Otto Reich behind Honduras coup?

The Cuban newspaper Periodico 26 July 3 notes claims by the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) of the “undeniable involvement” of former US under-secretary of state Otto Reich and the DC-based Arcadia Foundation in the coup d’etat in the Central American country. The account says OFRANEH accuses Reich of “heading misinformation and sabotage operations, with close ties to international terrorist Luis Posada Carriles and the Cuban-American mafia in Miami.” The account also names an anti-Zelaya civil coalition, the Movimiento Paz y Democracia, which was apparently funded by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

The website Solidarity with the People(s) of Honduras runs the complete text (in Spanish) of the OFRANEH statement. We translate the critical passages:

The mobilizations in support of the de facto government are being organized by, among others, Sra. María Martha Díaz Velázquez, who directs the supposed civic organization known as the Peace and Democracy Movement (MPD), which has for several months been acting as a pressure group against the administration of Manuel Zelaya… The same Sunday the 28th [as the coup], the Peace and Democracy Movement convened a demonstration in Tegucigalpa’s Plaza Morazán, accompanied by the Civil Democratic Union, a group made up of the country’s ultra-conservative business associations…

The ambiguous position assumed by the government of Barack Obama is clear indication of the participation of the United States in the coup perpetrated last Sunday. The Obama administration has condemned the coup in timid terms, but has taken no concrete actions. The press declarations from the White House call the coup illegal, but avoid declaring the events a coup d’etat, which would mandate an immediate suspension of economic aid from the United States.

According to the Obama administration, it is trying to “reinstate” Zelaya, and he insists on disassociating himself from the impertinent rumors of his country’s involvement in the recent events. According to the White House press statements, the United States Embassy made efforts to avoid the coup, serving as a mediator between the golpista army and Manuel Zelaya.

[But it] is undeniable that there exists direct interference on the part of organizations of the extreme right in the United States, such as the Arcadia Foundation, in which meddles Otto Reich, the notorious personality in charge of disinformation and sabotage operations, not far from Posada Carriles and his Cuban terrorists entrusted with dirty tricks by the CIA. Supposedly, one of the primary objectives of the Arcadia Foundation is the struggle against corruption, and under this pretense it has maintained a low-intensity war against the Zelaya administration since 2006.

Then there are the large sums of money received by the Peace and Democracy Movement through US AID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), institutions recognized as financiers of coups and processes of destabilization across the planet…

For OFRANEH, it is clear that the Obama administration could halt the efforts of the intelligence organisms dedicated to destabilization and disinformation, and which seek to create a confrontation between groups allied with the golpistas and the defenders of democracy. It is the United States government that will be directly responsible for any bloodshed.

The Arcadia Foundation website does indeed identify the non-profit as an anti-corruption watchdog, which also promotes “good governance and democratic institutions.” Otto Reich’s name does not appear in any obvious place on the website. However, one of the two names on the site’s Founders page is Robert Carmona-Borjas, identified as “a Venezuelan lawyer and an expert in military affairs, national security, corruption and governance. In Venezuela, concerned with the issue of governability, the defense of human rights, democracy and the fight against corruption, he became an activist, disregarding the risks that such a stance implied. Following the events of April 2002, he was forced to abandon his country and seek political asylum in the United States of America.”

The Honduran newspapers El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) and La Prensa (San Pedro Sula) noted June 11 that Carmona-Borjas had brought legal charges against Zelaya and other figures in his administration for defying a court ruling that barred preparations for the constitutional referendum scheduled for the day Zelaya would be ousted. A YouTube video dated July 3 shows footage from Honduras’ Channel 8 TV of Carmona-Borjas addressing an anti-Zelaya rally in Tegucigalpa’s Plaza la Democracia to enthusiastic applause. In his comments, he accuses Zelaya of collaboration with narco-traffickers.

