Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hondo Hillary - 9

The Coup in Tegucigalpa

There’s a lot of work to do for a coup to be consolidated.

The consolidation phase had failed in Venezuela – in large part through the strategic error of listening to a few bought Generals telling the coup-makers the armed forces would follow the leader. It didn’t hurt that this is what the coup-makers wanted to believe. The young officers and the rank-and-file stood by the new popular Constitution, and one of the three legs to the coup collapsed.
It’s formulaic in the extreme to break coups down this way, so I’ll declaim early.

The three-leg theory of coup-making is necessary but certainly not sufficient to explain this highly complex enterprise. Those three legs are the three dimensions of destabilization: economic disruption and imposed scarcity, political turmoil, and the willing participation of the most powerful military/security institutions.

One, two, three:

economic destabilization,
political destabilization,
military/security destabilization.

If all three conditions are not present, the coup will fail. In Venezuela they had learned, the hard way, that one sector resisting overthrow has the weight of history and inertia with it. There were a lot of big eyes in the National Palace two days in, when those young paratroops, many of them seen as racial inferiors by the coup-makers, suddenly appeared in the room with the de facto Carmonas government.

Coup consolidation must be planned, re-planned, and prepared to have its plans replaced by contingency plans. Because the consolidation phase is hectic, a marathon of caffeinated scheming and prevarication. When that happens, there will be slips.

July 1, the streets still teeming with demonstrators and burning with teargas, a State Department spokesman let it be known that the Embassy was aware of what was about to happen. This is not a catastrophe. One can simply say one misspoke.

Few noticed it was said, and the way to make that sort of thing go away is to let it fade from memory. For the few who did notice, this was a key revelation: foreknowledge. Because foreknowledge threatens plausible denial later on. It also told them to look more closely, because there might be a lot more than foreknowledge.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelley, were in Honduras the week prior to the coup and maintained meetings with the civilian and military groups that later participated in the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected president. They state their mission was to “urge against” the coup, but evidently such verbal pressure was insufficient to discourage the actors involved in the coup, particularly considering the actions manifested by Washington contradicted those harsh words.

-Eva Golinger
(Shannon was appointed Ambassador to Brazil in January 2010. He was pictured earlier from the old days, hanging out with Stanley Lucas in Haiti.)

Veteran coup-watchers were very alert to the first pronouncements from Washington, because there are discernable tea leaves there. The most discernable were the first things that Secretary Clinton said, as well as what she didn’t say. What she did say was “all parties,” a signature phrase that attempts to lend moral parity to both sides in a conflict. What she didn’t say was the word “coup.” What she did not demand was an immediate return of President Zelaya to his elected office. This was exactly the point where I became sure that this coup, at least many of its parts, were “Made in the USA.”

President Obama had much harsher things to say about the coup; and for a moment many of us paused. Only further into the consolidation did Obama seem to drift back on message, then disappear from the matter altogether. President's don't sully themselves with the mechanics of coups . . . Secretaries of State do.

The reason, aside from being able to deny there was a coup, for not calling the coup a coup, is that an acknowledged coup triggers US law requiring that the US to suspend relations: economic, diplomatic, and military. To this day, the US State Department refuses to call it a coup.

Clinton met Zelaya on July 7th in Costa Rica. After the meeting, in which she promised him he would be restored, she went before the cameras and microphones.
I just finished a productive meeting with President Zelaya. We discussed the events of the past nine days and the road ahead. I reiterated to him that the United States supports the restoration of the democratic constitutional order in Honduras. We continue to support regional efforts through the OAS to bring about a peaceful resolution that is consistent with the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. . . . We call upon all parties to refrain from acts of violence and to seek a peaceful, constitutional, and lasting solution to the serious divisions in Honduras through dialogue. To that end, we have been working with a number of our partners in the hemisphere to create a negotiation, a dialogue that could lead to a peaceful resolution of this situation.
What was actually said there? Look closely. There’s not much. “[T]he United States supports the restoration of the democratic constitutional order in Honduras.” It does not say the restoration of the Zelaya government. And emphasis on the term “constitutional” is no accident, since the Pivotal Lie was that Zelaya ceded the presidency by violating the Constitution. The coup was successfully spun as a “constitutional crisis.”

