Mack releases report on Honduras trip
WASHINGTON Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14), the Ranking Republican of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, today released a report summarizing his recent Congressional Delegation trip to Honduras.
Mack led a delegation to Honduras the weekend of July 25-26, 2009 to see firsthand what the situation in the country was and to determine what happened in the events leading to former President Manuel Zelaya’s removal on June 28, 2009. During the trip, Mack met with Honduran President Roberto Micheletti, Members of the Supreme Court, Members of the Honduran National Congress, human rights organizations, American and Honduran business leaders, and the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras. The full text of Mack’s report is printed below and can also be found on Mack’s web site, http://mack.house.gov .
Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL)
Ranking Member on the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee
MACK CODEL to Honduras
Saturday, July 25, 2009 Sunday, July 26, 2009
Report Published: Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party won the November 2005 presidential election by 49.9% to 46.17%, narrowly defeating his National Party rival Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who had been the head of the Honduran National Congress. During his campaign, Mr. Zelaya emphasized the concept of citizen participation, and as a wealthy landowner, Mr. Zelaya was generally regarded as a moderate when he was inaugurated to a four-year term on January 27, 2006. Nonetheless, since then, Mr. Zelaya forged close ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chvez and Cuban rulers Fidel and Raul Castro.
Similar to what other thugocrats had done in the region, Mr. Zelaya ordered a popular referendum to determine if the country should include a fourth ballot box during the general elections scheduled to be held on November 29, 2009. The fourth ballot box would consult Hondurans about whether the country should convene a national constituent assembly to amend the constitution. The Honduras Constitution, specifically Article 239, forbids a president from seeking re-election.
Mr. Zelaya’s presidency had been wrought with various crises which ranged from his attempt to move and cancel the primary elections to dissolving the Honduran Supreme Court.
On May 21, 2009, the Attorney General of Honduras, Mr. Luis Alberto Rubi, recommended that the Honduran courts hold that then-President Zelaya’s proposed referendum was illegal and unconstitutional. The courts of Honduras agreed. The Supreme Court then ordered Honduran security forces not to provide any support for the proposed referendum.
Later, on June 27, 2009, Mr. Zelaya led a violent mob that stormed a military base to seize and distribute ballots for the illegal referendum. Several sectors of Honduras were opposed to this referendum, including the legislature, the judiciary, the Attorney General, the Human Rights Commission, the Catholic Church, evangelical groups, business associations, and four of the five political parties in the National Congress, including Mr. Zelaya’s own party.
Finally, on June 28, 2009, the Honduran people spoke clearly and broke the chains of tyranny. In following both the letter and the spirit of their constitution, the Honduran government and the Supreme Court issued an arrest order, removed Mr. Manuel Zelaya as president, and then exiled him and the threat he posed from the country. There have been several conflicting stories on what happened, how it happened, and who did what, and because of that, Ranking Member Connie Mack consulted with his fellow Members of Congress regarding traveling to Honduras to examine the situation on the ground.
Ranking Member Mack requested permission to travel to Honduras during the weekend of July 25, 2009. As required by Congressional rules, Ranking Member Mack asked that Democratic colleagues join him; in fact, Mr. Mack called more than a dozen of his Democratic colleagues to join him on his trip to Honduras, but none agreed.
After approval by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Mack led a Congressional Delegation (CODEL) to Honduras on July 25, 2009, to get a firsthand account of what had happened. Among the many scheduled meetings were United States Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens; Honduran President Roberto Micheletti; the members of the Supreme Court of Honduras; members of the Honduran Congress; members of civil society; Honduran and American business leaders; a human rights group; and the United States military.
The CODEL was led by Ranking Member Connie Mack (R-FL), and was joined by Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA). Additionally, Ms. Robyn Wapner, Professional Staff Member to Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mr. Frederick Ratliff, Republican Staff Director for the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, joined the CODEL.
SATURDAY, JULY 25, 2009
12:30 p.m. Arrival in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
The CODEL departed Washington, D.C. at 7:00 a.m., flying on Delta Airlines to Tegucigalpa. Mr. Mack was met at the Toncontin International Airport by U.S. Ambassador Llorens, his staff, and a security detail.
The CODEL and Ambassador Llorens departed the airport and drove through the streets of Tegucigalpa toward the Ambassador’s residence. During the drive, Congressman Mack was able to observe Hondurans participating in their daily activities. He noticed that businesses were open and that people were able to travel throughout the streets without any trouble. On the route toward the Ambassador’s residence, the CODEL did notice some graffiti on the walls of residences that ranged from “apoyamos Presidente Micheletti” (“we support President Micheletti”) to “no apoyamos el golpe” (“we do not support the coup”).
The ride from the airport to the Ambassador’s residence lasted approximately 20 minutes.
