- Manuel Zelayapresident 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.
In Honduras, as many as 25,000 people marched Friday demanding the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. The protests come six years after a coup ousted Honduras’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. In an exclusive interview, Zelaya talks about the new protest movement, the fallout from the 2009 coup, and Hillary Clinton’s role in his ouster. “On the one hand, [the Obama administration] condemned the coup, but on the other hand, they were negotiating with the leaders of the coup,” Zelaya said. “And Secretary Clinton lent herself to that, maintaining that ambiguity of U.S. policy to Honduras, which has resulted in a process of distrust and instability of Latin American governments in relation to U.S. foreign policies.” While the United States publicly supported Zelaya’s return to power, newly released emails show Clinton was attempting to set up a back channel of communication with Roberto Micheletti, who was installed as Honduran president after the coup. In one email, Clinton referenced lobbyist and former President Clinton adviser Lanny Davis. She wrote, “Can he help me talk w Micheletti?” At the time, Davis was working for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, which supported the coup. In another email, Thomas Shannon, the State Department’s lead negotiator for the Honduras talks, refers to Manuel Zelaya as a “failed” leader.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. We turn now to Honduras, where as many as 25,000 people marched Friday night to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Thousands carried torches during the protest, which is the latest in a months-long campaign to demand an independent investigation into a $200 million government corruption scandal.
The protests come six years after a coup ousted Honduras’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. At the time of the 2009 coup, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was serving as U.S. secretary of state. While the United States publicly supported Zelaya’s return to power, newly released emails show Clinton was attempting to set up a back channel of communication with Roberto Micheletti, who was installed as Honduras president after the coup. In one email, Clinton referenced lobbyist and former President Clinton adviser Lanny Davis. She wrote, quote, “Can he help me talk w Micheletti?” At the time, Davis was working for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, which supported the coup. In another email, Thomas Shannon, the State Department’s lead negotiator for the Honduras talks, refers to Zelaya as a “failed” leader.
Well, Juan González and I recently interviewed Manuel Zelaya from a studio in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I began by asking him about Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2009 coup.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening in your country today? The massive protests, unprecedented. Why are people in the streets?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] 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.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: 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.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. To see the whole interview, go to democracynow.org. Special thanks to Charlie Roberts, Steve Martinez, Mike Burke and our Spanish team, Igor Moreno, Clara Ibarra and Andrés Conteris.