OAS members would complain that Washington’s people were dead set against Zelaya. The spin machine was in action, and the memories were fading.

This is what I call “the vague period” after a coup, when diplomats appear less often, looking busy and preoccupied with the complicated matters of state, and they say as little as possible about the situation, and what they do say is that they are in various processes for resolution. I submit the Clinton statement above as evidence of vague.

The vague period buys time. Time erodes memory and interest at home, while outcomes are manipulated out of public view.

Getting the Story Straight
Journalist Jean-Guy Allard has revealed the origins of the current US Ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens . Per Allard, Hugo Llorens, a Cuban national by birth who arrived in the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan, is “a specialist in terrorism. . . . In 2002, George W. Bush’s White House strategically placed the astute Llorens as Director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., which converted him into the principal advisor to the President on Venezuela. The coup d’etat in 2002 against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez occurred during Llorens’ tenure, who was working together with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Otto Reich, and the very controversial Elliot Abrams. In July 2008, Llorens was named Ambassador to Honduras.”
On June 4, 2009, just weeks before the coup d’etat against President Zelaya, Ambassador Llorens declared to the Honduran press that “. . . One can’t violate the Constitution in order to create another Constitution, because if one doesn’t respect the Constitution, then we all live under the law of the jungle.”
-Eva Golinger
Those declarations were made in reference to the national opinion survey on the possibility of convening a constitutional convention during 2010, which would have taken place on June 28th if the coup d’etat against President Zelaya hadn’t occurred. The commentaries made by Llorens evidence not only his position against the survey, but also his interference in the internal affairs of Honduras.

Llorens is one of the Cubans, with the same sympathies, same mentors, same base in Jeb Bush’s Florida. He was a banker before he entered the foreign service. He’s a fanatic free trader, and was a very significant actor in getting the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) established. So he is not as likely to cozy up to a General as he is to the host nation Chamber of Commerce. He’s a money guy.

Remember those slips that happen during the hectic consolidation phase? Llorens made one. In an interview the day of the coup, he was asked what had happened.
“It’s a clear cut case of a coup.”

“A military coup?” his interviewer asked.

“Well, whatever you call it.”

When asked by journalist Allan Fisher if the Embassy knew it was going to happen, Llorens replied. “”No, no, not really.”

What you called it mattered, because the official line to this day – if anyone can pin them down to give an answer about what happened – is that it was anything but a coup. This is such a ticklish question because a good shithouse lawyer would ask the following:

Was it a coup?

Answer yes, and the follow up question is why did the US not follow the law, then, by breaking diplomatic, economic, and military relations?

Answer no, and the question is, how was it not a coup?

The boilerplate reply is term limits, constitution, blah blah blah, which then opens the door on a genuinely rigorous debate on what exactly Zelaya did wrong.

No one in the Obama administration or the Clinton State Department wanted to have that debate, because they would have lost as surely as two and two makes four.
State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, had to mount the tight rope. Right after the above-quoted Clinton statement, on June 29, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly responded to reporters’ questions on Honduras during one of the regular and almost daily press briefings on any topic. It seems obvious from the excerpts of the transcript below that the US, in order to save face and combine pragmatism with principle (to use Clinton’s words), had to join with the OAS orientation.

This seemed to have been done in a half-hearted manner as reflected in the responses by Kelly to be seen below (the US “signed-up” to the OAS resolution). The exchange below also exposes another theme, the first of a long series of reporters’ questions and ambiguous State Department answers, extending for a period of close to six weeks. What was at stake for six weeks? The answer is: whether the US legally classifies the coup as a military coup d’etat or not. This legal classification of the coup as a military coup d’etat would imply cutting off all military and other assistance to their allies in Honduras.

