- Lanny Davisattorney and lobbyist for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America.
- Greg Grandinprofessor of Latin American history at NYU and author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.
The Obama administration appears to be backing off its opposition to the Honduran coup regime just as internal resistance is growing in the Honduran streets. We host a debate between Latin America historian and New York University professor Greg Grandin and Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Clinton who’s now a paid lobbyist for Honduran business leaders backing the coup government. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Protests in the streets of Honduras continue nearly six weeks after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup. Riot police used tear gas and water cannons on a crowd of hundreds of protesters calling for Zelaya’s return. Clashes have erupted more frequently after the coup government warned last week it would no longer tolerate street blockades.
Meanwhile, soldiers have occupied state hospitals after some 15,000 nurses and other hospital workers declared an indefinite strike. They join tens of thousands of public school teachers who have been striking for weeks. Further protests are expected in the coming days with more Zelaya supporters marching to Tegucigalpa from various regions of Honduras, expecting to converge on the capital on August 10th.
The protests come as the Organization of American States agreed Wednesday to send a delegation to Honduras sometime next week. They want acting President Roberto Micheletti to accept a Costa Rican plan under which Zelaya would return to power until new elections can be held.
Zelaya, meanwhile, has called on the US to use its trade leverage over Honduras to pressure the coup regime. But the Obama administration is showing signs of retracting its stated support for his return. In a letter to Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the State Department said US policy in Honduras, quote, “is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual. Rather, it is based on finding a resolution that best serves the Honduran people and their democratic aspirations.” The letter also criticizes Zelaya for taking “provocative” actions that “led” to his removal. It also says the US has still yet to determine whether Zelaya’s ouster constituted a military coup.
Well, today we host a debate on the situation in Honduras. Lanny Davis is an attorney for Honduran business leaders group and the former special counsel to President Clinton. He joins us from Washington, DC. Joining us on the telephone is Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University and author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. He reported from Honduras two weeks ago but joins us today from Paraguay.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Lanny Davis, let’s begin with you. Explain exactly who you represent, who is paying you to oppose the ousted president Manuel Zelaya.
LANNY DAVIS: I represent a group of business community people called CEAL, who would be the equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce. It’s the Latin American Business Council of Honduras.
I do want to say that I appeared on Democracy Now! with the assurance, Amy, that you would be a neutral moderator, yet your opening is an ideological rant that distorts the facts. For example, you said that Mr. Zelaya accepted the Arias accords. In fact, Mr. Zelaya rejected President Arias’s proposal, and the government of Mr. Micheletti has announced, and has, in fact, said it would continue to discuss. So, let’s get the facts straight before we go any further.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Grandin, let’s begin with what Lanny Davis contends, that the ousted President Zelaya has rejected the Costa Rica accords.
GREG GRANDIN: No, that’s wrong. Two weeks ago, right when the talks broke down, when Arias presented his seven-point plan, Zelaya almost immediately accepted them. And Oscar Arias came out and gave a press conference in which he regretted the fact that Micheletti, the leader of the new regime, the coup government in Honduras, rejected the accords, while Zelaya accepted them fully. And one can Google the statement, Oscar Arias, Zelaya, Micheletti, and they’ll find the exact quote from Oscar Arias.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis?
LANNY DAVIS: Well, we’ll Google — we’ll Google this statement, and I will challenge the professor to find the quote of Zelaya saying, “This is unacceptable,” and walking out of the room. And I will challenge him to find the statement by Mr. Micheletti, which he just sent several days ago, asking Mr. Arias and the commission of the Congress, controlled by Mr. Zelaya’s party, with the chairman a liberal, going through each of Mr. Arias’s proposals.
And, by the way, the Congress, 95 percent of the Congress, even if you quarrel with plus or minus ten votes, voted to remove Mr. Zelaya, including a majority of his own party, as did fifteen members of the Supreme Court, including a majority of the Supreme Court justices who were liberal democrats. So those are the facts. And when you describe this as a military coup and don’t add that two civilian institutions of government, the judiciary and the Congress, both ordered Mr. Zelaya to be arrested or to be removed from office, you are not completely and accurately reporting the news.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, are saying that the coup president right now, Roberto Micheletti, has accepted the Arias accords?
