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US Lobbyists with Clinton Ties Hired to Defend Honduran Coup Regime

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Supporters of the coup in Honduras have begun hiring advisers and lobbyists with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an attempt to strengthen support in Washington for the coup. A Honduran business group has hired lobbyist Lanny Davis, who served as White House counsel for President Bill Clinton. The coup government has also hired Bennet Ratcliff, a public relations specialist with ties to former President Bill Clinton. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the situation in Honduras. On Tuesday, the Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom welcomed ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and called for the democratically elected Zelaya to be restored to power. Talks between Zelaya and the new military-backed government in Honduras are scheduled to resume this weekend in Costa Rica, but Zelaya has threatened to abandon the dialogue process if he’s not given back power.

Meanwhile, supporters of the coup in Honduras have begun hiring advisers and lobbyists with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an attempt to strengthen support in Washington for the coup.

To talk more about these latest developments, we’re joined now by Dr. Juan Almendares in Washington, Honduran medical doctor, award-winning human rights activist. He opposed democratic — he opposed the president, Zelaya, in the last election and lost, of course — Zelaya won. He’s with the Democratic Unification Party.

Ken Silverstein is also with us. He’s the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine, closely following the lobbying world and publishing a blog on political corruption called “Washington Babylon.”

And here in our firehouse studio is Andrés Conteris. He has just returned from Honduras. He is head of the Program on the Americas for Nonviolence International and works with us at Democracy Now! He worked as a human rights advocate in Honduras from ’94 to ’99.

I want to turn first to Ken Silverstein to this issue of the lobbying. President Obama has condemned what happened in Honduras and said Zelaya should be reinstated. And yet, talk about what’s happening in Washington, DC, when it comes to lobbying for the coup regime in Honduras right now, Ken.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, basically, the coup leaders have decided that they need support in Washington. This is a critical issue, because they are desperately trying to get legitimacy for overthrowing an elected government. And if they can get support in Washington, then they have hopes that they may be able to remain in power and to fend off the return of Zelaya.

Now, they’ve hired — their chief guy here is Lanny Davis, who used to work for President Bill Clinton. He was legal counsel. And he offered advice on the campaign finance scandals and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and on and on and on. He’s basically a mouthpiece for the Clintons. He has very, very close ties to Hillary Clinton, of course, and, no doubt, he’ll be using his ties to the Clintons and to the Democratic Party, the Democrats in Congress, to try to win support for the coup government.

AMY GOODMAN: And go on from Lanny Davis, on to who else?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, I mean, Davis really is the guy — I think the primary guy they’ve hired, the one who’s got the most influence. And I would point out about Davis is that he has a track record. It’s sort of ironic. I’ve seen bloggers say, “Gee, how could Lanny Davis do this? You know, it’s so surprising, this Democrat.” Well, there’s very little Lanny Davis won’t do for money, actually. I mean, he has a long track record of working for very, very difficult — is the polite way of putting it —- clients. He has worked for dictators in the past. In 1999, when he was at Patton Boggs, one of the big law firms here, he worked for a Kazakh front group, just as he’s working for a Honduran front group now. He worked for a Kazakh front group that was acting on behalf of President Nazarbayev, and Lanny Davis was out there trying to convince the world that Nazarbayev was a democratic reformer who was really trying to bring democracy to Kazakhstan. Well, guess what. That was ten years ago. And guess who’s president of Kazakhstan right now. President Nazarbayev, one of the most corrupt leaders around the world. So Davis has a long track record of working for these people. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn now to Lanny Davis. We tried to get him on the show; we couldn’t. But he did testify last week before a House subcommittee on behalf of the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, an organization that supported the coup in Honduras. This is part of what Lanny Davis said.

    LANNY DAVIS: My clients believe that, looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, it could have been done differently that night that the army decided to whisk him out of the country. And I’m not afraid to say that, with the wisdom of hindsight, it probably should have been done differently. As long as those of you — and I know Congressman Delahunt shares that view — are also willing to share the distaste for a president that regarded himself as above the law — in every institution in Honduran society, from the Church to civil organizations, to business organizations, to the Liberal Party, to the National Party, to the Supreme Court and the Congress, every institution found this president as putting himself above the law — if those facts are stated by my friends on the Democratic side, where I am affiliated, and my friends on the Republican side, we can then look forward, as President Obama and Secretary Clinton want us to do, and not argue about past history. Whatever the solution — cannot be imposed by the OAS, the United States, by my friends who are Democrats and my friends who are Republicans —- it has to be a Honduran [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN: That is an excerpt of Lanny Davis, former White House counsel for President Clinton, now lobbying for the business group in Honduras that’s supporting the coup. Ken Silverstein, his comments? And then talk a little about Bennet Ratcliff, part of the delegation that met in Costa Rica, according to the Times, the delegation including the installed Honduran president. Micheletti, the Times said, rarely made a move without consulting Ratcliff.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, just quickly, about Lanny Davis, as I had said previously, there’s very little he won’t say or do for money. There’s a word for that, which I won’t use on your show.