QUESTION: So Ian, I’m sorry, just to confirm – so you’re not calling it a coup, is that correct? Legally, you’re not considering it a coup?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think you all saw the OAS statement last night, which called it a coup d’etat, and you heard what the Secretary just said. Having said that, we’re also very cognizant of the particulars of U.S. law on this. So let us get back to you on the legal definition issue. I don’t want to necessarily make policy up here.

-Arnold August
There is no right answer.

Coups, recall, have three aspects: economic, military/security, political. The political aspect has a national and international aspect. The international aspect is the world of diplomacy. Just as the coup as a whole has a preparation phase, an execution phase, and a consolidation phase, one important consideration – that was botched in both Venezuela and Haiti – was diplomatic consolidation of the coup.

Was it a coup? We don’t know. Yes. No. All wrong answers.

This is the reason there was such an intense emphasis on diplomatic consolidation by planners for the 2009 coup.

In 2002, they had their asses handed to them by Chavez; then in short order the whole US role was exposed.

In 2004, even though they had overwhelming force against disorganized opposition, but they had difficulty legitimating the coup. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus raised hell, and it embarrassed Bush apologists who were hawking a version of the Iraq War as respect for democracy.

This time it would be different. The message was carefully crafted, then taken on a carpet-bombing campaign in the US.

The Flip

We normally think of this kind of propaganda as having been generated by the government, who then defends it from the skeptical grassroots. But what’s been perfected by US coup cadres has been a way to flip the script on this impression.

The opinion-making perceptioneers went to work overtime before, during, and after the coup, putting their version out. But their version was not red meat for the rightist base; it was designed to seem sensible to liberals in particular. That’s why such an emphasis was placed on the phony – but successfully marketed – constitutionality story. By the time the coup happened, I saw this party line in the liberal blogosphere; and liberals were defending the coup using precisely the constitutional argument. The fact of a Democratic administration made many feel compelled to defend the coup, and they were easy to convince that the administration had nothing to do with it.

This kind of inoculation perception-management was perfected under the Clinton administration, when they successfully sold the Balkans war to liberals.

In Honduras, the perception preparation was so thorough that the Obama government seemed the moderate ones who opposed the coup, while liberals en masse put their stamp of approval on Zelaya’s removal. This way, the government appears to come closer to the people’s position (pro-coup) as the process advances.

So Llorens slip didn’t do much damage. No one was forced to invoke Section 7008 of the US Foreign Operations Law. The coup was consolidated with a show election. There was no Cuarta Urna. And Honduras withdrew from ALBA.

Game over.
… Llorens wasn’t alone in the region. After his nomination as US Ambassador in Honduras — the position that he was assigned to due to the urgent necessity to neutralize the growing presence of leftist governments in the region and impede the regional potency of ALBA — several other US ambassadors were also named in neighboring nations, all experts in destabilizing the Cuban revolution and executing psychological warfare.

The diplomat Robert Blau arrived first to the US Embassy in El Salvador, on July 2, 2008, named as second in command. In January 2009, Blau became the Charge d’Affairs at the Embassy. Before arriving to El Salvador, Blau was Subdirector of Cuban Affairs at the Department of State in Washington, after working for two years at the US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, as a Political Counselor. His work with Cuban dissidents was so successful that Blau was honored with the Department of State James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence. Llorens and Blau were old friends, after working together as part of Otto Reich’s team in the State Department.

-Eva Golinger
Achieving a coup quorum

The gang was all here in Honduras, from the American side. This particular treatise will not deal with the Honduran side of the coup in much depth, with the confidence that others – cited here – have already done an admirable job of it. This piece is concentrating on the US dimension, for US readers and for anyone who is interested in the swamp of US politics, and in the career of our new Democratic candidate for the Office of the President of these United States - Hillary Rodham Clinton. It is a rather interesting swamp.

That said, let’s at least take a peek at the Honduran side of the operation.

