Former U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega hired to push Honduran putsch agenda

Lobbying records reveal his firm is targeting State Department and National Security Council

Lanny Davis, a long-time doorman for the Clinton agenda, has an interesting bedfellow in his latest lobbying assignment on behalf of the business interests behind the illegal putsch regime of Honduras.

Davis, a lawyer, neo-liberal Democrat and now a lobbyist employed by the D.C. office of global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, was recently retained by the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL in its Spanish initials) to hawk for the coup interests in Honduras,

A sister business coalition of textile manufacturers and exporters with common leadership to CEAL, the Asociacion Hondureña de Maquiladores (AHM), however, is looking to the other side of the U.S. political landscape for its lobbying push in Washington, D.C., and has recently retained a George W. Bush-era neoconservative named Roger Noriega.

Though Davis and Noriega, a former high-ranking U.S. diplomat in Latin America, represent different sides of the U.S. bipolar political system, in their manic pursuit of unbridled capitalism and support for the oligarchical interests in Latin America that control the capital (including Tegucigalpa, Honduras), they are very much cut from the same cloth.

But in the case of Noriega, as has often been the case with Bush-era players, it appears some corners might have been cut in his Honduran lobbying assignment that may run counter to the letter of the U.S. statute governing that activity.

Unfortunately, the U.S. law governing lobbying activity might itself fall short of addressing the realities on the ground in Honduras. That law, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), requires all agents, or lobbyists, representing “foreign entities” to declare as such on forms they are required to file with the Clerk of the U.S. House and the Secretary of the U.S. Senate.

In the case of Davis, that declaration, and associated disclosures, is included in his filings with respect to the foreign entity CEAL. However, Noriega’s lobbying firm, Vision Americas, for whatever reason, failed to indicate on those forms that the Honduran-based AHM is, in fact, a foreign entity. This shortcoming in Vision Americas’ public LDA filings is in sharp contradiction to the disclosure made by another lobbying firm, The Cormac Group, which also has been retained by AHM to hawk for the business interests now propping up the putsch president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti.

The Cormac Group, which lists as one of the firm’s founding partners John Timmons, a former legislative counsel for Sen. John McCain, does disclose in its LDA filing that AHM is, in fact, a foreign-controlled entity.

A reading of the LDA statute indicates that any agent (lobbyist) representing a foreign entity must disclose that fact through fil ings made under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which is administered by the Department of Justice, if that foreign entity is a government or political party. However, a lobbyist for a foreign commercial entity, such as a business group, is exempt from the FARA requirements if that lobbyist registers under the LDA.

Now, AHM seems to qualify as a commercial entity, which would exempt Noriega, and his lobbying firm, Vision Americas, from the FARA requirements. But given that the business interests in Honduras are, in essence, the puppet masters pulling the strings of “de facto” President Micheletti, and given that the putsch government itself has been deemed as “not legal” by the president of the United States, the definition of an agent of the “government,” for the purposes of LDA and FARA, seems to become a quagmire for lawyers’ play.

In its LDA filing, The Cormac Group states that the “specific lobbying issues” AHM has retained the firm to hype are related to “U.S.-Honduran relations.”

In its filing related to CEAL, Davis’ firm, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, indicates on the LDA registration form, for the same item, that it is lobbying “on behalf of private Honduran business organizations, providing facts relating to the removal of Mr. Zelaya.”

Noriega’s firm, Vision Americas, includes the following explanation on its LDA registration form, again without disclosing that AHM is a “foreign entity”: “Support the efforts of the Honduran private sector to help consolidate the democratic transition in their country.”

Reasonable people may disagree on this, but those explanations advanced by the lobbying firms, given the role business leaders in Honduras are now playing in propping up the illegal coup regime, might be construed as more in line with supporting the interests of the Honduran government than with any specific business agenda.

At a minimum, it would seem the interests of the coup regime and the business players supporting it are inseparable, and the LDA and FARA statutes seem poorly constructed to deal with that situation — which involves U.S. lobbyists hawking for an illegal business-backed government.

The nexus of the Honduran putsch government and business agendas is clearly exposed in the following July 6 press release sent out by The Cormac Group as part of its effort to color the situation in Honduras in the favor of its client, AHM:

Leading members of the Honduran National Congress and private sector and former members of the Honduran Judiciary will hold a press conference in Washington, D.C., to speak on recent events in Honduras. The press conference will be held Tuesday, July 7, 2009, at 3:00 p.m. in the Murrow Room of the National Press Club (529 14th Street, NW).

The delegation will be traveling to Washington for several days of meetings with United States policymakers to clarify any misunderstandings about Honduras' constitutional process and to discuss next steps to ensure the preservation of the country's democratic institutions. [Emphasis added.]

A search of the Justice Department’s online FARA registration database did not produce any matches for The Cormac Group or Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which would seem to indicate they are not registered as being agents of foreign governments or political parties.