1:00 p.m. — Meeting with Ambassador Hugo Llorens
The CODEL was welcomed by Ambassador Llorens for a luncheon/briefing. At the luncheon, Ambassador Llorens had his Deputy Chief of Mission, economic, political, DEA and military team present.
During the luncheon, Ambassador Llorens emphasized that what had occurred on June 28, 2009, was a coup. One key topic discussed was United States aid to Honduras and the recent decision by the Obama Administration to cut it. Ranking Member Mack emphasized to the Ambassador that it was urgent that the Obama Administration reconsider its decision to withhold economic aid and not take any further action.
During the meeting, the Ambassador’s staff recounted how aggressive Mr. Zelaya’s actions had been in the past and how he had broken several laws before his removal on June 28, 2009. In response, Ranking Member Mack stressed that although Mr. Zelaya was a difficult man, the focus should not be on his personality but instead on maintaining the rule of law.
The Ambassador explained that for the first time, the Supreme Court of Honduras was selected in a non-political fashion. In subsequent meetings with Ambassador Llorens, the delegation was informed that the Vice President of the Supreme Court, the very person who signed the arrest order, would be getting his United States visa pulled. When asked by Ranking Member Mack why this was so, Ambassador Llorens stated that it was because the Supreme Court Justice was part of the “regime.”
Members of the Ambassador’s staff briefed the CODEL on how Section 239 of the Honduran Constitution was a “post-removal” discovery by Honduran President Micheletti. Based on this determination, the Ambassador and his staff felt it was unnecessary to discuss in detail Section 239 and its applicability to the removal.
One claim made by a member of the Ambassador’s team was that the decision by the Honduran military to remove Mr. Zelaya from the country was purely due to personal friendship between a general and Mr. Zelaya, and not for any other reason.
After ending the luncheon, the Ambassador re-emphasized the Obama Administration’s policy of no contact with Honduran President Micheletti. Congressman Mack nonetheless demanded that all sides should have their arguments heard, and therefore insisted on the meeting.
2:30 p.m. — Meeting with President Roberto Micheletti
Because the Obama Administration does not recognize the Micheletti-led government, Ambassador Llorens and his team remained at the Ambassador’s residence as the CODEL went to the Presidential Palace. The CODEL was escorted by both American and Honduran security forces and drove toward the center of Tegucigalpa, where the Presidential Palace is located. During this 15 – minute drive, the CODEL was able to observe Hondurans enjoying their weekend activities, which ranged from playing soccer in the fields of Tegucigalpa to grocery shopping.
At the Presidential Palace of Honduras, the meeting with President Micheletti lasted over two hours. President Micheletti was joined by Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos Lpez Contreras, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Marta Lorena Alvarado de Casco, and Congresswoman Marcia Villeda.
President Micheletti gave several copies of the Honduran Constitution to the members of the delegation and asked them to examine several articles of the Constitution, including Article 239. The President stressed that the reason he assumed the office of the presidency was in following the constitutional order of the nation. Specifically, because there was no vice president, Mr. Micheletti, as president of the Honduran Congress, was next in line for the office.
President Micheletti and his staff expressed their dissatisfaction with the United States Ambassador’s personal backing of former President Zelaya and expressed their opinion that there is a growing dissatisfaction in Honduras toward the Obama Administration for supporting the re-instatement of Mr. Zelaya.
President Micheletti and his staff presented personal accounts of the actions taken by Ambassador Llorens and his team that have been counterproductive to the situation.
During the meeting, Ranking Member Mack emphasized how President Micheletti should protect not only the Honduran Constitution, but also follow the rule of law and protect the people of Honduras.
Ranking Member Mack asked President Micheletti what the next steps would be toward a peaceful resolution which respects the Honduran Constitution. President Micheletti answered that the people of Honduras have made preparations to avoid a disruption in supplies in order to ensure that former President Zelaya does not return to power. Specifically, President Micheletti stressed that Honduras has sufficient reserves and would be able to carry on in a worse case scenario for the next eight months.
President Micheletti discussed that his government had already suspended and were in the process of revoking visas for officials of the Iranian government. According to President Micheletti, the people of Honduras believe that Iran’s government is not a friend and should not be treated as one. More importantly, President Micheletti reminded the delegation that former President Zelaya had very close ties with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. President Micheletti also indicated that he would like to expand relations with Israel and fight Iran’s influence across Latin America.
The meeting ended with Ranking Member Mack expressing to President Micheletti that the American people want to support the democratic ambitions of the people of Honduras. As to former President Zelaya, Ranking Member Mack highlighted the fact that Mr. Zelaya must not return to power, as he is no longer the President of Honduras and is a wanted criminal by the Honduran judicial system.
