Wikileaks 08TEGUCIGALPA459: Ambassador Charles Ford on Zelaya

...in which Ford pathologizes Zelaya's critiques of U.S. imperialism and militarism as mental imbalance and describes him as a rebellious teenager (citing the Cardemal as a trustworthy source).

Ford's language is outrageously offensive, colonialist, and Social Darwinist. But it is also pathetic. Would it really be so wrong if, as Ford derisively suggests, "Zelaya's view of a trip to the 'big city' means Tegucigalpa and not Miami or New Orleans"? Do Latin Americans need leaders who value Disneyworld over their own capitals? [We'll leave the question of whether they or anyone needs leaders at all to another discussion]. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that "The Honduran voting record in the UN in terms of coincidence with US positions is at the lowest point in decades" should give the U.S. pause about its voting record, rather than serve as an automatic condemnation of a supposedly sovereign nation.

Click http://213.251.145.96/cable/2008/05/08TEGUCIGALPA459.html to see original with proper formatting and section links.

Viewing cable 08TEGUCIGALPA459, PRESIDENT JOSE MANUEL ZELAYA ROSALES: PERSONAL REFLECTIONS OF AMBASSADOR FORD REF: OFFICIAL BIOS ON FILE
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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TEGUCIGALPA459 2008-05-15 20:08 2010-12-10 16:04 SECRET Embassy Tegucigalpa

VZCZCXRO5637
OO RUEHLMC
DE RUEHTG #0459/01 1362054
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 152054Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8111
INFO RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID IMMEDIATE 0513
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//CINC/POLAD// IMMEDIATE
RUEAHND/CDRJTFB SOTO CANO HO IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC//DHO-5// IMMEDIATE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH IMMEDIATE
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J5 MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE 0742
RHMFISS/FBI WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/THE WHITE HOUSE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUMIAAA/USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 TEGUCIGALPA 000459

SIPDIS

MADRID FOR HUGO LLORENS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/14/2018
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL KDEM ECON SOCI KCRM ENRG EFIN
SNAR, SMIG, MARR, MASS, MOPS, HO

SUBJECT: PRESIDENT JOSE MANUEL ZELAYA ROSALES: PERSONAL REFLECTIONS OF AMBASSADOR FORD REF: OFFICIAL BIOS ON FILE

Classified By: AMBASSADOR CHARLES A. FORD FOR REASONS 1.4 (b and d)

