Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hugo Llorens in the Run-up to the Coup d'Etat

Wikileaks has released another cable from Ambassador Hugo Llorens to the US State Department, this one dated June 26, 2009 and covering the events of the night of June 25, 2009, three days before the military carried out a coup d'etat.

A Spanish translation of the cable was published by Tiempo, although none of the other Honduran papers seem to be motivated to cover it.

In the summary paragraph, Llorens reports:
On the evening of June 25, the National Congress came close to bringing to the floor a vote on the removal of President Zelaya from office.

We already knew this. We were in Honduras watching events unfold on television, and we had been told to expect something like that.

Ambassador Llorens discusses how he and other senior US diplomats in the country worked to deter Congress from taking this step. He reports that they successfully deflected Congress into opening an inquiry into President Zelaya's possible legal violations. We believe this is the first confirmation of the rumored role of the Ambassador in ending the rush toward a vote by the Honduran Congress that night.

Immediately following the passage above, Llorens goes on to write
Supreme Court President Rivera told us that Congress does not have the power to impeach the President, since the repeal of such a law in 2005. Currently the only means to remove a sitting President is through the filing of a criminal case filed by the Public Ministry with the Supreme Court itself.

In other words, the Chief Justice of the Honduran Supreme Court told Ambassador Llorens on June 25, 2009, that Congress had no power to impeach a sitting President.

Notice that this cable is sent the same day, Friday May 26, that the filing by prosecutor Luis Rubí of criminal charges against Zelaya before the Supreme Court is dated as accepted by the court (Zelaya government members say this document was actually produced later and back-dated).

This is what later serves as the purported legal grounding for removing Zelaya from office, and replacing him with Roberto Micheletti.

The timing seems, at the very least, interesting.

Justice Rivera's analysis of how one can legally remove a sitting Honduran President matched our own arguments in the wake of the military kidnapping of Zelaya on Sunday, June 28.

In paragraph 4 of the cable, Llorens makes it clear when his conversation with Justice Rivera Aviles took place:
In a meeting on June 25, Honduran Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera Aviles told the Ambassador that he was extremely worried about the planned Congressional action against the President. Rivera said that congressional leaders had approached him about their plans to remove the President. Rivera said he advised against such action, which he described as illegal. Rivera said that in 2005 the Congress repealed the impeachment law. Currently the only means to remove a President was through the filing of a criminal case by the Public Ministry (Attorney General) with the Supreme Court. In such circumstances, the Supreme Court would appoint a Supreme Court Magistrate to hear the case. A ruling by the Magistrate against the President represented the only means to legally separate him/her from the office.

Thus the Supreme Court's opinion confirms that when the Honduran Congress pretended to remove President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales on June 29, 2009, it was a patently illegal act for which it had no constitutional powers.

The "legal succession" was illegal. This will come as no surprise to any of our regular readers.

The cable portrays Roberto Micheletti, head of the congress, as actively pursuing the position of president through organizing votes and working for Zelaya's removal, rather than passively receiving the presidency by "legal" succession.

The cable portrays Ambassador Llorens in somewhat ambiguous relation to the unfolding pressures for a coup. In his dealings with the congress, he urges no "premature" action. That is somewhat less than arguing that they refrain from trying to remove the sitting president at all.

In his conversations with the head of the supreme court, he seems to be seeking to define a legal procedure for removing the president-- again, not precisely discouraging the effort to do so. And while we would not say he produced the rationale, what he reports on June 25 becomes the basis for those who claim the coup was legitimate: a case brought by the public prosecutor before the supreme court.

(We assume that the Ambassador understood that such a case would have had to be tried, not merely brought; on the Honduran side, for a complex series of reasons, simply bringing the charges seemed to be enough reason to consider the president impeached.)

Ambassador Llorens comes across as a confidante of those who become the authors of the coup d'etat.

An earlier cable from June 18, 2009 documents a breakfast meeting between Llorens and Generals Romeo Vasquez Velasquez and Miguel Garcia Padgett in which he told the Generals that "the heavens would fall" if the military made any unconstitutional move.

Of course, it didn't happen that way. The US was reluctant to cut off military aid after the coup, only taking that step months later.

Diplomacy is of course a difficult dance. Llorens does report talking to President Zelaya in his June 25 cable. But the tenor of his reported remarks there is much less pointed: he says he urged Zelaya to "to do everything he could to lower the tensions and send conciliatory public messages and engage in dialogue with the opposition". He reports urging Zelaya to remember that he is president of "all Hondurans".

Comparing the two sides of his diplomacy, it is clear that Ambassador Llorens wanted actions of a specific kind from President Zelaya; whereas he himself makes no reports of urging the Congress to engage in dialogue.

Is it any wonder why many Honduran intellectuals believe that the US was complicit in formulating the coup?

While former Minister of Culture Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, in a recent interview, absolved the ambassador of direct responsibility, he concluded that the US
was, of course, directly involved. Of course, who—I’m not able to signal and say that Ambassador Llorens was directly involved in promoting the coup. Some people believe that. I know for a fact that CIA operatives and military personnel of the United States were in direct contact with the conspirators of the coup d’état and aided the conspirators of the coup d’état. The coup was not something improvised. It was something that was laboriously and in a very punctilious manner prepared in time, so that from January onwards, you have this media campaign. All national newspapers, all major television chains and stations are involved, in this long period, in a propaganda campaign against the government, Zelaya’s government.

This legacy of distrust is not going to disappear because Honduras was readmitted to the OAS. It has not been healed by the agreement that allowed Zelaya to return to the country without facing immediate imprisonment.

It will remain a lasting legacy of US diplomacy that, while attempting not to take sides in a Honduran dispute, managed to give the authors of the coup the impression that if they just did things with an appearance of legality, everything would be fine.

When the US actually reacted, initially denouncing the coup, and much later, imposing modest sanctions, the outrage expressed by the de facto regime and the Honduran Congress told one side of the story: these authors of the coup were not expecting to be punished.

Now we have a glimpse at the other side: the communications that gave these actors the impression that removing the sitting president would not be problematic, as long as it was done using the correct legal procedure, and as long as it did not lead to the imposition of a military junta-- even for the short six months of Zelaya's remaining term of office.


Unknown said...

Mary Anastasia O'Grady's 7/25/11 column in the WSJ regarding the report of the OAS "truth commission" released after the above column was written, presents an opposite view of Ambassador Lloren's leaning in the run-up to the coup. She writes:
"It finds that "the political crisis was set off" in January 2009. That's when officials from the president's office met with congressional members of his own Liberal Party and "threatened them with the rupture of the constitutional order if they did not choose—as supreme court justices—lawyers who were not on the list of 45 supreme court candidates" officially nominated through a legal selection process. According to the full report, Mr. Micheletti testified that U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens was party to this pressure on Congress to break the law."

RAJ said...

O'Grady's column deserves a blog post all its own, except that would be encouraging her. She distorts facts, as she has consistently done, to support her own views, which are widely regarded by specialists in Latin America as, to say the least, extreme.

Part of her rich fantasy about Honduras is the idea that Ambassador Llorens was a supporter of what she and those she writes for claim is a socialist revolutionary agenda. She reaches that conclusion because in her view, any position that is less extreme than hers is leftist activist.

One might feel sorry for Llorens: excoriated on both the right and left. One should feel sorry for Honduras: doomed to be interpreted as important only to advance a reactionary agenda in US politics.