Battle For The Honduran Presidency Plays Out In Washington D.C.

Aug 20, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

A proxy-struggle for the Honduran presidency continues to play out in Washington D.C. The most recent battle is over the ambassadorship.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya's recent arrest and forced exile to Costa Rica hasn't deterred him from carrying out at least one of his presidential duties: the appointment of a new ambassador. Meanwhile, the unrecognized government of Roberto Micheletti has enlisted K Street firepower to make its case to the United States Congress.

Since being ousted by the military on June 28, Zelaya has reportedly visited the U.S. capital four or five times. Last week, he appointed Eduardo Enrique Reina, his former private secretary and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, as the new Honduran ambassador to the United States.

Reina's predecessor, Amb. Roberto Flores Bermudez, returned to Honduras as soon as the new government took power. Upon arrival at the airport in Tegucigalpa, Bermudez made a statement to the media, saying he no longer recognized the Zelaya government and was in Honduras to receive instructions from Micheletti, who had been appointed by the Congress after Zelaya's arrest.

From his position in exile, Zelaya lost no time in sending a message to the United States State Department, which subsequently revoked Bermudez's diplomatic credentials.

For the moment, the representative of the new Honduran government in the U.S. is neither Bermudez nor Reina.

Instead, the new representative has been recruited directly from K Street. Lanny Davis, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and former special counsel under President Bill Clinton, has been hired by the Honduran office of the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL) to lobby on behalf of the Micheletti government.

In the last week there's been a flurry of activity, with emissaries from both parties scurrying between offices on Capitol Hill vying for congressional support.

On Thursday, Reina convened a press conference at the National Press Club announcing his appointment and outlining Zelaya's goals from exile in the days ahead.

Davis also made an appearance for the other side, and their respective staffs exchanged terse words before the de facto diplomat made his exit. Later, Davis held a "responsive press conference" on the sidewalk outside the National Press Club.

Reina thanked President Obama for his support and praised the United States, the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union for their continued backing of the ousted Zelaya government.

Reina also expressed concern about escalating human rights violations during "the ongoing crisis and repression back home" and warned that "the police have said they will use force" if the demonstrations persist.

When asked about his future plans, Reina said, "the president has asked people to protest with non-violence" but he was adamant before last weekend's talks that, "President Zelaya will only discuss reinstatement."

To the disappointment of the international community, the talks served only to extend the stalemate as Micheletti's delegation refused to accept the conditional reinstatement of Zelaya proposed by the session's moderator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Instead, Micheletti's representatives called for Zelaya to return to Honduras to stand trial.

Zelaya's opponents say that he was removed from office because he was seeking a constitutional referendum that could allow him to run again, which is strictly prohibited under Honduran law. His supporters, however, maintain that the constitution was drafted under the rule of a military junta in the early 1980s and that several civil society groups in Honduras had repeatedly called for its reform.

On the day of his arrest, Zelaya was about to conduct an opinion poll posing the question, "Do you approve that during the general elections of 2009, a fourth ballot box be included to decide on the convening of a National Constituent Assembly to approve a new Political Constitution?"

Even if the referendum had resulted in a reversal of the re-election prohibition, the change would not have gone into effect in time to let Zelaya run again.

The country's Washington embassy is itself is a house divided. Half of its staff remains loyal to Zelaya; the other half has returned to Honduras in support of the new government. Among those who have left the country was the employee in charge of the embassy website.

"He blocked the computers, changed passwords and deleted files," said a current embassy employee. The staff members, working with Zelaya, are unable to use their official email addresses for fear they will be monitored back in Honduras.

The official position of the Obama administration is full support for the Zelaya government. However, the State Department is reviewing Reina's credentials and their reluctance to refer to the events in Honduras as a "coup" has prompted media speculation about the legality of the takeover.

Meanwhile, protests continue on the streets of Honduras. One Honduran in attendance at the press conference explained, "Even Hondurans who did not support Zelaya were against his deportation because of the precedent it sets." Supporters of the ousted Zelaya government -- among them the country's four largest labor unions, farmers' organizations and the school teachers' union -- called for his swift reinstatement.

Though Honduras hosted the general assembly of the Organization of American States only a month ago, after June 28th they were suspended from the organization. The theme of the assembly, selected by Zelaya, was "Toward a Culture of Non-Violence."

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