VIDEO: Full Interview with Former Honduras Pres. Manuel Zelaya, Ousted in U.S.-Backed Coup

July 29, 2015
Web Exclusive


Manuel Zelaya

president of Honduras from 2006 to 2009. He was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup on June 28, 2009. He is now head of the opposition Libre party.

Watch Amy Goodman and Juan González’s entire interview with former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Hillary Clinton’s role in his ouster six years ago, and the new protest movement underway.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On July 4th, as many as 100,000 Hondurans marched to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández after a series of corruption scandals revealed he used government funds in the 2013 presidential election that he won, including more than $300 million from Honduras’s public health system. Twelve people remain on hunger strike near the presidential palace calling for Hernández’s ouster.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as Honduras recently marked the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-backed military coup that ousted the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. It was June 28, 2009, when he was kidnapped at gunpoint and put on a plane to Costa Rica in a coup orchestrated in part by two generals trained in the United States.

Well, for more, we go directly to Tegucigalpa, where we’re joined by the former president, Manuel Zelaya.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what’s happening in your country today? The massive protests, unprecedented. Why are people in the streets?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Good morning. Really, in summary, we can say that Honduras today is a country without reconciliation and without justice. The historical problems have worsened instead of being worked out. The United States is supporting—and this is a complaint—a repressive government, a government that assaulted public funds for its own campaign. And the president himself has now acknowledged it, that he used public funds that were earmarked for the health of the elderly, pregnant women, children, sacred funds; his party has used them for its election campaign.

His victory was seriously questioned, and even so, he has recognized this crime, pressured, logically, by a journalist, David Romero, who published the checks made out to his party and channeled directly to the president himself in the political campaign. It appears that this was like a plot, like a conspiracy, to pillage these funds, $300 or $400 million—no one has the exact figure. But this has caused indignation in the people who are taking to the streets for the first time in the history of Honduras, almost 200 years of wanting to be independent. They are taking to the streets to ask the president to be accountable, to submit to an investigation and to resign, as he himself has recognized the crime.

And this has brought about another position on the part of the Honduran people, who are desperate: The people are calling for the involvement of the international justice mechanisms in Honduras, specifically an International Commission Against Impunity under the direction of the United Nations, which has had good results in Guatemala. They are asking the United Nations to come and begin to investigate all Honduran citizens, everyone, without any distinction based on color or any criteria. And we are all ready and willing, especially the opposition, to submit to an international investigation that is transparent, with international jurists, so they can verify the conduct of each and every one of us, with a perspective untainted by sectarianism, without any political influence, and also with the transparency and impartiality it requires. The people are demanding this, and the president is refusing, which is why today here in Honduras there is an international mission of the United Nations engaged in exploring the situation. Yesterday we met with them. We presented them with the evidence of the corruption that has invaded the state and that logically is directed by the president.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, President Zelaya, do you have no hope that the justice system in Honduras itself can resolve these problems and bring charges against the president, given that he’s admitted the wrongdoing here?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Very good question. Justice in Honduras, judicial officers, have lost all credibility since the coup d’état and to this day, first of all, because they are practically the same ones who conspired to bring about the coup d’état in the first place, in which I was the first victim. In this sense, the justice system is totally manipulated by the current president. A short time ago, he removed five members of the Supreme Court and installed the persons he considered suitable for maintaining his system of corruption in the country.

Similarly, he removed two prosecutors, and in their place he put his friends, who, logically, answer to his orders. He has created a military police force, and we regret that the United States is supporting policies of repression of a government that assaults the state, that the U.S. is recognizing it and remains silent regarding this situation. He has created a police force for himself, and he has changed all the country’s laws. Today, people can be arrested, they can be taken to prison without respecting the presumption of innocence, due process and, moreover, the guarantees enshrined in our constitution. The justice system in Honduras, with very rare exception, because there will always be honest judges and honest prosecutors—with those rare exceptions, it is totally politicized. It is not impartial, but rather acts with political sectarianism. It goes after the opposition. And it is true that the president today is sacrificing key parts of his administration to cover himself, so that he is not investigated. It’s like a smokescreen.

