Our Man in Honduras

Lanny Davis and his clients are the same powerful Hondurans behind the military coup

By Roberto Lovato
Published on LatinoLA: July 23, 2009

Our Man in Honduras

"If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran]
coup is" says Robert White, president of the Washington-based Center
for International Policy, during a recent interview, "you need to find
out who's paying Lanny Davis."

Davis, an ally of the Clinton family who is best known as the lawyer
who defended Bill during the presidential impeachment proceedings, was
recently on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress and testifying
against exiled President Manuel Zelaya before the House Foreign
Relations Committee. White, who previously served as the United States
ambassador to El Salvador, thought that such information about Davis'
clients would be "very difficult to find."

But the answer proved easy to find. Davis, a partner at the law firm
Orrick, Herring, & Sutcliffe, openly named them -- and his clients are
the same powerful Hondurans behind the military coup.

"My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business
Council of Latin America" said Davis when reached at his office last
Thursday. "I do not represent the government and do not talk to
President [Roberto] Micheletti. My main contacts are Camilo Atala and
Jorge Canahuati. I'm proud to represent businessmen who are committed
to the rule of law," said Davis. Atala, Canahuati, and other families
that own the corporate interests represented by Davis and the CEAL are
at the top of an economic pyramid in which 62 percent of the
population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

For many Hondurans and Honduras watchers, the confirmation that Davis
is working with powerful, old Honduran families like the Atalas and
Canahuatis is telling: To them, it proves that Davis serves the
powerful business interests that ran, repressed and ruined Honduras
during the decades prior to the leftward turn of the Zelaya

"No coup just happens because some politicians and military men decide
one day to simply take over" says White upon hearing who Davis is
working for "Coups happen because very wealthy people want them and
help to make them happen, people who are used to seeing the country as
a money machine and suddenly see social legislation on behalf of the
poor as a threat to their interests. The average wage of a worker in
free trade zones is 77 cents per hour."

"The tragedy" adds White, "is that the Canahuatis and the Atalas and
the other big businesspeople don't understand that it's in their best
interest to help to do things like help people make a decent living,
reduce unemployment and raise the minimum wage."

Davis disagrees. He believes that the tragedy of Honduras lies with
Zelaya and that the president brought the coup upon himself. "It is an
undisputed fact that Mr. Zelaya has violated the constitution. It's my
job to get the facts out."

Asked if he had qualms about representing business people linked to a
coup government denounced and unrecognized by the United Nations, the
Organization of American States and many countries across the globe
(including the United States), Davis responded, "There are facts about
Mr. Zelaya that the world community may not be aware of. I'm proud to
represent clients who support the decision of Secretary of State
Clinton to back the mediation of President Arias in the conflict
[between Zelaya and coup leaders]. But my biggest concern is safety
and security of the Honduran people."

Davis is not the only one concerned about the safety and security the
Honduran people. The Committee of Families of Disappeared-Detainees in
Honduras (COFADEH), a non-governmental human rights organization,
released a report last week documenting over 1,100 human rights
violations ÔÇô arbitrary detentions, physical assaults, murders, and
attacks on the media by the government and affiliated clandestine
forces -- that have occurred since the coup began on June 28.

COFADEH has also placed responsibility for the coup and the terror it
has wrought directly on many of the founders of the Alliance for
Progress and Development of Honduras (APROH), a predecessor of CEAL.
Though now defunct, APROH brought together some of the same business
and military interests that compose the political and economic hub of
Honduran's radical right, including the Canahuatis, Atalas and other
CEAL families and businesses represented by Davis.

The CEAL predecessor's track record on human rights has been less than
stellar. In 1983, Honduras' El Tiempo newspaper leaked an internal
APROH document that recommended a military solution to problems in
Honduras -- and the rest of Central America -- to Ronald Reagan's
Kissinger Commission, a bipartisan committee charged with formulating
U.S. policy in the region. Perhaps more damning, APROH is considered
by COFADEH and other human rights organizations as the eminence grise
behind the death squad killings conducted by the infamous "Batallion
316″ in the 1980s.

Upon hearing Davis' statements, Jose Luis Galdamez, a journalist for
Radio Globo, laughs. "Mr. Davis is either ignorant of Honduras or is
knowingly bloodying his name and that of the Clintons for lots of
money," he says. Galdamez recently went into hiding after members of
the armed forces and paramilitary organizations harassed him and his
colleagues. The military raided his radio station, beat workers there
and threatened them for working at one of the few independent media
outlets willing to "report about what's actually happening in
Honduras," says Galdamez.

"I wish Mr. Davis would come here where I'm hiding so I can show him
what it's like to feel threatened not just by [de facto Honduran
President] Micheletti and the military, but by the Canahautis and
other groups of power he represents," says Galdamez.

Galdamez, Gilda Rivera of the Center for Women's Rights, and others
interviewed for this story fear that, in hiring Clinton ally Davis,
Canahuati, Atala and CEAL are using the liberal sheen of the
Democratic party to divert attention from the dark history behind the
current Honduran coup.

"The rich simply send you out to kill you and then kill with impunity.
They never investigate into who killed who because the groups in power
control the media, control the judiciary and now control the
government again," says Galdamez. "Mr. Davis is trying to legitimize
people who use psychological intimidation and violence. He's
representing the interests of state terror."

In a recent statement denouncing the coup, COFADEH described its
backers as "the same group that in the 1980s was known as Alliance for
Progress and Development of Honduras, which maintains its terror thru
death squads." The COFADEH report documents four cases of
extra-judicial killings, including the July 5 shooting of 19 year-old
Isis Obed Murillo, captured in a graphic video subsequently posted on

Asked about human rights violations by the Micheletti government,
Davis again places the onus for the current crisis on Zelaya. "I
researched the facts on what occurred during the presidency of Mr.
Zelaya. Mr. Zelaya led mob violence and you can see that on a YouTube

When pressed about the grisly footage of the shooting of 19 year-old
Isis Murillo, Davis responded, "Is there a video of the shooters? We
need to know the facts." He added, "If you can show me facts proving
that my clients are involved in violations of civil liberties, I'll

(This article appeared originally in the American Prospect,

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