Just one month before the coup against President Zelaya occurred, a coalition of different organizations, business associations, political parties, high level members of the Catholic Church, and private media outlets was formed in opposition to Zelaya’s policies. The coalition was called the “Democratic Civil Union of Honduras.” Its only objective was to oust President Zelaya from power in order to impede the future possibility of a constitutional convention to reform the constitution, which would allow the people a voice and a role in their political process.

The “Democratic Civil Union of Honduras” is composed of organizations including the National Anticorruption Council, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP), the Council of University Deans, the Workers Federation of Honduras (CTH), the National Convergence Forum, the National Federation of Commerce and Industry of Honduras (FEDECAMARA), the Association of Communication Media (AMC), the Group Peace & Democracy, and the student group Generation for Change.

Remember, the Democratic Civil Union is what we have called the Honduran coup general committee, and it was the recipient of IRI largesse. It’s counterparts in Venezuela and Haiti were Democratic Action and Democratic Convergence (who says they have to be overly creative?). Lanny Davis is now COHEP’s lobbyist, as Roger Noriega is a lobbyist for the Honduran Manufacturing Association (Asociacion Hondurena de Maquiladoras, AHM), a constituent member of COHEP.

The Democratic Civil Union was formed two months before the coup execution. This gives everyone a chance to get their actions de-conflicted and coordinated before, during, and after the coup execution. To pay for all the meetings and phone calls and faxes and travel, the IRI was standing by.

Five days before the coup, the Democratic Civil Union of Honduras announced that they “trust the armed forces will comply with their responsibility to defend the Constitution, the law, peace, and democracy.” The de-conflicting and coordinating are complete. You can pull the trigger now.
When the coup took place on June 28th, they [the Civil Democratic Union] were the first to immediately claim that a coup had not occurred, but rather “democracy had been saved” from the hands of President Zelaya, whose crime was to attempt to give voice and visibility to the people. Representing the biased middle and upper classes, the Democratic Civil Union has characterized Zelaya’s supporters as “hordes.”

-Eva Golinger
While the Union put on its dog-and-pony show in support of the coup in a Honduras that exploded into protest, the spin machine in the United States played to a much more anesthetic audience. Even so, there was no effort spared in making sure the message was correctly crafted and heard – uncritically – by as many people as humanly possible.

The Unlikely Duo

John McCain and Clinton-loyalist Lanny Davis. A Republican and a Democrat, and they operated like a single mind during the aftermath of the coup in the US. In October 2009, Ron Nixon and Ginger Thompson wrote a piece about lobbying efforts on behalf of the de facto government and the rather obvious campaign to legitimate the coup.
The campaign has had the effect of forcing the administration to send mixed signals about its position to the de facto government, which reads them as signs of encouragement. It also has delayed two key State Department appointments in the region.

Costing at least $400,000 so far, according to lobbying registration records, the campaign [to legitimize the coup] has involved law firms and public relations agencies with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs.

-Ginger Thompson and Ron Nixon (“Leader ousted, Honduras hires US lobbyists,” New York Times, October 2009)
That connection was the Cormac Group, a one-stop lobbying shop for the extremely rich and powerful. Through it, Lanny Davis became COHEP’s apologist. Roger Noriega became the sweatshop owners’ AHM’s apologist. McCain began organizing delegations. And the choreography for this effort seems to have been by Daniel Fisk, yet another former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State… who now works for McCain’s outfit, the International Republican Institute.

The campaign was an impressive full court press, going after newspapers, Congress, talk shows, C-Span hits, and the blogosphere. There was even a fair amount of Obama-bashing – including the ludicrous claim that he is a socialist – which, ironically, supported the appearance of resistance to the coup by the administration itself.

Let’s look more closely now at the coup-legitimation campaign. Ginger Thompson and Ron Nixon, writing in October, 2009:
After the June 28 coup, President Obama joined the region in condemning the action and calling for President Zelaya to be returned to power, even though the Honduran president is an ally of Mr. Chávez, America’s biggest adversary in the region.

