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Cablegate: Pdas Kelly's Meeting with President-Elect Lobo

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEGUCIGALPA 000017

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/08/2020
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM ECON HO ES NU
SUBJECT: PDAS KELLY'S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT-ELECT LOBO

Classified By: Ambassador Hugo Llorens for reasons 1.4 b and d.

1. (C) Summary: During a January 5 meeting with WHA PDAS Craig Kelly and Ambassador Llorens, a clearly frustrated President-elect Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo said that he had done all he could to get de facto leader Roberto Micheletti to step down. It was unfair, he said, for the international community to punish him for the actions of an illegitimate leader. PDAS Kelly said that he understood Lobo's viewpoint but that the political reality in both Washington and in the rest of the region was such that it would be difficult for the U.S. and others to reengage quickly if Micheletti did not step down in advance of Lobo's inauguration. Former President Ricardo Maduro said that he believed that Micheletti had been more open recently to listening to people with moderate perspectives, but he was unsure whether this would be enough to convince him to step down. Lobo and Maduro expressed serious concern about the government's fiscal situation. Lobo said that he was making good progress in putting together a post-inauguration government of national unity. Lobo spoke in positive terms about a truth commission, while Maduro had reservations. End summary.

2. (C) President-elect Pepe Lobo and former President Ricardo Maduro met with Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Craig Kelly and the Ambassador on January 5. The Economic Counselor also attended the meeting. President Maduro, who is Lobo's political mentor and has served as the transition team's representative to the international community, began by providing an account of his recent meeting with El Salvador Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez. Maduro said that Martinez viewed Lobo's election as a clear sign of the popular will of the Honduran people but felt that it was important for Micheletti to step down and for President Zelaya's situation to be resolved before the election. Maduro said that Martinez had expressed appreciation for Lobo's decision to call for Micheletti's departure, which he realized had been a difficult one, since Lobo's refusal to take sides had enabled him to win the election.

Restoring Normality
-------------------

3. (C) Maduro, who has also been focusing on economic affairs for the transition team, provided a readout of ongoing discussions between the transition team and the de facto regime. He expressed concern about the fiscal deficit, which is estimated at 4.5 percent of GDP for 2009 and projected at 8 percent for 2010. He said that the de facto regime still does not know the extent of the financial commitments of the Zelaya administration, which operated without a 2009 budget until Zelaya's ouster. He said that the current budget relies on overoptimistic estimates for investment, tourism, foreign assistance, and other revenue sources. Maduro said that the role of the U.S. would be the key to Honduras's reengagement with the international community.

4. (C) PDAS Kelly said that the USG wants to help restore normality. It is important to move quickly while the world is focused on Honduras. Implementation of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord remains important. A refusal by Micheletti to step aside would be an obstacle to the USG's capacity to assist. The time for detailed negotiations on exactly when Micheletti would step down has passed, Kelly said, but it would have to be more than a few days before the January 27 inauguration. PDAS Kelly noted that the USG had received a lot of criticism domestically, in both the press and Congress, for its decision to recognize the results of the election.

5. (C) Lobo pointed out that he had said both publicly and privately that Micheletti must step down. He has stressed to Micheletti the importance of his resignation to the normalization of Honduras's international relations. Micheletti pays attention, Lobo said, but some members of his inner circle are discouraging him from stepping down. "I want to make sure you understand that I'm doing what I can," said Lobo, clearly frustrated.

6. (C) Maduro said that, if Micheletti refuses to step down, it will be Lobo who is left to face the consequences. He noted that Micheletti has been sending mixed signals, maintaining that he would be willing to step down if it were in Honduras's interest but also claiming that he cannot legally do so. There is not much time left, Maduro said; if Micheletti steps down, it will have to be in the next few days.

7. (C) PDAS Kelly said that a period of transition between the Micheletti regime and the Lobo government would simplify things considerably for Lobo internationally. While few countries other than the Venezuela-led ALBA bloc will continue to isolate Honduras indefinitely, many are likely to wait several months to normalize if there is not a transition period. PDAS Kelly noted that the USG had been a lone voice of moderation, both emphasizing the need for the de facto regime to step down before the inauguration and recognizing the elections as the only way back to democratic order.

8. (C) Lobo said that punishing him for the actions of Micheletti, an illegitimate leader, was unfair. If the UN leaves Honduras exposed to pressure from the south, it will set the Lobo administration up for failure, he added. Lobo commented that the Zelaya administration was a "financial disaster" and that the new government will be in an extremely difficult fiscal situation. PDAS Kelly assured Lobo that the USG was trying to separate the issues and ensure that the Lobo administration would not be punished for Micheletti's actions.

Micheletti's Mindset
--------------------

9. (C) PDAS Kelly said that, throughout the crisis, the USG has made sure to listen to the regime's concerns in order to prevent the regime from developing a bunker mentality. The Ambassador noted that some relatively moderate people surrounding Micheletti, such as de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos Lopez Contreras, have been more pragmatic, but others have done great harm by telling him that he is a hero and is indispensable to the country. Maduro said that it appears that moderate people have increasing access to Micheletti, but it is unclear whether this was enough to turn things around. PDAS Kelly's visit the next day would be absolutely crucial. Kelly said that it was encouraging that Micheletti was willing to meet with him, in contrast to his last attempt to visit in December, when Micheletti made it clear that he would not see him.

Other Issues: Zelaya, ALBA, Pathways, GNU, Truth Commission
--------------------------------------------- --------------

10. (C) The Ambassador noted that President Zelaya's situation remained a complication. Lobo said that he did not know what Zelaya's current thinking was, but that it would make things difficult if he remained in the Brazilian Embassy beyond the January 27 inauguration. PDAS Kelly said that President Zelaya incorrectly believed that accepting political asylum would be tantamount to giving up his claim on the presidency.

11. (C) PDAS Kelly asked about the timing of a bill before Congress that would remove Honduras from the ALBA bloc. Lobo said that the vote was scheduled to take place before his inauguration. PDAS Kelly said that it would send a stronger signal if this happened after Lobo took office. Lobo said that he preferred this timing because he did not want to start out his administration with a confrontation with the bloc, which includes neighboring Nicaragua.

12. (C) PDAS Kelly noted that Honduras was the leader of one of the working groups in the Pathways to Prosperity initiative. He proposed that a meeting of the working group be held in Tegucigalpa following the inauguration.

13. (C) Lobo told PDAS Kelly that he was making progress in putting together a post-inauguration government of national unity. Three parties have already committed to participating, and he is trying to convince the (left-leaning) Democratic Union (UD) party to join as well. He said that he was discussing his National Plan with various civil society sectors, including the Catholic Church, the evangelical churches, and the business community. He said that he hoped to move quickly on programs that would give people a favorable opinion of the government, including cash transfers for families who keep their children in schools.

14. (C) Asked by PDAS Kelly for his views about a truth commission, Lobo said that the human rights situation is not as bad as some portray it; the point of a truth commission would be to ensure respect for institutions. The Ambassador said that this would allow people with different points of view to tell their stories and come out with recommendations and ways to strengthen Honduran democracy. Maduro was more leery, saying that it would be beneficial to have a historical account if the exercise were done correctly, but that there was also a danger that it would become a political football and would be destabilizing. Lobo agreed with the Ambassador and said that the Truth Commission was a viable mechanism to attempt to achieve national reconciliation. Lobo added that he would bring experience as a former human rights defense committee member to the exercise.
LLORENS

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