Saturday, July 3, 2010

Contextualizing the Roland Valenzuela interview: Congress and Ambassador Llorens, June 22-28, 2009

What are the facts that Roland Valenzuela claimed, in an interview now circulating in Honduras, were established by a dossier of papers left by mistake in a Tegucigalpa hotel?
  • that a group of businessmen in Dubai for a trade fair used the opportunity to conspire together;
  • that they enlisted a former military attaché as their go between, and set out to enlist key players in their plot;
  • that the plotters hired a lobbying firm to help them defame Zelaya (note that the lobbying firm is not said to have been party to the coup plot per se-- they were a tool, not an author);
  • that Marcia Villeda faked Zelaya's signature on the "resignation" letter;
  • finally, we get to the explosive allegation about Llorens being sent a draft of a decree removing Zelaya from office, signed by a group of individuals who at the time were congress members.

Reading this, I and others have wondered, why would the conspirators have sent a decree to the US ambassador?

I think we can unravel at least this last point.

The reporting on the interview quotes Valenzuela as saying
that the decree sent to the ambassador carried the signature of the congress members Ricardo Rodriguez, Liberal party member and present Sub Procurador of the Republic, Toribio Aguilera Coello, PINU member presently congress member, Rolando Dubon Buezo, Nacional party member and still congressman, Rigoberto Chan Castillo, Nacional party member now secretary of Congress and Gabo Alfredo Jalil Mejia who served as Minister of Defense in the Micheletti regime.

The list of names jogged my memory. On June 26, 2009, Honduran newspapers published stories about the events of the previous evening, which I watched unfold live on television on the north coast. Several of these people were prominent in the television and newspaper coverage.

Rabidly anti-Zelaya La Prensa titled its story that day "They investigate the actions of president Zelaya".

The lead sentence read
While rumors of a disqualification of president Manuel Zelaya Rosales grow like froth, the National Congress maintained steadfast the motion the actions of the leader should be investigated and his administration should be approved or disapproved with urgency.

[Mientras los rumores de una inhabilitación del presidente Manuel Zelaya Rosales crecían como la espuma, el Congreso Nacional mantenía firme la moción para que fueran investigadas las actuaciones del mandatario y de urgencia aprobar o improbar su administración. ]

The reporter for the newspaper repeated that the confrontation over the June 28 cuarta urna survey had motivated "the benches of Congress to lobby for an initiative that would disqualify Zelaya" [Esto motivó a que las bancadas del Congreso cabildearan una iniciativa para inhabilitar a Zelaya].

"Improbar" and "inhabilitar" refer to legal actions congress considered.

The first (equivalent to censure) it did have authority to do. The second, which was apparently the actual step desired by the congressional leadership, ceased to be a power of Congress when the constitution was reformed to remove impunity from prosecution that high officials had enjoyed. Under the present constitution, any high government official accused of crimes is tried by the Supreme Court, and removal from office is one of the possible punishments after a guilty verdict.

Toribio Aguilera is quoted as saying he had not participated in negotiations or dialogues, presumably from the context, about a removal of Zelaya:
"First there should be decreed a state of emergency and if the dialogue is exhausted, proceed to suspension"

[“Primero debería decretarse un estado de emergencia y si se agota el dialogo proceder a la suspensión”.]

"Suspension", presumably of Zelaya as president, was again actually not a power of Congress. Declaring a state of emergency would, of course, become the primary tool of control of the de facto regime.

Aguilera was one member of a committee appointed by congress that also included Emilio Cabrera and Antonio Rivera (in other places, the membership is given as Ricardo Rodríguez, Rigoberto Chang Castillo, Toribio Aguilera, Enrique Rodríguez y Will Bustillo). Rodriguez, Aguilera, and Chang Castillo are three of those who were named by Valenzuela as authors of the document he saw that was intended for Hugo Llorens.

This committee was charged with producing a report on Zelaya's actions and drafting a resolution for Congress to consider. The committee had been interviewed on live television when Congress went into continuous session the previous day, when they stated that they expected to finish their work within hours. On Friday morning, press reports said
they solicited more time to study other documents on which they would solidly base their decision

[solicitaron más tiempo para estudiar otra documentación en la cual fundamentar sólidamente su decisión]

The overlap between the membership of this Congressional committee and the individuals Valenzuela says signed the decree sent to Llorens for comments makes it almost certain that it is the product of this committee that Valenzuela was describing; a decree that would have had congress censuring Zelaya (which it legally could do) but going beyond its constitutional authority to suspend or disqualify him from office.

The article in La Prensa gives a hint of what the congressional strategy to get around this awkward fact was:
Failing to recognize that the Constitution of the Republic gives power to the Legislature to be able to remove a President if he presents an inability to govern, Zelaya said "the Congreso Nacional cannot disqualify me."

[Desconociendo que la Constitución de la República le da poder al Legislativo para que pueda quitar a un Presidente si presenta incapacidad para gobernar, Zelaya dijo: “el Congreso Nacional no puede inhabilitarme.”]

The apparent reference to a president unable to govern is to the part of the constitution aimed at allowing succession in office when a president was incapacitated (for instance, medically).

Marvin Ponce, congress member of the Unificación Democrática (UD) party said after congress approved censure that this was
"an evident demonstration of the interest of Congress in committing a technical coup d'Etat and overthrowing president Zelaya."