But Congressional aides said that less than 10 days after Mr. Zelaya was ousted, Mr. Noriega organized a meeting for supporters of the de facto government with members of the Senate.

Mr. Fisk, who attended the meeting, said he was stunned by the turnout. “I had never seen eight senators in one room to talk about Latin America in my entire career,” he said.

As President Obama imposed increasingly tougher sanctions on Honduras, the lobbying intensified. The Cormac Group, run by a former aide to Senator McCain, John Timmons, signed on, records show, as did Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates, a public relations firm.

For his part, Mr. [Otto] Reich sent his thoughts to members of Congress by e-mail. “We should rejoice,” he wrote to one member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “that one of the self-proclaimed 21st Century socialist allies of Chávez has been legally deposed by his own countrymen.”

As is often the nature of lobbying, some messages have been sent without any names attached. Floating around Senate offices in the last few weeks, for example, was a list of talking points aimed at undermining the nomination of Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon as ambassador to Brazil. Two Congressional aides, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about matters related to the coup, said that Mr. Fisk wrote the talking points.
The Sandwich

In conjunction with this campaign, where Lanny Davis was ubiquitous on the interview/talk show circuit, Davis managed to put together a publicized “debate,” under the auspices of the Council of the Americas (COA). From COA’s website:
Council of the Americas (COA) is the premier international business organization whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Council’s membership consists of leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation.
It’s a privatization lobby.

Presenting in this “debate,” in which all participants concluded that the coup must stand, were Cris Arcos (former Ambassador to Honduras and a vice president at AT&T), Adolfo Franco (ex-NED), and Jim Swigert of the NDI, a subsidiary of the NED, and the forum’s token Democrat.

That was July 8, a week and a half after the coup. Make a note.

Arcos, Franco, Swiggert.

On the 9th of June, 19 days before the coup, Lanny Davis had coordinated a public forum on Honduras, under the auspices of COA, which included

Cris Arcos,

Adolfo Franco,

and Jim Swigert.

June 4: Llorens denounces Zelaya.

June 6: Cormac rolls out an anti-Zelaya press conference.

June 28: Coup.

July 7: Cormac rolls out post-coup anti-Zelaya press conference.
Republican Senator John McCain, an ex-US presidential candidate, helped coordinate the visit of a coup regime delegation to Washington last week. McCain is well known for his opposition to the governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and other countries in the region considered “anti-imperialist.” McCain also maintains very close ties to the Cuban exile community in Miami. McCain is also Chairman of the Board of the International Republican Institute (IRI) that has funded the coup participants in Honduras. McCain offered the services of a lobby firm in Washington, closely tied to him, the Cormac Group, which organized a press conference for the coup regime delegation at the National Press Club on June 7th. McCain also helped set up several meetings in Congress with the traditional Cuban-American representatives and those general “Chávez-haters,” such as Connie Mack, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mel Martinez.

-Eva Golinger
June 9: The Arcos, Franco, Swigert travelling show.

June 28: Coup

July 8: The Arcos-Franco-Swigert Travelling Show returns.

Like a sandwich, with a visit from two officials as the lettuce and tomato.

A week prior to the coup, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelley meet with coup makers.

If there’s no smoking gun here, there is sure a lot of gunshot residue on the hands of this public-private alliance.

The Gunhshot Residue
As part of this offensive, Lanny Davis arranged a special hearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, attended by high-level members of Congress and overseen by Democrat Elliot Engel (congressman from New York). Testimonies were given at the hearing by representatives of the coup regime from Honduras and others who have supported the coup — directly and indirectly — such as Michael Shifter from the InterAmerican Dialogue, Guillermo Pérez-Cadalso, ex-Honduran Foreign Minister and Supreme Court Judge, and the infamous Otto Reich, a Cuban-American well known for his role in the majority of destabilization activities against leftist and progressive governments in Latin America throughout the eighties. Reich, who was named Special Advisor on Latin America to President George W. Bush, also played a key role in the 2002 coup against President Chávez.

