Three Senior Administration Officials On Recent Developments in Honduras

Special Briefing
Senior Department Official
Senior Official, Office of the Spokesman
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
December 3, 2009

OPERATOR: Tim Padgett with Time Magazine, your line is open.

QUESTION: My question goes to a statement Arturo Valenzuela just made when he said that the status quo remains unacceptable. But it seems to a lot of us that the United States helped foster that status quo by accepting and recognizing the results of the election. By acquiescing to that very important aspect of this crisis, it seems that we were, as I said, fostering the status quo rather than thwarting it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let me make clear, as we’ve said over the last several weeks, and I mean, more specifically as the election came up, that the electoral process in Honduras was a necessary step to resolve the problems of Honduras, because this is an electoral process that began way before the military coup took place. This is an election that began in November of 2008. When the primaries took place, the vice president resigned from office and actually became a candidate. That was Mr. Santos.

So the coup d’état takes place while this electoral process, in fact, was coming to a conclusion. And that electoral process, we have always felt, was an important step to the solution of the problems of Honduras, but not a sufficient one, because the restoration of the democratic and constitutional order had to go by additional measures, and the additional measures were implementation of this negotiated accord. The negotiated accord had as its various steps, as you know, the creation of a government of national unity, this vote that the Congress was supposed to take on the restoration of Zelaya, and a truth commission in particular. And when we supported the elections, we by no means meant that the problems of Honduras or the crisis in Honduras was resolved.

So – and that’s exactly where we are today. The elections were just simply a step in this process. That process is not over. That’s why we were disappointed. And the fact that the Congress, in fact, did not vote President Zelaya back into office and, as we were saying in this statement that Arturo Valenzuela just read, that we really do believe that additional steps are essential to move forward in order for Honduras to be able to return to the inter-American system.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: [Senior Administration Official One], if I might, or (inaudible), if I might, I think what’s important to recall here is the absence of democratic and constitutional order is the unacceptable status quo. And the elections, as Senior Administration Official Number One was saying, is a step towards the day where Honduras will have an electorally legitimate government in place after January 20 – on January 27th of 2010.

There are other intermediate steps – a government of national reconciliation, truth commission, the mere act of national reconciliation – that are important toward reestablishing the democratic and constitutional order in Honduras. So that’s what we’re getting at here. And it’s – again, so the elections themselves were an important reaffirmation of the democratic will of the Honduran people. They got an opportunity to express themselves on who their leaders should be in a way that they were deprived of on June 28th.

QUESTION: But hasn’t U.S. recognition of the elections simply given – hasn’t Congress simply told you with the vote they took this week that because you recognized the election, all the rest really doesn’t matter to us; we got what we wanted from the U.S. with the recognition of the election, and therefore, the rest is just kind of immaterial at this point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, but the rest isn’t immaterial, and I wouldn’t – and I don’t think you can interpret either the election itself, which was a sound defeat for the Liberal Party, the party of the coup, a resounding defeat – perhaps its worst defeat in its 120-year history – sent a very clear message from the Honduran people that they’re looking for new leadership, they’re looking for a way forward, and they saw the elections as a very important element, that the dynamic that formed in Congress and that was formed in an environment where President Zelaya made pretty clear that he wasn’t looking to get restored in – on – during – through yesterday’s debate and through yesterday’s vote.

So I think you’re reading too much into this notion that – and not giving Honduras enough credit that what we say and the position that we’ve taken that elections were necessary – a necessary step, but not the only step towards the reestablishment of democratic and constitutional order and international acceptance of Honduras – it devalues, if you will, the voice of the Honduran people, and – in a way that suggests that we have an on/off switch that controls what happens in Honduras. We don’t.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And Tim, if I might add just one other concept of this, this is a de facto government that did not use the election simply to whitewash its coup d’état or simply as an exit strategy when it became clear to them that they were being criticized by the international community.

This is an electoral process that had – that conformed to the constitution of Honduras and had been taking place for a long period of time. For that process to have been interrupted, you would have had a double whammy that came out of the coup d’état, one that was depriving the Honduran people of their president and also depriving them of their sovereign right to be able to choose their succeeding authorities. So this is a process that was already ongoing. To have denied that would have been, as I say, a double injury to the sovereignty of the Honduran people.