At the end of the meeting, the Honduran press was allowed to enter the room and take photos of the CODEL and President Micheletti. Shortly thereafter, the CODEL was escorted by the United States and Honduran security teams to their vehicles, and traveled back to the Ambassador’s residence.
4:45 p.m. — Meeting with Honduran Supreme Court
The ride back to the Ambassador’s residence lasted approximately 25 minutes. After being greeted by Ambassador Llorens, Ranking Member Mack and Congressman Bilbray went directly to the meeting with the Honduran Supreme Court. The meeting with the Supreme Court included the CODEL, Ambassador Llorens, the President of the Supreme Court Jorge Alberto Rivera, and magistrates of the Court.
The Congressmen were told by the President of the Supreme Court that “the Army is not in charge of the Supreme Court it is the Supreme Court who is in charge of the Army.” The President also indicated that the removal of Mr. Zelaya was not a military decision, but instead one derived from the Honduran Constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court of the country.
The Supreme Court President provided the legal argument for removing Mr. Zelaya to Costa Rica. He termed it “estado de necessidad,” or “state of necessity.” According to the President of the Supreme Court, Honduran law allows for an illegal act if that same act will save the lives of hundreds or thousands of Hondurans.
The President of the Supreme Court stated that the Obama Administration was disregarding Honduran rule of law and instead backing a man that, according to the President of the Supreme Court, was no longer the President of Honduras.
At the end of the meeting, the President of the Honduran Supreme Court asked the CODEL why the Obama Administration had chosen to ignore the rulings issued by the Honduran courts and the judicial opinions of Honduran judges.
5:35 p.m. — Meeting with Members of the Honduran Congress
The meeting with Members of the Honduran Congress included Carolina Echevarria (PL), Doris Gutierrez (UD), Toribio Aguilera (PINU), Edmundo Orellana (PL), Marcia Facusse de Villeda (PL), Ambassador Llorens, and the CODEL.
After short introductions, the members of the Honduran Congress expressed their views about the events of June 28, 2009. While there was a consensus among the Members that Mr. Zelaya’s actions were unconstitutional, the Members differed on whether his actual removal was also unconstitutional. Several Members expressed the opinion that the best solution for Honduras is not to allow Mr. Zelaya to return to power.
Congressman Orellana, who was Mr. Zelaya’s Defense Minister, told the CODEL that he resigned as Defense Minister after Mr. Zelaya ordered the military to institute the referendum and after he fired the top general. He also indicated that he was against the manner in which Mr. Zelaya was removed, and therefore felt that even though Mr. Zelaya was wrong, it was also wrong to have removed him in the manner the military did.
The discussion developed into a conversation about the Honduran legal system. The Members of the Honduran Congress informed the CODEL that the Honduran legal system is straightforward, and that a trial lasts up to six days. The Honduran Members of Congress believed that if Mr. Zelaya were to return to Honduras, it would only take six days to either convict him or find him not guilty.
As the meeting ended, the Honduran Members of Congress thanked the CODEL for coming to Honduras. The Members of Congress said that no matter where a person stands on Mr. Zelaya’s removal, it is important to hear all sides of a story and thanked the CODEL for listening and speaking to various sectors, parties, and members of the Honduran government.
Ranking Member Mack thanked the Honduran Members of Congress for coming to the Ambassador’s residence. The CODEL was then taken to Hotel Intercontinental. The hotel is located in the central part of Tegucigalpa. After being greeted by Embassy staff, the delegation promptly checked in at 7:20 p.m. and prepared for the next round of meetings.
8:30 p.m. — Meeting with Honduran and American Business Leaders
At approximately 8:00 p.m., Ranking Member Mack and Congressman Bilbray met at the hotel’s restaurant to have dinner with American and Honduran business leaders.
The meeting included members of the CODEL, and the following American and Honduran business leaders: Mary Monterroso, Alin Flores, Warren Hackman, Fred Brev, Mitch Cummins, Russ Summerell, Fredy Nasser, Lloyd Davidson, Pammy Marinakys, and Emin Barjum.
The message from the American business leaders focused on how the Obama Administration’s actions were damaging small business leaders in Honduras. They also handed Ranking Member Mack over 150 letters from American business leaders asking that the Obama Administration recognize President Micheletti and the government of Honduras.
The American business leaders also indicated that the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa was not being responsive to meeting requests and concerns by American citizens. The Honduran business leaders were concerned that the Honduran economy was being damaged due to the Obama Administration’s actions.
10:15 p.m. — Meeting with Honduran Civil Society
Shortly after meeting with business leaders, the CODEL met with Honduran civil society, specifically, mothers of the white shirt “marchas.” The civil society leaders reported to the Congressmen the progress they were making in demonstrating peacefully throughout the streets of Honduras. The group was formed by women who called for progress in Honduras, and had organized several peaceful demonstrations across the country. The group informed Ranking Member Mack that they felt safe in the streets of Tegucigalpa and that they did not feel threatened by the military or the current state of affairs. The group also said that life was normal in the streets of Tegucigalpa.