But look, the military — you know, I love — he says, “Oh, it might have been done differently. Oh, in retrospect, maybe it could have been done differently.” You had an elected president who was whisked out of office. He was overthrown by a military coup. He was taken away in his pajamas and put into exile. This is — you know, when you talk about who is behaving badly, who is behaving illegally, it’s the military in Honduras. So let’s be very clear on that. Davis is just lying in order to further the interest of his clients.

In terms of the other gentleman you mentioned, Ratcliff, he is another — he’s close to Davis. He also has very, very close ties to the Clinton administration. And apparently, during the negotiations in Costa Rica, he has basically scripted everything on behalf of the coup government, so that they don’t do anything without him. I mean, all their answers are canned and written by this guy, along with the help of Lanny Davis.

I think it’s also important to note, if I can just quickly, that when Davis talks about, you know, the unconstitutional behavior, the people who are at the head of this coup are a group of military and business elites who have run Honduras forever. It’s a very, very poor country. It’s as bad as it gets in Latin America. These are the people who want to get rid of the president, who have gotten rid of the president so far. And, you know, you’ve got people around the new government who are — have death squad histories. You have very, very repressive figures of historic importance in Honduras who are involved in the new government.

And I would also add here that the coup was backed by the apparel industry. And Davis is working on behalf of some Honduran business groups, including the apparel industry, and there are American businesses active in Honduras, like Russell, Fruit of the Loom and Hanes, who are members of the apparel trade group that are backing the coup. So it’s also important to note that you have American companies, and they say, “Oh, we can’t —- we don’t want to get involved in this. We’re not political.” So they won’t take a stand on the coup. They have taken a stand. They’re supporting the coup government. And they need to be held accountable for it, as well as people like Lanny Davis.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Juan Almendares, you ran against President Zelaya. You lost, he won. But you’re supporting President Zelaya, his right to return. Can you talk about what you heard Lanny Davis just saying, testifying in Congress, and what is happening now in Honduras? You’re just in Washington for a day.

DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Yes, it’s a great honor to be on Democracy Now! We want democracy now in Honduras.

I think Mr. Davis, I don’t know him, but it’s an inhuman statement of Mr. Davis. He is lying. And the most important thing is they don’t consider the human situation in Honduras. We have an extremely repressive regime, and also we have the involvement of multinational companies in this action, maquila. We have involvement of Goldcorp from Canada. They are paying people. And also, we believe that they have to see the facts, the human facts. I am a medical doctor. I have seen the wounded people, the terrorized, terrified people in Honduras.

And right now, an attorney, Harry Dixon Herrera, who was talking in the media here, during his talk, his family were assaulted by police. They used machine guns. They psychologically tortured the mother and put in jail his brother. And also, we have the fact of killing two leaders of the popular movement very recently, Companero Bados and Ramon Garcia, who were killed by this same story of this repressive regime. We have a new national security doctrine in Honduras.

What I want to tell Mr. Davis, is he in favor of the torturers, the perpetrators, the people who are really a terrible image in the history of humanity? That’s the question. And that’s the reason we want that the State Department, President Obama, president of Costa Rica, they have to denounce the killing the people, the detain, the abuse of the people, the psychological warfare they are doing in Honduras. So that’s the facts.

I think the American people has to know that we are suffering. And in spite of that, we have a strong people. And also there is a lie that Zelaya has no support. We are not only struggling for Zelaya. We are struggling also for Zelaya’s legitimacy, but also for the rights, the human rights of the people. And I understand that these people, American people, I always have a gratitude with them, because with this solidarity they have, and I am a survivor of the torture. So -—

AMY GOODMAN: We only have thirty seconds. I wanted to bring in Andrés Conteris, who has just returned from Honduras last night. Andrés, the level of repression there and the media coverage?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: The ongoing censorship of the media, Amy, is incredible. There’s a station that airs Democracy Now! in Spanish in Tegucigalpa. They are not allowed to use the word “coup”; they use the “bleep” when they have to say that. There are death threats ongoing against journalists who are suffering there. There — the repression against those who are trying to get the word out against the coup.

AMY GOODMAN: And [Harry] Dixon, who Dr. Almendares just referred to?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: His mother was harassed last night.

AMY GOODMAN: After he spoke on CNN.

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: After he spoke on CNN. And it’s a way of trying to quiet the resistance.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrés Conteris, Dr. Juan Almendares, as well as Ken Silverstein, thanks for joining us.

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