I Debated the
Honduras Coup With Lobbyist and Confidant Lanny Davis -- Here's How He Lied Clinton
By Greg Grandin, AlterNet
Posted on August 17, 2009, Printed on August 18, 2009
Last Friday, I debated lawyer-turned-lobbyist Lanny
It actually wasn't much of a debate -- in the way that word means an exchange of ideas -- as
As Hillary Rodham Clinton's major fundraiser during last year's presidential primary,
And all the while he has touted himself as a (Honduran) constitutional expert.
The Honduras coup occurred on June 28, when soldiers working on behalf of a the small group of business and political elites who now control the country, kidnapped democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and sent him into exile.
Since then, the military-backed regime of Roberto Micheletti has argued to the world that it was acting constitutionally, even though nearly every country in
Only in the
Never mind that several clear violations of Honduras' constitution occurred on June 28, including the detention of Zelaya by the armed forces (in violation of Articles 293 and 272), his forced deportation (a violation of Article 102) and Congress' decision to destitute the president (this is not within its constitutional attributions).
But the best response to this position -- in addition to pointing out that Davis's description of events is so selective as to be false (see below for details) -- is that throughout Latin America's long history of coups, those who executed them usually counted on legal and political backing. Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile, for example, had both.
In retrospect, I should have made this point. But
Through the program, host Amy Goodman demonstrated almost superhuman restraint, professionally refusing to respond to
His very first lie accused her of an ideological rant for simply reporting the truth -- for saying that Zelaya accepted a proposal to settle the crisis brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
This is demonstrably true -- Zelaya has repeatedly indicated a willingness to accept the compromise; Micheletti, on the other hand, is playing for time until November's regularly scheduled presidential elections -- yet
My favorite part of the debate took place about a third into the show, when in response to me pointing out that he was carrying out ad hominem attacks, Davis said that I was the one engaging in ad hominem, since I used the word "elite" to describe supporters of the coup.
"'Elite' is an ad hominem word,"
Business Week tells us that
Below is a list of
Fact: On July 19, Arias made the following statement: "The Zelaya delegation fully accepted my proposal, but not that of Don Roberto Micheletti." Zelaya reaffirmed his willingness to accept the Arias plan just a few days ago.
In the face of international condemnation, Micheletti began to backpedal, saying that he would submit the accords to Congress and the Supreme Court. But Micheletti's backers admit that this is an attempt to buy time until the November elections:
"It isn't the conversations that will provide an exit for the people, rather, the elections in November," said one prominent supporter recently. On Aug. 1, Micheletti said he would never allow Zelaya back as president, which is clearly contrary to the Arias plan.
No. 2: "By the way, the Congress, 95 percent of the Congress, even if you quarrel with plus or minus 10 votes, voted to remove Mr. Zelaya."
Fact: So far, 27 of the Honduran Congress' 128 members have publicly stated that they opposed the coup, that is, more than 20 percent of Congress members. The congressional vote
And even before the vote that
Fact: Zelaya has only been accused of violating the law. There has been no trial, much less a conviction.
No. 4: "The Congress overwhelmingly voted to remove him from office, because he violated Article 239 by his referendum."
Fact: The congressional decree that
No. 5: When I accused Davis of an ad hominen attack on me and Amy Goodman -- calling us ideologues -- he responded by saying "You're using ad hominem words, my friend, not me."
Fact Check: I checked the transcript and don't believe anything I said up to that point, or after for that matter, was an ad hominem attack on Davis.
I'm not a grammarian, but I don't believe this is true. But if
Catholic News Service
" and "
"? Or this 2008
: "Many observers argued that the considerable institutional control exercised" by the Honduran "elite created the potential for abuse of the country's institutions and democratic governance."
No. 6: "The church, every civil institution in
Fact: Important sectors of the Catholic Church, including the bishop of Copán, have denounced the coup, as have many "civil institutions," including the country's three main union confederations and peasant organizations. Even as we debated, the Honduran military was entering national hospitals to put down a strike by health care workers. Last week, the police attacked the National Autonomous University, beating protesting students with riot clubs.
No. 7: Again, regarding Article 239: "The Supreme Court's decision was a review of Mr. Zelaya's actions and whether it violated Article 239. That's a fact,"
Fact: The Supreme Court's June 25 decision -- the one repeatedly touted to justify the coup -- makes no mention of Article 239.
No. 8: "I do agree that both parties are now moving to the center and are now at least willing to go back to the table with President Arias, who's a Nobel Peace Prize winner. There needs to be a negotiated solution."
Fact: This is PR spin. Davis knows well that Micheletti, as well as the businessmen who pay him, will not accept the return of Zelaya under any conditions unless forced to by the international community and protests within the country. He also knows that his job is to run out the clock until November's elections, with the hope that the
No. 9: In response to my catalogue of human-rights violations committed by the current government -- which an international observation team described as "grave and systemic" and now includes the executions of at least 10 Zelaya supporters, Davis responded by saying: "I don't defend, if any of those things are true, if any of them are true."
An example of this occurred in the interview when, in response to charges that the Micheletti government was engaging in political repression, he referenced a CNN report on a supposed political abduction that turned out to be a case of spousal abuse. Davis is well-versed in PR techniques, and this one is straight out of the playbook used in the 1980s, when operatives linked to the Reagan White House worked hard to muddy the waters, to cast just enough doubt on the record of human-rights violations in Central America.
The point wasn't to disprove any given allegation that a
No. 10: "If there have been media organizations shut down by the Micheletti government, which I do not believe is the case ... "
Fact: Perhaps this is not a lie and just an unintentional error. In any case,
Fact: Here's the State Department's 2008 human rights report I was referencing. And here's its paragraph on the Honduran judiciary:
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective and subject to patronage, corruption and political influence. ... Low wages and lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery, and powerful special interests exercised influence in the outcomes of court proceedings. There are 12 appeals courts, 77 courts of first instance with general jurisdiction, and 330 justice-of-the-peace courts with limited jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justice names all lower court judges. The media and various civil society groups continued to express concern that the 8-7 split between the National and Liberal parties in the Supreme Court of Justice resulted in politicized rulings and contributed to corruption in public and private institutions.
No. 12: "So if you're attacking the Supreme Court, I assume you're attacking Mr. Zelaya, who put those justices on the Supreme Court."
Fact: The president does not name Supreme Court justices. They are elected by the National Congress (see Article 311 of the Honduran Constitution), which is controlled by the two major political parties. This is one of the reasons the State Department, as mentioned above, considers the court corrupt.
No. 13: "Now I make my case that that's an ideological statement, not a factual statement,"
Fact: It is a nonideological and widely accepted fact; see AP story referenced above.
Fact: See above-referenced State Department human rights report, as well as any recent United Nations Development Program reports, for a baleful description of the quality of Honduran democracy. According to the World Bank, "Overall, 50.7 percent of Hondurans has a consumption level below the full poverty line, and a total of 23.7 percent of the population has consumption levels below the extreme poverty line."
It's difficult to build a functioning democracy on that level of misery.
No. 15: "I assume that the professor and I are both liberals."
Fact: I'll leave this for others to judge.
Greg Grandin teaches Latin American history at New York University and is the author of a number of books, including the just-published Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism.
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