Shortly after the meeting with the group, the delegation ended its scheduled appointments for Saturday, July 25, 2009.
SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2009
7:15 a.m. Press Interviews
Ranking Member Mack agreed to meet with the press shortly before he departed the Hotel Intercontinental. In addition to gathering information in Honduras, the Ranking Member stated that it was important to speak out on what he saw, with whom he met, and what was said during these meetings. Ranking Member Mack spoke briefly with American news agencies. After checking out of the hotel, the CODEL departed the hotel for the Ambassador’s residence. The 20-minute ride led the CODEL through different parts of Tegucigalpa, where Congressman Mack noticed that the streets were calm and the people were preparing to attend Sunday mass and service.
8:15 a.m. Breakfast with Presidential Candidates
After being greeted by the United States Ambassador at his residence, the CODEL was introduced to the presidential candidates of Honduras. The meeting with the presidential candidates included members of the CODEL, Ambassador Llorens, Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo lvarez, and the following presidential candidates:
Elvin Santos (Liberal)
Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo (National)
Bernard Martinez (PINU)
Felicito Avila (Christian Democrat)
Carlos H. Reyes (Independent)
At the meeting with the Honduran Presidential candidates, the discussion focused on the future of Honduras. Candidates from all parties agreed that their main concern was the upcoming presidential election and that regardless of individuals’ opinions as to the removal of Mr. Zelaya, the upcoming elections in Honduras must be respected.
Also at this breakfast, Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo lvarez, a Fulbright Scholar, expressed his strong objections to the news that the U.S. Embassy was revoking the visa of a Supreme Court Justice.
9:15 a.m. Meeting with the Lutheran World Federation
The CODEL met with the Lutheran World Federation and a group of Honduran citizens to discuss the state of human rights in Honduras. This group of Honduran citizens explained to the CODEL that in their opinion, the delegation was meeting with the wrong sectors of the country. The group said that in addition to meeting with political parties, that it was their view that the CODEL should have met with local unions who represent different sectors of the society.
The group also explained to the CODEL that the people of Honduras are suspicious of the Army. In their opinion, because the Army had the power to arrest Mr. Zelaya, they believe that the Army has the power to arrest any Honduran citizen.
Finally, the group explained to the CODEL that Mr. Zelaya has been a hero to the poor of the country and that because of the money that he has distributed to the local municipalities, he should have remained in power.
Ranking Member Mack asked the human rights group whether they believed Mr. Zelaya violated the law. The group quickly answered that popular will should trump the law, and therefore, in their eyes, Mr. Zelaya was simply following the popular will of the people.
10:00 a.m. Meeting with United States Military
Shortly after meeting the human rights group, the CODEL met with Defense Attach Col. Andy Papp, Joint Task Force Bravo Commander Col. Richard Juergens and Military Group Commander Col. Ken Rodriguez to discuss the U.S. military’s outlook in the region. During the meeting, the CODEL was briefed on United States military activities in the region. At the conclusion of the meeting, Ranking Member Mack and Congressman Bilbray asked that the officers relate back to the troops the appreciation of the American people for their hard work in defending freedom.
10:45 a.m. Depart for Toncontin International Airport
After the meeting with the United States Military, the CODEL departed for Toncontin International Airport. Throughout the CODEL’s route to the airport, Ranking Member Mack and Congressman Bilbray were able to see Hondurans walking to the markets, heading to restaurants, and commuting to work. In fact, during the previous night, the CODEL was able to see how peaceful the city of Tegucigalpa was as they noticed that a wedding was taking place at the hotel.
During the CODEL’s trip to the airport, members of the Ambassador’s staff re-emphasized that what had occurred on June 28, 2009, was a coup. The members of the delegation were told that both Mr. Zelaya and President Micheletti had broken the law, and because both sides had broken the law, all political crimes should be forgiven for political expediency.
12:25 p.m. Depart for the United States
After arriving at the airport, the delegation departed for the United States and landed Sunday evening.
Ranking Member Connie Mack would like to thank the United States Embassy and State Department personnel for ensuring that CODEL MACK was a success. Their efforts made certain that the CODEL was able to meet with key leaders and get a clearer perspective on the events that led to the removal of former Honduran President Zelaya.
Ranking Member Mack would also like to thank Ms. Jen Stewart, policy advisor to Republican Leader John Boehner, for assisting him in his endeavor to travel to Honduras.
Finally, Ranking Member Mack would like to thank Chairman Howard Berman and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for approving the CODEL, and staff for assisting in the preparations for the CODEL.
Source: Office of Congressman Connie Mack