(Updated July 16) Washington behind the Honduras coup: Here is the evidence; Repression intensifies
By Eva Golinger
July 13, 2009
- 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 thepossibility 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 Washigton 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.]
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]
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.
[iii] Ver nota 1.
Things are getting worse each day in Honduras
By Eva Golinger
July 13, 2009 -- Postcards from the Revolution -- Things are getting worse each day inside Honduras. Over the weekend, two well-known social leaders were assassinated by the coup forces. Roger Bados, leader of the Bloque Popular and the National Resistance Front against the Coup d'etat, was killed in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Approximately at 8pm on Saturday evening, Bados was assassinated by three gun shots. Bados was also a member of the leftist party, Democratic Unity (Unificación Democrática), and was president of a trade union representing workers in a cement factory. His death was part of the repressive actions taken by the coup government to silence all dissent.
Ramon Garcia, another social leader in Honduras, was also killed on Saturday evening by military forces who boarded a bus he was riding in Santa Barbara and forced him off, subsequently shooting him and wounding his sister. Juan Barahona, national coordinator of the Bloque Popular and the National Resistance Front against the Coup d'etat, stated that these actions are being committed by the coup government "as the only way to maintain themselves in power, by terrorising and killing the people".
Despite statements made by representatives of the coup government, the national curfew remains in place. Social organisers from Honduras have stated that the curfew is still in effect and that the coup government is lying about lifting it, so as to seem less repressive to the international community.
However over the weekend foreign journalists from Telesur, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV -- Venezuelan State TV) and EFE were detained by military forces and expelled from Honduras. The Venezuelan journalists returned last night to Venezuela, while Telesur is still trying to find a way to maintain its correspondents on the ground. For now, they are all in Nicaragua after being forcibly expelled. This means few, if any, international media are left in Honduras to cover the reality on the ground, of a coup d'etat now 15 days in the making.
Honduran media, which supports the coup, reported on the journalists' detention stating that the police arrested and deported them for "car theft". The massive censorship inside Honduras by the media and coup government is already taking an extraordinary toll on the people of Honduras who each day are finding it more difficult to resist.
Support in Washington
Meanwhile, the coup government has hired top-notch Democrat lobbyists in Washington to make its case before Congress and the White House and convince the US people to recognise them as a legitimate government. The New York Times has confirmed that Clinton lobbyist Lanny Davis, former special counsel for President Bill Clinton from 1996-1998, and close advisor to Hillary's campaign for president last year, has been hired by the Latin American Business Council -- an ultraconservative group of Latin American businesses -- to represent the coup leaders in the US. Davis arranged a series of meetings with Congress last week, including a hearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, where he testified in favour of the coup government alongside Iran-Contra propaganda man Otto Reich, as well as several private meetings in the State Department and interviews with US media. Another lobbyist, Bennett Ratcliff of San Diego, another close friend and advisor of the Clintons, was also hired by the coup regime to advise them on the negotiations taking place in Costa Rica.
Ratcliff actually accompanied the coup representatives and dictator Roberto Micheletti himself, to Costa Rica, presenting the "conditions" of a negotiated return for President Zelaya to Honduras.
So what's up with the Clinton advisors and lobbyists hanging out with the coupsters? Obviously, it's a clear indication of Washington's support for the coup regime in Honduras, despite the rhetoric we heard last week "condemning the coup". The real actions show just the opposite: clear, undivided support for Micheletti and a definite rejection of President Zelaya's return to the presidency in Honduras.
Ratcliff's conditions for the negotiation -- approved by secretary of state Clinton -- included the following five main terms:
1. Zelaya can return to the presidency, but not to power. The presidency and the exercise of power are two different things.
2. Zelaya must not pursue any plans to reform the constitution or promote polls or referendums that give voice to the people.
