that recognises the coup regime in Honduras as a legitimate government.

Another consequence of Lanny Davis’ lobbying efforts was the meeting arranged in the Council of the Americas Washington office on June 9th. This event included the participation of Jim Swigert, Director of Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), entity that receives its funding from NED and USAID, Cris Arcos, former US ambassador to Honduras, and Adolfo Franco, ex USAID Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the director of the “transition to democracy” program for Cuba. These three characters are working as advisors to the Obama administration on the Honduran crisis. Franco, who was previously advisor on foreign policy to John McCain during his presidential campaign in 2008, has been accused of corruption for his mismanagement of USAID funds destined for the Cuba “democracy” program. Franco diverted a large quantity of these funds, totaling over $40 million, to groups such as the Committee for a Free Cuba and the Institute for Cuban Studies in Miami, without adhering to a transparent process of funds disbursement.

Negroponte and Reich, again

Many analysts and specialists on Latin American have speculated on the role of former ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, who directed the paramilitary forces and death squads known as the “Contra” against leftist movements in Central America during the 1980s. Negroponte held various high level positions during the Bush administration, including US Ambassador to Iraq, US Ambassador to the United Nations, National Director of Intelligence and lastly, subsecretary of state, second only to Condoleezza Rice. After leaving the Department of State in January 2009, Negroponte entered the private sector, as is custom amongst former top government officials. He was offered a job as vice-president at the most influential and powerful consulting firm in Washington, McLarty Associates. Negroponte accepted the job. McLarty Associates was founded by Thomas “Mack” McLarty, former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and also Clinton’s Special Envoy to Latin America. Since the end of the Clinton administration, McLarty has managed the most powerful strategic consulting firm in Washington, which until just last year, was called Kissinger-McLarty Associates due to the merging of Thomas McLarty and Henry Kissinger. This partnership clearly evidenced the bi-partisan unions that truly craft the most important policies in Washington.

In his new role, John Negroponte presently works as advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Remember, the current US ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, has worked closely under Negroponte’s domain during the majority of his career. So it would not be a far jump to consider that John Negroponte, expert in crushing leftist movements in Central America, has played a role in the current coup against President Zelaya in Honduras.

Otto Reich has also been investing his energy during the last couple of years in a campaign against President Zelaya. The Honduran president actually threatened to sue Reich for defamation in April 2009, after Reich accused President Zelaya of stealing $100 million from the state-owned telecommunications company, Hondutel. These accustations were never backed by evidence, and the truth was revealed soon after that explained Reich’s interest in Hondutel. Through his consulting and lobbying firm, Otto Reich Associates, the Cuban-American was representing a multinational corporation that was pushing for the privatisation of Hondutel, a move that Zelaya opposed. With President Zelaya out of the picture now, Reich is able to pursue the multi-million dollar deal.

Reich also co-founded an organisation in Washington named Arcadia Foundation[vii] together with a Venezuelan, Robert Carmona-Borjas, a lawyer specialised in military law who is linked to the April 2002 coup d’etat in Venezuela, per his own resumé. Robert Carmona-Borjas was in the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, together with the dictator Pedro Carmona, on the days of the coup, from April 11-12, 2002, and escaped, together with Carmona, when the palace was retaken by the presidential guard and constitutional order was restored. He later fled to the United States after he was brought up on charges for his role in the coup d’etat in Venezuela, and became a university professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC (nice to see the warm welcome coup leaders and violators of democracy receive in the United States). Since last year, Reich and Carmona-Borjas have been conducting a campaign against President Zelaya, accusing him of corruption and limiting private property rights. Through the Arcadia Foundation, they created a series of video clips that have been shown in different media, attempted to portray Zelaya as a corrupt president who violates the basic rights of the Honduran people.[viii]

Carmona-Borjas has travelled frequently to Honduras during the last few months, and even held public meetings where the coup against Zelaya was discussed openly. At one encounter where Carmona-Borjas was present, Honduran Public Defender Ramón Custodia, who was involved in the coup d’etat, declared to the press that “coups are a possibility and can occur in any political environment”. After the coup took place, Robert Carmona-Borjas appeared at a rally in support of the de facto regime, on July 3, and received the honors and applause from the coup leaders who declared him “an important actor” that “helped make possible” the removal from power of President Zelaya and the installation of the dictator Roberto Micheletti as de facto president.[ix]

Military power

The United States maintains a large military presence in Honduras in the Soto Cano (Palmerola) base, located about 50 miles from the capital, Tegucigalpa, that has been actively operating since 1981, when it was heavily occupied by the US Ronald Reagan Administration and used for its operations in Central America.

