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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010--Continued

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010--Continued -- (Senate - July 07, 2009)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I thank my colleague, Senator Thune, for pointing out, again, the disastrous course we are on as a nation with the level of spending, borrowing, and debt we are creating and the amount of government intrusion into so many areas of our economy that have alarmed so many Americans. I appreciate the Senator bringing up that issue today.

AMENDMENT NO. 1399 TO AMENDMENT NO. 1373

I rise today to express my grave concerns about the administration's response to the situation in Honduras. There are few absolutes in the arena of diplomacy and international affairs. As circumstances and regimes change, so do our interests and allegiances. But one principle that should stand as a bedrock constant is this: a friend of freedom is a friend of America. Our commitment to freedom is not confined to a culture or a continent. It is absolute and universal.

It was this principle, hardwired into our DNA, that President Obama appeared to violate during his 8 days of silence while innocent democratic demonstrators were tortured and murdered in the streets of Tehran by Iran's tyrannical regime.

Thankfully, the President finally changed his rhetoric and offered some support to the people of Iran risking their lives for their freedom. But he stopped short of any criticism or action that might be construed as ``meddling,'' in his words, in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

But in the last week, the President has reversed course, meddling up to his ears in the domestic affairs of another sovereign nation, Honduras. Depressingly, the President has once again sided with an illegitimate and anti-American autocrat over democracy, the rule of law, and an oppressed people who only want to be free.

The facts on the ground in Honduras are neither disputed nor confusing, but they have been largely ignored by an international media distracted by the death of a celebrity.

Let me read these facts into the record.

Honduras is a constitutional republic and a longtime ally of the United States. It is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, especially since it was ravaged by the direct hit of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

In 2005, Hondurans elected as their President Manuel Zelaya, a left of center but seemingly moderate candidate from the Liberal Party. Given Latin America's troubling history of military coups and self-appointed Presidents for life, the Honduran Constitution strictly limits Presidents to one term.

So seriously do Hondurans take their Presidential term limits that in Latin America, the phrase--and I will butcher this Spanish, but I want to give it a try--``continuar en el poder.'' It means to continue in power. It carries with it a dark connotation to the region for everyone living there.

For a President to overthrow the Constitution and violate term limits is violating the constitutional form of government. So seriously that article 238 of the Honduran Constitution says any President who even proposes an extension of his tenure in office ``shall immediately cease

performing the functions of his post.'' So it is a de facto resignation of office in Honduras for a President to attempt to do what their President did.

Zelaya's 2005 campaign was supported by Hugo Chavez, the Marxist Venezuelan dictator bent on amassing power in the Western Hemisphere at the expense of what he calls ``the North American empire.'' That is us.

Zelaya quickly aligned his government with Chavez's and joined anti-American socialists, such as the Castro brothers in Cuba and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, in Chavez's economic cartel.

With Zelaya's term coming to an end early next year, Chavez convinced him to do as he has done in Venezuela: to force a constitutional amendment extending his Presidential term. This would be in direct violation of what their Constitution says.

Earlier this year, Zelaya called for a referendum to initiate a constitutional convention. In the ensuing litigation, the Honduran courts ruled the referendum was unconstitutional and illegal, as the Honduran Constitution explicitly gives only its Congress the power to call such a vote.

Zelaya forged ahead, calling his referendum a ``nonbinding survey.'' This, too, the supreme court found unconstitutional.

Zelaya then ordered the head of the Honduran military, General Vasquez, to conduct the election anyway. Vasquez expressed concerns about the vote's legality, so Zelaya fired him.

The supreme court ordered Zelaya to reinstate Vasquez, and Zelaya refused. The supreme court ordered the military to seize the referendum ballots to prevent Zelaya from going ahead with the illegal vote. Zelaya then personally led an armed mob to steal back the ballots, which, it should be noted, were suspiciously printed in Venezuela. Zelaya ordered his government to set up 15,000 polling places to conduct the referendum for June 28.

On Friday, June 26, the Attorney General of Honduras, Luis Rubi, filed a complaint before the Honduran Supreme Court petitioning for an arrest warrant for President Zelaya. The court issued the warrant unanimously and, according to the Constitution, ordered the Honduran military to execute it.

Early in the morning of Sunday, June 28, the day of the vote, the military arrested President Zelaya at his home. They put him on a plane to Costa Rica, as Honduras has no prison capable of withstanding a mob riot of the sort they feared Chavez and Ortega might whip up. So they did it for his safety.

That same day, the Honduran Congress, controlled by his Liberal Party--his own party--voted 125 to 3 to replace Zelaya with their speaker, Roberto Micheletti, as a member of the Liberal Party. This transfer of power was strictly in keeping with Honduras's constitutional line of succession as the Vice President had recently resigned.

The regularly scheduled general elections remain set for this November, and interim President Micheletti is not a candidate. The previously nominated candidates from the two major parties remain on the campaign trail, and both candidates and parties overwhelmingly approved the ouster of Zelaya.

At every step in the process, the legitimate democratic government strictly adhered to the Honduran Constitution and civilian leadership of the military remained intact. The military did not execute a coup. It thwarted the coup plotted by Hugo Chavez and implemented by Manuel Zelaya.