"If the National Congress wants to commit a coup d'Etat, say so clearly. I imagine that the commission named by the Junta Directiva [of Congress], that will investigate the President will present a report declaring him disqualified, to then name Micheletti as President of the Republic."

[“una evidente muestra del interés del Congreso de dar un golpe técnico de Estado y derrocar al presidente Zelaya”.

“Si el Congreso Nacional quiere dar un golpe de Estado, que lo diga claramente. Me imagino que la comisión nombrada por la Junta Directiva, que investigará al Presidente dará un informe que lo declarará inhabilitado, para luego nombrar a Micheletti como Presidente de la República”.]

Rigoberto Chang Castillo was quoted as saying

"we do not have intention to commit a coup d'Etat, we do not have the weapons nor the warlike capacity and the Armed Forces are not for that."

[“no tenemos intención de golpe de Estado, no tenemos armas ni capacidad bélica y las FFAA no están para eso.”]

How did Chang Castillo know the position of the Armed Forces on committing a coup on June 26?

Marvin Ponce, speaking on June 26, 2009, ends up sounding eerily prescient:

"Micheletti does not have the popularity in his party nor among the people and in place of calming the situation, we will be entering a series of convulsions that could cause blood to be spilled."

[“Micheletti no tiene la popularidad de su partido ni la del pueblo y en lugar de calmar la situación, estaríamos entrando a una serie de convulsiones que podrían causar derramamiento de sangre”.]

Unfortunately, the Honduran Congress, having started on its route to remove Zelaya, did not stop when it discovered it could not do so legally. The military coup Chang Castillo said could not happen happened. And the outcomes foreseen by Ponce also happened.

What Roland Valenzuela seems to have told us is that the committee of the National Congress charged with preparing a decree to remove Zelaya from office sent a copy of their draft decree to the US Ambassador for his comments. This does not tell us whether Llorens received this document, if he read it, or if he offered comments on it.

Certainly, the interview Llorens gave El Heraldo on June 27, 2009, shows no hint of possible knowledge of the coup that would take place mere hours later. On June 24, Zelaya cabinet minister Patricia Rodas was quoted as saying that she had spoken with Ambassador Llorens and asked him to abstain from interference in the internal affairs of Honduras.

Ambassador Llorens was definitely speaking with Honduran politicians during this week, and those contacts were clearly not just with the Zelaya administration. On the same day that Rodas was interviewed saying she had asked him to abstain from interfering, La Tribuna published an interview with Llorens in which he is quoted as saying

"as a friend of Honduras, I have urged the leaders of the nation to engage in dialogue and that they find a way to resolve their differences on the basis of discussion and the law.'

[“como amigo de Honduras, he instado a los líderes de la nación para que dialoguen y que busquen una forma de arreglar sus diferencias a base del diálogo y las leyes”.]

The implication of his remarks, in which he singled out the congress and Armed Forces as institutions for positive comment, seemed at the time to be giving them backing against the executive branch. Re-reading these remarks now, one can only find his assurance about the Armed Forces bitterly ironic, and his statement that he would not entertain any stories curious:

"I think that the Armed Forces will do what is correct and this will be resolved by the Honduran vocation of doing things with tolerance and within the law, democracy is not exempt from problems, but the reality is that no one is going to come to me with any story, I entered as an agent of diplomacy in the time of the military dictators and totalitarianism."

[“Creo que las Fuerzas Armadas van hacer lo que es correcto y esto se va a resolver por la vocación hondureña de hacer las cosas con la tolerancia y dentro de la ley, la democracia no está exenta de los problemas, pero la realidad es que a mí nadie me va a venir con ningún cuento, yo entré como agente de la diplomacia en la época de las dictaduras militares y el totalitarismo”.]

On June 26, Patricia Rodas worried openly about the power elite contacting Llorens, commenting that while Ambassador Llorens

"abstained from expressing opinions on the internal affairs of our country, we should not forget that powerful groups continue pressuring him so that together they can articulate plans against our country and our people."

["se abstuvo de opinar de los asuntos internos de nuestro país, no olvidemos que lo grupos de poder siguen presionándolo para que juntos puedan articular planes en contra de nuestro país y de nuestro pueblo".]

The implication that powerful groups in Honduras could succeed in enlisting the US Ambassador in their schemes may seem far-fetched from a position outside Honduras. Yet the existence of a draft copy of the decree through which the Honduran Congress intended to remove President Zelaya from office, intended for Ambassador Llorens, indicates a degree of communication between the authors of the coup and the US representative that is giving those suspicious of the role of the US support for their worst doubts.


Anonymous said...

The interview refers to what I think are marginalia. If so, that could answer the question of who at the embassy saw and read the document. But they could also refer to handwritten comments made by someone in the Congress or even typed comments in the original ala not enough proof. Need more.

RAJ said...

I agree that until the actual documents are available, understanding who saw them will be quite impossible. Annotations on the documents will be of great interest.

Ossama said...

Can I say that by comparison and finding historical analogy that Llorens had seen the documents?
It happened before in Egypt that there was communications between the officers who were conspiring to overthrow the King and the American ambassador in Cairo.
he was the famous (or infamous Jefferson Caffery)