Cable de la embajada en Tegucigalpa; Retrato de Zelaya

ID:154125
Date:2008-05-15 20:54:00
Origin:08TEGUCIGALPA459
Source:Embassy Tegucigalpa
Classification:SECRET
Dunno:
Destination:VZCZCXRO5637
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 TEGUCIGALPA 000459

SIPDIS

MADRID FOR HUGO LLORENS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/14/2018
TAGS: PGOV, PINR, PREL, KDEM, ECON, SOCI, KCRM, ENRG, EFIN,
SNAR, SMIG, MARR, MASS, MOPS, HO
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT JOSE MANUEL ZELAYA ROSALES: PERSONAL

REFLECTIONS OF AMBASSADOR FORD

REF: OFFICIAL BIOS ON FILE

Classified By: AMBASSADOR CHARLES A. FORD FOR REASONS 1.4 (b and d)

1. (S) Summary: Honduran President Jose Manuel &Mel8
Zelaya Rosales is a throwback to an earlier Central American
era, almost a caricature of a land-owner &caudillo8 in
terms of his leadership style and tone. Ever the rebellious
teenager, Zelaya,s principal goal in office is to enrich
himself and his family while leaving a public legacy as a
martyr who tried to do good but was thwarted at every turn by
powerful, unnamed interests. Various public statements over
his tenure suggest he would be quite comfortable as a martyr
who tried but failed honorably in his attempt to seek out
social justice for the poor. He is comfortable working with
the Armed Forces and until recently with the Catholic Church,
yet resents the very existence of the Congress, the Attorney
General and Supreme Court. Over his two and a half years in
office, he has become increasingly surrounded by those
involved in organized crime activities. End Summary.

2. (S) I have gotten to know Mel Zelaya quite well over my
tenure as Ambassador, and offer these personal reflections on
his character, his views of the United States, and on what
his presidency means for our interest in the region with the
objective of informing future policy choices.

3. (S) Personally, I have found Zelaya to be gracious and
charming, quite willing to tell me whatever he thinks I want
to hear at that moment. For example, in the period
June-August 2007, we must have met weekly, with his agenda
focused on explaining his nomination of Jorge Arturo Reina
(who lost his U.S. visa for past terrorist connections) as
the UN Ambassador, his presence in Managua at Sandinista
celebrations and his intentions with regard to Hugo Chavez.
It was interesting to see how his explanations differed from
meeting to meeting, almost as if he had no recollection of
our exchange just a few days before.

4. (S) In the period May-June 2006, Zelaya pressed me hard to
obtain President Bush,s approval of his plan to join
PetroCaribe. When he met in early June with President Bush
who confirmed our strong opposition to his intention, Zelaya
later told me that he was surprised that this item had been
on our agenda. In short, over an almost three year period it
has become crystal clear to me that Zelaya,s views change by
the day or in some cases by the hour, depending on his mood
and who he has seen last.

5.(S) Not surprisingly, Zelaya has no real friends outside
of his family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him.
In the days preceding his inauguration, Zelaya without prior
notification canceled a country team briefing for his new
cabinet. Over a private lunch he explained that he trusted
no one in his government and asked me the question: &Who is
the most powerful; the person with a knife behind the door or
the person outside the door who knows there is someone behind
the door with a knife?8 It is clear to me that tactically he
will work with almost anyone, but strategically he stands
alone.

6. (S) Zelaya also has been quite erratic in his behavior.
Despite his often harsh public rhetoric, such as describing
U.S. immigration policy against illegal aliens as
"persecution" by "fascists", Zelaya would meet again with
President Bush in a heartbeat. At one point he even planned
to go uninvited to a bilateral Bush-Berger meeting in
Guatemala. Zelaya not only allowed the first visit of a U.S.
warship to mainland Honduras in 22 years, but he delivered a

TEGUCIGALP 00000459 002 OF 004


ringing speech extolling bilateral relations on the ship's
deck, only briefly expressing pride in Honduras' capture and
execution of the American interventionist William Walker.
Always suspicious of American intentions, he inexplicably
submitted to a psychological profile at my Residence - twice.
His erratic behavior appears most evident when he
deliberately stirs street action in protest against his own
government policy - only to resolve the issue (teacher
complaints, transportation grievances, etc) at the last
moment. This approach to problem solving seems to be
Zelaya's way of gaining acceptance, challenging the
established political power structure, and moving his agenda
- which is not populist or ideological, but is based on
popular appeal.

7. (S) Zelaya remains very much a rebellious teenager,
anxious to show his lack of respect for authority figures.
Cardinal Andres Rodriguez has told me that not only did he
not graduate from university but he actually did not graduate
from high school. The Cardinal should know, as he was one of
his teachers. The problem is that Mel has acted in this
juvenile, rebellious manner his entire life and succeeded in
reaching the highest office in the land. No need to change
now. He will continue to lead a chaotic, highly disorganized
private life.