3. Zelaya must distance himself substantially from President Chávez. "This is essential", they said.
4. Zelaya must share governance with the Congress and those in the coup regime until the elections in November.
5. Zelaya must give amnesty to all those involved in the coup.
Well, there you have it! Obama's first coup and Hillary's first use of "smart power" to achieve the ouster of a left-leaning president that was further opening the doors of Central America to Latin American integration and sovereignty. There is no doubt that this coup has been executed to cease the expansion of socialism and Latin American independence in the region.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009By James Hodge and Linda Cooper
Source: National Catholic Reporter
A controversial facility at Ft. Benning, Ga. -- formerly known as the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas -- is still training Honduran officers despite claims by the Obama administration that it cut military ties to Honduras after its president was overthrown June 28, NCR has learned.
A day after an SOA-trained army general ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint, President Barack Obama stated that "the coup was not legal" and that Zelaya remained "the democratically elected president."
The Foreign Operations Appropriations Act requires that U.S. military aid and training be suspended when a country undergoes a military coup, and the Obama administration has indicated those steps have been taken.
However, Lee Rials, public affairs officer for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the successor of SOA, confirmed Monday that Honduran officers are still being trained at the school.
"Yes, they're in class now." Rials said
Asked about the Obama administration's suspension of aid and training to Honduras, Rials said, "Well, all I know is they're here, and they're in class."
The decision to continue training the Hondurans is "purely government policy," he said, adding that it's possible that other U.S. military schools are training them too. "We're not the only place."
Rials did not know exactly how many Hondurans were currently enrolled, but he said at least two officers are currently in the school's Command and General Staff course, its premier year-long program.
"I don't know the exact number because we've had some classes just completed and some more starting," he said. "There's no more plans for anybody to come. Everything that was in place already is still in place. Nobody's directed that they go home or that anything cease."
The school trained 431 Honduran officers from 2001 to 2008, and some 88 were projected for this year, said Rials, who couldn't provide their names.
Since 2005, the Department of Defense has barred the release of their names after it was revealed that the school had enrolled well-known human rights abusers.
The general who overthrew Zelaya -- Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez -- is a two-time graduate of SOA, which critics have nicknamed the "School of Coups" because it trained so many coup leaders, including two other Honduran graduates, Gen. Juan Melgar Castro and Gen. Policarpo Paz Garcia.
Vasquez is not the only SOA graduate linked to the current coup or employed by the de facto government. Others are:
* Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, the head of the Honduran air force, who arranged to have Zelaya flown into exile in Costa Rica;
* Gen. Nelson Willy Mejia Mejia, the newly appointed director of immigration, who is not only an SOA graduate, but a former SOA instructor. One year after he was awarded the U.S. Meritorious Service Medal, he faced charges in connection with the infamous death squad, Battalion 3-16, for which he was an intelligence officer.
* Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, the Honduran army's top lawyer who admitted that flying Zelaya into exile was a crime, telling the Miama Herald that ''In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime," but it will be justified.
* Lt. Col. Ramiro Archaga Paz,the army's director of public relations, who has denied harassment of protesters and maintained that the army is not involved in internal security.
* Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, a two-time SOA graduate, who is the minister of security, a post he also held in Zelaya's government.
The ongoing training of Hondurans at Ft. Benning is not the only evidence of unbroken U.S.-Honduran military ties since the coup.
Another piece was discovered by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, while on fact-finding mission to Honduras last week.
Bourgeois -- accompanied by two lawyers, Kent Spriggs and Dan Kovalik -- visited the Soto Cano/Palmerola Air Base northwest of Tegucigalpa, where the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Task Force-Bravo is stationed.
"Helicopters were flying all around, and we spoke with the U.S. official on duty, a Sgt. Reyes" about the U.S.-Honduran relationship, Bourgeois said. "We asked him if anything had changed since the coup and he said no, nothing."
The group later met with U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, who claimed that he had no knowledge of ongoing U.S. military activity with the Hondurans, Bourgeois said. The ambassador also said that he himself has had no contact with the de facto government.
That has apparently changed. Christopher Webster, the director of the State Department's Office of Central American Affairs, said Monday that Llorens has in fact been in touch with the current coup government, according to Eric LeCompte, the national organizer for SOA Watch.