AMY GOODMAN: Manuel Zelaya, you clearly see this as a continuation of the coup that goes back six years, when you yourself were ousted. Can you explain what happened in June of 2009, how you ended up being forced from office?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Well, when the international right-wing movements—because this is the conservative restoration of the right-wing movements as of 2009, which was supported by the hawks in Washington, who made the decision to use arms, to use force—there was a coup attempt in Ecuador, a coup d’état in Paraguay, and the first one was the coup in Honduras. This process, well, the same right-wing movements thought it was going to improve the situation of our peoples, of our countries, to bolster trade, industry, to improve the levels of poverty. And what has happened was exactly the opposite. These coups d’état have destroyed the scant institutional framework that we had. The debt has grown. Our poverty has grown. Corruption has grown. And crime and violence have expanded.

And the problem is that the United States doesn’t want to hear these calls of protest from our peoples who are our in the streets, just like the people of Guatemala. Today, the people of Honduras—this is not being directed by anyone. There is no political party leading these citizen demonstrations. It’s spontaneous. This spontaneity—well, the State Department is deaf and mute in response to the voice of protest, and I would like to draw attention to this. The coup d’état was a failure. And the policies of repression that the United States is supporting in the current administration also provoke indignation in the people in light of this reality. The people demand a historic rectification of the international positions of the United States vis-à-vis Honduras.

Recall the human trafficking, trafficking of children, trafficking of women who go to the United States and pressure the U.S. borders, indeed bringing pressure to bear on the stability of the United States, precisely because of the failure of the policies here in Honduras. I could say the same of the new initiative of President Obama, who is talking about $1 billion in financing for the northern triangle, for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. I told the senator who visited last week, the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, I told him, "Senator, money alone is not enough. Dollars alone won’t do it. We need a government that respects the rule of law. We need justice in Honduras. We need respect for a democracy in our country, so that our people can have jobs, can generate wealth, can attract national and international investors. We need juridicial security and citizen security. One must be concerned, Senator, with the internal legal situation in our countries."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, President Zelaya, you mentioned the mothers and children that have been fleeing across the border into the United States. And here, we only hear in the media about the rise in crime and violence in Honduras. What is your—the government there failing to do about the flight of so many people to the United States?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In this regard, measures of repression have been adopted—that is, closing the borders, militarizing the borders, preventing persons from exercising their right to migrate. Because migrating is a right. It is a human right. All of our countries emerged from migration, the United States itself from European migration. Yet it must be regulated. It must have a legal framework. Instead, you see soldiers simply stopping children who are looking for their mothers in the United States, or young people who are looking for a job, because this capitalist, neoliberal, exclusionary and highly exploitive society doesn’t offer them opportunities. Recall that these societies are run by large transnational corporations: large transnational banks, large transnational commercial concerns, large transnational oil companies. These are governments of the transnationals. Here, the state is very small, corrupt, and doesn’t provide the people with any responses. Rather, it creates problems for the neighboring states, at the borders, such as we are seeing. The government today, rather, has increased poverty and corruption, and has been unable to control the very high levels of violence, due to the mistaken policies being implemented in our countries.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about an issue that relates to our presidential campaign right now in the United States. Emails released in the last few weeks show exchanges between, well, at the time of your ouster, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staffers in June 2009 about the coup in Honduras. They show how the United States sought the permanent ouster of—well, of you, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, even as it publicly supported returning you to power through a national unity government. In one email, Secretary of State Clinton sought to use lobbyists and former President Clinton adviser Lanny Davis as a back channel to Roberto Micheletti, the coup president, the interim president installed after the coup. In one email, Hillary Clinton asked, "Can he help me talk w Micheletti?" At the time, Lanny Davis was working for the Business Council of Latin America. In another email, from Thomas Shannon, the lead State Department negotiator for the Honduras talks, who refers to you, former President Zelaya, as a "failed" leader. Just weeks earlier, Shannon was part of a team of U.S. officials who supposedly came to Honduras to resolve the crisis. This is what Shannon said.

THOMAS SHANNON: I would say that the question of restitution has been a central question, not just for the United States, but for the entire international community. And OAS resolutions and U.N. resolutions have clearly indicated that President Zelaya should be returned to office.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state at the time, also wrote about the coup in Honduras in her book, Hard Choices. She recalls how in the days after the coup, quote, "I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. ... We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot," unquote. President Zelaya, can you talk about your knowledge of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role at the time in 2009 when you were ousted?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I interacted with Secretary Clinton publicly on several occasions, especially when she was here in Honduras in 2009, one month before the coup d’état, and sanctions against Cuba that the OAS had imposed 40 years earlier were lifted. The decrees against Cuba were repealed, and that was the beginning of getting rid of the blockade. It began in Honduras. Secretary Clinton had many contacts with us. She is a very capable woman, intelligent, but she is very weak in the face of pressures from groups that hold power in the United States, the most extremist right-wing sectors of the U.S. government, known as the hawks of Washington. She bowed to those pressures. And that led U.S. policy to Honduras to be ambiguous and mistaken.