Honduras's democratic institutions are operating today, and its government functions are secure. The only aggrieved party in this process is Mr. Chavez, whose brazen attempts to corrupt Honduran democracy was thwarted by what has now been nicknamed ``the little country that could.''

The people of Honduras stood up to Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, the Castro brothers, and they stood up for freedom and the rule of law. For their courage, President Obama has condemned them. He has called the constitutional ouster of President Zelaya not legal, claiming an expertise in Honduran law over and above that of a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court and a nearly unanimous Honduran Congress.

Secretary of State Clinton lazily joined the international media in calling the removal of President Zelaya ``a coup,'' a term fraught with dark memories of military juntas and banana republic. Of course, this is the same administration that insists on calling the recent fraud in Iran an election.

The Obama administration joined Chavez's preposterous Soviet-style propaganda resolution in the Organization of American States condemning Honduran democracy. Hondurans I have spoken with--I have spoken with a number of folks who have missionary groups there, medical groups. I have talked to Miguel Estrada who was born and raised in Honduras and is now a constitutional expert in this country. This morning I talked to former Honduran President Ricardo Maduro. They are all totally befuddled at the strange response they are getting from the supposedly free world, including our own administration. Why are we siding with Hugo Chavez?

This morning in Russia, President Obama reiterated his support for Zelaya, the would-be dictator, as the rightful President of Honduras. According to ABC News, he said:

America supports now the restoration of the democratically elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies.

Continuing with the quote from President Obama:

We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not.

The President appears to think his support for Zelaya is based on some principles of self-determination. He speaks as if opposition to Zelaya is based on partisan political differences. Zelaya was not ousted by political enemies; he was ousted by a government controlled by his own party. He was ousted by a unanimous supreme court operating in accordance with the Honduran Constitution and in conjunction with the nation's attorney general and Supreme Electoral Tribunal. These folks followed the rule of law.

The Honduran people have chosen their own leaders. Those leaders--in a constitutional, bipartisan, and nearly unanimous process--removed Manuel Zelaya from office. The Honduran people have upheld our President's so-called universal principle. The people seeking to undermine that principle are Hugo Chavez, the Castro brothers, Daniel Ortega, Mel Zelaya, and--unbelievably--the Obama administration.

This is not about politics. This is about the rule of law, freedom, and democracy, all of which are being defended by the Hondurans right now against their enemies--of which we appear to be one. Why are we not standing with them? Blood was shed in Iran while we stood idly by. Zelaya's return to Honduras on a Venezuelan jet and with the moral authority of the United States will almost certainly lead to more bloodshed. What are we doing on the side of tyrants and sworn enemies of freedom; going as far, on their behalf, to threaten economic sanctions against one of our poorest and bravest allies?

Secretary of State Clinton is reportedly planning a meeting with Mr. Zelaya in Washington this week. I implore her to reconsider that meeting. Elevating an impeached and disgraced autocrat is more than an insult to Honduran democracy, it is a green light to other would-be Chavezes around Latin America. It is a signal to the enemies of democracy and freedom that the United States no longer stands as a beacon of liberty. It is a signal that the rule of law is now passe in Latin America and that Hugo Chavez and his corrupt and brutal idealogy has free rein to meddle wherever he pleases in the Western Hemisphere.

What do we stand for, if not for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law? Where is the spine of the administration to stand up to anti-American and antidemocratic thugs in our own back yard? Where is the intellectual clarity to see the facts on the ground as they are? Manuel Zelaya is a criminal, a constitutionally removed former President of a proud and noble country. To my knowledge, no administration official has refuted or even grappled with the facts regarding Zelaya's attempted coup.

Given those still undisputed and documented facts, on what basis does the administration demand Zelaya's reinstatement? His removal from office was no more a coup than was Gerald Ford's ascendance to the Oval Office or the election to the Senate of our newest colleague, Al Franken. It is bad enough that the President's ad hoc and highly personalized foreign policy seems to be less about supporting the rule of law than it is about supporting particular rulers. But the last 4 weeks suggest that the President cannot even be counted upon to support our legitimate allies.

What happened in Honduras last week was not a tragedy, it was a triumph of democratic courage and the unyielding determination of a free people to stand up to despotism. The tragedy has been the failure of the West and of our own government in Washington to stand up for justice and freedom in Latin America.

It is not too late. I have written to Secretary Clinton, and there is growing congressional support for the legitimate government in Honduras. Everywhere I go someone comes up to me and tells me to stand up for freedom in Honduras. There is still time to look at the facts, even to visit Honduras itself. Call down there, talk to the people, even Americans in the Peace Corps or on missionary work, and ask them if they are living under an oppressive military junta. They will laugh and tell you they are living under an independent and vibrant democracy, with a representative government led by people they elected. They will tell you about the free and open debate in the ongoing Presidential campaign and whom they are supporting in the November elections.

There is still time to correct our position and support our true allies. And because we can, we should. We must. Because today--and I will try my Spanish again--``un amigo de libertad es un amigo de Honduras''--a friend of freedom is a friend of Honduras.

Mr. President, before I yield, I ask unanimous consent to set aside the pending amendment and call up the DeMint amendment.

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