  1. (S) Summary: Honduran President Jose Manuel &Mel8 Zelaya Rosales is a throwback to an earlier Central American era, almost a caricature of a land-owner &caudillo8 in terms of his leadership style and tone. 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. 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. He is comfortable working with the Armed Forces and until recently with the Catholic Church, yet resents the very existence of the Congress, the Attorney General and Supreme Court. Over his two and a half years in office, he has become increasingly surrounded by those involved in organized crime activities. End Summary.
  2. (S) I have gotten to know Mel Zelaya quite well over my tenure as Ambassador, and offer these personal reflections on his character, his views of the United States, and on what his presidency means for our interest in the region with the objective of informing future policy choices.
  3. (S) Personally, I have found Zelaya to be gracious and charming, quite willing to tell me whatever he thinks I want to hear at that moment. For example, in the period June-August 2007, we must have met weekly, with his agenda focused on explaining his nomination of Jorge Arturo Reina (who lost his U.S. visa for past terrorist connections) as the UN Ambassador, his presence in Managua at Sandinista celebrations and his intentions with regard to Hugo Chavez. It was interesting to see how his explanations differed from meeting to meeting, almost as if he had no recollection of our exchange just a few days before.
  4. (S) In the period May-June 2006, Zelaya pressed me hard to obtain President Bush,s approval of his plan to join PetroCaribe. When he met in early June with President Bush who confirmed our strong opposition to his intention, Zelaya later told me that he was surprised that this item had been on our agenda. In short, over an almost three year period it has become crystal clear to me that Zelaya,s views change by the day or in some cases by the hour, depending on his mood and who he has seen last.
  5. (S) Not surprisingly, Zelaya has no real friends outside of his family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him. In the days preceding his inauguration, Zelaya without prior notification canceled a country team briefing for his new cabinet. Over a private lunch he explained that he trusted no one in his government and asked me the question: &Who is the most powerful; the person with a knife behind the door or the person outside the door who knows there is someone behind the door with a knife?8 It is clear to me that tactically he will work with almost anyone, but strategically he stands alone.
  6. (S) Zelaya also has been quite erratic in his behavior. Despite his often harsh public rhetoric, such as describing U.S. immigration policy against illegal aliens as "persecution" by "fascists", Zelaya would meet again with President Bush in a heartbeat. At one point he even planned to go uninvited to a bilateral Bush-Berger meeting in Guatemala. Zelaya not only allowed the first visit of a U.S. warship to mainland Honduras in 22 years, but he delivered a TEGUCIGALP 00000459 002 OF 004 ringing speech extolling bilateral relations on the ship's deck, only briefly expressing pride in Honduras' capture and execution of the American interventionist William Walker. Always suspicious of American intentions, he inexplicably submitted to a psychological profile at my Residence - twice. 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. This approach to problem solving seems to be Zelaya's way of gaining acceptance, challenging the established political power structure, and moving his agenda - which is not populist or ideological, but is based on popular appeal.
  7. (S) Zelaya remains very much a rebellious teenager, anxious to show his lack of respect for authority figures. Cardinal Andres Rodriguez has told me that not only did he not graduate from university but he actually did not graduate from high school. The Cardinal should know, as he was one of his teachers. The problem is that Mel has acted in this juvenile, rebellious manner his entire life and succeeded in reaching the highest office in the land. No need to change now. He will continue to lead a chaotic, highly disorganized private life.
  8. (S) There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime. Zelaya's desperate defense of former telecommunications chief Marcelo Chimirri (widely believed to be a murderer, rapist and thief) suggests that Chimirri holds much over Zelaya himself. Zelaya almost assuredly takes strong medication for a severe back problem and perhaps other drugs as well. His vehement attacks on the press have reportedly endangered journalists opposed to Zelaya's policies. His style and tone in order to get his way is one of intimidation and bullying, threatening tax inspections and worse rather than substantive debate on issues. Zelaya's inability to name a Vice Minister for Security lends credibility to those who suggest that narco traffickers have pressured him to name one of their own to this position. Due to his close association with persons believed to be involved with international organized crime, the motivation behind many of his policy decisions can certainly be questioned. I am unable to brief Zelaya on sensitive law enforcement and counter-narcotics actions due my concern that this would put the lives of U.S. officials in jeopardy.
  9. (S) Finally, Mel is very much a son of Olancho, aware of his roots in the land and his family's ties to Honduras since the 1500,s. Unlike most other Honduran leaders in recent times, Zelaya,s view of a trip to the &big city8 means Tegucigalpa and not Miami or New Orleans. While he and his family have been part of the Honduran landscape for 400 years, they have not until recently inter-married with the Honduras elite in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. His son's marriage in 2006 to one of the country's leading Honduran-Arab families was very important to Zelaya yet a complex event, signifying acceptance into the very elite group that he so very much resents.
  10. (S) I have found Zelaya,s real views of the United States hidden not too very deeply below the surface. In a word, he is not a friend. 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. Zelaya,s public position against the Contra War and against the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air TEGUCIGALP 00000459 003 OF 004 Force Base are manifestations of this underlying viewpoint.
  11. (S) Other behavior by the President confirms, in my view, the depth of his feeling. While Zelaya was open to our point of view of the selection of key members of his Cabinet, he was absolutely closed to listening to us on his appointment of his Ambassador to the OAS and to his appointment of Jorge Arturo Reina as Ambassador to the UN. The Honduran voting record in the UN in terms of coincidence with US positions is at the lowest point in decades.
  12. (S) More revealing, at public events with key officials present, Zelaya will make clear that anyone interested in becoming President of the country needs first to get the blessing of the American Ambassador. Personally, in private conversations at the Residence, Zelaya has recounted to me, multiple times how a previous American Ambassador had ordered the President of the Honduran Congress to accept the Presidential candidacy of Ricardo Maduro, even though in Zelaya,s view Maduro was Panamanian-born and thus ineligible. Other sources have documented Zelaya,s views on this point where his anger and resentment are more apparent than in his exchanges with me. It is clear by the way he recounts the story that on one level he resents very much this perceived dependency yet accepts it exists and looks to me to define for him the rules of the game. He becomes frustrated at times when he believes I am not carrying out this responsibility.
  13. (S) Most noticeable to me has been his avoidance of public meetings with visiting US officials. Whether Cabinet officials or CODELs, 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. He made no attempt to disseminate his may photo ops with President Bush after the June 2006 meeting in Washington. The fact is that the President of the country prefers to meet quite often in the privacy of my Residence but not to be seen in public with American visitors.
  14. (S) Finally, Zelaya recently is fond of saying that we need to improve our communication, which I interpret to mean that we need to agree with him more often. A similar fate has befallen Cardinal Rodriguez who used to meet, as I do, regularly with the President. As the Cardinal in recent months has found himself in disagreement with Zelaya and is not participating publicly in his projects, Zelaya is working increasingly with pastors in the evangelical community. The Cardinal recently told me that he and the President hardly speak now as the President is unhappy that he doesn't agree with the direction Zelaya is taking the country. For Zelaya, communicating means agreeing unquestionably with his point of view.
  15. (S) GOING FORWARD: The last year and a half of the Zelaya Administration will be, in my view, extraordinarily difficult for our bilateral relationship. His pursuit of immunity from the numerous activities of organized crime carried out in his Administration will cause him to threaten the rule of law and institutional stability. Honduran institutions and friendly governments will need to be prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras forward.
  16. (S) We will need, in my view, to continue to engage Zelaya whenever we can in order to minimize damage and to TEGUCIGALP 00000459 004 OF 004 protect our core interests. As a rebellious teenager, he will need a significant space to move, in but we must be very direct in our conversations with him as to our core interests. Despite his feelings towards us, he does respect the role the U.S. Embassy is still perceived to play in Honduran society and will expect us in private to be direct and clear in our views. Using an analogy from American football, we will need to continue to carry out an aggressive bend but not break defensive game plan in the run up to the next elections in November 2009. In this way, I believe we can engage Zelaya intensely in the hope of so as to minimizing damage to Honduran democracy and the economy. Ford