On the one hand, they condemned the coup, but on the other hand, they were negotiating with the leaders of the coup. And Secretary Clinton lent herself to that, maintaining that ambiguity of U.S. policy toward Honduras, which has resulted in a process of distrust and instability of Latin American governments in relation to U.S. foreign policies.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Zelaya, you’re now a member of the Libre party, a leader of the Libre party, and a member of Congress and part of a resistance coalition that has formed against corruption. What do you see as the outcome of the current crisis?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The solution is a dialogue, a dialogue with several components. First, it must be moderated by an impartial and neutral mediator. Second, its first order of business should be the re-establishment of the Honduran justice system, which is politically sectarian, going after the opposition and lending itself to efforts to cover up government corruption. Strengthening the justice system requires an international investigative commission called the International Commission Against Impunity, such as the one that’s already operating in Guatemala and that we want to see operating here in Honduras. This will bring about reforms in the justice system, in the way that the members of the Supreme Court are chosen, in the way the prosecutors are chosen, so as to have justices independent of political influence, economic influence or commercial influence. They must be independent, if law and justice are to prevail and for there to be order in our country, and so that the state can be guided by social responsibility, not commercial interests, as is now the case, with the denial of citizen rights.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, last month, Miguel Facussé, dubbed "the palm plantation owner of death" and one of Honduras’s wealthiest and most powerful figures, died at the age of 90. Facussé and private security guards with his company, Dinant, were accused of taking part in violent land grabs and dozens of murders of campesino land activists in Honduras’s Aguán Valley as he sought to expand his palm oil fortune. U.S. diplomatic cables that have been published by WikiLeaks show the United States knew of Facussé’s role in cocaine trafficking but continued funding Honduras’s military and police, who reportedly worked closely with Facussé’s guards. Facussé backed the 2009 coup that ousted you as president; his personal airplane was used to fly Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas out of Honduras against her will, a story that Rodas later told us through a translator on Democracy Now!

PATRICIA RODAS: [translated] I was expelled from my country by the military. They came to my house. I was taken prisoner by the air force of Honduras. And then, later, they deported me at midnight, and they transferred me in the airplane. Apparently, this airplane belonged to Miguel Facussé, the plane in which I was transferred.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Honduras’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, under you, President Zelaya. In response to Miguel Facussé’s death, Chuck Kaufman of the Alliance for Global Justice told Colorado radio station KGNU, quote, "A prince of darkness has returned to hell." Your thoughts on his death and what it says about the U.S. relationship with Honduras?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Well, Miguel Facussé just died. May God have mercy on his soul. We have returned to this country with these images of pain that you have just reviewed, with these images which, logically, for our family, for our people, it hurts to remember. Yet we returned to Honduras, after almost two years of exile, of terrible repression, assassinations, human rights violations, death, expecting that Honduras would begin a process of national reconciliation to find solutions in the face of the new attack on our weak democratic systems. That hasn’t happened. Rather, we’ve seen a backsliding in the reconciliation process.

The agreement that we signed with President Juan Manuel Santos for my return, with President Hugo Chávez, with former President Lobo, today, this president doesn’t want to recognize it. He says that this international agreement, which allowed Honduras to return to the OAS, as per the rules of the OAS—he says it is an agreement between two friends, by two ranchers from the department of Olancho—former President Lobo and myself. So the rule of law, at the international level, is shunned by this state.

Moreover, I’m going to tell you something, something important. Six years have elapsed since the coup. Honduras was expelled from the OAS. The United Nations condemned Honduras. None of the countries in the world recognized the de facto government. Six years have gone by. The very truth commission formed by the government found that there was a coup d’état here, an attack against democracy that represented a rupture with the system and the social pact, and the state of Honduras, six years later, still refuses to acknowledge that there was a coup. Therefore, we, the victims of the coup, find ourselves totally unable to defend ourselves .