But then again, to stress the key point here, is that that does not mean, of course, that simply by holding an election, Honduras can come – can return to the inter-American system, can have the OAS lift its suspension of Honduras. For that to happen, of course, they have to take additional steps to fully show that they are restoring the democratic and constitutional order, and that means these other instruments that we talked about earlier, and particularly the truth commission, which is a very important part of the original concept of the accord.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Jordi Zamora with AFP. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello. I’d like to know what – in your opinion, what should be the issue for President Zelaya? What is the next step concerning himself?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think that that would be something that you would have to ask President Zelaya. He --

QUESTION: Excuse me, don’t you think you carry some kind of responsibility concerning his personal fate? I mean – or what is he going to do in the next days or weeks?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, certainly, we’ve been in conversation with him, and our Ambassador has been in conversation with him. And that’s something that he will have to address, and it’s something that our Embassy will be working on. But it’s really – he is going to have to make a decision as to how he proceeds.

But this is one of the reasons why it’s so important in this particular context for a government of national unity to be structured, because the way the situation is now, if you continue to have these de facto authorities there who are governing the country, and unless some kind of a process of national unity – Lobo has called for that, as we know – but unless that’s structured very soon, some of the questions – some of these issues are going to remain unresolved, and that’s unacceptable.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And Jordi, it’s also important to keep in mind here that the idea of going to the Honduran Congress on the question of restitution was President Zelaya’s idea in the first place in the context of the Guimaraes negotiation.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he said – but according to him, the agreement said that he – that the vote should be positive. I mean, he’s saying that the United States --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, Jordi, you can read the agreement. The agreement doesn’t say that.

QUESTION: Not correctly, the agreement – that’s what he is saying.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Right, but the agreement is there for everybody to be able to read, and the agreement makes very clear that it is a question to be decided by the Honduran Congress.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: And I might add that this was very clear to both sides --


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: -- when they agreed to this. It was crystal clear. They knew what they were signing up to. And so whatever reinterpretation there may have been afterward, it was very clear at the time of the signing by the parties and the agreement by the leaders that – what Article 5 meant.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up question, and I’m over with that. I just wanted to know, because the vote yesterday was – there’s even a threat that he might be prosecuted if he leaves the Embassy. So what are the steps? I mean, because now we are getting into a more personal and even physically dangerous situation or – not physically, but legally difficult – very difficult and tough situation for him personally. What are the – I mean, what are you proposing? What do you think or what do you know that Brazil is proposing to get of this situation and to allow him to leave the Embassy in a safe manner?



SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, what I’d just like – let me reiterate again this is why it is so important for a government of national unity to be structured with everybody on all sides, because what this government of national unity is going to have to address also is issues including amnesties and other things like that. This is something that was discussed with President Arias originally when they were negotiating the San Jose Accords. There are several things on the table that are very important for the kind of restoration of the democratic order in Honduras. And this process of reconciliation is going to have address those kinds of issues, and this is why it’s so, so critical to move ahead in that direction.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Bill Faries with Bloomberg. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. First of all, just a technical thing. Are you guys – I assume you’re talking to us from Washington, but the number we called into was New York, so I just want to clarify where you’re calling from.


QUESTION: Okay, great. And the second thing, this may – I think you’ve touched on this a little bit, but can you talk about efforts you’re making to reach out to countries like Brazil and Chile to persuade them to recognize Lobo’s victory between now and when he’s set to take office?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: We’ve been engaged from the very beginning of this process, working very closely with the entire inter-American community at the Organization of American States, and at different stages of this process with different countries in different combinations to – again, the overarching goal here for the inter-American system and for the United States is the restoration of democratic – the democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.

And we’re continuing to work those issues with these countries, because it’s not simply a recognition or non-recognition question, but rather the steps that need to be taken and how the international community can play a supportive role in that process. Because ultimately, this – for this to work, Hondurans have to come to an answer that works for Honduras on the restoration of democratic and constitutional order. And we remain committed to working with countries throughout the hemisphere to advance what has been and remains our central goal, which is the restoration of democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And what’s also at stake here, and I think it’s very important to underscore it, and this is why the situation in Honduras is vital beyond Honduras, and that is we need to work as we move forward to create stronger and better mechanisms for the collective defense of democracy in the Western Hemisphere, which is essential to the charter.

And as Senior Official Number Two said, this is a matter that we’ve been discussing not only with our Latin American partners. The Central Americans, of course, are very keen on this. They’re the ones that have been quite anxious for a resolution of this crisis because it affects the entire region, but also with other countries in Europe and other places like that who have been following this.

Let me say that I’m going – I myself am going to sign off right now, but the other – my colleagues will continue on this call. Thanks.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Nicholas Casey, Wall Street Journal. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. I’ve got a couple questions here. First, I was hearing yesterday that you guys were calling members of deputies in the Congress and telling them they should vote for Zelaya’s restoration. I wanted to know if that was true and also why.