Comments

A friend if you agree with me

Ford's reflections show a lot of frustration and resentment. This resentment should not be a surprise to those who know about his numerous confrontations with Zelaya regarding Petro Caribe, Posada Carriles' case, and the accusation from Zelaya about his intervention in Honduras Government's matters.

The former ambassador tells his audience that Zelaya is not a friend, and the reasons he gives clearly describe that Zelaya needed to agree with him even about very sensitive issues on which most Honduras would also share Zelaya's nationalist point of view.

The document includes very serious accusations, but they are accompanied by weak arguments.

If the accussations were true, including the one where the former ambassador makes his case to prepare Honduran authorities and friendly governments to act in private and in public, it would have been easier for Honduras authorities to build a case against Zelaya months before the constitutional crisis took place, instead of breaking the law like they did.

When there are solid arguments and facts there is no need to act in private. Obviously, Honduran authorities did not have that on their side, and the only way to act was through propaganda, deceits, and illegal actions.

Honduras will move forward only when justice is served for everyone,
regardless of their different political views, and when authorities engage in a real fight against corruption and impunity without distinctions.

This process will always be obstructed by diplomats with limited understanding of what democracy or friendship mean.

::chuckle::, Victor

Roger that on staying off his calendar, for sure.

The Wikipedia page is hopelessly outdated, so finding his State Dept. biography is not so straightforward. I wonder how a military command justifies having "business engagements" to the curious.

Adding...

Here's the skinny from Admiral James Stavridis:

As Commander of U.S. Southern Command, I asked Ambassador Chuck Ford to fill the new position of Business Engagement Advisor. His mission was to tap into the private sector’s desire to help enhance the security of the U.S. The valuable contacts we established through his efforts and the collaborative spirit born from those strategic connections were evident to me early in my tenure there.

Our public-private collaboration efforts ranged from getting the security chiefs of cruise-ship companies in the same room with our operations folks to exchange information and business cards, to bringing CEOs together to exchange ideas on the complex challenges concerning illicit drug financing, logistics, and operations. The interaction continues today, as most notably and recently seen in the collaboration between private and public efforts following the earthquake in Haiti last January.

At U.S. European Command we are also engaging the private sector – corporations as well as non-profit enterprises, non-governmental entities and universities. For example, we are identifying ways to better partner, where legal and appropriate, with private sector expertise in international humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. We are also helping to share information with the private sector in order to ensure an effective and safe environment for their efforts in Afghanistan, and seeking advice and input to ensure strategic communications are undertaken effectively.

holy moley

This is golden, Charles, on so many counts. Thanks!

I specialize in...

I specialize in consecrating Talpidae :-)

Kidding aside, your site is a wonderful resource, so I'm always delighted when I find a tidbit to help you.

graham greene overdose

damn, wasn't there anything in the embassy library to read besides graham greene?

literary crimes apart, the other scary thing about this memo is that su excelencia ford was not -- as might be imagined from the racist prose -- some yahoo political appointee like an SUV dealer who was rewarded for bundling a ton of campaign donations. nope, dude is a technocrat, previously stationed in caracas, guatemala and buenos aires and, check it out, he "is currently the Business Engagement Advisor to the Commander, United States Southern Command"

very engaging fellow no doubt, but it's probably a good idea to stay out of his engagement calendar...

What I want to know is...

What I want to knows is, "Did he call him, 'boy'?"

It's a pretty creepy letter. This is being written just before the run-up to the coup began, so it's particularly important. Since it coincides with Llorens taking over as ambassador, it probably was a routine handover rather than a specially commissioned report.

But set aside the paternalism, the medicalization of disagreements and the overall psychiatric tone--Ford is, after all, gone from the Mission, there is a phrase that jumps out:

I have found Zelaya's real views of the United States hidden not too very deeply below the surface. In a word, he is not a friend.

This is significant, since the first evidence that a coup was being prepared occurs only months later.

Also significant, Ford says that Zelaya's rejection of the Contra War and the continued US occupation of Palmerola despite the safety crisis that it was creating at Toncontin were evidence of this. In other words, he is citing Zelaya's rejection of one criminal and one bone-headed action by the US as evidence of Zelaya's enmity.

Also, here's a document that you might be interested in. It's the OIG report from October, 2008, so right after Llorens took over.

OIG report

The Ambassador at the time of the OIG inspection was Charles Ford.

Sort of correct

The physical inspection was actually completed on May 6th, the day after Llorens was appointed.

But it wasn't written up until October, 2008.

But thanks for coming up with something irrelevant.