LANNY DAVIS: No, he has taken each element of the Arias accords, which would not, by the way, permit another inaccuracy in your ideological introduction. The Arias accords would not permit Mr. Zelaya to return as president as he was president. He would be restricted from doing anything contrary to the Constitution, such as he is not allowed to support the constitutional so-called referendum, which was found to be, by the Supreme Court, to be unconstitutional. Mr. Arias said that is not permitted. He has to have a coalition government composed of all parties, not just his own. So he would not be allowed to return as president, and that’s really why he rejected accepting all of the elements of the Arias proposal.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, I wanted, and Greg Grandin, to go back to an interview we did with President Zelaya. It was about ten days after he was ousted. He described for Democracy Now! what happened the day he was removed from power.
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They attacked my house at 5:30 in the morning. A group of at least 200 to 250 armed soldiers with hoods and bulletproof vests and rifles aimed their guns at me, fired shots, used machine guns, kicked down the doors, and just as I was, in pajamas, they put me on a plane and flew me to Costa Rica.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the ousted President Zelaya. Lanny Davis, your response to what happened to the ousted President Zelaya?
LANNY DAVIS: Yeah, I don’t defend what was done. He should have been put in jail, as the Supreme Court ordered him. He violated the law. The Congress voted him out of office. And he should have been arrested and prosecuted with full due process of law. So I don’t defend that decision.
I understand the decision, because, again, what your program doesn’t report are facts. So, that was in the context of the day before, the president of an elected country leading a mob — that’s a fact — over 2,000 people, overrunning an air force barracks to seize ballots that were shipped in by Venezuela to conduct a referendum that the Supreme Court, by a 15-to-0 decision, called illegal. So the decision to ship him out of the country, I believe, in hindsight, could have been done differently.
But if you don’t also report that he had led a mob to overrun an air force barracks in violation of the two institutions of government, the Supreme Court and the Congress, at the same time that you call that a coup — it was a civilian-ordered arrest, and he defied the law and defied all findings of his own party in the Congress — if you don’t also report that, Amy, you’re engaging not in news, but in ideological ranting, which is what I said to your producer: I would come on this show with the assurance that you would not do that, and I’m afraid you’ve done it again.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Grandin?
GREG GRANDIN: Can I just jump in? There’s a couple of things I’d like to contest that Mr. Davis said. One is, you are reporting the facts. Micheletti — I was in Honduras when Micheletti rejected the accords and then backpedaled and said that he would accept some of them or that he would reject [inaudible] —-
LANNY DAVIS: Now you said he backpedaled. You didn’t say that before, did you?
GREG GRANDIN: Can I finish? Can I -—
LANNY DAVIS: I’m glad you now conceded that point. Thank you.
GREG GRANDIN: Am I allowed to finish? Can I finish?
LANNY DAVIS: Sure, sure.
GREG GRANDIN: I let you speak, right?
That it’s obviously an effort to buy time, that the pressure of — by the international community. By the way, the rest of the US allies, not just Venezuela, but Chile, Brazil, Europe, Spain, the European Union, all understand this to be a coup, Central American neighboring countries of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala. So there’s not a dispute in the international community, and it’s only the United States who are having a debate whether this is a coup.
Second of all, let’s just state out — right out front that Zelaya was overthrown because the business community didn’t like that he increased the minimum wage. We’re talking about an elite that treats Honduras as if it was its own private plantation. There’s an excellent AP report published yesterday that says exactly this.
The legal reasoning, all of the legal reasoning and the loaded words about mobs and overrunning that Lanny Davis is using, is all done retroactively in order to justify a military intervention into civilian politics. Even if it is all true, and it’s a big “if,” considering that Otto Reich-linked organizations were running a major disinformation campaign in Honduras for over a year, Zelaya is entitled to due process. Can Davis say where in the Honduran Constitution presidents accused of wrongdoing — not convicted, just accused — can be forced out of bed in pajamas and sent into exile? After all, come on, Bill Clinton was impeached. Members of his own party voted for that impeachment, but he was allowed due process. Zelaya was never presented with an arrest warrant, nor did the military ever mention acting in response to a warrant. All of that was done retroactively in order to justify the military intervention. And in any case, the military is not a law enforcement agency. They certainly aren’t allowed to kidnap citizens and fly them out of the country. The Honduran Constitution guarantees —-
LANNY DAVIS: May I respond?