8. (S) There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a
few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and
organized crime. Zelaya's desperate defense of former
telecommunications chief Marcelo Chimirri (widely believed to
be a murderer, rapist and thief) suggests that Chimirri holds
much over Zelaya himself. Zelaya almost assuredly takes
strong medication for a severe back problem and perhaps other
drugs as well. His vehement attacks on the press have
reportedly endangered journalists opposed to Zelaya's
policies. His style and tone in order to get his way is one
of intimidation and bullying, threatening tax inspections and
worse rather than substantive debate on issues. Zelaya's
inability to name a Vice Minister for Security lends
credibility to those who suggest that narco traffickers have
pressured him to name one of their own to this position. Due
to his close association with persons believed to be involved
with international organized crime, the motivation behind
many of his policy decisions can certainly be questioned. I
am unable to brief Zelaya on sensitive law enforcement and
counter-narcotics actions due my concern that this would put
the lives of U.S. officials in jeopardy.

9. (S) Finally, Mel is very much a son of Olancho, aware of
his roots in the land and his family's ties to Honduras since
the 1500,s. Unlike most other Honduran leaders in recent
times, Zelaya,s view of a trip to the &big city8 means
Tegucigalpa and not Miami or New Orleans. While he and his
family have been part of the Honduran landscape for 400
years, they have not until recently inter-married with the
Honduras elite in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. His son's
marriage in 2006 to one of the country's leading
Honduran-Arab families was very important to Zelaya yet a
complex event, signifying acceptance into the very elite
group that he so very much resents.

10. (S) I have found Zelaya,s real views of the United
States hidden not too very deeply below the surface. In a
word, he is not a friend. His views are shaped not by
ideology or personal ambitions but by an old-fashioned
nationalism where he holds the United States accountable for
Honduras, current state of poverty and dependency.
Zelaya,s public position against the Contra War and against
the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air

TEGUCIGALP 00000459 003 OF 004


Force Base are manifestations of this underlying viewpoint.

11. (S) Other behavior by the President confirms, in my view,
the depth of his feeling. While Zelaya was open to our point
of view of the selection of key members of his Cabinet, he
was absolutely closed to listening to us on his appointment
of his Ambassador to the OAS and to his appointment of Jorge
Arturo Reina as Ambassador to the UN. The Honduran voting
record in the UN in terms of coincidence with US positions is
at the lowest point in decades.

12. (S) More revealing, at public events with key officials
present, Zelaya will make clear that anyone interested in
becoming President of the country needs first to get the
blessing of the American Ambassador. Personally, in private
conversations at the Residence, Zelaya has recounted to me,
multiple times how a previous American Ambassador had ordered
the President of the Honduran Congress to accept the
Presidential candidacy of Ricardo Maduro, even though in
Zelaya,s view Maduro was Panamanian-born and thus
ineligible. Other sources have documented Zelaya,s views on
this point where his anger and resentment are more apparent
than in his exchanges with me. It is clear by the way he
recounts the story that on one level he resents very much
this perceived dependency yet accepts it exists and looks to
me to define for him the rules of the game. He becomes
frustrated at times when he believes I am not carrying out
this responsibility.

13. (S) Most noticeable to me has been his avoidance of
public meetings with visiting US officials. Whether Cabinet
officials or CODELs, Zelaya always is a gracious host, but
never comes out of the meeting to have his picture taken
publicly with our visitors, as he is so anxious to do with
other visitors from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. Almost
all of our meetings take place at my Residence rather than at
the more public setting of the Presidential Palace. He made
no attempt to disseminate his may photo ops with President
Bush after the June 2006 meeting in Washington. The fact is
that the President of the country prefers to meet quite often
in the privacy of my Residence but not to be seen in public
with American visitors.

14. (S) Finally, Zelaya recently is fond of saying that we
need to improve our communication, which I interpret to mean
that we need to agree with him more often. A similar fate
has befallen Cardinal Rodriguez who used to meet, as I do,
regularly with the President. As the Cardinal in recent
months has found himself in disagreement with Zelaya and is
not participating publicly in his projects, Zelaya is
working increasingly with pastors in the evangelical
community. The Cardinal recently told me that he and the
President hardly speak now as the President is unhappy that
he doesn't agree with the direction Zelaya is taking the
country. For Zelaya, communicating means agreeing
unquestionably with his point of view.

15. (S) GOING FORWARD: The last year and a half of the
Zelaya Administration will be, in my view, extraordinarily
difficult for our bilateral relationship. His pursuit of
immunity from the numerous activities of organized crime
carried out in his Administration will cause him to threaten
the rule of law and institutional stability. Honduran
institutions and friendly governments will need to be
prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras
forward.

16. (S) We will need, in my view, to continue to engage
Zelaya whenever we can in order to minimize damage and to

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protect our core interests. As a rebellious teenager, he
will need a significant space to move, in but we must be very
direct in our conversations with him as to our core
interests. Despite his feelings towards us, he does respect
the role the U.S. Embassy is still perceived to play in
Honduran society and will expect us in private to be direct
and clear in our views. Using an analogy from American
football, we will need to continue to carry out an aggressive
bend but not break defensive game plan in the run up to the
next elections in November 2009. In this way, I believe we
can engage Zelaya intensely in the hope of so as to
minimizing damage to Honduran democracy and the economy.
Ford

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