LeCompte met with Webster Monday along with other representatives of human rights groups and three Hondurans -- Marvin Ponce Sauceda, a member of the Honduran National Congress, Jari Dixon Herrera Hernández, a lawyer with the Honduran attorney general's office, and Dr. Juan Almendares Bonilla, director of the Center for the Prevention, Rehabilitation and Treatment of Victims of Torture.
Webster told the group that Llorens and the State Department are engaging the coup government to the extent necessary to bring about a solution to the crisis.
Webster "told us that military aid had been cut off, and that the return of Zelaya as president is non-negotiable although the conditions under which he returns are negotiable," LeCompte said.
Herrera Hernández, the lawyer with the Honduran attorney general's office, told Webster that the coup government has disseminated misinformation by claiming the coup was legal because the court had issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for pushing ahead with a non-binding referendum on whether to change the Honduran constitution.
However, the order to arrest Zelaya came a day after the coup, he said. And contrary to coup propaganda, Zelaya never sought to extend his term in office, and even if the survey had been held, changing the constitution would have required action by the legislature, he said.
Whatever legal argument the coup leaders had against Zelaya, it fell apart when they flew him into exile rather than prosecuting him, the attorney said. The legal system has broken down, he added, for if this can happen to the president, who can't it happen to?
[Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas.]
Caracas, July 13 2009, (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Speaking during his weekly television show, Hello President, on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on United States President, Barack Obama to withdraw all support for the coup government in Honduras that deposed the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28.
Although the Obama and secretary of state, Hilary Clinton have made comments condemning the ouster of Zelaya, the US government has thus far refused to legally recognize the coup as a "coup", maintained diplomatic ties with the illegitimate coup government in Honduras, and continued to send millions of dollars in aid.
"Obama withdraw your soldiers from Honduras, withdraw all support for the coup plotters, freeze their bank accounts, withdraw their visas so that this government falls immediately," the Venezuelan head of state said.
"If the US government truly doesn't support the coup, it would withdraw all of its troops from the military base at Palmerola," he added.
Chavez argued that it is imperative that his counter-part in the White House take a clear position on Honduras, and that this represents a test for Obama, who promised a shift away from previous US president George Bush's interventionist foreign policy approach.
"Don't deceive the world with a discourse that contradicts your actions," he warned Obama, "demonstrate that it's true that you are disposed to confront the imperialist hawks, if not, its better that you go away, because you will end up worse than Bush."
US-backed talks aimed at promoting "dialogue" between Zelaya and coup president Roberto Micheletti, mediated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias ended last week without resolving the crisis.
During a press conference on Friday, Chavez slammed the US initiative of promoting dialogue with the coup government as a "crass error."
"A dialogue with who? With these usurpers? The same people who are now persecuting the Honduran people? Those who have killed people?" he questioned.
"This would constitute a trap for democracy, a danger and a serious error, not only for Honduras, but for the whole American continent," he said.
Fortunately Zelaya walked out of the trap rapidly Chavez said, but lamented the fact that Micheletti was received in Costa Rica as if he were a legitimate head of state.
Through these types of measures the US government is "giving oxygen" to the de facto government of dictator Roberto Micheletti, Chavez continued on Sunday.
"The aim of imperialism, the continental bourgeoisie and the media is to draw out the game...What the immoral coup plotters in Honduras are trying to do is wear out the people of Honduras, wear out the constitutional president Manuel Zelaya, and his government which is in exile, some of whom are prisoners or have gone underground," he added.
"Then there are elections in Honduras in November," Chavez explained, "this is what the game is...we will not recognize any government that emerges, including from elections that this coup government carries out."
"They want to close the path to democratic transformation because they are afraid of democracy and popular power, which is waking up and shaking Central America, South America and the Caribbean."
Chavez emphasised the necessity of protesting in the streets, "like the people of Honduras," and building a solidarity movement around the world in order to defeat the coup.
"The situation in Honduras is explosive... this coup government will not be able to govern, the Honduran people won't be governed by a tyrant like Roberto Micheletti, this coup plotter will not be able to take forward any kind of economic project," he said.
