By Miguel Estrada
This is Miguel Estrada's response to Hugo Llorens commentary (below) to the recent Mary Anastasia O'Grady's Op-Ed "The U.S. vs. Honduran Democracy".
WSJ: Letter to the Editor: Honduras's Removal of Manuel Zelaya Was No Coup
The U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, complains that Mary O'Grady's coverage of his activities unfairly portrays the facts on the ground (Letters, April 14). His letter contains some assertions that are true and some that are relevant. Regrettably for Mr. Llorens, the true part is not very relevant and the relevant part is not remotely true.
Mr. Llorens is correct to say that the removal and deportation of former President Manuel Zelaya was condemned by the international community. He is also correct to maintain that summarily deporting Mr. Zelaya to Costa Rica was illegal. The relevant issue, however, is not the deportation, but whether stripping Mr. Zelaya of the presidency was illegal. It was not. The Honduran Supreme Court had ordered Mr. Zelaya's arrest beforehand, and the Honduran Congress voted to remove him—by a lopsided vote—immediately after the arrest.
Given that the Honduran Congress had an ample legal basis for removing Mr. Zelaya (to wit, it determined that Mr. Zelaya was attempting to seek another presidential term in violation of the constitution), and given that the Congress also followed the constitutional rules of succession in designating Roberto Micheletti to succeed him, Mr. Llorens is simply wrong to maintain that Mr. Zelaya's removal was a "coup d'etat" or to label the successor government "de facto." This is the only relevant part of the dispute.
In fact, Mr. Llorens has never disclosed any reputable analysis of Honduran law that might vindicate his assertions. If the legal adviser to the State Department has performed such an analysis, he is not eager to expose it to any scrutiny either. What the current administration and Mr. Llorens do have, however, is the intent to bully a desperately poor country until it can be coerced, er, persuaded, to see things their way. Nothing else could explain the zeal with which the U.S. cancelled the visas of Honduran judges and congressmen, all duly appointed or elected before the supposed "coup," for the sin of interpreting their own law in a manner that displeased the Obama administration and hindered the administration's efforts to abase itself to Hugo Chávez.
Mr. Llorens avers that he is working with the new Honduran administration of President Porfirio Lobo to relieve the "isolation" that the Obama administration, the Castro regime and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez engineered for Honduras. It sure sounds from this as if freezing aid to starving people and canceling visas of judges who refuse to take dictation may be about to pay off for Mr. Llorens. When that occurs, if it does, Mr. Llorens may save face in the striped-pants circuit, but his tenure in Honduras, and our government's treatment of the Honduran people, will remain, as they have been, shameful.
See also: Miguel A. Estrada: Honduras' non-coup
The U.S. Is Pursuing a Constructive Policy in Honduras
Mary Anastasia O'Grady's "The U.S. vs. Honduran Democracy" (Americas, March 29) on U.S. policy in Honduras seriously misinterprets the facts on the ground and the U.S. response in Honduras. The forced removal and illegal deportation of then-President Manuel Zelaya was widely condemned internationally when it occurred. Neither the U.S. nor any other country in the world recognized the legitimacy of the coup d'etat that took place.
We were always mindful of the complexity of the situation leading to the coup, including President Zelaya's own responsibility in precipitating the political crisis that led to his ouster. Consequently, we supported a negotiated solution and the free and fair election of a new president. While we maintained a no-contact policy with the de facto regime that the coup leaders installed, and suspended military and nonhumanitarian aid, we avoided imposing what would have been devastating trade, investment or financial sanctions. To call such actions "maniacal determination to punish" distorts not only the fact but the objective of U.S. policy. Moreover, throughout the crisis we kept in touch with representatives of all sectors of Honduran society to better understand fast-breaking events.
Since his inauguration in January, the new president, Porfirio Lobo, has been committed to national reconciliation of his politically polarized country. We are working closely with him and his administration to help Honduras recover from the international isolation that the coup leaders brought upon the country. Ms. O'Grady's insinuation that I, as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, recently met with Liberal Party leaders to conspire to remove former de facto regime leader Roberto Micheletti as their party head is simply false. The job of a U.S. ambassador anywhere includes talking with a broad range of political figures to understand what is going on in the country. There is nothing sinister about it, nor do such talks constitute "intervening in Honduran national politics," as she reports.
The reality is that the administration and the embassy that I direct are hard at work promoting good relations with Honduras as a dependable regional partner, while it seeks to strengthen democratic and honest governance, respect for human rights, citizen security, and the regional fight against drug trafficking.
