San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

WikiLeaks: U.S. thought Honduran coup illegal

The private and sometimes shadowy side of U.S. international diplomacy was revealed this week when Internet whistle-blower WikiLeaks released confidential documents sent among 274 international U.S. embassies and the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. More than 250,000 diplomatic cables sent between international embassies and the U.S. capital between 1966 and early 2010 are expected to be released publicly in the coming weeks on the WikiLeaks website.

Thus far, only two of the leaked cables made public pertain to Central America. One was a letter written by U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens after the 2009 military ouster  of former President Manuel Zelaya, acknowledging that there had been a coup. The letter deemed the military coup “clearly illegal” and said the Honduran Congress had “no constitutional authority to remove a Honduran president.”

The leak shed light on the true opinion of the U.S. Embassy during the coup.

“Regardless of the merits of Zelaya’s alleged constitutional violations, it is clear from even a cursory reading that his removal by military means was illegal,” Llorens’ letter said. “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’”.

The leaked documents proves the U.S. government’s “complicity” in the coup, Zelaya said this week from exile.

The other leaked Central American cable was sent by a former staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Panama sent to the U.S. Secretary of State on Dec. 13, 1989, shortly before the U.S. invasion of Panama. The letter hinted at a possible uprising that could lead to the overthrow of General Manuel Antonio Noriega. A week after the letter was sent, U.S. troops invaded, leading to Noriega’s eventual capture on Jan. 3, 1990.

The letter, titled “Panamanians Hope for a Successful Coup; Noriega Plans for a New Year in Power,” outlined 21 points that explained the unstable political atmosphere in Panama.

 “When another action to remove Noriega will take place is uncertain, but waiting for that possibility is the main prospect for Panama in 1990,” the letter states.

“The political tension in Panama, increased by recent press revelations and U.S. sanctions announcements, will likely ebb in early 1990, absent some major event.”

It also said that, “Noriega is showing no signs that he has any intention of leaving voluntarily. Given broad political realities in this country, the only hope for a first step in crisis resolution is another coup.”

Two days after the letter was sent, Noriega named himself president of Panama and declared war against the U.S.

On Dec. 20, U.S. marines invaded and took control of the Presidential Palace, Torrijos International Airport, and the Panamanian Defense Force headquarters (TT, Dec. 22, 1989).

On Dec. 29, 1989, the U.N. Security Council called the invasion a flagrant violation of international law. Noriega, who was captured on Jan. 3, after hiding in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City for two weeks, received a 15-year sentence in a Miami prison.

 “These documents provide evidence that the U.S. will do what is needed to promote their own interests in Latin America,” Julio Berrío, Noriega’s Panamanian lawyer, told The Tico Times this week in a phone interview.

“If someone doesn’t agree with their interests, the U.S. forces themselves upon countries. It happened in Chile, with the coup against  [President] Salvador Allende, in Honduras against Zelaya, and in Panama against Noriega. And that isn’t just the U.S.’ policy in Latin America, but all over the world.”


The Costa Rican Leaks

According to the Guardian, the British daily newspaper that received the original copies of the cables, 764 documents contain correspondence between the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica and Washington, D.C.

Of the documents, which were sent between December 2004 and February 2010, 133 are considered confidential and 623 are marked unclassified. The Guardian reports that at least 480 cables refer to international relations, more than 200 pertain to foreign trade and over 120 reference drug trafficking.

In response to the publication of the cables, U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Anne Slaughter Andrew released a public statement this week explaining international diplomacy (see “Perspective,” Page 13). The U.S. Embassies in Costa Rica and Panama also released a statement regarding the cables.

“(Cables) reflect the day-to-day analysis and candid assessments that any government engages in as a part of effective foreign relations. These cables are often preliminary and incomplete… [They should] not be seen as having standing on their own or representing U.S. policy,” the embassy statements said.

While other Central American and Latin American nations have been incensed by some rhetoric used in diplomatic missives, Ray Walser, senior policy analyst at the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., assumes that the leaked cables from Costa Rica should be relatively tame.

“Relations between the U.S. and Costa Rica are good and have been good for years,” said Walser, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica during the 1990s. “There are few secrets between the two governments and very little that might come out of the sharing of the cables between the U.S. and Costa Rica.”

Costa Rica had the fewest cables leaked among Central American nations. A reported 1,958 cables were leaked from Honduras, 1,264 from Nicaragua, 1,261 from Guatemala, 1,119 from El Salvador and 912 from Panama.

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