GREG GRANDIN: —- due process.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis?
LANNY DAVIS: The absence of fact by somebody who calls himself a professor is positively breathtaking. Let’s go through each of the misstatements of fact. We at least can agree on facts and put our rhetoric aside.
Number one, the Honduran Constitution has no impeachment process. The 15-to-0 vote by the Supreme Court, which you conveniently forgot to mention, is in separate institution of government, eight out of fifteen from the liberal party; the Congress overwhelmingly voted to remove him from office, because he violated Article 239 by his referendum — both the Supreme Court and the Congress being controlled by members of his own party.
Finally, I have not defended the absence of due process. You don’t even listen while you’re ideologically ranting about the business community controlling the Supreme Court, a duly elected Congress, are all controlled by Otto Reich in Washington. You use rhetoric rather than fact. I do concede, and readily concede —-
GREG GRANDIN: Here’s a fact. Here’s a fact. Article -—
LANNY DAVIS: He should have been —-
GREG GRANDIN: Article -—
LANNY DAVIS: Excuse me.
GREG GRANDIN: Here’s a fact, Mr. Davis —-
LANNY DAVIS: You have no facts to dispute to that the Congress -—
GREG GRANDIN: Article 239 —-
LANNY DAVIS: Now you’ve interrupted -—
GREG GRANDIN: Article 239 —-
LANNY DAVIS: Now we’re even. Now you’re interrupting me, so we’re even. So let me finish.
The Congress, duly elected, and four out of five of the major parties, all parties, both presidential candidates of the major parties, the Church, every civil institution in Honduras, so we’re talking about the judiciary, the Congress, the Church, all of the parties but one, supported his ouster from government. And you say it was the business community elite? You are an ideologue. You’re not talking facts.
GREG GRANDIN: OK. I don’t know -—
LANNY DAVIS: Now I’m done.
GREG GRANDIN: Now can I finish —-
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Grandin?
GREG GRANDIN: —- the ad hominem attack on whether I’m an ideologue or not. A couple of facts. Article 239 of the —-
LANNY DAVIS: You’re using ad hominem words, my friend, not me.
GREG GRANDIN: Article 239 of the -—
LANNY DAVIS: “Elite” is an ad hominem word.
GREG GRANDIN: Can I — Article —-
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Grandin.
GREG GRANDIN: Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution has what is called a self-executive -— executing clause that says that any president who tries to decide — who tries to extend term limits is automatically removed. Now, legal scholars in Honduras have disputed the validity of this clause. But setting that aside, Zelaya wasn’t trying to do away with term limits. It’s a disinformation campaign that Zelaya was trying to extend his term in office, which was the only way in which that clause could be invoked. All he wanted to do was hold a non-binding survey to ask Hondurans if they wanted — whether they were in agreement to hold a constitutional assembly that would approve a new constitution after he had left office.
LANNY DAVIS: Can I ask you a question?
GREG GRANDIN: And in any case, Article 239 was invoked, again, ex post facto. You could read the — you could read — again, fact: you can read the decree by Congress, which justified the removal of Zelaya from office, and it doesn’t mention Article 239.
LANNY DAVIS: Professor, can I ask a question?
GREG GRANDIN: Now —-
LANNY DAVIS: Can I ask you a question about Article 239?
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis?
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah.
LANNY DAVIS: Honest question. The Supreme Court’s decision was a review of Mr. Zelaya’s actions and whether it violated Article 239. That’s a fact. And the Supreme Court -— you can read the decision — the Supreme Court found 15-to-0 that your scholars, which can — all legal questions can be debated. I agree with you. Your scholars were disagreed with by a 15-to-0 vote by the Supreme Court, including eight members of Mr. Zelaya’s party. What is your comment about the Supreme Court’s decision?
GREG GRANDIN: The Supreme Court decision was done retroactively. And —-
LANNY DAVIS: No, it was not.
