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Latin America - Prophetic memo about Honduras predicted  "difficult" year for Zelaya one year before coup

By María Luisa Rivera for Wikileaks, 10 December 2010, 16.00 GMT

A year before popularly elected President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya of Honduras was overthrown in a coup, Charles Ford, the U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa, sent a memo (LINK) to Washington that stated: "The  last year and a half of the  Zelaya Administration will be, in my view,  extraordinarily difficult for  our bilateral relationship."

In words that now seem prophetic, on May 14, 2008 Ford wrote: "Honduran institutions and friendly  governments will need to be prepared  to act privately and in public to  help move Honduras forward."

On June 28, 2009, Honduran soldiers stormed the presidential palace, disarmed the guard,  and put Zelaya on a plane to Costa Rica. Roberto Micheletti, the next person in the presidential line of succession, then assumed power.

Although  Ford did not explicitly recommend destablizing the Honduran government, he  underscored the idea that "Zelaya has no real friends outside  of his  family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him" and that  "strategically he stands alone."

Manuel Zelaya was born into a wealthy Honduran family and started out as a centre-right politician with the Liberal Party of Honduras but moved steadily to the left over his political career.

In an article in New Statesman magazine published shortly after the president was ousted, Xiomara Zelaya, his daughter, claimed that her father "achieved free education for all children, guaranteed school meals  for more than 1.6 million children from poor families, reduced poverty  by almost 10 per cent during two years of government, and provided  direct state help for 200,000 families in extreme poverty, supplying  free electricity to those members of society most in need."

The U.S. ambassador interpreted Zelaya’s legacy differently. "Zelaya’s principal goal in office  is to enrich himself and his family while leaving a public legacy as a  martyr who tried to do good but was thwarted at every turn by powerful,  unnamed interests," wrote Ford. "Various public statements over his tenure suggest he  would be quite comfortable as a martyr who tried but failed honorably in  his attempt to seek out social justice for the poor."

Right wing Latin American analysts went further. "The gravest threat to liberty comes from elected populists who are  seeking to subject the institutions of the law to their megalomaniac  whims," wrote Alvaro Vargas Llosa, son of the famous Peruvian writer Maria Vargas Llosa, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post, referring to a referendum that Zelaya held to change the constitution that barred him from re-election.

Llosa also attacked Zelaya for bringing Honduras into Petrocaribe, which Llosa described as "a mechanism set up by Hugo  Chavez for lavishing oil subsidies on Latin American and Caribbean  countries in exchange for political subservience" and for joining the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean  (ALBA), a trade alliance that Llosa described as "a political  conspiracy that seeks to expand populist dictatorship to the rest of  Latin America."

The ambassador’s June 2008 memo makes it  clear that Ford was frustrated that Zelaya was not supportive enough of the U.S. "He made no  attempt to disseminate his "(M)ay photo ops with  President Bush after the  June 2006 meeting in Washington," wrote the  U.S. ambassador. "Most noticeable to me has been his  avoidance of  public meetings with visiting US officials. Zelaya always is a gracious  host, but never comes  out of the meeting to have his picture taken  publicly with our visitors,  as he is so anxious to do with other  visitors from Nicaragua, Cuba and  Venezuela. Almost all of our meetings  take place at my Residence rather  than at the more public setting of  the Presidential Palace."

Ford’s cable to Washington concluded that Zelaya was "not a friend" of the U.S. "His  views are shaped not by  ideology or personal ambitions but by an  old-fashioned nationalism where  he holds the United States accountable  for Honduras, current state of  poverty and dependency," wrote Ford noting: "There also  exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties  to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime."

The  failure of Zelaya to be more obseqious to the U.S. may have been one of the reasons why the U.S. government was lukewarm in its immediate response to his ouster in June 2009. Although President Obama eventually condemned the coup, he did not immediately throw his support behind Zelaya.