Honduras: talks break down again; Otto Reich denies involvement

The delegation of ousted Honduran President Mel Zelaya July 22 rejected a 12-point proposal drawn up by Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias that called for his reinstatement as early as this Friday, July 24. Zelaya’s delegation cited unacceptable conditions attached to his return to office. Representatives of the de facto government said they would submit the proposal to the Honduran Supreme Court and prosecutor general’s office. However, both institutions have already rejected Zelaya’s return to power. “The San JosĂ© Accord has failed,” said Rixi Moncada, head of Zelaya’s delegation. Nonetheless, Zelaya vowed to return to Honduras this weekend, saying, “Only God can stop me.” He called on supporters to flood Honduras’ borders to greet him.

Both sides reject compromise plan
The new plan incorporated most of the seven points of the version rejected over the weekend, but added concessions sought by de facto President Roberto Micheletti delegation, including a pledge that economic and political sanctions imposed after the coup would be lifted. Arias said the reinstatement of Zelaya remained the “key point,” but that the new proposal was “more balanced, with more bridges.”

The accord called for moving up by one month presidential elections slated for late November, amnesty for political crimes related to the coup, the formation of a “national reconciliation” government and establishment of a verification commission to monitor compliance by all parties. Significantly, Zelaya would have to refrain from his efforts to revise the constitution.

But Carlos LĂłpez Contreras, the de facto government’s foreign minister, said Zelaya’s return wasn’t negotiable because the Supreme Court had ruled. “The return of this gentleman as president is impossible,” he told CNN’s Spanish-language service. “If he wants to come back as a private citizen to face the courts, that’s possible.”

Honduran Supreme Court approves coup
The Supreme Court ruled July 20 that Zelaya had broken the law and been removed from office legally, and therefore may not resume the post. However, the army has acknowledged that it erred in deporting Zelaya.

The Supreme Court ruling shot down a last-minute counter-proposal from the Micheletti delegation that contained the “possible” reinstatement of Zelaya under very tight restrictions, sources told the Los Angeles Times. The paper wrote that “this was the first time the interim government had budged from its insistence that Zelaya not be allowed to finish his term.”

“This has to be seen not just as the specific case of Honduras, but as a dangerous regional precedent,” said Victor Meza, Zelaya’s interior minister and is one of the few members of the deposed cabinet not in hiding. “A failure for Arias is a failure for US policy.” (LAT, July 23)

Clinton and Micheletti: one degree of separation?
Lanny Davis—DC lawyer and lobbyist, former legal counsel to President Clinton and campaigner for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid—has been hired by a coalition of Latin American business interests to represent the de facto government in Honduras. Davis is working with Bennett Ratcliff, another lobbyist with a close relationship to the Clintons. Ratcliff is a former senior executive for the public relations firm of the late Bob Squier—called the father of the modern political campaign. At his 2000 funeral, attended by many powerful Democrats, Squier was eulogized by Bill Clinton. Speaking on behalf of himself and vice-president Al Gore, also in attendance, Clinton said: “But for [Squier], we might not have been here today.” (LAT, July 23; The Guardian, July 21)

Otto Reich denies involvement in coup
Bush-era assistant secretary of state Otto Reich has responded to widespread charges of involvement in the coup. In a July 9 Miami Herald opinion, “I did not orchestrate coup in Honduras,” Reich denies being the “architect” of the coup—which he also denies was a coup, and defends as “legal and constitutional.” Reich also notes that Zelaya did not follow through on threats to sue him for defamation over his earlier charges of corruption concerning the Honduran state telecom:

In court, Zelaya would have been asked why he named his nephew, Marcelo Chimirri, as manager of the state-owned phone company, Hondutel. About $100 million “disappeared” from the company after Chimirri’s arrival. Though Zelaya protected him, an independent prosecutor appointed by the Honduran congress charged Chimirri with embezzlement. Since Zelaya’s removal last week, Chimirri has been arrested.

Chimirri was arrested by the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC) on charges related to the Hondutel scandal, the Tegucigalpa daily La Prensa reported July 2.

Reich continues to be a vocal defender of the coup. “He’s got very little on his side except for these demonstrators, which number in the single thousands,” he said of Zelaya in the Miami Herald July 8. “You can’t govern with just rioters in the streets. He needs the institutions of government—all of which have turned against him.”

On July 10, he testified before the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee (via the pro-coup Honduras Democrática):

What happens in Honduras may one day be seen as either the high-water mark of Hugo Chavez’s attempt to undermine democracy in this hemisphere or as a green light to the continued spread of Chavista authoritarianism under the guise of democracy.

The removal of President Zelaya from office two weeks ago has been referred to, mainly outside of Honduras, as an attack on democracy. In contrast, prominent Honduran jurists and scholars, who are not members of the government, describe it in the exact opposite fashion: as the legal and defensible measures of two co-equal branches of the Honduran government against the autocratic intent of the Executive.

The website of Reich’s consulting firm, Otto Reich Associates, lists among its former clients AT&T and Bell Atlantic (now Verizon)—as well as Entergy, Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) and Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil).

See our last post on Honduras.

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