GREG GRANDIN: —- in any case —-
LANNY DAVIS: That’s false.
GREG GRANDIN: —- the Supreme Court —-
LANNY DAVIS: That’s -— wait a minute. That’s a false statement. The dateline is the Supreme Court made that decision on June 25th. He was not removed from the country on June 28th. Now, you just made a false statement of fact. Take it back.
GREG GRANDIN: The Supreme —-
LANNY DAVIS: Take it back.
GREG GRANDIN: I’m -—
LANNY DAVIS: Take it back.
GREG GRANDIN: Look, you made a false statement when you said that —-
LANNY DAVIS: June 25th, three days before he was ousted, was the Supreme Court decision. Take your false statement back.
GREG GRANDIN: And did the Supreme Court -—
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, let the historian, Greg Grandin, respond.
GREG GRANDIN: Can I finish? Can I finish?
LANNY DAVIS: I’m waiting for him to take it back.
GREG GRANDIN: The Supreme Court did not invoke Article 239 in that decision. It didn’t —-
LANNY DAVIS: You are wrong.
GREG GRANDIN: It just simply didn’t -— I am not wrong; I am right.
LANNY DAVIS: You are — again, you don’t even know the Supreme — you don’t even know the Constitution of Honduras has no impeachment clause. You referred to impeachment. And you don’t know a basic fact. Have you read the Constitution?
GREG GRANDIN: I was using impeachment —-
LANNY DAVIS: Professor, have you read the Constitution?
GREG GRANDIN: I was using impeachment to talk about Bill Clinton.
LANNY DAVIS: Have you read the Constitution?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to take a break, and we’re going to come back. Our guests are Lanny Davis, attorney for the Honduran business leaders group. He is being paid by the -— is it the Honduran Chamber of Commerce?
LANNY DAVIS: It’s called CEAL, and it’s the Latin American Business Council of Honduras. But I said it’s the functional equivalent of a chamber of commerce, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University. We’ll be back with both of them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests, Lanny Davis, he is being paid by the Honduran chamber of commerce for the Honduran business community opposing the return of the ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, and Greg Grandin, a professor of Latin American history at New York University.
Lanny Davis, I just wanted to read for you from CNN, a headline from July 29th. I am now looking at their website, and it says, “Zelaya accepts proposal; opposition not ready,” talking about the proposal by Oscar Arias to resolve the conflict in Honduras.
And I want to start by asking you now to respond to the European Union imposing sanctions against the coup government, to the Organization of American States also condemning it, to — well, President Obama himself calling it a coup, although they have backtracked on that in the last weeks. Are you satisfied with the Obama administration’s response to the ouster of Zelaya?
LANNY DAVIS: Absolutely. And by the way, if the professor can concede a little bit that maybe Mr. Micheletti is now prepared to go through the Arias proposal and all of its component parts, as the Congress commission recently just did, it sounds like Mr. Zelaya, having put two feet into the Honduras nation and then withdrew, when he was at the border a couple of weeks ago, now seems to have changed his position, and that’s good. And the reason that I say it’s good is that this is going to have to be resolved peacefully between Mr. Micheletti and Mr. Zelaya, and the return of Mr. Zelaya needs to be negotiated under the terms of the Arias proposal. And, of course, Secretary of State Clinton is responsible for encouraging President Arias to begin this process, and Mr. Micheletti and Mr. Zelaya, both of them committed to the process.
At one point, the first announcement day, Mr. Zelaya walked out and said, “This is unacceptable.” I do agree that both parties are now moving to the center and are now at least willing to go back to the table with President Arias, who’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner. There needs to be a negotiated solution.
There will be a new president elected at the end of November. And it’s in the interest of America and the world that there be democratic, free, fair and open elections. I hope the national institutes of democracy, Carter Center, the OAS, everybody who can possibly be on the ground to monitor those elections, so there’s a full and fair and free election for the new president at the end of November, which I think is the ultimate best ending of this very, very tragic story.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, again quoting from CNN from their report on July 19th, it said, “Earlier Saturday Arias outlined seven steps he believes need to be taken. The first step, he said, is that Zelaya must be returned to power.” Do you agree with the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Costa Rican president?