Honduras is paralysed Chavez said, "There are no classes, the
factories are closed, the people are in the street, the farmers have
left their tractors and taken to the highways, blocking commerce in
Central America, there is hardly any fuel. Honduras is a country on the
verge of exploding."
"There are soldiers that have refused to repress the people, it's only that they haven't come out [against the coup government], but it shouldn't surprise anyone, if a military current pronounces against the actions that have been carried out against president Zelaya," he declared.
Despite military repression Honduras has entered its third week of protest against the military coup demanding the return of the democratically elected president.
President of the United Workers Federation in Honduras, Juan Barahona, confirmed that protests are continuing this Monday, Venezuelan Radio YKVE Mundial reported.
"We are going to continue until the coup plotters abandon the power they have usurped," Barahona told thousands of people who rallied in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, in a massive show of resistance to the coup government on Saturday.
Xiomara Castro, wife of the ousted Zelaya also spoke at the rally, which then marched to the Toncontin international airport to commemorate the death of 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, shot by the military on July 5 as he protested the coup.
Chavez also condemned the murder in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, of Roger Iván Bados, a popular leader and left-wing activist.
Quoting Barahona, Chávez stated that unknown assailants killed Bados, a leader of the People's Bloc and the National Resistance Front against the coup.
He explained that this killing was part of the selective repression being carried out against political and social movement leaders in Honduras by the coup government.
Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya two weeks ago there might have been a sigh of relief in the corporate board rooms of Chiquita banana,” writes journalist Nikolas Kozloff. “Earlier this year the Cincinnati-based fruit company joined Dole in criticizing the government in Tegucigalpa which had raised the minimum wage by 60%.” Kozloff goes on to trace Chiquita’s “long and sordid” political history in Central America. [includes rush transcript]
Nikolas Kozloff, journalist and author of Revolution!: South America and the Rise of the New Left.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikolas Kozloff, you’ve been following
the coup very closely right now. Talk about the latest developments and
who you feel is behind it. And what exactly is the US role here? If the
US cut off aid, economic and military aid, do you feel that would end
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF: I don’t think so. I think there’s this
revolving door of Washington insiders that are supporting companies
like Chiquita banana. I just wrote an article about Chiquita, formerly
known as the United Fruit Company. And, you know, throughout history,
Chiquita banana has had enormous sway and power over Central American
And we know that prior to the coup d’état in Honduras, Chiquita
was very unhappy about President Zelaya’s minimum wage decrees, because
they said that this would cut into their profits and make it more
expensive for them to export bananas and pineapple. And we know that
they appealed to the Honduran Business Association, which was also
opposed to Zelaya’s minimum wage provisions.
And we also—and what I find really interesting is that Chiquita
is allied to a Washington law firm called Covington, which advises
multinational corporations. And who is the vice chairman of Covington?
None other than John Negroponte, who your previous guest mentioned in
regards to the rampant human rights abuses that went on in Honduras
throughout the 1980s. So I think that’s a really interesting
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the money and the support,
Chiquita, then and now. It’s interesting, this is so reminiscent of the
coup against the Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He wasn’t in
office but a year, 1990, 1991, when he was ousted, and one of his first
acts when he became president was to increase the minimum wage, as
Zelaya has done.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF: Well, right, and this is nothing new, as
I point out in a recent article. Throughout the twentieth century,
Chiquita, formerly known as United Fruit, was associated with some of
the most backward, retrograde political and economic forces in Central
America and indeed outside of Central America in such countries as
Colombia. And we know that United Fruit Company played a very prominent
role in the coup d’état against democratically elected President Jacobo
Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. And, you know, after that, that ushered in
a very turbulent period in Guatemalan history, rampant human rights
abuses, genocide against the indigenous people of Guatemala. And so,
Guatemala is only now recovering from that.
But, you know, Chiquita has played a role in such countries as
Guatemala and also Colombia, and now it maintains these ties to
Covington, this law firm in Washington, to this day. And there is this
revolving door, as I say before, of these Washington insiders.