-Eva Golinger
The attempt to pass a resolution in Congress immediately in support of the coup was led by Republicans, but Clinton had a better idea for the consolidation process, i.e., to stick with politically neutral utterances, while making a show of negotiations, holding Zelaya himself off to the side, allowing things to cool off in the US, then waiting for an election to put the democratic mask back on the Honduran government. Again, how much of this was shadow-boxing we may never know. Everyone looked for the same outcome, end Zelaya and end Honduras’ ALBA membership; and they got it. No reason the Right’s grassroots shouldn’t get a little red meat in the process, at the “socialist” Obama’s expense. All’s well that ends well, eh?

The real gunshot residue for US involvement is the airplane.

President Zelaya was beaten then bundled off into an airplane that flew him to Costa Rica.

I’ll start briefly with the question of how they got clearance to land in Costa Rica on a matter of this diplomatic gravity without prior coordination. They didn’t.

President Oscar Arias was inevitably contacted and forewarned, we don’t know whether hours or days or months in advance, but planes don’t take off with an unidentified cargo, cross international frontiers, and legally land in Costa Rica.

This was a kidnapped head-of-state. Surprising a future host with that would be insanely unpredictable. That is why it did not happen. Arias knew… something.

So there’s that. But the other question has to be posed. How did Zelaya, in an arrest posture, enter a United States Air Force Base, get manifested on a flight, have that flight checked in and logged, then cleared for takeoff, where it then flew into foreign airspace? It happened, so how did it happen?

Is it possible that Honduran military, with a kidnapped head-of-state, infiltrated past the armed guards and checkpoints and ground surveillance radars of the US-controlled Soto Cano Air Base, sneaked their handcuffed president aboard a plane (whose plane, and how did it get onto a US Air Base?), then cranked the engines and flew away?

A United States armed forces base abroad is the most formidable physical security plant you’re likely to see outside of a maximum security prison; and military bases aren’t designed to keep people in, like prisons, but to keep people out. A group of armed men with a high-profile detainee do not show up at the gate one day and ask to use an airfield.

Now that we’ve looked at what doesn’t happen on a military installation, let’s look at what does happen. Before anything happens that involves any movement of airplanes that is not internal to the resident armed forces, someone’s staff has to talk to someone else’s staff to organize and coordinate any atypical action.

You can put the pieces together any way you want, but one conclusion is inescapable: Sotocano’s United States military staff participated in a covert operation to kidnap and exile a head-of-state. They didn’t plan the operation except for their little part; but they were involved.

They answer to the military chain of command inside the United States; and that chain of command answers to civilian authorities in the government. The use of Soto Cano for the transportation of a kidnapped man is an irrefutable fact. Someone else, above them, had to order their participation, and someone had to act as a higher echelon coordinator (this coordinator will also have a staff). Inferential to my hunch, but facts nonetheless.

Soto Cano Air Base

With the current coup crisis in Ecuador, it’s hard to overestimate the gravity with which the US received thenews from Manuel Zelaya that he planned to send the US military home from Soto Cano. Ecuador, after all, did expel a US base recently.

Comayagua Province was once the name of Honduras; and its capital city was also called Comayagua. The city is still there; and it is host now to a massive US military installation called Soto Cano Air Base. It is also home to the Honduran Air Force and the Honduran Air Force Academy, which is a visible reminder of the co-dependency of the Honduran armed forces with the United States.

It’s an interesting relationship in light of the unconstitutionality-accusations hurled at Zelaya to rationalize the coup. It is interesting because the Honduran Constitution expressly forbids permanent foreign military installations.

In 1991, I worked at Soto Cano. That’s 24 years ago. It was built in 1981 (when Negroponte was Ambassador). That’s 34 years ago. Before that, when it was a mere airfield, the US used it in 1954 to execute the coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically-elected leader of Guatemala. How long does it take before it’s permanent?