However, both Noriega and Vision Americas do show up as being registered under FARA. However, those filing do not list AHM among the credits. Instead, they indicate only that Vision Americas is registered to represent the interests of a Moroccan government entity called the Moroccan American Center for Policy and a Pakistan company called Kestral Holdings Ltd.

But none of this apparent legal ambiguity surrounding lobbying disclosure and the current situation in Honduras gets around the fact that, with respect to specific questions on two separate LDA filings — the initial registration and a follow-up quarterly report — Noriega’s Vision Americas indicated that AHM is not a foreign entity, defined as follows on the LDA form:

14. Is there any foreign entity [that]

a) holds at least 20% equitable ownership in the client [AHM] …;

b) directly or indirectly, in whole or in major part, plans, supervises, controls, directs, finances or subsidizes activities of the client …;

c) is an affiliate of the client … and has a direct interests in the outcome of the lobbying activity?

To that specific question on the LDA registration form, Vision Americas checked the “No” box.

That check might be deemed an errant mark due to an oversight by the chief of staff at Vision Americas who signed the registration form, dated July 14, if the same mistake was not repeated in a separate LDA quarterly report filed on July 20.

On that latter report, on line 19, the lobbying firm is asked to explain what the “interest of each foreign entity” is in the specific issues — in this case, supporting “the efforts of the Honduran private sector to help consolidate the democratic transition in their country,” which, translated, means helping to consolidate the power of the coup regime.

Of importance in this case is the fact that the quarterly report also reveals that Vision Americas, including Noriega, will be lobbying on behalf of AHM in the area of “foreign relations” not only in the U.S. House and Senate, but also in the State Department and before the National Security Council.

That begs the question: What possible interest would the U.S. National Security Council have in the business interests of an organization representing apparel-goods manufactures and exporters?

The failure of Vision Americas to disclose that AHM is a foreign entity, as well as its failure to describe the “interest” of AHM in lobbying the State Department and National Security Council is significant, because it effectively shields from public view the full agenda of a foreign entity seeking to affect, presumably, U.S. national security. It remains significant even if the failure to disclose was an honest mistake, or can somehow be justified with tortured legal logic.

Narco News contacted the U.S. House Office of the Clerk, which is a repository for the LDA records, seeking some insight into Vision Americas’ filings. A spokesman for the Clerk’s office, who asked not to be identified, concurred that an organization like AHM, for the purposes of LDA, would likely be considered a foreign entity, and it should have been disclosed as such in the public filings.

However, the spokesman added that his office “only receives the forms, but it is not an enforcement agency.”

“In a case like this, a referral would have to be made to an executive branch enforcement agency [the Department of Justice]” for further investigation, and action, if warranted, he added.

The penalties for violating the LDA are potentially severe, if those violations are deemed to be intentional fraud:

Whoever knowingly fails: (1) to correct a defective filing within 60 days after notice of such a defect by the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House; or (2) to comply with any other provision of the Act, may be subject to a civil fine of not more than $200,000, and whoever knowingly and corruptly fails to comply with any provision of this Act may be imprisoned for not more than 5 years or fined under title 18, United States Code, or both.

Narco News also attempted to reach Noriega via his Vision Americas’ phone line, leaving a message on his office’s answering service. To date, he has not returned the call.

Roger’s Vision

Roger Noriega may not be a household name in most of America, but he likely will be a subject for the history books for years to come due to his role in undermining democracy and the rule of law in Latin America to the advantage of crony capitalism. His track record dates back to the 1980s when, as part of U.S. Agency for International Development, he played a questionable role in allegedly moving around money in the shadows of the Iran/Contra scandal.

His fingerprints also mark the failed U.S.-backed coup carried out in Venezuela in 2002 and the successful U.S.-sponsored effort to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in Haiti in 2004. Those efforts were undertaken while Noriega served in increasingly powerful roles within the State Department during the Bush administration.

Noriega, a former Latin American adviser for the arch-conservative and now-deceased Republican Senator Jesse Helms, served as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States between 2001 and 2003 before being named Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. In taking that higher post, he replaced Otto Reich, another Iran/Contra retread brought into the Bush administration to carry out an extremist, pro-oligarch agenda in Latin America.

Reich went on to serve as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere as well as on the board of WHISC (better known as the School of the Americas) before leaving the White House in 2004 to launch his own consulting firm, Otto Reich Associates LLC. During his recent presidential bid, Sen. John McCain tapped Reich to serve as a policy adviser on Latin America. At a July 10 House hearing on “The Crisis in Honduras,” Reich offered testimony designed to bolster the standing of the putsch junta that seized power from that nation’s democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya.

Noriega served in the Assistant Secretary of State post until October 2005, and after a stint with a law firm, he went into the lobbying business through Vision Americas. Like Reich, Noriega has been an outspoken proponent of the June 28 coup d'état in Honduras, penning numerous op/eds, in publications such as Forbes, to that effect.

