The U.S. Role in Honduran Coup, WikiLeaks and Why He Was Ousted
AMY GOODMAN: Manuel Zelaya, the former president of Honduras, returned home on Saturday after 23 months in exile. At a news conference Sunday in his living room, Zelaya said the coup was the work of an international conspiracy that should be investigated. It was the first coup in Central America in a quarter of a century. The military kidnapped Zelaya from his home at gunpoint, put him on a plane to Costa Rica, stopping to refuel at Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras—this after he tried to organize a non-binding referendum asking voters if they wanted to rewrite the constitution. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos brokered the agreement between ousted President Zelaya and the current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. It was called the Cartagena Accord, paving the way for Zelaya’s return.
Democracy Now! flew with President Zelaya from Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, to Honduras. On Sunday, we sat down with him at his home in Tegucigalpa. I asked President Zelaya to talk about what happened the day of the coup, June 28th, 2009.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] A president who was elected by the people was taken out of his home at gunpoint in the early, early morning wee hours in his pajamas and taken and abandoned in Costa Rica, in the airport of Costa Rica.
AMY GOODMAN: But first, can you tell me what exactly happened here? What time was it? What did you hear? How did you wake up?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I arrived to my home at 3:30 in the morning. The next day, we were going to have a referendum, public referendum, throughout the whole nation. It was only an opinion poll, basically, and it was not legally binding—14,000 polls placed all over the country. And there was an international conspiracy in order to say that communism was entering into this country and that the Caracas plan was going to enter in to destroy the United States and that we are destroying the U.S. empire, if they would let that opinion poll take place. Many who were business leaders and others, high society folks, they fell into that trap. This coup d’état was made by the right wing of the United States.
Those early morning hours, in the wee hours of that morning, they started to pressure the honor guard. They came here at 5:15 in the morning. There were isolated shots that were fired in the neighborhood, some in this street over here and others in the back part of the house. You can see that this is a small house, middle class. It’s easy to assault this house. I was woken by the gunshots. I went downstairs in my pajamas to the first floor, on the patio on the outside. At that very moment, the gunshots were impacting on the door in the back. My first reaction was to hit the floor and to cover myself from the gunshots. That is the moment in which the military entered into the patio in the back.
They threatened me with their rifles, M-16 machine guns. They said that it was a military order. And they were shouting at me, and they were ordering me to give my cell phone, because I was talking on my phone. There were more than 10 military, who were hooded, who entered into the house, actually. But outside there were 200 to 300. The only thing you could see were their eyes. Everything else was covered. And they surrounded me. They threatened me, that they were going to shoot. And I said to them, "If you have orders to shoot, then shoot me. But know that you are shooting the president of the republic, and you are a subalternate, you are an underling." And so, they did not shoot at me.
And so, they forced me to go to their vehicles outside with my pajamas on. We landed in the U.S. military base of Palmerola. There, they refueled. There were some movements that happened outside. I don’t know what conversations took place. About 15, 20 minutes, we waited there in the airport of Palmerola. And then to Costa Rica, and everything else is public after that.
AMY GOODMAN: Why were you brought to the U.S. military base? It is not that far to fly from Tegucigalpa airport to Costa Rica. Why would you be brought to the U.S. military base? And they must have had the U.S. military’s permission.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The U.S. State Department has always denied, and they continue to deny, any ties with the coup d’état. Nevertheless, all of the proof incriminates the U.S. government. And all of the actions that were taken by the de facto regime, or the golpista regime, which are those who carried out the coup, and it is to make favor of the industrial policies and the military policies and the financial policies of the United States in Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: Was your daughter Pichu in the house?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In my house, there were three people. The woman who cleans the house and who works here, and she has 10 years working with us, she is a woman of great trust. And she continues to work here. Her name is Suyapa. She was taken out, and they dragged her by pulling out her hair, because the military, after they captured me, they entered into each one of the rooms, and they broke into the rooms through using their rifle butts, looking for my wife and for my daughter. My daughter is very thin, and so she went underneath the bed. Suyapa, the cleaning lady, she’s a little overweight, and so she could not hide. So they grabbed her by her hair, and they took her away. Pichu, whose real name is Xiomara Hortensia, she hid under the bed, and they didn’t find her.
AMY GOODMAN: The M-16s, where were they made, that the hooded Honduran soldiers used?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] All of the arms that the Honduran military uses are U.S. weapons. And the high command of the military of Honduras is trained at the School of the Americas.
