September 29, 2009
When a little over a week ago, Honduras’ elected president Manuel Zelaya landed in Tegucigalpa at the Brazilian embassy, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it an "opportune" moment for the "dialogue" she’d been urging all summer.
Six days later, this past Sunday, US Ambassador Hugo Llorens had convened various Honduran political and business people in Tegucigalpa to talk about how to encourage that "dialogue" to resolve the country’s political crisis. Four presidential candidates were there, as were business magnates Adolfo Facusse and Carlos Flores (a former president), John Biehl (a special advisor to the Organization of American States) and human rights advocate Leo Valladares, who shared with Narco News this account of what happened.
In the middle of that Sunday meeting, Ambassador Llorens’ cell phone rang and he received the news that coup dictator Micheletti had issued the now infamous decree erasing basic Constitutional freedoms of assembly, transit, speech and due process. "The first reaction in the room was that it negatively affected the climate for negotiation," said Valladares.
Then, at dawn, coup troops invaded Radio Globo and Channel 36 TV, stealing their equipment and transmitters to silence them under the new powers Micheletti had decreed.
A few hours later came an Organization of American States meeting in Washington. The interim (or shall we say "de facto"?) US Ambassador, Lewis Amselem, a Bush administration holdover, focused only negligibly on the coup regime’s "state of siege" decree, instead launching into a tirade against the victims of it.
"Zelaya’s return to Honduras is irresponsible and foolish and it doesn’t serve to the interest of the people nor those who seek the restoration of democratic order in Honduras," Amselem crowed. "Everything will be better if all parties refrain from provoking and inciting violence."
According to Amselem, provoking or inciting violence is much worse than actually engaging in violence, as the coup regime had been doing all night and morning long prior to and during Amselem’s tirade. And instead of clearly placing the focus the only place it belonged – on the jack-booted regime’s latest wave of terror, in which Honduran lives were and are actually at stake – Amselem decided to play film critic rather than diplomat, taunting Zelaya: "The president should stop acting as though he were starring in an old movie."
Amselem’s outburst was quickly picked up by the pro-coup media in Honduras (which translated "foolish" as "idiota") and it not only served to obscure the more important story, that of the coup decree’s erasure of the Honduran Constitution, but it also boosted the morale of the very forces that had just descended into new levels of authoritarianism and actual violence.
And that was only the latest adventure in lack of message control displayed all summer long by a schizophrenic State Department and its erratic, almost drunken, driving that, time and time again, has given oxygen to a coup regime it says it opposes.
The State Department spent the rest of the day composing the following statement, one that reads like an admission that Amselem screwed up:
The United States views with grave concern the decree issued by the de facto regime in Honduras suspending fundamental civil and political rights. In response to strong popular opposition, the regime has indicated that it is considering rescinding the decree. We call on the de facto regime to do so immediately.
The freedoms inherent in the suspended rights are inalienable and cannot be limited or restricted without seriously damaging the democratic aspirations of the Honduran people.
At this important moment in Honduran history, we urge all political leaders to commit themselves to a process of dialogue that will produce an enduring and peaceful resolution of the current crisis.
We also urge the de facto regime and President Zelaya to make use of the good will and solidarity extended by President Arias of Costa Rica, the Organization of American States, and other members of the international community to help facilitate, within the framework of the San Jose talks, such a resolution.
In this regard, we remind the de facto regime of its obligations under the Vienna Conventions to respect diplomatic premises and personnel, and those under their protection. Abiding by these obligations is a necessary component of the dialogue between and among nations, and builds the practices of engagement, tolerance, and understanding necessary for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
But those who have followed Amselem’s diplomatic and military career – especially back in the day that he was political-military officer at the US embassy in Guatemala City (1988-92) and political affairs counselor for the US embassy in La Paz, Bolivia (1992-95) – suspect that Amselem’s sabotage yesterday of stated US policy was entirely predictable, and intentional, given his macabre history in the hemisphere.
Journalist Jeremy Bigwood, who was reporting from Guatemala during Amselem’s tenure there, remembers the diplomat for the same kind of outrageous behavior and statements over the years that he displayed yesterday in Washington. Amselem, according to Bigwood, "would put a positive spin on the extermination of a couple hundred thousand Guatemalan Indians. The guy should be sent to the International Criminal Court for abetting war crimes. He even arranged illegal supplies and airlifts to the Guatemalan Army after US military assistance had been banned. I can't believe that he would be representing the Obama administration in the OAS."
Most amazing is that Amselem’s current boss, Secretary Clinton, should already know that he’s a loose cannon because she was, as First Lady in the 1990s, involved with one of Guatemala’s most notorious human rights abuse cases, that of Ursuline nun Dianna Ortiz, who was kidnapped and tortured there in 1989.
In 1995, a US federal judge ordered Guatemalan General Hector Gramajo to pay $47 million dollars in damages to Sister Ortiz and other plaintiffs for those crimes.
Human rights champion Kerry Kennedy has written, "Ortiz’s raw honesty and capacity to articulate the agony she suffered compelled the United States to declassify long-secret files on Guatemala, and shed light on some of the darkest moments of Guatemalan history and American foreign policy."
Well, guess who pops up in Sister Dianna’s memoirs? Lewis Amselem: and not in a good way. Ortiz wrote:
"…after a U.S. doctor had counted 111 cigarette burns on my back alone, the story changed. In January 1990, the Guatemalan defense minister publicly announced that I was a lesbian and had staged my abduction to cover up a tryst. The minister of the interior echoed this statement and then said he had heard it first from the U.S. embassy. According to a congressional aide, the political affairs officer at the U.S. embassy, Lew Amselem, was indeed spreading the same rumor.
"In the presence of Ambassador Thomas Stroock, this same human rights officer told a delegation of religious men and women concerned about my case that he was 'tired of these lesbian nuns coming down to Guatemala.’ The story would undergo other permutations. According to the Guatemalan press, the ambassador came up with another version: he told the Guatemalan defense minister that I was not abducted and tortured but simply 'had problems with [my] nerves.’"
So yesterday was not the first time that Amselem revealed a mean-spirited streak to blame the victims of human rights violations. Most disturbingly, Secretary Clinton – who met with Sister Dianna in the 1990s and expressed sympathy and solidarity – should already know this history.
That Clinton sends such a shady character to represent the US at the Organization of American States only guarantees such sabotage for as long as he is there. Amselem may object to what he terms Zelaya’s "acting as though he were starring in an old movie," but it is precisely Amselem who is a B-actor in an even older fright flick: that of US policy in Latin America and previous military and coup regimes. And this sordid tale demonstrates that now more than ever is the hour to disinfect the State Department from the bad actors – like Amselem – who haunt like ghouls from horror films past.
Up next: Faux-journalist Frances Robles of Oligarch's Daily The Miami Herald, who thinks harming Hondurans with chemical weapons is a big funny joke...