July 21, 2009

The Honduran Battle for Washington

As talks for a peaceful resolution fail, a fierce battle is on to win over the US government
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Jari Dixon Herrera is a district attorney with the Honduran Attorney Generals office, and the Vice President of the Association of Honduran Government Attorneys (Asocación de Fiscales de Honduras). In 2008, he gained national fame for coordinating a hunger strike by lawyers who work for the Attorney Generals office, to protest widespread corruption inside the legal system.

Marvin Ponce is a member of Honduras' National Congress, representing the Democratic Union party (UD). He has been a vocal leader of the anti-coup resistance and was selected to speak on behalf of a coalition of organizations in Washington.


Lanny Davis, former spokesperson for Hilary Clinton's 2008 Presidential Campaign, is now lobbying on behalf of Honduran business interests for the US Government to recognize the coup government in Honduras. He is one of numerous faces that have appeared before Congress recently, trying to persuade lawmakers that what is happening in Honduras is not a military coup. Meanwhile, Honduran human rights monitor has documented over 1100 human rights violations in three weeks under the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti. The result is a showdown in Washington between high-powered lawyers, politicians and lobbyists on one side, and on the other some dedicated anti-coup activists and one Honduran delegation.


The Honduran Battle for WashingtonJESSE FREESTON, TRNN: Mediation organized by the US State Department between the de facto president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, and the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, has broken down. Zelaya originally agreed to the seven-point proposal put forward by the lead negotiator, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, but Micheletti's coup government immediately rejected point number one, the creation of a reconciliation government with Zelaya as president. They cited the 18 criminal charges they have levied against him. President Arias has asked for 72 more hours to refine his proposal, but there doesn't appear to be much left to negotiate.

MANUEL ZELAYA, DEPOSED PRESIDENT, HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): From this moment on, we are beginning to organize the domestic resistance that the Constitution guarantees us as a right—all that it takes to return me to the country.

FREESTON: The European Union reacted to the de facto government's refusal by canceling all international aid to Honduras. With protesters and the military at a deadlock inside the country and regional governments seemingly out of options for affecting the situation, attention has turned squarely on the United States. Supporters of the coup regime have been making regular trips to Washington to gather support. The Honduran chapter of CEAL, the Latin American chamber of commerce, hired Lanny Davis from the high-powered lobby firm Orrick to plead their case. Davis is a close friend of the Clintons, having served as special counsel under then-president Bill Clinton and as a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. He testified last week in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it became very clear why he had been chosen.

LANNY DAVIS, LOBBYIST WITH ORRICK, HERRINGTON, & SUTCLIFFE LLP: It is a pleasure to be here in the presence of friends on both sides of the aisle. I see Congressman Delahunt, who I knew before before his hair was gray and is a great public servant, a great public servant. And I see Congressman Dan Burton, who at some point in my past career I was at times an adversary, but always friendly, always civil. And of course my friend Chris Smith, who I consider a very close personal friend. And Chairman Engel and I happen to also be personal friends.

FREESTON: Davis became a target on Tuesday when United Students Against Sweatshops hung this banner across the street from the window of his DC office. The group accuses Davis of lying to Congress about the legal grounds for Zelaya's removal.

DAVIS: —that he had to be removed from office because he violated the Constitution with a self-executing clause that says: if you try to extend your term, you are automatically removed from the presidency.

FREESTON: There is no evidence that Zelaya ever claimed to want to extend his term. And more importantly, the referendum he proposed for opening a constitutional assembly would have taken place at the same time as November's presidential election that Zelaya is barred from participating in. This means that his replacement would be named long before the details of a new constitution would even be debated. The group also voiced their concerns about Davis's close relationship with Hillary Clinton, whose State Department, unlike President Obama, has not officially declared the events a military coup.

MEMBER, UNITED STUDENTS AGAINST SWEATSHOPS: That connection needed to be undermined so that both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Lanny Davis know that this is not going unseen and that we're aware of it and that we're going to continue to focus on that relationship until Hillary Clinton properly represents the United States' original position, which was to denounce the Honduran coup.