It houses something called a task force, Joint Task Force-Bravo to be exact, which is one of three task forces under the command of the US military’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Joint just means it involves more than one branch of the military. A task force is a generic unit, a force available for any number of tasks. What they are running in Honduras is essentially a land-based aircraft carrier. It doesn’t do the missions, whatever missions might be assigned to SOUTHCOM; it’s there with an up and running support system for the various elements in the armed forces that do do the missions. It can be used for civil-military operations, for training missions, for direct actions and for covert operations. It is literally a place to feed, equip, fuel, and arm whatever force is needed within air range of Soto Cano, whether that would be a fixed wing intelligence flight in support of the Colombian military, a few sorties of troop helicopters, or an air attack.

If Honduras ordered the US out, Soto Cano would have to close. Strategically, that would tear a giant hole in the US capacity for military coverage in Central America and even southern Mexico. Given the US loss of Panama in the 80s, Soto Cano is a critical strategic piece, without which every US military contingency plan in the region would have to be pulled off the shelf and re-engineered.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa

This fear became paramount after 2007, when President Rafael Correa of Ecuador ordered the closing of the US military’s Manta Air Base, which had been used to support operations in Colombia. Phil Stewart, writing for Reuters in October 2007:
Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said Washington must let him open a military base in Miami if the United States wants to keep using an air base on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

Correa has refused to renew Washington’s lease on the Manta air base, set to expire in 2009. U.S. officials say it is vital for counter-narcotics surveillance operations on Pacific drug-running routes.

“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base,” Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.

“If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.”
Ecuador is also a member of ALBA. Double jeopardy.

The closing of Manta was not well-received; and Correa’s parabolic remarks about reciprocity certainly had Negroponte and Reich baring their teeth. Ecuador makes Washington very nervous. The US had no power to stop Correa, because Venezuela stood as a rearguard to ensure Ecuador could weather any economic punishments from the north.

A coup was attempted against Correa shortly thereafter, and it failed.

Soto Cano must remain open. It has proven itself again and again, beginning with its role as the central base from which the entire Contra War was coordinated. Losing it is the strategic equivalent of a limb amputation.

So let’s add something now to the motive-column for the Honduran coup: Zelaya had promised to close Soto Cano.

On May 31, 2008, President Manuel Zelaya announced that Soto Cano would be converted into an international civilian airport. The construction of the airport terminal would be financed with a fund from the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).

-Eva Golinger
Soto Cano, as we noted, is also the Honduran Air Force’s headquarters. The means the office of the Commander of the Honduran Air Force is on Soto Cano. The Commander of the Honduran Air Force is General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, graduate of… you guessed it, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, also known as the School of the Americas (where Otto Reich is now a board member).

There were two principle military commanders in charge during the coup execution. One of them was Prince. The other, another SOA grad, was General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the equivalent of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Vasquez had been fired as part of the preparation for the coup, after he refused (knowing he would be fired, because he was insubordinate) to let soldiers distribute ballots (a common practice in cash-strapped Honduras) for the upcoming Cuarta Urna.

As a matter of common sense, these two men had constant contact with both the US Embassy’s military attaché and with liaisons from SOUTHCOM.

SOUTHCOM got a new commander in July, just days before the coup, General Douglas Fraser, the first Air Force General to hold the reins of this theater command.
Transnational terrorists – Hezbollah, Hamas – have organizations resident in the region [Latin America]. I stay focused on it just because I’m paid to be skeptical. What I see right now is support – financial support – to parent organizations in the Middle East.”

- General Douglas Fraser

When I first read that, I experienced a Stanley Kubrick flashback to Dr. Strangelove.

Honestly, I don’t know why this guy was put at the helm in Soto Cano (the old commander was already scheduled for a theater command elsewhere). Coincidence, or changing command to cut paper trails, or both. But there he was, in charge of Soto Cano. I wish I'd had his phone number. He was sitting on the paper trail that paved Zelaya’s expulsion.

NEXT INSTALLMENT - Let’s look at a few of the other Honduran coup makers.

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