Memo Reveals US State Department Knew Honduras Coup Was Illegal, Did Not Follow Own Advice

Leaked Cable, Early During Coup, Defined Removal of President Manuel Zelaya as Illegitimate

Less than month after the coup d'état that removed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office at gun point, the US Embassy in the country's capital sent a memo to State Department headquarters in Washington DC ripping apart arguments used by the coup plotters.
 
“...The military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew – the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring country,” reads a confidential cable from Tegucigalpa, signed by US Ambassador Hugo Llorens (pictured right) and published today by the organization Wikileaks.
 
The agency did not heed the warnings written by Llorens. The document, which was sent to the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the military, is in contrast to the State Department's position to back a coup supporter to be the future president of the country months after the memo was sent. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was later found to be involved in giving millions to the coup regime through a US government-financed corporation she helped manage.
 
In the July 9, 2009 document, titled “Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,” Llorens writes that after consulting legal specialists and analyzing the country's constitution it's clear that “the actions of June 28 can only be considered a coup d'etat by the legislative branch, with the support of the judicial branch and the military, against the executive branch.”

 
On that date soldiers forced their way into the democratically-elected president's home in the capital and put Zelaya on a plane to San José, Costa Rica after the country's Supreme Court had issued a secret arrest warrant. “Accounts of Zelaya's abduction by the military indicate he was never legally 'served' with a warrant; the soldiers forced their way in by shooting out the locks and essentially kidnapped the President,” Llorens says in the memo. 
 
Zelaya's alleged “crime” according to coup backers was proposing to have a vote to create an assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. Later that day the National Congress passed a resolution to remove Zelaya from office, while presenting a fake resignation letter. Roberto Micheletti, President of the National Congress, was declared the new president of a de facto government run by coup supporters. 
 
The cable says “it is not clear” that promoting a vote to change the constitution is unconstitutional, and that regardless of the legal arguments, the armed forces are not allowed to execute judicial orders and Congress had no authority to remove Zelaya from office.  
 
“Zelaya's arrest and forced removal from the country violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and right to due process,” Llorens writes. “Furthermore, a source in the Congressional leadership told us that a quorum was not present when there [sic] solution was adopted, rendering it invalid. There was no recorded vote, nor a request for the 'yeas' and 'nays.'”
 
Despite calling the Micheletti government “illegitimate” and the coup a product of a “hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process,” it was Llorens and the State Department who later began to support the coup. The US-financed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which had “hands on” management by Clinton on its board of directors, gave $6.5 million to the coup regime after Zelaya was ousted. The agency then backed coup supporter Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as the winner of a presidential election held five months after Zelaya was removed. Lobo denied a coup had taken place, and as president he later gave amnesty to everyone involved in plotting it. 
 
In other words, while it is now clear that the State Department knew the coup was illegitimate and unconstitutional, why did the agency get so involved with funding the coup regime and backing one of its key supporters in elections that were marked by well-document abuses and fraud?
 
That question could be answered soon. The cable in one of hundreds from Honduras that will be made available over the next few months according to Wikileaks, and they may explain the State Department's handling of the first Latin American crisis under the Obama administration.

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