And then the other question, you said that you were hopeful that they would reinstate Mel. I wanted to know, though, why you thought that that might have happened, given that the supreme court and Congress and the attorney general at this point weighed in as well, and it seemed to be basically the same result. I was wondering what you thought might have occurred in the intervening months that would have caused a massive change in opinion by the powers that be over there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. On the first question, nobody from here has called anyone in the Congress, so that’s for the first one.

As for the second question, the – it’s hard to get into the minds of people in the Honduran Congress. But in terms of what occurred in the last couple of weeks, as my colleague noted a moment ago, President Zelaya took a tack a couple of weeks ago that was very negative with respect to the elections in his own country, and as well as this Article 5 process in the Congress. So I think it’s possible that that may have shaped the outcome. We don’t know if that outcome would have been different if he had taken a more positive approach to that process, but he certainly took a negative one.

QUESTION: Okay, and just another quick question here. I was hoping I could get some of your thoughts on Brazil’s position right now and whether you think they’ve been unconstructive in your efforts to get more support and agreement, I guess, on sort of how we’re going to look at Lobo. I also was curious whether you accept their story on how Mel arrived at the Embassy.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: As I had said earlier, we’ve been working and continue to work with Brazil and others in the region on the overarching goal. And the overarching goal from day one, from the moment the coup occurred, was the restoration or is the restoration of democratic and constitutional order in Honduras. And there is unanimity in the hemisphere that coups need to be a thing of the past, that there needs to be robust collective defense of democracy in the Americas. And this is not to say these are linear events. This is not to say that these are easy events to undo and that there haven’t been differences of opinion on the tactics of how to move forward.

But on the overarching goal, there has been a strong consensus and there remains a strong consensus in the Americas that we need to continue helping Honduras take steps towards the restoration of democratic and constitutional order. And as to – kind of on the what happened when and whodunits, the Brazilian Government has made very clear in its public statements its lack of awareness, and we have no reason to doubt that.

MR. KELLY: I think we have time for one more question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Yurina Rico of La Opinion. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you for taking my questions. I have two questions. First, now that we know the results of the elections and we know that Mr. Zelaya is not going back to the presidency, what’s next? What’s going to happen with the – with all the Honduras consulates in the United States?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: On the what’s next – and I’ll leave the consular question to my colleague. On the what’s next, I think, again, the important steps here are continuing momentum towards the restoration of democratic and constitutional order. The elections were an important step in that process that the Honduran people had a choice of candidates chosen before the coup in a process that had started long before the coup, overseen by authorities, electoral authorities, also selected before the coup, voice their opinion on who their next leader should be and selected Pepe Lobo overwhelmingly with significant turnout.

The other steps along the way, as the president-elect himself has said, is there needs to be national reconciliation. He has endorsed the continued implementation of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accords, which means a government of national – the formation of a government of national unity, which means the formation of a truth commission. He obviously will also be naming his own government in the coming weeks, and I think that will send a powerful signal to the Honduran people and to the international community about his vision of reconciliation towards the future. So I think those are the steps that come next in the mechanical sense.

On the question of Honduran consulates, I’m going to have to defer to my colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Sure. Throughout this process, we’ve addressed this entire process in a sort of step-by-step fashion. And the situation of the consulates here is one that we’re going to have to evaluate now as we go into this interim phase. We now have a president-elect who has promised that he wants to form some sort of a government of unity and national reconciliation. We have his inauguration coming up January 27th. So we’re going to have to evaluate the status in a very pragmatic way, recognizing those transitions, recognizing the fact that, as our first speaker noted in the beginning, that we continue to accept President Zelaya as the democratically elected president of Honduras. We’re going to have to pull all that together and deal with these questions on a sort of case-by-case basis. And we’ve been doing that and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Will this happen right now, or the United States is going to wait until next year, until the new president takes over to have the consulates working?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah. I mean, as you correctly point out, it makes no sense to come to major decisions on these issues knowing that a democratically elected government is taking over, a new democratically elected government is taking over on January 27th, because that will clearly be part of our calculations as we move ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I get your name, sir?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Well, I think we were doing this on – as a senior official on background so --

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I think that’s all we have time for. Just to reiterate, particularly in light of that last question – (laughter) – the Q&A portion of this was done on background; for attribution purposes, Senior Administration Officials. Thank you.



OPERATOR: Thank you. That concludes today’s conference. Thank you for your participation.

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PRN: 2009/1219