During the eighties, Soto Cano was used by Colonel Oliver North as a base of operations of the “Contra”, the paramilitary forces trained, armed and funded by the CIA, and charged with executing warfare against all leftist movements in Central America, with particular focus on the neighbouring Sandinista government in Nicaragua. From Soto Cano, the “Contra” launched terrorist attacks, psychological warfare (overseen by Otto Reich’s Office for Public Diplomacy), death squads and special covert missions that resulted in the assassination of tens of thousands of farmers and civilians, thousands of disappeared, tortured, wounded and terrorised all throughout the region.

John Negroponte, US ambassador at the time in Honduras, together with Oliver North and Otto Reich, directed and oversaw these dirty operations. They later became involved in the Iran-Contra scandal once the US Congress cut the funding for the paramilitary groups and death squads used by the Reagan Administration to neutralise the leftist movements in the region, and the Negroponte-North-Reich team sold arms to Iran to continue funding their covert operations.

The Soto Cano base houses the US Joint Task Force-Bravo military group, composed of members from the army, air force, joint security forces and the First Batallion Regiment 228 of the US Air Force. The current total presence of US forces on the base numbers approximately 600, and includes 18 combat planes, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, used for special warfare operations. The Honduran Aviation Academy is also located on the Soto Cano base. More than 650 Honduran and US citizens also live inside the base installations.

The Honduran constitution does not legally permit the presence of foreign military in the country. A “handshake” agreement was made between Washington and Honduras authorising the “semi-permanent” important and strategic presence of hundreds – at times thousands – of US military personnel on the base. The agreement was made in 1954, in exchange for the multimillion dollar aid the US provides to the Honduran armed forces, which ranges from training programs, arms and military equipment and joint exercises and operations that take place on the ground in Honduras. The base was first employed by the US military and CIA to launch the coup d’etat against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954.

Each year, Washington authorises hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic aid to Honduras, which is the third-poorest country in the western hemisphere, after Haiti and Nicaragua. This “exchange” securing the US military presence in the Central American nation can be terminated at any time by the Honduran government, without much notice.

On May 31, 2008, President Manuel Zelaya announced that Soto Cano (Palmerola) would be converted into an international civilian airport. The construction of the airport terminal would be financed with a fund from the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA – of which Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominique, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vicents, Antigua and Barbados and Venezuela are members). This obviously was a huge threat to the future US military presence in Honduras.

The two generals that have participated in key roles in the coup against President Zelaya are both graduates of the US School of the Americas, famous for training dictators, torturers and repressors in Latin America, and they maintain very close ties with the US military forces based in Honduras. The Commander of the Honduran Air Force General Luis Javier Prince Suazo studied in the famous School of the Americas in 1996. The Head of the Honduran High Military Command, General Romeo Vásquez, who was fired by President Zelaya on June 24, 2009, for disobeying the president’s orders, and later appeared as the principal actor in the military coup just days later, is also a graduate of the School of the Americas. These two high level military officers also maintain close contact with the Pentagon and the Southern Command.

The US Ambassador in Honduras through September 2008, when Hugo Llorens was appointed to the position, Charles Ford, was transferred from Honduras to the Southern Command in Florida and charged with providing “strategic advising” to the Pentagon about Latin America, a position he holds today.