Covington, in turn, is tied to McLarty and Kissinger Associates,
McLarty being President Clinton’s former Chief of Staff and envoy to
Latin America, who was pushing the free trade agenda in Latin America,
and Kissinger, who doesn’t even need an introduction. His ties to the
coup in Chile in 1973 are well known. And so, it’s disturbing that
there is this history of abuses in Central America throughout the
twentieth century with Chiquita and the fruit companies, which
continues to this day.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have—well, we played Lanny
Davis’s testimony before Congress, Lanny Davis, who we were speaking to
Ken Silverstein about last week, the superb investigative reporter,
about his representing the Chamber of Commerce, which is very much on
the side of the coup regime right now. Lanny Davis is the former White
House counsel for President Clinton.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF: Right, and there’s these—there’s the
circle of Clintonites that are still around. And as I mentioned before,
you have Mack McLarty, who’s now associated with a law firm which is
defending Chiquita. Also, as I point out in my recent article, you have
the current Attorney General, Eric Holder, who was also Deputy Attorney
General under Clinton, who defended Chiquita and its actions in
Colombia, when Chiquita was allied to right-wing paramilitary death
squads in the 1990s, was found guilty of paying off paramilitaries. And
Eric Holder, the current Attorney General, who was also in the Clinton
administration, was the lead counsel for Chiquita.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the significance of what he was representing Chiquita around. I mean, we know the story of the Cincinnati Enquirer
that did this remarkable exposé of Chiquita, which they were forced to
apologize for, not because they were wrong, but because the reporter
had gotten access to voicemail system within Chiquita, and they said
that it was illegal how he had gained access to that voicemail system.
But what he exposed was quite astounding.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF: Right. Well, Chiquita claimed that it
was merely paying protection money to the paramilitaries in Colombia.
But the victims of the paramilitary violence in Colombia claim
otherwise. They say that Chiquita was engaged in this systematic
campaign to control banana production in Colombia and terrorize the
population. And Chiquita was the only company in US history to be found
guilty of paying bribes to a terrorist organization, as defined by the
Eric Holder was the lead counsel defending Chiquita. He’s the
top justice official in the United States with ties to this fruit
company that was complicit in right-wing paramilitary violence.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the latest right now—the developments of
the EU dropping support for Honduras, the talks with Oscar Arias
breaking down. Though the elected president, Zelaya, has fully accepted
what he proposed, the coup regime has said no. What’s going to happen?
Oscar Arias said there could be a civil war, the President of Costa
Rica and the Nobel Prize winner.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF: Well, I don’t really—I don’t see how
this is going to be resolved, because he’s already tried to come back
militarily—I mean, not militarily, but force his way back into the
And I think that the problem is that, you know, up until
recently, Honduras was a very—had very traditional right-wing politics,
was one of the most reliable countries, most compliant regimes in
Central America towards the United States. And now you see the
resurgence of these right-wing forces. And so, there is this
vibrant—these vibrant social movements in Honduras—for example, the
Garifuna people, the Afro-Honduran, the indigenous people, and labor.
But I think perhaps this could be the resurgence of these right-wing
forces that really haven’t gone away, that it seemed for a while that
we had the pink tide from South America, the rise of the left spreading
into Central America. This could be, perhaps, a disturbing sign that
those old retrograde forces are now trying to prove that they can stage
a comeback. And I think that’s disturbing for other countries that are,
say, allied to Venezuela, you know, such as small nations in the
Caribbean, and this could be a very disturbing message to other
countries that are following and trying to cultivate ties to Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikolas Kozloff, I want to thank you for being with us, author of the book Revolution!: South America and the Rise of the New Left. His latest piece, “From Arbenz to Zelaya: Chiquita in Latin America.”
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By Nikolas Kozloff, Señor Chichero
When the Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya there might have been a sigh of relief in the corporate board rooms of Chiquita banana. Earlier this year the Cincinnati-based fruit company joined Dole in criticizing the government in Tegucigalpa which had raised the minimum wage by 60%. Chiquita complained that the new regulations would cut into company profits, requiring the firm to spend more on costs than in Costa Rica: 20 cents more to produce a crate of pineapple and ten cents more to produce a crate of bananas to be exact. In all, Chiquita fretted that it would lose millions under Zelaya's labor reforms, since the company produced around 8 million crates of pineapple and 22 million crates of bananas per year.
