The Narco News Bulletin
May 22, 2013 | Issue #67
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
Following the forcible removal of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya from office in June 2009, a US nonprofit calling itself The Chamber of the Americas is now looking to Honduras to be a beacon for foreign investment, with help from US government officials with the State Department.
Earlier this month the chamber hosted a "Honduras is Open for Business" breakfast in Denver, Colorado featuring current Honduran President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo and Hugo Llorens, US ambassador to Honduras, according to Narco News sources.
On November 8 the chamber held what was called an "Americas Presidential Forum Breakfast" at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Denver's affluent lower downtown area. At the breakfast, which was jointly sponsored by the Metro State College of Denver's business school, Lobo gave a presentation titled "Honduras is Open for Business." The speech was part of an effort by the Honduras government "to find partners for its growing economy," according to an article in La Voz, a small Spanish-language newspaper in Denver. Members of a "17-member presidential delegation" were said to be in attendance, which included Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati and Bill Brands, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission director in Honduras.
Chairperson for Chamber of the Americas Laura Sonderup, President Pepe Lobo of Honduras, and Gil Cisneros, CEO, Chamber of the Americas, at the November 8th Americas Forum in Denver, Colorado.
Photo DR 2010 Chamber of the Americas.
While it's unclear how many people attended the breakfast, an E-mail obtained by Narco News and addressed to chamber CEO Gil Cisneros alludes to the flavor of the event, which was attended by investment bankers looking for possible opportunities in Honduras. "I wanted to drop you a note and thank you for the [chamber] breakfast on Monday," wrote an attendee named Ted Rieple, a partner with Colorado "boutique investment banking and advisory firm" 1stWEST Mergers & Acquisitions. "I thought it was 1st class and I got a lot of positive comments at my table. President Lobo made an excellent presentation and there was certainly no shortage of dignitaries. Way to go!"
The gathering was not the first time that chamber has partnered with the US government to look for investment opportunities in Honduras. In July the organization lead a four-day "trade and development mission" to Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. Once there, the delegation had a reception with Llorens "at the Ambassador's residence," according to agendas released for the trip. The web site for the US embassy in Honduras touts the mission in an official press release, noting that "the delegation was received by His Excellency President Porfirio Lobo at the Casa Presidencial [Presidential House]." Llorens can be seen in a photo with the delegation and Lobo. Along with meeting Lobo, a coup supporter, agendas for the mission show that the delegation met with a representative from the Honduran National Business Council (COHEP in Spanish initials), "an ardent free-trade advocacy organization representing more than 60 of the largest business organizations in Honduras" that has received money from USAID.
Before the Honduras coup the country's oligarchy had criticized President Zelaya for his policies to support the the poor and for his decision to join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA in Spanish initials), a partnership of countries generally opposed to capitalist economic policies that have exploited Latin America's natural resources. After Zelaya was ousted a de facto government took over and promptly shut down media outlets and banned basic liberties like due process. A day after the coup, President Barack Obama told reporters that, "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras," sparking hope that the US government's historic policy of supporting coup d'états in Latin America had changed. However, during the November 2009 elections in Honduras-which were held amid a climate of "intimidation, torture, illegal detentions and in extreme cases, assassinations"-Lobo was declared the winner with the State Department backing the results. Those opposing the coup and the government continue to be tortured, arrested, and murdered, while the Lobo administration ignores the human rights abuses.
A few days before the breakfast the chamber had planed to hold a similar event in San Pedro Sula, Honduras that would have featured Lobo, Bill Clinton as a keynote speaker, and Carlos Slim, according to Cisneros. Slim, a Mexican businessman who has invested millions in enterprises like the New York Times, is now the richest man in the world. The event was rescheduled for unspecified reasons and is now being planned for sometime in the Spring.
Whether the San Pedro Sula event happens, the State Department's direct involvement in assisting private businesses with the chamber to gain access to the coup-supporting government in Honduras for profit-driven purposes serves to further discredit the Obama administration's policy towards Latin America. It sends the message to other oligarchies throughout the hemisphere that if they subvert democratic principles in their countries they will not only get away with it, but they will also gain lucrative US-backed business opportunities.