AMY GOODMAN: After the coup, did the U.S. stop the weapons flow to Honduras?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] This week, there were 85 members of Congress of the United States, they sent a letter to the State Department, Hillary Clinton, and this letter speaks to the necessity of controlling the support, and they speak of paralyzing, which is given to the armed forces of Honduras. And so, they point to the high rates of violations of human rights that take place in Honduras. In other words, after the coup d’état in this country, the U.S. has increased its military support to Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you support the call of the Congress members?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] All who defend human rights and who are against the armaments and war making, they have my support.
AMY GOODMAN: You say that the coup was a conspiracy. And you talked about the right wing in the United States. Explain exactly what you understand. Who fomented this coup against you?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The conspiracy began when I started to join what is ALBA, the Latin American nations with Bolivarian Alternative. So, a dirty war at the psychological level was carried out against me. Otto Reich started this. The ex-Under Secretary of State Roger Noriega, Robert Carmona, and the Arcadia Foundation, created by the CIA, they associated themselves with the right wing, with military groups, and they formed a conspiracy. They argued that I was a communist and that I was attacking the security of the hemisphere, because I’m a friend of Fidel, I’m a friend of Chávez, and I had declared my government as a government which is progressive.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, WikiLeaks released that trove of U.S. government cables, and in it was a cable from then-U.S. ambassador—the then-U.S. ambassador to Honduras to the State Department, saying that—I think it was titled "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," and it was saying it was illegal, it was unconstitutional. It was written by U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Hugo Llorens cooperated in order to avoid the coup d’état. He knew everything that was happening in Honduras. And I am a witness to the effort that he made to stop the coup. But when he perceived that he could no longer stop it, then he withdrew. I don’t know if he had orders to withdraw, but he allowed everything to happen. He did help my family a great deal after the coup. And I am grateful to him now. He showed me that he is someone who believes in democracy and not in the coups d’état. But a great part of the Pentagon does not believe this, nor does the Southern Command.
AMY GOODMAN: What does the Southern Command have to do with this?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The link that Ambassador Ford, who was the ambassador from the United States before Llorens, he said that I could not have a friendship with Hugo Chávez. He wanted me to give political [asylum] to Posada Carriles. He wanted to name who my ministers of my cabinet of my government should be. He wanted his recommendations to become ministers of my government.
AMY GOODMAN: Posada Carriles, he wanted him to be able to take refuge in Honduras, the man who was alleged to be the mastermind behind the Cubana bombing that killed scores of people?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] After eight days of my becoming president of the country, the ambassador, Charles Ford, asked me if I could give political asylum to Posada Carriles in Honduras. And of course, I sent him to outside. He spoke to my foreign minister, my secretary of state, about that—the same ambassador who prohibited me from becoming a member of the ALBA. And this ambassador, who just left Honduras, who left the country with a political profile of myself, the ambassador, Ford, left this letter as a profile of the president, and when you read it, you can tell that it is the precursor of the coup itself. WikiLeaks published this document. They published the profile that Ambassador Ford made of me to give to Hugo Llorens, saying that the United States needs to make decisions about what it will do the following year in order to detain me, because I am tied to narcotrafficking and to terrorism and to many, many other things. So, he prepared the ambiance, situation. And he was transferred from the embassy to the Southern Command. And that is the tie. And if you ask today, where is this Ambassador Ford? He is in the Southern Command. And so, he left here in order to prepare the coup d’état.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the coup d’état took place under President Obama, not before.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] We’re talking about the United States, so it’s an empire. The United States is an empire, and so Obama is the president of the United States, but he is not the chief of the empire. Even though Obama would be against the coup, the process toward the coup was already moving forward. The most that they tell a president like President Obama, that there’s a political crisis going on. But they do not talk about the details that they were involved in in terms of the conspiracy.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama early on called it a coup. But then the administration seemed to back off, both he and Hillary Clinton.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They gave themselves up before the coup itself. That is the proof, in fact, that the coup came from the north, from the U.S. So they are even able to bend the arm of the President of the United States, President Obama, and the State Department, and they impeded my restitution as president of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Ousted President Manuel Zelaya, sitting in his home in his living room in Tegucigalpa for the first time in 23 months, kidnapped at gunpoint by Honduran soldiers as his daughter Pichu hid under her bed upstairs. He was then flown to Palmerola, the U.S. military base in Honduras, supposedly to refuel, and then on to Costa Rica. It was the first military coup in Latin America in more than a quarter of a century.
We leave you today with Zelaya’s address to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Hondurans upon his arrival home on Saturday.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Your presence here this afternoon shows the support of the international community, that the blood was not shed in vain, because we’re still standing, keeping our position valid. Peaceful resistance. Fellows, resistance is today the cry of victory, of the return to Honduras of all the rights and guarantees of the Honduran democracy.