[Marxism] Honduran coup hires US lobbyists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Oct 8 08:05:51 MDT 2009


(The "paper of record" finally covers a story that the left has been 
reporting on for months.)

NY Times, October 8, 2009
Leader Ousted, Honduras Hires U.S. Lobbyists
By GINGER THOMPSON and RON NIXON

WASHINGTON — First, depose a president. Second, hire a lobbyist.

In the months since soldiers ousted the Honduran president, Manuel 
Zelaya, the de facto government and its supporters have resisted demands 
from the United States that he be restored to power. Arguing that the 
left-leaning Mr. Zelaya posed a threat to their country’s fragile 
democracy by trying to extend his time in office illegally, they have 
made their case in Washington in the customary way: by starting a 
high-profile lobbying campaign.

The campaign has had the effect of forcing the administration to send 
mixed signals about its position to the de facto government, which reads 
them as signs of encouragement. It also has delayed two key State 
Department appointments in the region.

Costing at least $400,000 so far, according to lobbying registration 
records, the campaign has involved law firms and public relations 
agencies with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton 
and Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs.

It has also drawn support from several former high-ranking officials who 
were responsible for setting United States policy in Central America in 
the 1980s and ’90s, when the region was struggling to break with the 
military dictatorships and guerrilla insurgencies that defined the cold 
war. Two decades later, those former officials — including Otto Reich, 
Roger Noriega and Daniel W. Fisk — view Honduras as the principal 
battleground in a proxy fight with Cuba and Venezuela, which they 
characterize as threats to stability in the region in language similar 
to that once used to describe the designs of the Soviet Union.

“The current battle for political control of Honduras is not only about 
that small nation,” Mr. Reich testified in July before Congress. “What 
happens in Honduras may one day be seen as either the high-water mark of 
Hugo Chávez’s attempt to undermine democracy in this hemisphere or as a 
green light to the spread of Chavista authoritarianism,” he said, 
referring to the Venezuelan president.

Mr. Noriega, who was a co-author of the Helms-Burton Act, which 
tightened the United States embargo against Cuba, and who has recently 
served as a lobbyist for a Honduran business group, declined to comment 
for this article.

Mr. Reich, who served in key Latin America posts for President Ronald 
Reagan and President George W. Bush, said he had not lobbied officially 
for any Honduran group. But he said he had used his connections to push 
the agenda of the de facto government, led by Roberto Micheletti, 
because he believed that the Obama administration had made a mistake.

And Mr. Fisk, whose political career has included stints on the National 
Security Council and as a deputy assistant secretary of state for 
Western Hemisphere affairs under Mr. Bush, had been promoting the 
Micheletti government’s case until two weeks ago as an aide to retired 
Senator Mel Martinez of Florida.

In addition to the support of such cold war veterans — and partly 
because of it — the de facto government has mobilized the support of a 
determined group of Republican legislators, led by Senator Jim DeMint of 
South Carolina. They are holding up two State Department appointments as 
a way of pressing the Obama administration to lift sanctions against the 
country.

“We have made a wrong call here,” Mr. DeMint said in an interview with 
Fox News after returning from a trip to Honduras last Friday. Referring 
to the de facto government, he said, “This is probably our best friend 
in the hemisphere, the most pro-American country, but we are trying to 
strangle them.”

Chris Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly, a policy journal focusing 
on Latin America, said the lobbying had muddled Washington’s position on 
the coup. The administration has said publicly that it sees the coup in 
Honduras as a dangerous development in a region that not too long ago 
was plagued by them, he said.

But, he added, to placate its opponents in Congress, and have its 
nominations approved, the State Department has sometimes sent 
back-channel messages to legislators expressing its support for Mr. 
Zelaya in more equivocal terms.

“There’s been a leadership vacuum on Honduras in the administration, and 
these are the people who’ve filled it,” he said of the Micheletti 
government’s backers. “They haven’t gotten a lot of support, but enough 
to hold the administration’s policy hostage for now.”

After the June 28 coup, President Obama joined the region in condemning 
the action and calling for President Zelaya to be returned to power, 
even though the Honduran president is an ally of Mr. Chávez, America’s 
biggest adversary in the region.

But Congressional aides said that less than 10 days after Mr. Zelaya was 
ousted, Mr. Noriega and Lanny J. Davis, a confidant of Mrs. Clinton and 
a lobbyist for a Honduran business council, organized a meeting for 
supporters of the de facto government with members of the Senate.

Mr. Fisk, who attended the meeting, said he was stunned by the turnout. 
“I had never seen eight senators in one room to talk about Latin America 
in my entire career,” he said.

As President Obama imposed increasingly tougher sanctions on Honduras, 
the lobbying intensified. The Cormac Group, run by a former aide to 
Senator McCain, John Timmons, signed on, records show, as did Chlopak, 
Leonard, Schechter & Associates, a public relations firm.

For his part, Mr. Reich sent his thoughts to members of Congress by 
e-mail. “We should rejoice,” he wrote to one member of the Senate 
Foreign Relations Committee, “that one of the self-proclaimed 21st 
Century socialist allies of Chávez has been legally deposed by his own 
countrymen.”

As is often the nature of lobbying, some messages have been sent without 
any names attached. Floating around Senate offices in the last few 
weeks, for example, was a list of talking points aimed at undermining 
the nomination of Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon as 
ambassador to Brazil. Two Congressional aides, who requested anonymity 
to speak candidly about matters related to the coup, said that Mr. Fisk 
wrote the talking points.

Mr. Fisk denied having done so. He also dismissed the notion that he was 
operating from an old playbook. “Someone else may be fighting over the 
’80s,” he said. “I’m not.”

Barclay Walsh contributed research.




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