LANNY DAVIS: Well, remember, I represent — you keep saying Chamber of Commerce, even though I corrected you twice, Amy. I’m not sure why you didn’t hear me.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead. Repeat who you represent.
LANNY DAVIS: It’s the Latin American Council of Business Leaders. Latin American Council of Business Leaders.
AMY GOODMAN: Also known as CEAL.
LANNY DAVIS: I said it was the functional equivalent of —-
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
LANNY DAVIS: —- the Chamber of Commerce.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
LANNY DAVIS: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: So, do you agree with —-
LANNY DAVIS: Not a big deal.
AMY GOODMAN: —- Oscar Arias —-
LANNY DAVIS: So I can’t -— I can’t —-
AMY GOODMAN: —- that Zelaya must be returned?
LANNY DAVIS: I can’t offer you my personal opinion; I will offer you the representation of the moderate business community who I do represent, who does say, in retrospect, the sending of Mr. Zelaya out of the country could have been done differently.
But I think they believe that Mr. Arias’s entire proposal, which boxes Mr. Zelaya in to following the law and the Constitution, despite the professor’s disagreement with a 15-0 decision by the Supreme Court — they found the referendum to be illegal and unconstitutional. So, Mr. Arias, reflecting that, has put Mr. Zelaya in the box of the rule of law. And I think the position would be is that nobody trusts him to violate the law.
And I wasn’t characterizing or using inflammatory words when I said — it’s on videotape, on YouTube — I’ll let your viewers look at Mr. Zelaya, the day before the 28th, leading 2,000 people, yelling and screaming and violently pushing forward into the air force base. I won’t use the word “M-O-B,” but what I just said are facts, the president of the country doing that, defying the Supreme Court and defying the Congress to seize ballots that were shipped in by the government of Venezuela.
Now, those are all facts that provide the context of why the Arias proposal, which is the basis for negotiations, has to be fleshed out, so that if Mr. Zelaya returns, he’s required to follow the Constitution and the rule of law and won’t lead another group of people — if the word “mob” offends the professor — another group of people to violate the law and override an air force base guard in order to seize property.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, let me ask you another question. Article 102 of the Constitution prohibits the expatriation of any Honduran. The Honduran military, guns drawn, went into the home of Zelaya, 5:00 in the morning, ousted him, put him on a plane, shipped him out of the country. Would you say that is unconstitutional?
LANNY DAVIS: I’ve already said — and I think there may be some problems in my microphone with you, Amy — I already said that what was done that night should have been done differently and that, in retrospect, the understanding that I have is [inaudible] —-
AMY GOODMAN: How should it have been done?
LANNY DAVIS: I think he should have been arrested and prosecuted for what the Supreme Court said was a violation of the law.
And let me clear up one other factual error you continue to make. The Supreme Court ordered his arrest by a 15-to-0 vote and issued an arrest warrant, despite the professor’s incorrect statement. And it’s the army -— it’s the army that reports to the Supreme Court to arrest a senior official of government under Honduran law. So the army executed a 15-to-0 arrest warrant issued by these Honduran Supreme Court.
Now, when I state these facts, Amy, in the future, when you introduce guests of my perspective, I hope that you will balance your loaded words like “military coup” and other things that you said in your introduction to say, “however, to be fair, this was a civilian-ordered arrest by the army of Honduras, which, under the law, is required to be used, not the police, to arrest a president.”
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel President Obama was wrong in originally calling it a coup?
LANNY DAVIS: I think the word “coup” is used by people to describe the forced ouster of an executive official, and that is the way that President Obama saw it from the first announcement. I think, in the second and third look at the facts, when it was seen that he was ordered to be arrested, and he had self — taken himself out of the presidency — I think the professor was correct in saying “self-executing.” Under Article 239, anybody who tries to extend the Constitution, the term of office, is prohibited under 239 as president and is automatically —-
GREG GRANDIN: Can I just jump in here?
LANNY DAVIS: —- automatically removed from the presidency. So how could there —-
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Greg Grandin?
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah.
LANNY DAVIS: —- be a coup, if he no longer was president?