The Honduran military are funded, trained, schooled and commanded by the US military. They have been indoctrinated with the anti-leftist, anti-socialist, pro-empire mentality since the beginning of the Cold War. The Generals and high level officers involved in the coup in Honduras have publicly stated that they were “obligated” to remove President Zelaya from power because of the “threat” he posed with his “leftist” ideology and alignment to socialist nations in the region such as Venezuela and Cuba. Per one Honduran colonel, “’We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others…It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible. I personally would have retired, because my thinking, my principles, would not have allowed me to participate in that.”.[x]

All of the above evidence – and certainly more to come in the future – proves the undeniable role of Washington in the coup d’etat aginst President Zelaya in Honduras.

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.

Zelaya, Negroponte and the Controversy at Soto Cano

The Coup and the U.S. Airbase in Honduras

by NIKOLAS KOZLOFF

 http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/07/22/the-coup-and-the-u-s-airbase-in-honduras/

The mainstream media has once again dropped the ball on a key aspect of the ongoing story in Honduras: the U.S. airbase at Soto Cano, also known as Palmerola.  Prior to the recent military coup d’etat President Manuel Zelaya declared that he would turn the base into a civilian airport, a move opposed by the former U.S. ambassador.  What’s more Zelaya intended to carry out his project with Venezuelan financing.

For years prior to the coup the Honduran authorities had discussed the possibility of converting Palmerola into a civilian facility.  Officials fretted that Toncontín, Tegucigalpa’s international airport, was too small and incapable of handling large commercial aircraft.  An aging facility dating to 1948, Toncontín has a short runway and primitive navigation equipment.  The facility is surrounded by hills which makes it one of the world’s more dangerous international airports.

Palmerola by contrast has the best runway in the country at 8,850 feet long and 165 feet wide.  The airport was built more recently in the mid-1980s at a reported cost of $30 million and was used by the United States for supplying the Contras during America’s proxy war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua as well as conducting counter-insurgency operations in El Salvador.  At the height of the Contra war the U.S. had more than 5,000 soldiers stationed at Palmerola.  Known as the Contras’ “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” the base housed Green Berets as well as CIA operatives advising the Nicaraguan rebels.

More recently there have been some 500-to-600 U.S. troops on hand at the facility which serves as a Honduran air force base as well as a flight-training center.  With the exit of U.S. bases from Panama in 1999, Palmerola became one of the few usable airfields available to the U.S. on Latin American soil.  The base is located approximately 30 miles north of the capital Tegucigalpa.

In 2006 it looked as if Zelaya and the Bush administration were nearing a deal on Palmerola’s future status.  In June of that year Zelaya flew to Washington to meet President Bush and the Honduran requested that Palmerola be converted into a commercial airport.  Reportedly Bush said the idea was “wholly reasonable” and Zelaya declared that a four-lane highway would be constructed from Tegucigalpa to Palmerola with U.S. funding.

In exchange for the White House’s help on the Palmerola facility Zelaya offered the U.S. access to a new military installation to be located in the Mosquitia area along the Honduran coast near the Nicaraguan border.  Mosquitia reportedly serves as a corridor for drugs moving south to north.  The drug cartels pass through Mosquitia with their cargo en route from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

A remote area only accessible by air, sea, and river Mosquitia is full of swamp and jungle.  The region is ideal for the U.S. since large numbers of troops may be housed in Mosquitia in relative obscurity.  The coastal location was ideally suited for naval and air coverage consistent with the stated U.S. military strategy of confronting organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism.  Romeo Vásquez, head of the Honduran Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked that the armed forces needed to exert a greater presence in Mosquitia because the area was full of “conflict and problems.”

But what kind of access would the U.S. have to Mosquitia?  Honduran Defense Secretary Aristides Mejía said that Mosquitia wouldn’t necessarily be “a classic base with permanent installations, but just when needed. We intend, if President Zelaya approves, to expand joint operations [with the United States].”  That statement however was apparently not to the liking of eventual coup leader and U.S. School of the Americas graduate Vásquez who had already traveled to Washington to discuss future plans for Mosquitia.  Contradicting his own colleague, Vásquez said the idea was “to establish a permanent military base of ours in the zone” which would house aircraft and fuel supply systems.  The United States, Vásquez added, would help to construct air strips on site.