U.S. Ambassador to Honduras
The U.S. vs. Honduran Democracy
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
The administration is pushing a policy that divides Honduras and bolsters a chavista.
The image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wielding what resembled an oversized mallet while leading a mob of congressmen across Capitol Hill on the day of the health-care vote is the stuff of nightmares. It is also instructive. As a metaphor for how the Democrats view their power, the Pelosi hammer-pose could not be more perfect.
Just ask Honduras.
Last year, the U.S. tried to force the reinstatement of deposed president Manuel Zelaya. When that failed and Team Obama was looking like the Keystone Cops, it sent a delegation to Tegucigalpa to negotiate a compromise.
Participants in those talks say Dan Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, let slip that the U.S. interest had to do with American politics. The Republicans, he said, were using the administration's support for Mr. Zelaya, an ally of Venezuelan Hugo Chávez, against the Democrats. It's not going to work, Mr. Restrepo is said to have informed the other negotiators, because "we have the power" and would be keeping it for a long time.
It can't have been comforting for Hondurans to learn that while their country was living a monumental crisis, fueled by U.S. policy, Mr. Restrepo's concern was his party's power. For the record, an NSC spokesman says "Mr. Restrepo didn't say that." But my sources are more plausible considering what has transpired since.
Four months after a presidential election, reports from Honduras suggest the Obama administration remains obsessed with repairing its foreign-policy image by regaining the upper hand. The display of raw colonialist hubris is so pronounced that locals now refer to U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens as "the proconsul."
Washington's bullying is two-pronged. First is a maniacal determination to punish those involved in removing Mr. Zelaya. Second is an attempt to force Honduras to allow Mr. Zelaya, who now lives in the Dominican Republic, to return without facing any repercussions for the illegal actions that provoked his removal. Both goals are damaging the bilateral relationship, polarizing the nation and raising the risk of a resurgence of political violence.
The U.S., as represented by Mr. Llorens, has been at the center of the Zelaya crisis all along. People familiar with events leading up to Mr. Zelaya's arrest on June 28 say that had the U.S. ambassador not worked behind the scenes to block a congressional vote to remove the president a few days earlier, the dramatic deportation would never have happened.
The State Department denies this allegation. But numerous sources maintain that Mr. Llorens' interference allowed Mr. Zelaya to push ahead with an unconstitutional referendum. Fearing he would use violence—as he had before—to trample the rule of law, the Supreme Court took action. Mr. Zelaya was arrested, shipped off to San José, and removed from power by a vote of Congress the same day.
Honduras had defied Uncle Sam and the U.S., led by Mr. Llorens, decided that it had to be taught a lesson. It took out the brass knuckles and tried hard to unseat interim president Roberto Micheletti in the interest of restoring Mr. Zelaya to the office.
Honduras wouldn't budge. That's when Mr. Restrepo traveled to the capital with a U.S. delegation. The agreement reached included U.S. recognition of the November election. For a time it seemed things might return to normal.
But the Americans had scores to settle. The U.S had already yanked dozens of visas from officials and the business community as punishment for noncompliance with its pro-Zelaya policy. Then, just days before President Porfirio Lobo's inauguration in January, Hondurans estimate it pulled at least 50 more from Micheletti supporters. The visas have not been returned, and locals say Mr. Llorens continues to foster a climate of intimidation with his visa-pulling power.
He hasn't stopped there. In early March he organized a meeting of Liberal Party Zelaya supporters and the party's former presidential candidate, Elvin Santos, at the U.S. Embassy. Some 48 hours later the party's zelayistas and its Santos faction voted to remove Mr. Micheletti as party head. Rigoberto Espinal Irías, a legal adviser to the independent public prosecutor's office, complained that the "meeting generated much bad feeling in Honduran civil society" because it was "perceived to have the purpose of intervening in Honduran national politics."
Now more trouble is brewing: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, according to press reports, has said that Mr. Lobo made a promise, in front of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mr. Funes, that Mr. Zelaya could return "without fear of political persecution." Mr. Lobo subsequently announced that Mr. Zelaya is free to enter the country. In exchange, it is expected that foreign aid flows to Honduras will resume. But the minister of security maintains that if Mr. Zelaya returns he will be arrested.
It's hard to imagine what the U.S. thinks it achieves with a policy that divides Hondurans while strengthening the hand of a chavista. Revenge and power come to mind. Whatever it is, it can't be good for U.S. national security interests.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
Miguel A. Estrada is a partner at the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. A native of Honduras, he was a member of the official U.S. delegation to President Zelaya's 2006 inauguration. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.