Another key figure of the Bush administration’s Latin American team was the current U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, who, from 2002 through 2003, served as national security advisor to Bush on matters related to several South American nations, including Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela.

So Reich, Llorens and Noriega were all playing in the same sandbox when the U.S. lined up behind the failed Venezuelan coup coup d'état, and now, coincidentally or by design, all three show up behind the scenes pulling various strings as the current Honduran putsch plays out.

The Battle Line

But the strange web of connections doesn't end on the Washington stage of this tragic usurpation of democracy, that has, and is continuing to, cost the lives of innocent citizens in Honduras as the rule of law in that nation has been replaced by the rule of the gun under the direction of a powerful junta of business and political elites.

As the connections to the U.S. lobbyists employed by CEAL and AHM are unraveled in Honduras, one family name seems to rise to the top. What that means is not clear, at this point, but if Shakespeare’s McBeth can be used as a guide, it would not be a stretch to speculate that, in Honduras, the coup was about far more than ideology.

Clinton insider Davis was hired by CEAL — and his LDA lobbying forms show, and he has admitted in the press — that a key contact and paying party for that contract is Organizacion Publicitaria, which is a media company controlled by Jorge Canahuati Larach, owner of the pro-coup Honduran newspapers La Prensa and El Heraldo. Another key player in CEAL is Jesus Canahuati, who serves as its vice president and who, according to press reports, is the son Juan Canahuati, the founder of Honduran textile manufacturing giant Grupo Lovable.

Jesus Canahuati also happens to be the brother of Mario Canahuati, who served as Honduran ambassador to the U.S. from 2002 to 2005, at the same time Noriega was the top gun for the Western Hemisphere at State under Bush II — and Noriega and Mario Canahuati both were big backers of a free-trade, pro-oligarch agenda for Latin America, embodied for Honduras at the time in CAFTA. While ambassador to the U.S., Mario Canahuati even testified in support of the free-trade pact CAFTA before the Congress.

Mario Canahuati also recently made a bid for the presidency of his nation and sought his National Party’s nomination last November to stand as its candidate in the general election slated for this fall — pre-coup that is. He lost badly to Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa — who himself was defeated by Zelaya in the 2005 presidential election.

Current putsch President Micheletti also sought his party’s nomination for the upcoming presidential ballot, running on the Liberal ticket. He too lost, yet now finds himself as the supposed leader of Honduras despite that rejection by his own party only months prior to the coup.

In addition, AHM, which has retained both Noriega’s Vision Americas and The Cormac Group as lobbyists, is touched by the Canahuati clan as well. AHM's current president is Daniel Facusse, but Jesus Canahuati served as president of the group prior to Facusse and still sits on the organization’s board of directors (called the Junta Directiva) along with his father and oligarch supreme Juan Canahuati.

And as an indicator of where this group of Honduran business elites stands on the presidency of Zelaya and his recent violent overthrow, the words of Juan Canahuati are of value, since they seem to show he has blurred the lines between business and government interests — which may go a long way in explaining the murky legality of the lobbying now underway in Washington by the likes of Davis and Noriega.

From a July 3 article in the Latin Business Chronicle:

"For the past…months, since our ex-president tried to change the constitution [in reality, Zelaya sought a national referendum that might have allowed for changes to the constitution], everybody was nervous," says Juan M. Canahuati, president of Grupo Lovable, a major textile and apparel exporter and one of the largest employers in Honduras. “There was no more investing, no more business growth. Everybody was trying to see what would happen.”

… Zelaya's policies were also increasingly hurting business. "He was against capitalism," Canahuati told Latin Business Chronicle in a telephone interview.

… Zelaya’s ouster was largely self-inflicted, he argues. “He used to be my friend,” Canahuati says. “But he committed the biggest mistake in his life. He followed advice from [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez [about changing the constitution and running for re-election].

Maybe Canahuati’s distain for Chavez explains why Noriega — an equally virulent critic of the Venezuelan president — is now seeking to bend the ear of the U.S. National Security Council with an agenda that seems to be hidden from public view, or at least not articulated adequately in his firm’s LDA filings.

Maybe, even in the United States, in the shadows of official Washington, a battle to define this era of Latin American history is being waged.

On one side are foreign oligarchs seeking to cloak their self-interested pecuniary agenda under the mantle of U.S. national security and from that concealed, disingenuous platform are working to trump even democracy.

On the other side, in the streets of Honduras, and from below all across the Americas, are the forces of authentic democracy, fighting back the only way they can — with their hearts, minds and the blood of their convictions.

Stay tuned ….


Links to Lobbying Records

• The Cormac Group

• Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP [Lanny Davis]

Vision Americas LLC [Roger Noriega]

• Lobbying Registration

• Quarterly Report


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