FREESTON: A delegation of Honduran leaders opposed to the coup came to Washington to provide their interpretation of the events. The Real News spoke to Jari Herrera, district attorney with the Attorney General's office, and Marvin Ponce, congressman with the Democratic Union Party, after a full day of meetings in the capital.

JARI DIXON HERRERA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY-GENERAL, HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I think our message was well received, because it's based on law and evidence, because we didn't come to represent the big companies, we didn't come to represent sweatshops or those who have enriched themselves with state money. We came to represent indigenous and Garifuna communities, to represent peasant farmers, workers, and the poor in Honduras, in other words, the most needy groups in Honduras, in contrast to those who came this past week, ex-presidents that made themselves millionaires with public money, business owners who have become multimillionaires with state funds. We came with the truth. And we have nothing to do with President Zelaya: I'm a district attorney with the attorney general's office; Rep. Ponce is a Congressman with a party that opposes Zelaya's party. All we want is the restoration of the rule of law and for Hondurans to be able to benefit from our weak but existant democracy.

FREESTON: Davis isn't the only one in Washington lobbying on behalf of the coup government. A delegation of Honduran business leaders and ex-politicians had their press conference interrupted by anti-coup protesters. Herrera disputes their interpretation of the Constitution.

HERRERA: They used Article 205, that establishes the functions of the National Congress. Included is the role of evaluating the conduct of the president, but nowhere does it say the Congress can replace the president. What these businessmen have come to Washington saying is completely false. They come to hide the truth from Washington. And we as jurists, after many years with the attorney general, can say with great clarity that the entire process to get rid of Zelaya has been completely illegal. For that reason we must restore our rule of law, to have general elections, or for the people to demand a constitutional assembly. But Zelaya must return so Hondurans can feel a sense of normality.

FREESTON: Far from normality, today the specter of greater conflict is looming in the streets of Honduras. In this context, DC has become a lobbying hotspot due to all the cards that the US is still holding. It has yet to call back its ambassador from Honduras. It hasn't cut off all international aid. It has not frozen the bank accounts of the coup leaders, nor canceled their US visas. It has not imposed any kind of economic or trade sanctions—a powerful option, given that 70 percent of Honduran exports head to the United States. And though the Pentagon announced it was suspending joint operations with Honduras, its military base at Palmerola remains operational. And a spokesperson confirmed to The National Catholic Reporter that the training of Honduran military officers at the notorious School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, is continuing as usual. This is the same facility that graduated the current leader of the Honduran military, General Romeo Vásquez, along with five others that have taken leadership positions in the coup government.

MARVIN PONCE, HONDURAN CONGRESSMAN, DEMOCRATIC UNION PARTY (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): This represents a huge step back in political and economic terms. Essentially it represents a return to the banana republic, meaning a strong influence from the US government, from the multinationals, and the policies that come with that. They don't care about the country's political well-being, only about maintaining their privileges. This is a huge blow to us, and it will be very difficult to reset. Nevertheless, the one clear advantage that remains with us through the coup is that the people have unified to defend their democracy. They have rallied around this cause. They have mobilized, been repressed, and resisted the repression.

FREESTON: But life for those in Honduras who agree with Ponce and Herrera continues to be extremely difficult under the coup government.

HERRERA: Media outlets are being shut down. Journalists are being beaten up. Now they have brought back the nighttime curfew. They have shut down TV stations that oppose them again. Simply, what is happening in Honduras is terrible.

FREESTON: A preliminary report tabled by Honduras's leading human rights monitor, COFADE, has registered over 1,100 human rights violations since the coup, including 3 killings, the detention of over 1,000 people, and 27 incidences of attacks, intimidation, or censorship of media outlets and journalists. The last three weeks has also seen the return to public life of many figures from Honduras's dark past, including Billy Joya, a known leader of the Honduran death squads of the 1980s and the infamous Battalion 316. He is now serving as a special adviser to Micheletti, as well as appearing as a regular commentator on national television. At the time of the coup, Manuel Zelaya was only seven months away from the end of his term and banned from seeking reelection. So why take such a risk of overthrowing him? Ponce and Herrera believe that the coup wasn't really about Zelaya at all—it came from the fear of a new constitution. In part two, we explore the roots of the fight over the most important document in Honduras.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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