Honduran Destablization, Inc.
Otto Reich and the International
by Nikolas Kozloff
When it comes to U.S. machinations and
interventionism in Latin America, I'm not naïve: over the
past five years, I've written two books about the inner workings
of American foreign policy south of the border, as well as dozens
and dozens of articles posted on the Internet and on my blog.
As a result, when the Obama Administration claimed that it knew
that a political firestorm was brewing in Honduras but was surprised
when a military coup actually took place this strains my credibility.
Nevertheless, in the absence of cold,
hard facts, I reserve judgment on whether Obama has turned into
an imperialist intent on waving the Big Stick in Central America.
Furthermore, the fact that Hugo Chávez of Venezuela says
North American imperialism was behind the coup in Tegucigalpa
does not make it so. In typical fashion, Chávez has failed
to produce any shred of evidence to support his provocative allegations.
International Republican Institute
There are, however, a number of intriguing
leads that point to U.S. involvement --- not in a coup per se
but in indirect destabilization. Eva Golinger, author of the Chávez
Code, has just published an interesting piece on her blog about
the ties between the International Republican Institute (IRI)
and conservative groups in Honduran society. Golinger has followed
up on my extensive writings documenting the activities of the
IRI, a group chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Though McCain
seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy
experience working with the operation that is funded by the U.S.
government and private money. The group, which receives tens of
millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy
Golinger reveals that IRI has thrown hundreds
of thousands of dollars to think tanks in Honduras that seek to
influence political parties. What's more, she discloses that the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided
tens of millions of dollars towards "democracy promotion"
in Honduras. I was particularly interested to learn that one recipient
of the aid included the Honduran National Business Council, known
by its Spanish acronym COHEP, a long time adversary of the Zelaya
Another interesting lead comes via Bill
Weinberg, a thorough and dogged journalist, founder of the Web
site World War 4 Report and the host of WBAI Radio's thoughtful
program Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade in New York. On Sunday,
Weinberg posted an intriguing article on his Web site entitled
"Otto Reich behind Honduras coup?" In the piece, Weinberg
discloses that the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization, known
by its Spanish acronym OFRANEH, has claimed that former U.S. diplomat
Otto Reich and the Washington, D.C. based Arcadia Foundation were
involved in the coup.
In my first book, I documented Otto Reich's
Latin American exploits in some detail. A Cuban native, Reich
left the island in 1960. In 1973, while studying at Georgetown,
he met someone named Frank Calzon. According to Honduras' La Prensa,
Calzon was an "expert in CIA disinformation" who recruited
Reich. Later, when Reich served as U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela
under Ronald Reagan, he established contact with Gustavo Cisneros,
a media magnate, billionaire and prominent future figure in the
After his stint as ambassador, Reich went
on to be a corporate lobbyist for Bacardi and Lockheed Martin,
a company that sought to provide F-16 fighter planes to Chile.
In 2002, he became assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere
Affairs under Bush through a recess appointment. Although Reich
has denied there was any U.S. role in the brief coup d'etat against
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in April 2002, the veteran
diplomat reportedly met regularly at the White House with alleged
coup plotter Pedro Carmona. At the height of the coup in Venezuela,
Reich called his old friend Cisneros twice. According to the media
magnate, Reich called "as a friend" because Chávez
partisans were protesting at Caracas media outlets.
Reich has also served on the board of
visitors of WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas,
a U.S. army institution that instructed the Latin American military
in torture techniques. As a member of the board, Reich's job was
to review and advise "on areas such as curriculum, academic
instruction, and fiscal affairs of the institute." After
leaving the Bush Administration in 2004, Reich went on to found
Otto Reich Associates in Washington, D.C. On the group's Web site,
you can see a photo of Reich and John McCain shaking hands. A
caption from McCain reads, "Ambassador Reich has served America
with distinction by representing our fundamental values of freedom
and democracy around the world, and I am grateful for his support."
Reich's outfit provides services in "International
Government Relations/Anti-Corruption," and "Business
Intelligence/Policy Forecasting." Specifically, the group
seeks to "design and implement political and business diplomacy
strategies for U.S. and multinational companies to compete on
an even playing field in countries with complex ethical and legal
challenges," as well as "advise major and mid-size U.S.
corporations on government relations to support trade and investment
goals in South and Central American countries and the Caribbean,"
in addition to identifying and securing foreign investment and
"privatization opportunities" in Latin America.
Otto Reich and The Searing Case of Hondutel
In campaign '08, Reich served as a foreign
policy adviser to Republican John McCain. In an interview with
Honduras' La Prensa, Reich blasted Honduran President Zelaya for
cultivating ties with Hugo Chávez. Reich had particular
scorn for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, known by
its Spanish acronym ALBA, an anti-free trade pact including Venezuela,
Honduras, Cuba, and Bolivia. "Honduras," Reich remarked,
"should be very careful because the petroleum and Chávez
problem is very similar to those who sell drugs. At first they
give out drugs so that victims become addicts and then they have
to buy that drug at the price which the seller demands."
Reich went on to say that he was very
"disappointed" in Zelaya because the Honduran President
was "enormously corrupted from a financial and moral standpoint."
In another interview with the Honduran media, Reich went further,
remarking brazenly that "if president Zelaya wants to be
an ally of our enemies, let him think about what might be the
consequences of his actions and words."