GREG GRANDIN: But one — again, again, in respect to 239, that was ex post facto justified. In the original Supreme Court —-
LANNY DAVIS: Justified.
GREG GRANDIN: —- ruling — in the original Supreme Court ruling, it didn’t mention Article 239. This was an attempt to put a constitutional veneer on what is in — what the rest of the world is, in fact, calling a coup.
Now, in terms of the rule of law, which Mr. Davis invokes quite a number of times, let’s talk about the current regime. The recent international observation mission made up of fifteen human rights groups has documented what they call, quote, “grave and systemic acts of political repression” taking place. There’s been at least ten murders or disappearances, all of them Zelaya supporters, the latest being last weekend. Martin Florencia Rivera was stabbed to death, leaving the wake of another executed Zelaya supporter.
Mr. Davis talks about the Catholic Church. Well, it turns out that progressive priests, Jesuits, environmentalists, like Jose Andres Tamayo, is being hounded by soldiers. Just the other day, the police attacked the university, director of the university; Julieta Castellanos was beaten with riot clubs.
Members of death squads from the 1980s, most famously Billy Joya, has returned to support the Micheletti government. The government is closing down radio stations. Radio Globo, one of the few radio stations that is calling it a coup, has been shut down. Due process is suspended. Large parts of the southern part of the country have twenty-four-hour curfews. This is the face of the regime, and Lanny Davis is saying it’s constitutional, is saying it’s upholding the rule of law. I don’t understand how a Democrat can defend it.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Grandin —-
LANNY DAVIS: Can I respond?
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis.
LANNY DAVIS: First of all, my name is -— apart from getting your facts wrong, my name is Lanny, not Lonnie. But that’s OK. I don’t defend any —-
GREG GRANDIN: It’s my Brooklyn accent.
LANNY DAVIS: That’s OK. I don’t defend, if any of those things are true, if any of them are true. The people involved are -—
GREG GRANDIN: They’re all true. They are all true.
LANNY DAVIS: Excuse me.
GREG GRANDIN: They’re all documented by international observers.
LANNY DAVIS: Alright, Professor, I think we’re now even, two-to-two, interrupting each other. So, maybe from this point on, we won’t do it.
If they are true, then those people are thugs, criminals, and should be prosecuted. And there are plenty of institutions in Honduras that would prosecute them. The last time that I heard of a charge, however, before we believe truth, because due process is also about getting truth, not believing allegations — I heard somebody and saw on television — the allegation was on CNN — where an individual said, “My mother was abducted from the house. The house was surrounded by police, and I am a Zelaya supporter.” The second or third day story was that this individual was involved in a spousal beating and was arrested, and his mother said, “I wasn’t ousted from my house.” Now, that was the second or third story.
So I’m not denying anything you said, Professor; I’m saying, let’s be sure that what was — seemed to be true is true, and if those people did what you said and if there have been media organizations shut down by the Micheletti government, which I do not believe is the case, but in my mind is open, that’s wrong, it’s a violation of my liberal principles, your liberal principles, there should be prosecutions. As long as you concede that Zelaya violating the law, according to the Supreme Court and his controlled Congress of his party, said he violated the law, and the Congress voted him to be removed, that you will respect democratic institutions in Honduras and not attribute it all to the, quote, “elite,” which is where we started in the very beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Greg Grandin, the US State Department’s view of the Honduran Supreme Court?
GREG GRANDIN: Year after year, the State Department’s human rights — annual human rights report has characterized the Honduran Supreme Court as presiding over one of the most corrupt and politically influenced and controlled judiciaries in the hemisphere. It’s controlled by a kind of rotation between the national party and the liberal party, very small cliques within them. I mean, just go back, and just you can — again, you can Google, go to the State Department website, and, you know, prior to the coup, the State Department was very critical of the Honduran Supreme Court. So that’s a very politicized — its interpretation of events — I wouldn’t base my opinion on its interpretation of events.
LANNY DAVIS: May I respond to that?
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, I wanted to ask you a question. Have you had a chance to speak to President Obama about this issue, representing your clients?
LANNY DAVIS: No, I don’t — no, I don’t speak to President Obama. I wish I could, but I don’t.