Events on the ground meanwhile would soon force the Hondurans to take a more assertive approach towards air safety.  In May, 2008 a terrible crash occurred at Toncontín airport when a TACA Airbus A320 slid off the runway on its second landing attempt.  After mowing down trees and smashing through a metal fence, the airplane’s fuselage was broken into three parts near the airstrip.  Three people were killed in the crash and 65 were injured.

In the wake of the tragedy Honduran officials were forced at long last to block planes from landing at the notoriously dangerous Toncontín.  All large jets, officials said, would be temporarily transferred to Palmerola.  Touring the U.S. airbase himself Zelaya remarked that the authorities would create a new civilian facility at Palmerola within sixty days.  Bush had already agreed to let Honduras construct a civilian airport at Palmerola, Zelaya said.  “There are witnesses,” the President added.

But constructing a new airport had grown more politically complicated.  Honduran-U.S. relations had deteriorated considerably since Zelaya’s 2006 meeting with Bush and Zelaya had started to cultivate ties to Venezuela while simultaneously criticizing the American-led war on drugs.

Bush’s own U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford said that while he would welcome the traffic at Palmerola past agreements should be honored.  The base was used mostly for drug surveillance planes and Ford remarked that “The president can order the use of Palmerola when he wants, but certain accords and protocols must be followed.”  “It is important to point out that Toncontín is certified by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” Ford added, hoping to allay long-time concerns about the airport’s safety.  What’s more, the diplomat declared, there were some airlines that would not see Palmerola as an “attractive” landing destination.  Ford would not elaborate or explain what his remarks were supposed to mean.

Throwing fuel on the fire Assistant Secretary of State John Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, said that Honduras could not transform Palmerola into a civilian airport “from one day to the next.”  In Tegucigalpa, Negroponte met with Zelaya to discuss Palmerola.  Speaking later on Honduran radio the U.S. diplomat said that before Zelaya could embark on his plans for Palmerola the airport would have to receive international certification for new incoming flights.  According to Spanish news agency EFE Negroponte also took advantage of his Tegucigalpa trip to sit down and meet with the President of the Honduran Parliament and future coup leader Roberto Micheletti [the news account however did not state what the two discussed].

Needless to say Negroponte’s visit to Honduras was widely repudiated by progressive and human rights activists who labeled Negroponte “an assassin” and accused him of being responsible for forced disappearances during the diplomat’s tenure as ambassador (1981-1985).  Moreover, Ford and Negroponte’s condescending attitude irked organized labor, indigenous groups and peasants who demanded that Honduras reclaim its national sovereignty over Palmerola.  “It’s necessary to recover Palmerola because it’s unacceptable that the best airstrip in Central America continues to be in the hands of the U.S. military,” said Carlos Reyes, leader of the Popular Bloc which included various politically progressive organizations.  “The Cold War has ended and there are no pretexts to continue with the military presence in the region,” he added.  The activist remarked that the government should not contemplate swapping Mosquitia for Palmerola either as this would be an affront to Honduran pride.

Over the next year Zelaya sought to convert Palmerola into a civilian airport but plans languished when the government was unable to attract international investors.  Finally in 2009 Zelaya announced that the Honduran armed forces would undertake construction.  To pay for the new project the President would rely on funding from ALBA [in English, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas] and Petrocaribe, two reciprocal trading agreements pushed by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.  Predictably the Honduran right leapt on Zelaya for using Venezuelan funds.  Amílcar Bulnes, President of the Honduran Business Association [known by its Spanish acronym COHEP] said that Petrocaribe funds should not be used for the airport but rather for other, unspecified needs.

A couple weeks after Zelaya announced that the armed forces would proceed with construction at Palmerola the military rebelled.  Led by Romeo Vásquez, the army overthrew Zelaya and deported him out of the country.  In the wake of the coup U.S. peace activists visited Palmerola and were surprised to find that the base was busy and helicopters were flying all around.  When activists asked American officials if anything had changed in terms of the U.S.-Honduran relationship they were told “no, nothing.”

The Honduran elite and the hard right U.S. foreign policy establishment had many reasons to despise Manuel Zelaya as I’ve discussed in previous articles.  The controversy over the Palmerola airbase however certainly gave them more ammunition.

NIKOLAS KOZLOFF is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008)