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.

Comments

Congressional trips to Honduras

Historically in the U.S., it has been regarded as appropriate for U.S. House or Senate members to use public funds to do foreign trips, in their capacities as members of foreign affairs committees, and there is wide latitude for what it is regarded as appropriate for them to say while they are doing so -- though there is one extremely important limit, beyond which their conduct could be a violation of U.S. law.  That limit is whether they are attempting to conduct international relations on behalf of the U.S., in which the president has constitutional primacy. This is far more serious than how much money they happened to spend.

At the time of Sen. John Kerry's anger toward Senator DeMint for his trip, some Democrats believed that the coup-endorsing statements of the Honduras-visiting Republicans -- which directly contradicted the president's statement -- violated that long-established limit, and that was probably the motive for Kerry's withholding of funds for the DeMint trip. He would have been regarded by his colleagues as tolerating DeMint's free-lance diplomacy if he had not done so.  It's one thing to denounce the U.S. president's foreign policy from the floor of the Senate or House, which goes on every day.  It's quite another thing to do that while standing on the soil of another country in your official capacity as a member of Congress.  If you do the latter, then you may well be violating the U.S. Constitution. The Republicans who went to Honduras will no doubt will argue that they did not cross that line, but they were certainly flirting with it.

Further good investigative reporting, like Erin Rosa's article above, should focus on the full transcripts of what they said and a full narrative of what they did while in Honduras.  Professing support for figures in the coup would not technically violate U.S. law.  But if they said anything to interfere with policies or initiatives of the president, and they said that in their official congressional capacities, a case could be made that they were in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Pursuing this case, as a way to watchdog congressional interference in U.S. foreign policy, could be important in the next few years, if the Republicans succeed in retaking the majority in either chamber of Congress.

Appreciate the analysis

Jim DeMint has been 100% obstructionist in every matter before the Senate.  I remember when these guys were showing up and contradicting the President on foreign soil.  "Hey, what the hell are they doing?"  came out of my mouth more than once.

Thanks to Erin for the report.  

Thank you Tribunus Plebis for your comment. 

Here's my favorite part:

...if they said anything to interfere with policies or initiatives of the president, and they said that in their official congressional capacities, a case could be made that they were in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Pursuing this case, as a way to watchdog congressional interference in U.S. foreign policy, could be important in the next few years, if the Republicans succeed in retaking the majority in either chamber of Congress.

So who pursues something like this? 

This dog hunts

Tribunus Plebis said:

Pursuing this case, as a way to watchdog congressional interference in U.S. foreign policy, could be important in the next few years, if the Republicans succeed in retaking the majority in either chamber of Congress.

That is good advice. The press, in general, needs more watchdog bite in it. But it also takes some long-term, methodical bloodhounding to find the hole the rascals are hiding in at times.

In terms of the visits of the politicians to Honduras mentioned in Erin's story, Narco News began that process way back when it was happening, in October 2009, as the excerpt from the story below shows.

Erin's story proves we're still on the trail. And I expect there will be more Narco News hounds on the hunt in this story, and others like it, going forward as well.

We never lose the scent.

GOP lawmakers Jim DeMint, Aaron Schock, Peter Roskam and Doug Lamborn aren’t the only extremist grandstanders openly flaunting their disrespect for the Logan Act and contempt for President Obama by trekking to Honduras to play dice with a dictator.

This coming Monday, U.S. Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also is slated to make a trip to Honduras to play footsy with the Despot and Chief of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, and his putsch pals.

Ros-Lehtinen also has another ally in that endeavor — a former member of her staff who now works for a firm that is actually under contract to Micheletti’s gang of thugs (to the tune of more than a quarter million dollars).

Like South Carolina U.S. Sen. DeMint and company, Ros-Lehtinen will try to pass off her upcoming trip to Honduras as a mere fact-finding mission.

... So, let’s get this straight. Ros-Lehtinen is headed to Honduras next week to help preen the feathers of the leaders of the Honduran coup while at the same time her former press secretary is working under contract with an inside-the-Beltway PR firm to advance the despotic interests of those same coup leaders — all in open defiance of the Obama Administration’s stated policy on Honduras.

 

This Dog Hunts...

I read Erin story, and Trib Pleb's comment and the words "That dog'll hunt!" came to this MO Mind.  Looks like I'm in great company.

"We never loose the scent!"

Go, Dog. Go!

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About Erin Rosa

Biography

Erin Rosa is a writer from Denver, Colorado based in the Western Hemisphere.