“I think it is one of the biggest foreign policy blunders that I’ve seen in my life time,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) of U.S. policy toward the situation in Honduras, speaking to HUMAN EVENTS on Thursday, Oct. 29.
Actions taken last summer to remove Honduran president Manual Zelaya resulted in his replacement by President of the Honduran National Congress Roberto Micheletti. This sequence of events began with Zelaya’s effort to change the Honduran constitution, specifically in its mandate that the president only serve one term in office. The Honduran Supreme Court issued an arrest order for Zelaya on June 28, and subsequently the Honduran military both arrested and forcibly removed Zelaya from the country.
The U.S. Department of State quickly condemned Zelaya’s removal from office as a military coup. Since then, the State Department has refused to recognize Micheletti as the president of Honduras and maintained it as Zelaya’s rightful position instead.
DeMint and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) are among the U.S. politicians who think the Obama administration has gotten it wrong on Honduras. Both have traveled to Honduras since Zelaya’s removal and spoken to Micheletti (despite the administration’s policy of no contact). Mack wrote previously for HUMAN EVENTS that the State Department, far from being a neutral broker, was using its influence to pressure the government of Honduras to give Zelaya a chance to regain power.
On Friday, Oct. 30 the State Department announced it had finally reached an agreement with the Honduran government. Zelaya, who returned to the safety of the Brazilian embassy in Honduras on September 21, is reportedly celebrating the agreement with Micheletti brokered by the U.S. State Department, which required that Micheletti concede the possibility of Zelaya’s return to power pending a decision by the Honduran Congress.
Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, who helped broker the deal, called the agreement a “pathway to resolve Honduras’ current political crisis and allow the international community to support the Honduran elections on November 29.”
Shannon made it clear that the Honduran elections needed U.S. support to ensure their legitimacy. However, DeMint has argued that the elections should never have been in question. “[T]hese elections have been scheduled since 1982 [for] every 4 years. The candidates campaign over a year,” said DeMint. One of the top three candidates is Zelaya’s former vice president, Elvin Santos, who resigned last year in order to run in the election. The lack of vice president meant that the presidential appointment went to Micheletti following Zelaya’s removal from office.
Far from seizing control of the country, according to DeMint, Micheletti, who does not appear on the ballot, has done everything possible to ensure the presidential election took place as planned. “There’s nobody here trying to get new power,” said DeMint. “When the change of presidents first occurred, it is important to note that the government was not changed. Congress is the same, and it’s run by the party of Zelaya. The attorney general’s the same, the Supreme Court’s the same. The only thing that changed is a president who was accused and essentially convicted by his own actions of trying to change their constitution so he could remain in power.”
Following his own trip to Honduras, DeMint reported that the only person in Honduras who was calling Zelaya’s removal a “coup” was U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens. Llorens’ initial report to the State Department was the only source of information coming out of Honduras in the aftermath of Zelaya’s replacement. The U.S. then quickly cut off communication with Honduras and started canceling Visas as part of their strategy to delegitimize the government headed by Micheletti. “Micheletti wanted to meet and explain to Secretary [Hillary] Clinton what had happened; they would not allow that,” said DeMint.
“[State Department nominee Arturo] Valenzuela and Shannon both said that this was just an old fashioned military coup. And I knew enough about it to know that this was not an old fashioned [military coup],” DeMint said. “The concern here is the unwillingness to look at the facts, to call something a military coup which is obviously not a military coup. There’s no military controlling anything when you’re there.”
Additionally, the Obama administration’s ongoing stance in support of Zelaya and condemnation of Micheletti seems to contradict the report released by the Law Library of Congress in August. The report confirmed the legal basis under the Honduran Constitution for the Honduran Supreme Court’s decision to remove Zelaya from office. “They did point out in the report that the one mistake they made is taking Zelaya out of the country,” said DeMint. “That is against the law, to take a citizen [and remove him from the country]. I talked to the President of the Supreme Court about this; he said the Constitution does allow for extreme circumstances.”
Unfortunately, DeMint said, the State Department has refused multiple requests to let him see the State Department’s separate report on the situation, reportedly written by legal advisor Harold Koh, which is the rationale for the administration’s position. Additionally, in a letter dated October 27, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) asked that the Law Library of Congress retract their report, claiming it inaccurate. “Not only will they not give us their report, they want to retract the only legal opinion that has been written which seems very consistent with the facts that I saw on the ground,” said DeMint.
In the midst of the conflicting reports, Honduras has suffered from the travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. as well as the canceled Visas, and consequent effects on the tourism business. “Business people coming back up are saying this is much bigger than Honduras. This is hurting America’s policies throughout Latin America,” said DeMint. Zelaya has been compared to other Latin American leaders who have sought means to retain power over their countries through illegal means similar to Zelaya’s attempt to change the Honduran Constitution.
For that reason, Micheletti’s concession to pressure from the State Department may bring some relief to his strangled country, but it is also likely to make people like Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Cuba’s Fidel Castro very happy.