The Hillary Clinton emails released last week include some telling exchanges about the June 2009 military coup that toppled democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, a leftist who was seen as a threat by the Honduran establishment and U.S. business interests.
At a time when the State Department strategized over how best to keep Zelaya out of power while not explicitly endorsing the coup, Clinton suggested using longtime Clinton confidant Lanny Davis as a back-channel to Roberto Micheletti, the interim president installed after the coup.
During that period, Davis was working as a consultant to a group of Honduran businessmen who had supported the coup.
In an email chain discussing a meeting between Davis and State Department officials, Clinton asked, “Can he help me talk w Micheletti?”
Davis rose to prominence as an adviser to the Clintons during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and has since served as a high-powered “crisis communications” adviser to a variety of people and organizations facing negative attention in the media, from scandal-plagued for-profit college companies to African dictators. His client list has elicited frequent accusations of hypocrisy.
The request to talk to Davis came on October 22, 2009, a crucial turning point for the “de facto” government that had ousted Zelaya.
A week later, Clinton and her top aides reportedly brokered a deal to bring Zelaya back to power through a national unity government. But the deal was no “breakthrough,” as some media outlets reported. Rather, there was a huge loophole, providing the pro-coup Honduran legislature with veto power over Zelaya’s return. The supposed plan fell apart, and the “de facto” government sponsored what many considered a fraudulent election while denying Zelaya’s return.
The election, on November 29, 2009, was beset by violence, with anti-coup organizers murdered before the election and the police violently suppressing an opposition rally in San Pedro Sula and shutting down left-leaning media outlets. Major international observers, including the United Nations and the Carter Center, as well as most major opposition candidates, boycotted the election. As journalist Jesse Freeston documented for the Real News Network, election officials provided wildly disparate estimates for election turnout. The election paved the way for coup-supporters from the National Party to solidify power.
Rather than seeing this as a failure, the Clinton emails released last week further confirm that the State Department had sought the permanent ouster of Zelaya all along.
State Department officials bucked the demands of most Latin American countries and rushed to recognize the election as “free, fair and transparent.”
In an email titled “Notes from the Peanut Gallery,” Thomas Shannon, the lead State Department negotiator for the Honduras talks, gushed over the election results in a message that was sent to Secretary Clinton.
“The turnout (probably a record) and the clear rejection of the Liberal Party shows our approach was the right one,” wrote Shannon, who recommended that the U.S. should “congratulate the Honduran people” and “connect today’s vote to the deep democratic vocation of the Honduran people.” Shannon, then the assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs, expressed gratitude that Zelaya was out of power, referring to the ousted president as a “failed” leader.
The Shannon emails “show what we knew all along: the U.S. wanted the elections to solidify the changes wrought by the coup,” said Dan Beeton, international communications director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
It was Shannon, notably, who signed the accord to bring Zelaya back to Honduras, and then shocked Latin American leaders by suggesting on CNN days later that the U.S. would recognize the results of the election even if Zelaya was not restored.
Despite claims to media outlets that they were working to restore the democratically elected Honduran government, the U.S. made other efforts to ensure the coup government’s grip on power. In October 2009, the United States blocked a resolution from the Organization of American States requiring Zelaya’s return as a precondition for elections. The U.S. also failed to officially determine that a “military coup” occured, and did not cut off aid to Honduras as is required by law following a coup.
An August 2009 email chain with Harold Koh, then the State Department legal adviser, discussed how to deal with the foreign aid issue, which in Honduras is largely administered through the Millenium Challenge Corporation. The email chain carried the subject line “Honduras Military Coup Decision,” includes an email from Koh noting that Honduras might fall under “specified legal prohibitions on assistance.” Koh wrote that Secretary Clinton, as chair of the MCC board, would have a considerable voice over the determination of Honduras as a coup country. Unfortunately, much of the memo Koh prepared is redacted and Clinton’s response is not revealed in the email chain.
In her 2014 book, Hard Choices, Clinton readily admits that in the days after the coup, she spoke with leaders in the Western hemisphere about “a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which has monitored the human rights situation in Honduras, refers to this line as a “bold confession.” Zelaya’s return was “anything but moot,” Weisbrot has argued, noting that Latin American leaders and the United Nations General Assembly demanded Zelaya’s return.
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty