New Wikileaks cables have surfaced on the role of U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens in the aftermath of the constitutional removal of Manuel Zelaya from power and the subsequent presidential election in that country. Written by Llorens himself, the cables show a disturbing pattern of interference and bullying from the U.S. diplomat in Honduras’s internal affairs.
The cables describe several meetings that Llorens had with Honduras’ president Porfirio Lobo after the general election of November 2009. In all instances, Lobo visited Llorens in his office or residence, not the other way around. During the meetings, they discussed the conformation of Lobo’s cabinet, as well as the circumstances under which Roberto Micheletti—who replaced Zelaya as president of Honduras—would leave power. Llorens insisted that Micheletti, whom he refers to as the “de facto regime leader,” had to depart “well before inauguration day,” even though he was the constitutional president of Honduras at the time. On a cable dated January 5, 2010, Llorens recalls telling then president elect Lobo that “if Micheletti continued to thumb his nose at the United States… there would be repercussions.” He specifically threatened to refuse U.S. visas to Micheletti and his supporters ever again.
Unfortunately, Lobo played well his role of subordinate leader of an otherwise independent nation. In a telling example, Llorens recalls how the president-elect asked him for suggestions on whom to appoint as Security Minister. Later, Llorens basically vetoed the appointment of Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, then head of the armed forces, as the new Defense Minister. Previously, Vásquez had been on Lobo’s “short list” of candidates for that position, but Llorens warned him of the “serious image problem” that his appointment would have since Vásquez was the head of the armed forces when Zelaya was removed from power.
In another cable dated February 16, 2010, Llorens describes another meeting in his residence where he pressed Lobo—already sworn in as president—“on the continued presence and participation in Lobo’s government of the regime [meaning, Micheletti’s previous administration] Minister of Defense Lionel Sevilla and Chief of Defense Romeo Vásquez Velásquez.” Llorens warned Lobo that “the clock was ticking” for the Honduran president to “make the needed personnel changes.” Llorens wanted any civilian or military figure from the Micheletti administration connected to the ousting of Manuel Zelaya out of the new government. It is later described how “Lobo appreciated the Ambassador’s straight forward and honest advice.” As to who should replace Vásquez as head of the armed forces, Llorens “discouraged” Lobo from appointing a general related to the ousting of Zelaya, and “suggested” the name of a different officer for that position. Llorens then told Lobo to make the changes in the armed forces “sooner rather than later.”
These revelations have created a great deal of controversy in Honduras. Columnist Juan Ramón Martínez of the Honduran daily La Tribuna wrote [in Spanish] about his country’s embarrassment after learning of President Lobo’s genuflecting attitude towards the U.S. Ambassador. Martínez says that “according to the reports sent by Llorens, the country’s sovereignty doesn’t lie on the people… but on the Ambassador of the United Sates, who has turned the president elected by the Honduran people into a personal employee…”
Martinez is right. Hugo Llorens doesn’t act as a U.S. Ambassador, but as a U.S. proconsul in Honduras.