When discussing Zelaya's corrupt transgressions,
Reich is wont to cite the case of Honduras' state-owned telecommunications
company Hondutel. In an explosive piece, the Miami newspaper El
Nuevo Herald reported that a company called Latin Node bribed
three Hondutel officials to get choice contracts and reduced rates.
Zelaya, Reich remarked to El Nuevo Herald, "has permitted
or encouraged these types of practices and we will see soon that
he is also behind this."
Reich would not provide details but reminded
readers that Zelaya's nephew, Marcelo Chimirri, was a high official
at Hondutel and had been accused of a series of illicit practices
relating to Hondutel contracts. "After an outcry in Honduras,"
writes Bill Weinberg of World War Four Report, "Reich said
he was prepared to make a sworn statement on the affair before
Honduran law enforcement -- but said he would not travel to Honduras
to do so, because his personal security would be at risk there."
Reich's pronouncements to the Miami paper infuriated Zelaya who
went on national radio and TV to announce that he would sue Reich
for defamation. "We will proceed with legal action for calumny
against this man, Otto Reich, who has been waging a two year campaign
against Honduras," the president announced.
Turning up the heat on Chimirri, the U.S.
Embassy in Tegucigalpa denied the Hondutel official an entry visa
into the United States, citing "serious cases of corruption."
Zelaya may have taken the U.S. ban on his nephew to heart. Zelaya
complained to Washington as recently as last December about the
visa issue, urging U.S. officials to "revise the procedure
by which visas are cancelled or denied to citizens of different
parts of the world as a means of pressure against those people
who hold different beliefs or ideologies which pose no threat
to the U.S."
Bush-appointed U.S. Ambassador Charles
Ford was also turning the screws on Zelaya. Speaking with the
Honduran newspaper La Tribuna, Ford said that the U.S. government
was investigating American telecom carriers for allegedly paying
bribes to Honduran officials to engage in so-called "gray
traffic" or illicit bypassing of legal telecommunications
channels. The best way to combat gray traffic, Ford said, was
through greater competition that in turn would drive down long
distance calling rates.
Perhaps the U.S. government was using
the corruption charges as ammunition against Hondutel, a state
company that Reich probably would have preferred to see privatized.
The Honduran elite had long wanted to break up the company. In
the late 1990s, none other than Roberto Micheletti, the current
coup president of Honduras, was Hondutel's CEO. At the time, Micheletti
favored privatizing the firm. Micheletti later went on to become
President of Honduras' National Congress. In that capacity, he
was at odds with the Zelaya regime that opposed so-called "telecom
reform" that could open the door to outright privatization.
The Mysterious Case of Arcadia and Robert-Carmona
Building up the case against Hondutel
and Chimirri was none other than the Arcadia Foundation, a non-profit
and anti-corruption watchdog that promotes "good governance
and democratic institutions." For an organization that purportedly
stands for transparency, the group doesn't provide much information
about itself on its Web site. The two founders include Betty Bigombe,
a Ugandan peace mediator and World Bank researcher, and Robert-Carmona
Borjas, a Venezuelan expert in military affairs, national security,
corruption, and governance. The Web site does not list any other
staff members at its D.C. branch. Outside of the U.S., the organization
has outlets in Spain, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Chile, Argentina,
In his columns published in the conservative
Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, Borjas has gone on the attack
against Chávez. In recent months, he had expressed skepticism
about Obama's foreign policy openness, particularly if it meant
dealing with "totalitarian" figures such as the Venezuelan
President. According to his bio, Borjas left Venezuela after the
2002 coup against Chávez and sought political asylum in
Interested in knowing where Arcadia's
funding comes from? You won't get any pointers from the Web site.
Click on "In The Media" however and you get an endless
list of Borjas' articles and links to news pieces related to Hondutel
(and I mean endless: I saw about 70 articles before I got tired
and stopped counting). There's no other published research on
Arcadia's site, leading one to wonder whether the organization's
sole purpose is to pursue the Hondutel case. There's no evidence
that Borjas knows Reich, though given their common interest (or
should I say obsession) in the Hondutel affair it seems at least
possible that the two might have crossed paths.
In recent months, Borjas had driven his
anti-Zelaya campaign into overdrive. As Weinberg has written,
"The Honduran newspapers El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) and La
Prensa (San Pedro Sula) noted June 11 that Carmona-Borjas had
brought legal charges against Zelaya and other figures in his
administration for defying a court ruling that barred preparations
for the constitutional referendum scheduled for the day Zelaya
would be ousted. A YouTube video dated July 3 shows footage from
Honduras' Channel 8 TV of Carmona-Borjas addressing an anti-Zelaya
rally in Tegucigalpa's Plaza la Democracia to enthusiastic applause.
In his comments, he accuses Zelaya of collaboration with narco-traffickers."
So, there you have it: the International
Republican Institute, an enigmatic Washington, D.C.-based organization
intent on driving back Hugo Chávez, an inflammatory former
policymaker with business connections and a high profile effort
to discredit Zelaya and the Honduran state telecommunications
company. What does it all amount to? There's no smoking gun here
proving U.S. involvement in the coup. Taken together however,
these stories suggest destabilization efforts by certain elements
in the United States --- not the Obama administration but the
far right which was more allied to Bush and McCain. Perhaps if
the mainstream media can drag itself away from the likes of Michael
Jackson and Sarah Palin, we can get a more thorough picture of
the political tensions between Washington and the Zelaya regime.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution!
South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan,
National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International
Republican Institute (IRI), United States Agency for International