(WSJ)– Lots of hypotheses have been floated to explain why the Obama administration went to such extremes last year to try to force Honduras to reinstate deposed president Manuel Zelaya.
Now the release of two WikiLeaked cables from the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa strengthens one of those theories: that the U.S. knew Mr. Zelaya was a threat to democratic Honduras but had decided the country should tolerate his constitutional violations in the interest of realpolitik.
Practically speaking, Hugo Chávez was the man to please. After a decade in power, the president of Venezuela’s influence around the region was notable. George W. Bush had clashed with him. Barack Obama was out to prove that they could get along, as evidenced by the warm handshake at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain in April 2009.
Honduras offered a bonding opportunity. Mr. Zelaya was a protégé of Mr. Chávez. Standing up for him as democratically elected was a way to score points with Latin America’s hard left.
But Honduras wasn’t willing to play the sacrificial lamb. When its other branches of government removed him from office last year, it caught Hugo Llorens, the U.S. ambassador, flat-footed. Saving face became the top priority.
Mr. Ford’s cable, written as he was turning his post over to Mr. Llorens after a three-year assignment in Tegucigalpa, supports this premise. In the opening summary, Mr. Ford wrote: “Ever the rebellious teenager, 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.” The State Department says it does not comment on classified documents.
The image of a champion of the poor crushed by the rich elite is precisely what Mr. Zelaya’s supporters in Washington and Tegucigalpa peddled to the press in the months after he was removed from office. But Mr. Ford had spotted a fraud. “His erratic behavior appears most evident when he deliberately stirs street action in protest against his own government policy—only to resolve the issue (teacher complaints, transportation grievances, etc) at the last moment.”