Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jorge Reina a terrorist? Ideas are not bombs

As new Honduras cables continue to emerge through Wikileaks, those of us with interests in Honduras are finding the revelations for the most part unsurprising, if distasteful.

Latest case in point is a patronizing summary by ex-Ambassador to Honduras Charles A. Ford providing his "insights" into then-President Zelaya. On Daily Kos, Charles II of Mercury Rising has provided a good analysis of the disturbing tenor of this cable, which can be read in full on quotha for those who can take it, courtesy of the inimitable Adrienne Pine.

Both Charles and Adrienne point out some of the more wretched indictments of a kind of easy assumption of US privilege, including the contempt Ford showed for Zelaya's roots in Olancho and Zelaya's apparent failure to understand that Tegucigalpa was not the big city, a role played in Ford's universe of model Honduran behavior by New Orleans or Miami. You know, where the Honduran elites go to shop so they don't look so, well, Honduran.

Charles also points to one of the curious and almost unintelligible opinions Ford expresses as facts:
Ford is also loose with accusations. He accuses Jorge Antonio Reina Idiaquez of having terrorist connections. At the time, Reina was UN Ambassador and no charges had ever been brought against him, nor have been. I am unable to discover any substantiation for this allegation, and it may well come out of the Contra Wars.

This had bothered me in reading the cable as well, but not because I had not heard such implications. Instead, for me it rang a bell. So I tried to trace back what I remembered, and I think the story is even less sensible than Charles thought.

In September of 2006-- barely nine months into the Zelaya administration, long before the independent actions that led Ford to express frustration with him-- Proceso Digital published an article about Mel knowing "since December 2005" that his chosen Ambassador to the UN, Jorge Arturo Reina, did not have a visa to enter the US.

According to an earlier Proceso Digital article, this lack of a visa was due to Reina being blocked for what the US embassy described as unspecified "terrorist acts".

But Reina himself volunteered what he thought were the actions at issue. Again quoting Proceso Digital:
Reina, brother of the ex-president Carlos Roberto Reina, now dead, remembered that in the 70s he had been accused of placing a bomb on the Palmerola air base, in the central Department of Comayagua, where the US military forces were based.

Reina went on to say that he had been legally cleared of these charges:
he denied his participation in this act, and said that owing to the fact that this was not true the judicial authorities exonerated him of the action and they sent him home in a kind of dismissal of charges.

The reporters, primed by this information, asked the US consul, Ian Brownlea, whether these were the "terrorist acts" in question, getting this gnomic response:
"ideas are not evils, but rather bombs...the place where the acts occurred doesn't matter".

Indeed. It would seem that the place where the acts occurred does actually matter, if the first half of this statement is, as it appears to be, a grudging agreement that the terrorist actions imputed to Reina involved bombs.

There is something confused in Reina's own account: Palmerola only became operational in 1981. I remember vividly reports of a bomb set off in a restaurant in Comayagua during the 1980s when I was living in the country, a restaurant my Honduran friends said was targeted because the US forces ate there. The New York Times story on this incident in 1987 says six US soldiers and six Hondurans were wounded.

Trying to find press accounts to date these events was a painful reminder that the US presence at Palmerola was not accepted peacefully, no matter what the US would like to tell its citizenry now.

The period from 1987 to 1989 saw a series of bombs or grenades exploded near places frequented by US forces, in La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula, and Comayagua, according to reports in the LA Times gathered in its archives. An LA Times article from 1989 reported two other incidents of attacks on US troops, one a bombing that definitely took place on the road from Comayagua to Palmerola. As late as 1994, the Orlando Sentinel reported on the explosion of a bomb in Comayagua that authorities said was intended for Palmerola.

Bombings drew a lot of press attention but there were other forms of protest as well. An Orlando Sentinel article from 1986 reported on a rally where Juan Almendares spoke out against the bad social effects of the base, promoting prostitution in Comayagua.

But Jorge Arturo Reina was not mentioned as a suspect in any English-language coverage of bombings on or near Palmerola. What he was, without doubt, was an outspoken critic of what he repeatedly called the US "occupation" of Honduras, which he said strengthened the right wing. He called for the withdrawal of US troops, and warned that death lists were circulating with names of many, including his own. (The news articles I consulted are pay for view, so I do not link to them here.)

Palmerola had already come to represent US occupation by 1983, when Reina was widely quoted criticizing increasing tensions with Sandinista Nicaragua as not in Honduras' interest. US newspapers, with remarkable uniformity, characterized Reina at the time as "leftist", at times taking care to note he was "not Marxist".

Reina criticized US basing at Palmerola for dragging Honduras into El Salvador's civil war as well. An article in 1983 in El Pais of Spain, describing him as secretary general of the "Liberal Alliance of the People" (Alianza Liberal del Pueblo, a movement within the Liberal Party), quoted him as saying
"The US refused to negotiate in El Salvador because it has an exclusively military version of the facts and considers that the cause of the Salvadoran crisis was Cuba and its solution uniquely military", adding that "Washington discovered later that the cause was not Cuba and that the situation does not have a military solution, but before this change of view thousands of deaths were produced".

These are the kind of views that undoubtedly made Reina, like Zelaya, appear not to be a friend of the US. But they hardly qualify him as a terrorist.

After all, as the US consul himself said, "ideas are not evils". Nor are they bombs.

But apparently unsubstantiated rumors are fine fodder for a US Ambassador's briefings to his successor.


Anonymous said...


That's a fine bit of research, RAJ. I am genuinely impressed. And very happy that my instincts that this was simply a smear job by the Ambassador

My comment about Ford's concept of Miami and New Orleans as "the big city" is that some of us think of London or Beijing-- or at least New York City as "the big city". I trimmed it out to try to focus the Daily Kos post on the key issues, namely whether it stimulated thinking about a coup and the level of contempt that it represented.

Again, thank you for this great bit of research.

BTW, Honduras remains conspicuously missing from coverage by The Guardian and The New York Times. The only reference I find the Ford cable on the Times site is to a Fox News report, actually a ridiculously bad AP report printed in Washington Post as well. It looks like you, me, and Adrienne are the media.


RAJ said...

Honduras is so last year.

The problem with the US media is that they only care about someplace if they can see a current US interest-- meaning, soldiers on the ground or large advocacy groups in the US.

I was actually surprised-- even with the annoyance of pay per view archived articles-- at how much coverage there was of Honduras when the base at Palmerola was dangerous.