Reich’s name did pop up in the media in relation to Honduras earlier this year, when he publicly accused the Zelaya administration of corruption after the Latin Node digital telephone company (which had since been acquired by eLandia) was fined $2 million by US authorities for allegedly bribing officials in Honduras and Yemen. “President Zelaya has allowed or encouraged this kind of practices [sic] and we will see that he is also behind this,” said Reich. (Miami Herald, April 9, reprinted VHeadline, April 20) After an outcry in Honduras, Reich said he was prepared to make a sworn statement on the affair before Honduran law enforcement—but said he would not travel to Honduras to do so, because his personal security would be at risk there. (HonduDiario, April 25)

The US government recently filed criminal perjury charges against Luis Posada Carriles, although he remains at large and his trial has been postponed until next year. (AP, June 11) Federal prosecutors are moving to suppress documents his lawyers are seeking detailing Posada’s “long-term association with US government intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” (AP, June 12)

See our last post on Honduras.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.

  1. Otto Reich and the Hondutel connection
    We’ve noted that, despite the media focus on Zelaya’s supposed agenda to get term limits overturned, one of the real issues in the proposed constitutional reform was re-extending national control over Honduras’ telecom system. More light is shed on this question by Nikolas Kozloff in a July 8 commentary for BuzzFlash (emphasis added):

    Otto Reich and The Searing Case of Hondutel
    In campaign ’08, Reich served as a foreign policy adviser to Republican John McCain. In an interview with Honduras’ La Prensa, Reich blasted Honduran President Zelaya for cultivating ties with Hugo Chávez. Reich had particular scorn for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, known by its Spanish acronym ALBA, an anti-free trade pact including Venezuela, Honduras, Cuba, and Bolivia. “Honduras,” Reich remarked, “should be very careful because the petroleum and Chávez problem is very similar to those who sell drugs. At first they give out drugs so that victims become addicts and then they have to buy that drug at the price which the seller demands.”

    Reich went on to say that he was very “disappointed” in Zelaya because the Honduran President was “enormously corrupted from a financial and moral standpoint.” In another interview with the Honduran media, Reich went further, remarking brazenly that “if president Zelaya wants to be an ally of our enemies, let him think about what might be the consequences of his actions and words.” [El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Sept. 25, 2009]

    When discussing Zelaya’s corrupt transgressions, Reich is wont to cite the case of Honduras’ state-owned telecommunications company Hondutel. In an explosive piece, the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald reported that a company called Latin Node bribed three Hondutel officials to get choice contracts and reduced rates. Zelaya, Reich remarked to El Nuevo Herald, “has permitted or encouraged these types of practices and we will see soon that he is also behind this.”

    Reich would not provide details but reminded readers that Zelaya’s nephew, Marcelo Chimirri, was a high official at Hondutel and had been accused of a series of illicit practices relating to Hondutel contracts… Reich’s pronouncements to the Miami paper infuriated Zelaya who went on national radio and TV to announce that he would sue Reich for defamation. “We will proceed with legal action for calumny against this man, Otto Reich, who has been waging a two year campaign against Honduras,” the president announced.

    Turning up the heat on Chimirri, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa denied the Hondutel official an entry visa into the United States, citing “serious cases of corruption.” Zelaya may have taken the U.S. ban on his nephew to heart. Zelaya complained to Washington as recently as last December about the visa issue, urging U.S. officials to “revise the procedure by which visas are cancelled or denied to citizens of different parts of the world as a means of pressure against those people who hold different beliefs or ideologies which pose no threat to the U.S.”

    Bush-appointed U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford was also turning the screws on Zelaya. Speaking with the Honduran newspaper La Tribuna, Ford said that the U.S. government was investigating American telecom carriers for allegedly paying bribes to Honduran officials to engage in so-called “gray traffic” or illicit bypassing of legal telecommunications channels. The best way to combat gray traffic, Ford said, was through greater competition that in turn would drive down long distance calling rates.

    Perhaps the U.S. government was using the corruption charges as ammunition against Hondutel, a state company that Reich probably would have preferred to see privatized. The Honduran elite had long wanted to break up the company. In the late 1990s, none other than Roberto Micheletti, the current coup president of Honduras, was Hondutel’s CEO. At the time, Micheletti favored privatizing the firm. Micheletti later went on to become President of Honduras’ National Congress. In that capacity, he was at odds with the Zelaya regime that opposed so-called “telecom reform” that could open the door to outright privatization.