I did not orchestrate coup in Honduras

July 9, 2009

Ambassador Otto J. Reich

It is not often that an ambassador of a foreign country publicly accuses a private U.S. citizen of being the ''architect'' of a coup d'état against a third country. Yet that is what happened recently when the Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States, Roy Chadderton, charged me with orchestrating the removal of Honduras President Manuel Zelaya.

What would lead a diplomat to utter such fabrications?

First, we should remember that Chadderton is the envoy of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez, a lieutenant colonel who once tried to shoot his way into the Presidential Palace in Caracas, then reached power by disguising his intentions and now holds it by intimidation and deception.

Second, Chadderton stands for more than just Chávez. Speaking before an emergency session of the OAS Permanent Council, Chadderton represented a collection of the least democratic and, therefore, least successful nations in the Americas. It's a group invented in Havana, financed by Venezuelan oil money and self-described as the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA, in Spanish), which Zelaya had recently joined and whose members include such anti-American despots as the Castro brothers, Chávez, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales and other autocrats.

Chadderton and his ilk repeat falsehoods because they can. His government has said for years that I was responsible for the ''coup'' against Hugo Chávez in 2002 even though a three-month investigation by the State Department's Inspector General clearly proved there was no U.S. involvement. Chávez has presented no evidence to the contrary.

Chadderton attacked me because I have been pointing to Zelaya as the enabler of the corruption in Honduras. In April, Zelaya announced he was suing me for ''defamation.'' Zelaya commandeered all radio and TV stations and, surrounded by his cabinet and legal advisors, proclaimed he was dispatching a team of cabinet ministers and the president's legal advisors to the United States to ``sue Otto Reich.''

No lawsuit filed

With great fanfare, Zelaya's emissaries landed in Miami and announced that they were looking for a law firm willing to sue me.

After a large expenditure of Honduras' scarce cash, the team announced the successful conclusion of the search.

I have yet to receive notification of a suit, nor do I expect one. Not because Zelaya is no longer in power but, because, like so many of Mel Zelaya's actions, the much-ballyhooed lawsuit was a fake, a ruse to portray him as the innocent victim. Perhaps when Zelaya learned that to sue a U.S. citizen he had to renounce his diplomatic immunity and testify under oath in a U.S. court -- one that he could not buy or intimidate -- he lost interest.

In court, Zelaya would have been asked why he named his nephew, Marcelo Chimirri, as manager of the state-owned phone company, Hondutel. About $100 million ''disappeared'' from the company after Chimirri's arrival. Though Zelaya protected him, an independent prosecutor appointed by the Honduran congress charged Chimirri with embezzlement. Since Zelaya's removal last week, Chimirri has been arrested.

Zelaya may be facing much more serious charges than grand theft and abuse of power. His most recent felony was to undermine the constitution and to disobey the laws he was sworn to uphold.

With advice and support from Chávez, he tried -- but failed -- to subvert the electoral process so that he could remain in office indefinitely.

Had I really been the ''architect'' of Zelaya's removal, I would had advised that he be charged with the almost 20 crimes with which the Honduran Judiciary has now charged him, and be arrested by civilian authorities. I would have urged that the constitutional process be followed: the elevation to the presidency of the next-in-line, President of the Congress Roberto Micheletti, and the continuation of the electoral process, culminating in a November election.

Finally, the Congress would have voted overwhelmingly, as it did by a 125-3 vote, to ratify the removal of Zelaya.

A legal government

Without my involvement, these steps were taken. Therefore, under Honduran law, the new government is legal and constitutional.

The United States should not betray our values by joining the efforts of some of the most repressive and undemocratic leaders of this hemisphere to seek the reinstatement of lawbreaker Mel Zelaya.

© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.


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