When the minimum wage decree came down Chiquita sought help and appealed to the Honduran National Business Council, known by its Spanish acronym COHEP. Like Chiquita, COHEP was unhappy about Zelaya's minimum wage measure. Amílcar Bulnes, the group's president, argued that if the government went forward with the minimum wage increase employers would be forced to let workers go, thus increasing unemployment in the country. The most important business organization in Honduras, COHEP groups 60 trade associations and chambers of commerce representing every sector of the Honduran economy. According to its own Web site, COHEP is the political and technical arm of the Honduran private sector, supports trade agreements and provides "critical support for the democratic system."
The international community should not impose economic sanctions against the coup regime in Tegucigalpa, COHEP argues, because this would worsen Honduras' social problems. In its new role as the mouthpiece for Honduras' poor, COHEP declares that Honduras has already suffered from earthquakes, torrential rains and the global financial crisis. Before punishing the coup regime with punitive measures, COHEP argues, the United Nations and the Organization of American States should send observer teams to Honduras to investigate how sanctions might affect 70% of Hondurans who live in poverty. Bulnes meanwhile has voiced his support for the coup regime of Roberto Micheletti and argues that the political conditions in Honduras are not propitious for Zelaya's return from exile.
Chiquita: From Arbenz to Bananagate
It's not surprising that Chiquita would seek out and ally itself to socially and politically backward forces in Honduras. Colsiba, the coordinating body of banana plantation workers in Latin America, says the fruit company has failed to supply its workers with necessary protective gear and has dragged its feet when it comes to signing collective labor agreements in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.
Colsiba compares the infernal labor conditions on Chiquita plantations to concentration camps. It's an inflammatory comparison, yet may contain a degree of truth. Women working on Chiquita's plantations in Central America labor from 6:30 AM until 7 at night, their hands burning up inside rubber gloves. Some workers are as young as 14. Central American banana workers have sought damages against Chiquita for exposing them in the field to DBCP, a dangerous pesticide that causes sterility, cancer and birth defects in children.
Chiquita, formerly known as United Fruit Company and United Brands, has had a long and sordid political history in Central America. Led by Sam "The Banana Man" Zemurray, United Fruit got into the banana business at the turn of the twentieth century. Zemurray once remarked famously, "In Honduras, a mule costs more than a member of parliament." By the 1920s United Fruit controlled 650,000 acres of the best land in Honduras, almost one quarter of all the arable land in the country. What's more, the company controlled important roads and railways.
In Honduras the fruit companies spread their influence into every area of life including politics and the military. For such tactics they acquired the name los pulpos (the octopuses, from the way they spread their tentacles). Those who did not play ball with the corporations were frequently found face down on the plantations. In 1904 humorist O. Henry coined the term "Banana Republic" to refer to the notorious United Fruit Company and its actions in Honduras.
In Guatemala, United Fruit supported the CIA-backed 1954 military coup against President Jacobo Arbenz, a reformer who had carried out a land reform package. Arbenz' overthrow led to more than 30 years of unrest and civil war in Guatemala. Later in 1961, United Fruit lent its ships to CIA-backed Cuban exiles who sought to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs.
In 1972, United Fruit (now renamed United Brands) propelled Honduran General Oswaldo López Arellano to power. The dictator was forced to step down later, however, after the infamous "Bananagate" scandal, which involved United Brands bribes to Arellano. A US federal grand jury accused United Brands of bribing Arellano $1.25 million, with the carrot of another $1.25 million later if the military man agreed to reduce fruit export taxes. During Bananagate, United Brands' president fell from a New York City skyscraper in an apparent suicide.
