US Lawmakers Used Public Funds To Back Honduras Coup
Republican House members used taxpayer money to boost de facto government as it was criminalizing dissent, shutting down media outlets
Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives spent nearly $25,000 in taxpayer funds to support the coup in Honduras. An analysis of Congressional travel reports shows four far-right legislators— Rep. Connie Mack (Fla.), Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (Calif.), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)—used the money to fly themselves and their GOP staff members to Honduras during the critical months following the violent ousting of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. Those trips were then used by coup plotters and supporters to create a false sense of legitimacy towards their tactics of criminalizing civil resistance and shutting down the country's media outlets.
On June 28, 2009 Zelaya was forcibly removed from office and exiled to Costa Rica, in a coup d'état orchestrated by the country's oligarchy. Roberto Micheletti, then leader of the National Congress in Honduras, was appointed to be the new president of the de facto government that was created after the coup. The majority of countries throughout the world condemned the coup, and the next day President Barack Obama told reporters that, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there.”
Less than a month later, after the de facto coup government in the country had passed an emergency law banning basic liberties like the right to protest and due process, Reps. Bilbray and Mack traveled to the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras on July 25 to show support for the Micheletti regime. During the taxpayer-funded expedition, which was labeled a “congressional delegation trip,” the two lawmakers met with Micheletti, businessmen and lawmakers responsible for the coup. Mack, who lead the trip and had already voiced support for the coup government before arriving in Honduras, parroted the lies used by the coup plotters that removing Zelaya at gun point was legal and constitutional. After the visit, Bilbray disseminated those distortions to the US media and encouraged the Obama administration to negotiate with Micheletti. The total cost billed to taxpayers was $7,684.80, according to Congressional foreign travel reports.
On October 5 later that year, a few weeks after the de facto government had used the military to shut down and censor opposition media outlets, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, organized another visit to Honduras that was financed with $9,562.68 in public funds. Ros-Lehtinen used the trip to boost the de facto regime, which had suffered a significant blow in late September when Zelaya had managed to return to the country and was trapped inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. During the visit, Ros-Lehtinen denounced the US government's decision to withhold financial aid and visas to the coup government, and later Tweeted from the country that the Honduran people “don't want [Zelaya] back!”
Days before Ros-Lehtinen arrived in Tegucigalpa, Republican coup supporter and Senator Jim DeMint (N.C.) had a public scuffle with Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, over travel to Honduras. When Kerry blocked DeMint from using taxpayer funds to finance his own coup-boosting trip to Honduras, DeMint arranged for the US military to fly him there with three other House members. Ros-Lehtinen's travel was not a part of the DeMint trip, according to Bradley Goehner, the Republican communications director for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The last taxpayer-funded trip to boost the Honduran coup backers was after the country's November presidential elections, which were held amid a climate of “intimidation, torture, illegal detentions and in extreme cases, assassinations.” After documented electoral fraud, National Party candidate and coup supporter Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo was announced the winner, with the State Department endorsing the election results. Once Lobo had been inaugurated, Republican Rep. Rohrabacher, who had written a letter of support for Micheletti, traveled to the country on Jan. 31 to meet with Lobo. “After the new president was elected, he traveled to Honduras to let the newly elected government know that Republicans supported them,” says Tara Olivia Setmayer, a media representative for Rohrabacher. The trip cost $7,473.40, bringing the total spent on coup-boosting trips in Honduras to $24,720.88.
When compared to the federal government's multi-trillion dollar budget, the money may seem trivial. However, there's no denying that those funds—which could make up a small annual salary for one person in the United States—went towards Republican efforts to support a regime that continues to censor opposition media, criminalize dissent, and commit numerous human rights violations in Honduras.