I am reposting the summary in its entirety. My observations will follow.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 11:39 AM
Summary of our meeting with US Ambassador, Hugo Llorens
There were 5 of us attending the meeting, Mitch Cummins, Russ Summerell, Lloyd Davidson, Gary Chamer, and Eldon Bolton. We spent about 1 hour and 20 minutes with the ambassador. I think that this was an extraordinary amount of time.
We began by introducing ourselves, establishing our credentials (between us there was about 85 years of experience in Honduras), and stating our position on the actions that led up to and have occurred since June 28. Hugo Llorens was polite and actively listened to our points. He then expressed his and the State Department's position. This did not vary from what we've all read and heard. A lively debate followed the ambassador's presentation. Neither side changed the other's opinion on the base issues.
Here are some key points of our discussion:
The US recognizes that Mel Zelaya committed various crimes. The US feels that there was time to pursue a more "normal" legalprocess to deal with those crimes. Our position was that the Hondurans didn't feel that there was time. They felt that the "poll" on that Sunday was the action that was going to cause the fall of their democracy. They felt that they HAD to act then.
The US believes that the resolution of the crisis must come from the negotiations in Costa Rica. This includes the NEGOTIATED return of Zelaya. I add the emphasis on "negotiated" because I believe that they are backing off the "unconditional" return that has been stated by other countries. During the conversation, Ambassador Llorens stated emphatically that the US would NOT allow Chavez or any other foreign power to invade Honduras. The US still sees Honduras as a friend and ally. We presented 155 signed letters opposing the US position regarding Honduras. THANK YOU TO ALL WHO SENT THE LETTERS IN!!! These 155 letters were collected in less than 24 hours - that response is amazing!
We asked for the Bay Islands to be removed from the travel advisories. The Ambassador was going to check with his legal team, but felt that could be done. I personally believe that will happen pretty quickly.
The US feels that their position has given Honduras the space to negotiate a way out of this crisis. They have not been very vocal against what's happened. By this I mean that they are not out slamming the current government every day. They are firm on their position, but are not beating Honduras over the head with that position. We believe that this may have been the first time that Hugo Llorens had discussed these issues with Americans that believed as strongly in an opposing view to his. He is sequestered in the embassy - he's not allowed to leave Tegucigalpa. I think that it was VERY good for him to hear a contrary opinion.
Hugo Llorens said that if there were other Americans that wanted to meet with him, he would make time for them. I think he was sincere about that. He also said that as soon as he was allowed, he would come out to the islands. As we were leaving we let his assistant know that we were going to be more vocal in our opposition to the US position.
After we left the ambassador we went back to the hotel and were debriefing over a beer. We received a phone call saying that the Honduran Foreign Minister had heard about our meeting and the petition that we presented. The Foreign Minister's office wanted to meet with us.
We spent well over an hour with 3 advisors to the Foreign Minister. We began by stating our solidarity with the Honduran people and the actions that were taken. We talked about the letter, what it said, who had responded, etc. They want to publish that information both domestically and internationally. We also talked about what we saw as issues that the government was facing. We talked about the fact that the debate on was it a coup or not is over. Don't spend another ounce of energy on that argument.
Honduras has to focus on the future. We pushed very hard to promote the idea that Herb Morici presented at the meeting on Monday. That idea was to get Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos to stand together and present a common front until the campaign starts. It's time for them to become the poster boys of the next government. They liked that idea and said that they would work to make that happen quickly.
We also talked about ways that the ex-pat community and the Foreign Ministry can interact and coordinate. I believe that we established a good relationship in that meeting and I'm positive that you will see some good work between the two groups.
At the end of the day, we made our voices heard to the US Ambassador to Honduras. I'm positive that he heard our message that we do not agree with the official position. I am confident that the Bay Islands will be removed from the US travel advisories. I think that we've opened a dialogue with the ambassador that should be continued until this crisis is resolved. I think that we've been able to impress upon the current government of Honduras, at a high enough level, that it is imperative that the 2 candidates step forward and begin to be the face of the Honduran future. I think that we've established a working relationship with the Foreign Minister's office so that we can help each other through the next several months.
All in all, it was a long but productive day. I think that I speak for all of us attending these meetings when I say that it was one of the most interesting days I've experienced in a long time.
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The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that Ambassador Hugo Llorens was the Director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council and the principal National Security adviser to George W. Bush on Venezuela at the time of the failed 2002 coup. For this reason, it is fairly reasonable to assume that Llorens is more sympathetic to the coup regime than to the restoration of President Manuel Zelaya. Llorens' sympathy for the coup can also be detected in the way he allegedly reacted to the expat's request to have the Bay Islands removed from the travel advisories. According to Mr. Cummins, Llorens said he "was going to check with his legal team, but felt that could be done."
The second item of interest in this summary is the apparent presumption of Mr. Cummins and, presumably, the other four Americans in his delegation, that five foreign businessmen from a foreign country should have a say in the internal political affairs of another country. Mr. Cummins seems to believe so when he writes that in a subsequent meeting with "3 advisors to the Foreign Minister" of the coup regime, his delegation "pushed very hard to promote the idea ... to get Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos to stand together and present a common front until the campaign starts."
He goes on by saying that it's "time for [Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos] to become the poster boys of the next government." And here, in a nutshell, is the colonialist and undemocratic mentality of Mr. Cummins and his cohorts in action: that somehow, it's ok for a group of foreigners to meet with representatives of an illegitimate regime and "interact and coordinate" with them in order to promote the perception legitimacy of such regime in the eyes of the people in that country. Mr. Cummins goes on with his contemptuous rant by saying that the advisors to the Foreign Minister "liked that idea and said that they would work to make that happen quickly."
This type of attitude is exactly what the people of Central America hate about the United States. It's that "backyard" mentality that has prompted many past American administrations to support and foment all kinds of undemocratic movements in the region: from coups, to assassinations, to guerrillas, to outright invasions. In my opinion, the American expatriate business community should follow Obama's lead and strive for a new type of relationship with Latin American and the rest of the world based on mutual respect, understanding, the rule of law, and respect for the will of the people and their democratically elected governments.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cummins and his compadres are intent in perpetuating the perception that when it comes to its backyard, American business interests always take precedence over the rights of the people in the region. For this reason, I sincerely hope that, for once, this type of mentality won't succeed, and that the constitutional government of President Zelaya can be restored as it would be a pity to return to the dark days when legitimate governments were toppled and undermined all over the hemisphere.
I believe that President Obama is right in staying firm on the demand to restore the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. Should the coup regime have its way, we could see the unfolding of a reverse domino theory, where the recent achievements of the people of Central and South America could be wiped out in a new wave of undemocratic regimes.
I also believe that Ambassador Hugo Llorens should explain what he meant when he allegedly said to Mr. Cummins' delegation that the U.S. "recognizes that Mel Zelaya committed various crimes." This doesn't seem the official position of the U.S. government, and thus Mr. Llorens should be careful before talking from both sides of his mouth.