And I would challenge the professor to cite the page number of the State Department report that said the Honduran Supreme Court is corrupt. Could you cite the page?
GREG GRANDIN: I don’t have it in front of me, but it’s online.
LANNY DAVIS: Alright, well, all of your viewers —-
GREG GRANDIN: I mean, and it’s -—
LANNY DAVIS: — all of your viewers, all of your viewers that are watching, as many as there might be, I challenge that statement. Secondly, it was a majority of Mr. Zelaya’s party who control that Supreme Court. So if you’re attacking the Supreme Court, I assume you’re attacking Mr. Zelaya, who put those justices on the Supreme Court.
GREG GRANDIN: That’s a simplification of Honduran politics, and you know it.
LANNY DAVIS: Excuse me.
GREG GRANDIN: The liberal party —-
LANNY DAVIS: Now you’re ahead -—
GREG GRANDIN: The liberal party has different —-
LANNY DAVIS: Now you’re ahead by one for interrupting. So I won’t -—
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, let me ask you another question. I wanted to follow up on whether you’ve gotten a chance —-
LANNY DAVIS: I just wanted -— I just wanted one other sentence, which is the Honduran Congress, elected by constituents all over the country, all over the country, from poor to wealthy, have congressional districts. The Honduran Congress overwhelmingly found Mr. Zelaya violated the law. The professor doesn’t even concede that point. It’s remarkable.
GREG GRANDIN: I concede that the Honduran Congress had that vote. I contest your numbers.
LANNY DAVIS: Are they corrupt? Are they elite?
GREG GRANDIN: Yes. If you know anything about Central American politics —-
LANNY DAVIS: Amazing.
GREG GRANDIN: Can I finish?
LANNY DAVIS: Amazing.
GREG GRANDIN: If you know anything about Central American politics -—
LANNY DAVIS: So a democratically elected Congress is elite.
GREG GRANDIN: Can I finish?
LANNY DAVIS: Now I make my case that that’s an ideological statement, not a factual statement.
GREG GRANDIN: It’s not an ideological statement. It’s what the UN — the UN —-
LANNY DAVIS: How many people voted for those members of Congress?
GREG GRANDIN: The UN -—
LANNY DAVIS: How many people voted?
GREG GRANDIN: — and NGOs like Washington Office on Latin America call Central American states, particularly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, what they call “captive states,” basically political institutions, the judiciary, the Congress, controlled by not only traditional families, but basically organized crime cartels. They’re called captive states or clandestine powers. It’s a fact. Anybody who knows the slightest bit of Central American history or has spent any time in the region knows that political institutions in Central America —-
LANNY DAVIS: Talk about American -—
GREG GRANDIN: — particularly —-
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, you said you wouldn’t interrupt. Go ahead, Professor -—
LANNY DAVIS: I said I was one behind.
AMY GOODMAN: — Grandin.
LANNY DAVIS: I had one more chance.
AMY GOODMAN: You did, and you got it. Professor Grandin?
LANNY DAVIS: Go ahead, Mr. Professor.
GREG GRANDIN: The political institutions, and particularly in these three countries, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have been hollowed out from the inside through organized crime cartels, often with deep roots in the military or traditional families. Political parties are often expressions of these interests. Read, for instance, the Washington Office on Latin America, kind of center-left think tank in Washington — they just released a report called “Captive States” that looks at Central America. The United Nations has set up a commission to investigate what they call “clandestine powers” that control Central American politics. This is not a conspiracy theory, and it’s certainly not ideological. It’s just fact.
LANNY DAVIS: Well —-
GREG GRANDIN: Anybody who ever slightest knowledge -—
LANNY DAVIS: May I respond?
GREG GRANDIN: — of Central America, beyond what they’re paid to know about Central America, would know this as a fact.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, I want to follow up my question about meeting with President Obama, which you said you did not have a chance to do that. But you’re a longtime law school chum of Hillary Clinton, as well as Bill Clinton. You, of course, were his special counsel. Have you had a chance to speak with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about this issue?
LANNY DAVIS: No, I not only haven’t, I deliberately chose not to call the State Department at all as part of my job. My job, I thought, and still think, is to get the facts out, to be as honest as I can about my observation of the facts and to testify, as you may know, before Representative Engel’s subcommittee about this situation.
