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This entry analyzes the most recent cable on Honduras released by Wikileaks. Authored by Ambassador Charles A. Ford, it amply exhibits the hubris at the heart of the failure of Latin American policy. Dripping with contempt for the president of Honduras, the Ambassador calls its president "a rebellious teenager," and hints that he is mentally ill and corrupt.  

But-- much more important-- this memo plainly labels Zelaya "not a friend," and therefore may define the beginning of the arc of the coup. Ford's judgment is based on Zelaya's opposition to the illegal war the US conducted in Central America in the 1980s as well as Zelaya's desire that the US vacate Palmerola (Soto Cano) air base. The fact that Honduras has requested the US re-locate so that the obsolete and dangerous facility at Toncontin can be replaced, and the possibility that replacing the military facility at Palmerola with a civilian one would help to ease dark memories of its use as a center for death squads and illegal warfare does not occur.

As always, thanks to Quotha for flagging this memo. This post is from Mercury Rising.

Thanks to Wikileaks, a new cable on Honduras, dated 5/15/08 from Ambassador Charles Ford at the end of his tenure has been released.  (Hugo Llorens was appointed on May 5th and took the oath on August 6th).  

The coup is about 14 months away, and the first public exposure of its existence by Romeo Vasquez Velasquez is about four months away. The cable is a chatty resumé of Ford's opinions about Zelaya. In the presentation below, the typography has been corrected to facilitate reading.

The addressees should be noted. In addition to the Secretary of State and the Ambassador of Spain, there are the following recipients, many of whom were likely later participants in the coup: Southcom (military and foreign policy adviser), Commander of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano, CIA, DIA, NSC, Secretary of Defense, Millennium Challenge Corp., and others.

While the tone of the cable is personally contemptuous toward Zelaya (of which in a minute), what stands out are these lines :

There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime....

I have found Zelaya's real views of the United States hidden not too very deeply below the surface. In a word, he is not a friend. ... Zelaya's public position against the Contra War and against the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Force Base are manifestations of this underlying viewpoint. ...

Honduran institutions and friendly governments will need to be prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras forward.

Since this is addressed to the organs of the US government which conduct coups, it is difficult not to suspect that the arc of the coup began with this memo. In any event, this is the first known clear declaration that Zelaya is "sinister" and "not a friend."

Notice that the basis of the Ambassador's judgment that Zelaya is, in effect, an enemy, is that Zelaya opposes the illegal war the US waged in Central America in the 1980s. Also note that Zelaya's desire for the US to move out of Soto Cano/Palmerola, a place inexorably linked in Honduran memory to death squads [added: see here for Palmerola's role], and a site that Honduras wishes to use for a commercial airport to replace the obsolete and dangerous Toncontin airport is cast as enmity. The official report of the Inspector General, while presumably influenced by Ford, is far, far less harsh.  

Consider this line from Ford's cable, which expresses how disconnected from reality US policy is:

When the Zelaya government adopted an agricultural policy to subsidize basic grains production, the MCC Director and other embassy elements stressed that horticulture is where Honduras’ competitive advantage lies.

In a hungry country where tortillas and rice are staples--where even now the dictatorship's disastrous policies are leading to shortfalls of staples and profiteering by big agriculture-- the US wants Honduras to grow export crops like bananas and flowers, crops whose profits will benefits the oligarchy.  

Returning to the issue of the Ambassador's contemptuous tone, here are the principal examples:

Honduran President Jose Manuel Mel Zelaya Rosales is a throwback to an earlier Central American era, almost a caricature of a land-owner & caudillo in terms of his leadership style and tone.  Ever the rebellious teenager, Zelaya's principal goal in office is to enrich himself and his family while leaving a public legacy as a martyr who tried to do good but was thwarted at every turn by powerful, unnamed interests....

Over his two and a half years in office, he has become increasingly surrounded by those involved in organized crime activities....

I have found Zelaya to be gracious and charming, quite willing to tell me whatever he thinks I want to hear at that moment.

...Zelaya's views change by the day or in some cases by the hour, depending on his mood and who he has seen last.

...Zelaya has no real friends outside of his family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him....

...Zelaya also has been quite erratic in his behavior....

Zelaya remains very much a rebellious teenager, anxious to show his lack of respect for authority figures.

...Mel has acted in this juvenile, rebellious manner his entire life ... He will continue to lead a chaotic, highly disorganized private life. ...

There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime....

...Zelaya's inability to name a Vice Minister for Security lends credibility to those who suggest that narco traffickers have pressured him to name one of their own to this position. Due to his close association with persons believed to be involved with international organized crime, the motivation behind many of his policy decisions can certainly be questioned....

Zelaya's view of a trip to the "big city" means Tegucigalpa and not Miami or New Orleans. ...  

I have found Zelaya's real views of the United States hidden not too very deeply below the surface. In a word, he is not a friend. His views are shaped not by ideology or personal ambitions but by an old-fashioned nationalism where he holds the United States accountable for Honduras, current state of poverty and dependency. Zelaya's public position against the Contra War and against the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Force Base are manifestations of this underlying viewpoint. ...

For Zelaya, communicating means agreeing unquestionably with his point of view....

His pursuit of immunity from the numerous activities of organized crime carried out in his Administration will cause him to threaten the rule of law and institutional stability....

As a rebellious teenager, he will need a significant space to move, in but we must be very direct in our conversations with him as to our core interests. Despite his feelings towards us, he does respect the role the U.S. Embassy is still perceived to play in Honduran society and will expect us in private to be direct and clear in our views. Using an analogy from American football, we will need to continue to carry out an aggressive bend but not break defensive game plan in the run up to the next elections in November 2009.

So, the Ambassador thinks he's dealing with a crooked, mentally ill, teenager, and he thinks his contempt is invisible.  

Ford is also loose with accusations. He accuses Jorge Antonio Arturo Reina Idiaquez of having terrorist connections. At the time, Reina was UN Ambassador and no charges had ever been brought against him, nor have been. I am unable to discover any substantiation for this allegation, and it may well come out of the Contra Wars.

Ford accuses Marcelo Chimirri, a nephew of Zelaya who was indicted by the Honduran dictatorship's courts of taking bribes in the Hondutel case of being "widely believed to be a murderer, rapist and thief." There is no evidence for the former two, and the latter is yet to be proven.

Ford's obtuseness is also evident from this comment:

More revealing, at public events with key officials present, Zelaya will make clear that anyone interested in becoming President of the country needs first to get the blessing of the American Ambassador. Personally, in private conversations at the Residence, Zelaya has recounted to me, multiple times how a previous American Ambassador had ordered the President of the Honduran Congress to accept the Presidential candidacy of Ricardo Maduro, even though in Zelaya's view Maduro was Panamanian-born and thus ineligible.

The possibility that Zelaya might have been pointing out the domineering of the United States and its willingness to dismiss Honduran law when suitable for its own goals did not occur to Ford.  Similarly with this quote:

The fact is that the President of the country prefers to meet quite often in the privacy of my Residence but not to be seen in public with American visitors.

Why not? Could it be that Ford was not exactly popular in Honduras?  

Thanks to Quotha for linking to Wikileaks.  

For the basic facts of the Honduran coup, please consult Whom the Gods Would Destroy, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Update: Maite Rico of El Pais is on the story. I don't think The Guardian or The New York Times are going to cover it. So, Latin Americans will be furious at us, and we will have no clue why.  

Originally posted to CharlesII on Fri Dec 10, 2010 at 09:14 PM PST.

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