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All parties broke law in Honduras coup, envoy wrote

MEXICO CITY — The events surrounding the June 2009 coup in Honduras was a carnival of illegal actions by every branch of government, including the successor of the deposed president, according to a diplomatic cable signed by the U.S. ambassador.

The cable, part of the quarter-million confidential diplomatic documents that WikiLeaks began to make public Sunday, offered a harsh critique of the ruling class in Honduras during and after the coup, the first in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.

In the cable, Ambassador Hugo Llorens, a veteran Cuban-American diplomat, wrote that he'd studied the legal and constitutional issues that led up to the June 28 morning when some 100 soldiers dragged President Manuel Zelaya out of bed and flew him to Costa Rica.

Llorens wrote that Zelaya's foes said he'd sought to alter constitutional articles considered "carved in stone" and had acted improperly in ousting the military chief. Llorens said, however, that the charges were never aired in a proper legal fashion.

"Although a case could well have been made against Zelaya for a number of the above alleged constitutional violations, there was never any formal, public weighing of the evidence nor any semblance of due process," said the cable, dated July 23, 2009.

Llorens wrote that the Honduran constitution appeared to give impeachment powers solely to the judiciary but that a trial was never conducted.

"Unfortunately, the President was never tried, or convicted, or was legally removed from office to allow a legal succession," the cable says.

The removal of Zelaya sent shock waves across Latin America, a region where democratic leaders were routinely deposed during the past century and where civil-military relations occasionally flare into open conflict.

In the cable, classified as "confidential," Llorens said "near unanimity" existed among the political class and institutions of state that Zelaya had abused the constitution, but added that his political adversaries were confused about how to proceed.

"Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew — the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring country," the cable said.

Llorens noted that Zelaya's "forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and (Speaker of Congress Roberto) Micheletti's ascendance as 'interim president' was totally illegitimate."

The cable said that "even the most zealous of coup defenders have been unable to make convincing arguments to bridge the intellectual gulf between 'Zelaya broke the law' to 'therefore, he was packed off to Costa Rica by the military without a trial.'"

Five months after the coup, Hondurans went to the voting booths and elected Porfirio Lobo as president, moving past the coup even as many of the legal issues remained unresolved.

Zelaya now lives in exile in the Dominican Republic.


U.S. State Department cable on Honduras


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