And I would really also have to say that if an American liberal — I assume that professor and I are both liberals — were to make these kinds of judgments about a democracy, the turnout in Honduran — it’s one of the great democracies in Latin America —-
GREG GRANDIN: [laughing]
LANNY DAVIS: —- in terms of participation and votes. And that kind of laughter and judgmental elitism, which is a word that you seem to like to throw around — I haven’t once heard you mention Venezuela and Hugo Chavez and whether you consider him to be a small-d democrat, or is there any corruption in Venezuela. Would you concede there is similar corruption in one-party rule in Venezuela?
AMY GOODMAN: This is a discussion about Honduras, and I want to stick with this.
LANNY DAVIS: I want to know the answer to the question why Venezuela hasn’t been mentioned.
AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, I want to not go into a debate about Venezuela right now. I want to stick with President Zelaya.
LANNY DAVIS: Isn’t it interesting that I mention Venezuela, and, Amy, you don’t want to talk about Venezuela? That’s a very interesting issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Because I want to stick with this issue of President Zelaya. And I want to turn to his words. We had a chance to first interview him earlier this month during his brief visit to Washington, DC. This is what he said when Juan Gonzalez and I asked him whether he was illegally trying to extend his term through the referendum and subvert the Constitution of 1982. This is President Zelaya.
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In Honduras, we do not have reelections, and I never intended to be reelected. That will be a matter for another government, another constitution and another constituent assembly. The popular consultation is a survey, just like the one Gallup does or other polling groups. It does not create rights. It has no power to impose. It is not obligatory. It’s an opinion poll. How could this be a motive for a coup d’état? No one has tried to me. I was just expelled by force by the military. This is an argument made up by the coup plotters. Don’t believe them.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the ousted President Zelaya. I’m going to give you each a last comment. Lanny Davis, let’s begin with you.
LANNY DAVIS: Could I comment about your being the moderator of this show, Amy? No, I guess you don’t want me to.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to give you a final comment on this, if you —-
LANNY DAVIS: So Venezuela has nothing to do with Zelaya, even though when he went into the barracks of the air force, he was seizing ballots, which he calls a public opinion survey -— he could have hired Gallup — to seize ballots sent in by Venezuela. He’s arguing with his own Supreme Court, 15-to-0.
And your leading question, Amy, to the professor, well, would you comment on the Supreme Court? Well, let’s comment on that, the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is 15-to-0, already answered Mr. Zelaya’s question. The rule of law was that he was ordered to stop, because he was in violation of the Constitution, 15-to-0, eight of whom were from his own party. You always seem to forget mentioning eight of those justices were fellow liberals, and a majority of the liberal congressmen elected, from poor districts as well as wealthy, voted to remove him from office. Amy, you always forget to mention those facts.
And the ballots came from Venezuela, from Chavez. You said we’re here to talk about Zelaya, not Venezuela, which is you’re literally in denial about the involvement of Venezuela and Ortega behind Zelaya.
AMY GOODMAN: Historian Greg Grandin, your final comment?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, I think what you see here is exactly a strategy that Davis is borrowing from the Latin American right to cast anybody that they don’t like, in terms of Venezuela, to taint them with Venezuela, and we’re also seeing the importation of that strategy into the United States. The Republicans have done it quite successfully to derail Obama’s — I mean, Obama came to office promising to enact a new multilateral policy in Latin America, and his attempt to do this and to call the coup what it is, a coup in Honduras, has largely been sidetracked by Republican pressure, which has said that to support Zelaya, the restitution of Zelaya, as the legitimate leader of Honduras, under whatever conditions that the two sides agree on, would be the absolute — would be supporting Chavez’s — would be supporting Chavez’s agenda in Latin America. So we’re seeing both Republicans and Lanny Davis importing this strategy, which has —-
LANNY DAVIS: Lanny, Lanny.
GREG GRANDIN: —- actually a quite pernicious effect in Latin America. It’s basically red-baiting.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University, and Lanny Davis, speaking to us from Washington, DC, representing the Honduran business leaders.