Go-Go Clinton Years and Colombia
In Colombia United Fruit also set up shop and during its operations in the South American country developed a no less checkered profile. In 1928, 3,000 workers went on strike against the company to demand better pay and working conditions. At first the company refused to negotiate but later gave in on some minor points, declaring the other demands "illegal" or "impossible." When the strikers refused to disperse, the military fired on the banana workers, killing scores.
You might think that Chiquita would have reconsidered its labor policies after that but in the late 1990s the company began to ally itself with sinister forces—specifically right wing paramilitaries. Chiquita paid off the men to the tune of more than a million dollars. In its own defense, the company declared that it was merely paying protection money to the paramilitaries.
In 2007, Chiquita paid $25 million to settle a Justice Department investigation into the payments. Chiquita was the first company in US history to be convicted of financial dealings with a designated terrorist organization.
A lawsuit launched against Chiquita victims of the paramilitary violence claimed the firm abetted atrocities including terrorism, war crimes and crimes against humanity. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said that Chiquita's relationship with the paramilitaries "was about acquiring every aspect of banana distribution and sale through a reign of terror."
Back in Washington, DC Charles Lindner, Chiquita's CEO, was busy courting the White House. Lindner had been a big donor to the GOP but switched sides and began to lavish cash on the Democrats and Bill Clinton. Clinton repaid Linder by becoming a key military backer of the government of Andrés Pastrana which presided over the proliferation of right-wing death squads. At the time the US was pursuing its corporately-friendly free trade agenda in Latin America, a strategy carried out by Clinton's old boyhood friend Thomas "Mack" McLarty. At the White House, McLarty served as chief of staff and special envoy to Latin America. He's an intriguing figure who we'll come back to in a moment.
The Holder-Chiquita Connection
Given Chiquita's underhanded record in Central America and Colombia, it's not a surprise that the company later sought to ally itself with COHEP in Honduras. In addition to lobbying business associations in Honduras, however, Chiquita also cultivated relationships with high-powered law firms in Washington. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Chiquita has paid out $70,000 in lobbying fees to Covington and Burling over the past three years.
Covington is a powerful law firm which advises multinational corporations. Eric Holder, the current Attorney General, a co-chair of the Obama campaign and former Deputy Attorney General under Bill Clinton was up until recently a partner at the firm. At Covington, Holder defended Chiquita as lead counsel in its case with the Justice Department. From his perch at the elegant new Covington headquarters located near the New York Times building in Manhattan, Holder prepped Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita's CEO, for an interview with 60 Minutes dealing with Colombian death squads.
Holder had the fruit company plead guilty to one count of "engaging in transactions with a specially designated global terrorist organization." But the lawyer, who was taking in a hefty salary at Covington to the tune of more than $2 million, brokered a sweetheart deal in which Chiquita only paid a $25 million fine over five years. Outrageously, however, not one of the six company officials who approved the payments received any jail time.
The Curious Case of Covington
Look a little deeper and you'll find that not only does Covington represent Chiquita but also serves as a kind of nexus for the political right intent on pushing a hawkish foreign policy in Latin America. Covington has pursued an important strategic alliance with Kissinger (of Chile 1973 fame) and McLarty Associates (yes, the same Mack McLarty from Clinton-time), a well-known international consulting and strategic advisory firm.
From 1974 to 1981 John Bolton served as an associate at Covington. As US ambassador to the United Nations under George Bush, Bolton was a fierce critic of leftists in Latin America such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. Furthermore, just recently John Negroponte became Covington's vice chairman. Negroponte is a former Deputy Secretary of State, director of National Intelligence and US representative to the United Nations.
As US ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985, Negroponte played a significant role in assisting the US-backed Contra rebels intent on overthrowing the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Human rights groups have criticized Negroponte for ignoring human rights abuses committed by Honduran death squads which were funded and 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.
While there's no evidence linking Chiquita to the recent coup in Honduras, there's enough of a confluence of suspicious characters and political heavyweights here to warrant further investigation. From COHEP to Covington to Holder to Negroponte to McLarty, Chiquita has sought out friends in high places, friends who had no love for the progressive labor policies of the Zelaya regime in Tegucigalpa.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave, 2006) and Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008). His website is Señor Chichero.