In that sense, precedents are being created that are harmful for Latin America, because if that is the foreign policy, denying a crime against humanity, a crime against democracy, a crime against the homeland, as is a coup d’état, what can you expect? How will they fight corruption? For them to try and see that there is justice to be done? For them to look out for the poor or to support solidarity? No. It is possible that plans are underway right now to establish fascist dictatorships such as those that we had in the 20th century, here now in the 21st century. There is a difference, though. It is true that there is a conservative restoration, but it is also true that the peoples have awoken. The people are no longer willing to just see it happen. The people are taking to the street, and they protest, and they call for their rights to be respected. That is the hope that we have in my country, that the 99 percent have taken to the streets.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Manuel Zelaya, you’ve talked about the movement of opposition by the people in your country. You’ve talked about what you would like the United Nations to do to step in and to investigate the corruption there. What would you like the United States and the Obama administration to do at this moment in the crisis your country is facing?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Perhaps Honduras is not one of President Obama’s priorities, but events in Latin America should draw the attention of the Democratic Party in the United States, which has President Obama at its helm. He came into office in 2008, and the coups began, the attempts to destabilize began. We recognize that President Obama has acknowledged the blockade of Cuba as a 55-year-old genocide, that instead of isolating Cuba, it had isolated the United States from Latin America. That was a very good gesture for Latin America. But we don’t accept him supporting policies such as those that are unfolding in Honduras, those of a repressive government, a government attacking public health institutions, attacks that have not been investigated. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption—social security; the funds of the National Congress that have not been investigated; the funds of the Ministry of Finance and the presidency that have not been investigated; everything that they used for their election campaign to stage a fraud and defeat Xiomara Castro, who was the favorite in opinion polls, and on election day things came out the other way around because of the fraud they perpetrated.

President Obama has not wanted to hear our peoples. He has turned a deaf ear on the cry of the people. First we protested in the opposition. A few months ago, they physically removed me from the Congress, the National Congress, because our party mounted a peaceful protest. The military removed us, using tear gas in the Congress. They expelled us, beating us with batons, beating us into the street. This is the government that President Obama supports, a government that is repressive, a government that violates human rights, as has been shown by the very Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. It has shown this to be the case. So we request a rectification, and that the policies directed here by General Kelly of the Southern Command should be verified through a democratic lens, not from the geomilitary point of view, but from the geosocial point of view, which is what is lacking in foreign policy toward Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, what questions do you think should be asked of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now running for president of the United States to succeed President Obama, about U.S. involvement in the coup in 2009? What would you like to know?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I would not like to participate in the internal politics of the United States, because I know there is an internal struggle. But yes, I have many misgivings about the ambiguous conduct of Secretary Clinton surrounding the coup here in Honduras. One must have a well-defined position, especially a power such as the United States. And what is negatively impacting our countries is the far right. So, having a well-defined position of support or of fighting that is essential, yet the position of the United States during the coup was extremely ambiguous. That hurt President Obama’s image. The credibility of the United States in Latin America was eroded.

And it is precisely for that reason that Latin America has responded, creating organizations such as those that we have today. Today we have CELAC, which is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a strong organization, respected internationally. We have organizations such as the ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which is also another organization that is respected. And organizations have been created such as UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, which has positions on many occasions at odds with those of the United States. The United States can no longer continue to view Latin America as its backyard for its foreign policy. Latin America now has a position. There is violence, it’s true, in Mexico, in Guatemala, in El Salvador and in Honduras, that has been caused by drug trafficking. The United States doesn’t want to correct its anti-drug policies. They fight the drug cartels, but they do not have a policy of fighting drug trafficking, and it is important that they understand this.

So, if you ask me about Secretary Clinton, I would wish that in this political campaign she would clarify why she had such an ambiguous position in the coup in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the answer to the drug war?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The drug problem is a human scourge that has a lot to do with the personal conduct of each citizen and of each person who is a drug user. So, integral policies are called for, not just fighting cartels, because they fight one cartel, and they let the other one grow, and then they fight the other one, while the other one grows. That doesn’t resolve the problems of crime, violence, organized crime in our countries corrupting our societies. There are places where drugs are produced. Plan Colombia has been a total failure with regards to drug production. Now more drugs are being produced, perhaps in smaller geographic areas, but more drugs. More drugs are circulating, and they are more expensive. And wherever they go, they leave death, blood and pain in their wake. And we are necessarily a part of those drug-trafficking routes. So, yes, there is a need to review the policy, but it cannot be a unilateral agreement. The United States has to engage in international agreements to seek solutions that prevent this very big problem that is causing death, assassinations, crime, from Mexico and all of Central America to Colombia.

AMY GOODMAN: President Manuel Zelaya, thank you so much for being with us, joining us from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thank you for joining us.

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