DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010 -- (Senate - October 01, 2009)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I want to take a few moments in the middle of the debate on the Defense appropriations bill to talk about a situation in Honduras and, maybe equally important, a situation here in the Senate.
Honduras has come to the attention of many Americans because of the change in government there and the questions about whether this was done constitutionally. I had arranged a trip, along with a few House Members, to go to Honduras and meet with officials and find out more about the situation. Unfortunately, I found out this afternoon that the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee was blocking my trip, along with the State Department.
It is very concerning since no Member of the Senate has taken the time to go to Honduras, which is a very close ally to this country, where we have a military base. And they certainly depend on our support. I have a growing concern of what appears to be intimidation and bullying from our administration, and I wanted to have a fact-finding trip. This body normally accords fellow Members the courtesy, and this was very disturbing that we would use politics to block a trip such as this.
But I wish to give a little bit of background on Honduras. Since so many other things are going on, not many people here in the Senate seem to even be aware of the situation.
On June 28, then-President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office and arrested by the Honduran military, on orders from the Honduran Supreme Court, and in accordance with the Honduran Constitution.
Charged with crimes of both public corruption and abuse of power, President Zelaya was attempting to subvert the Honduran Constitution and install himself as a dictator in the mold of his close friend Hugo Chavez.
Within hours, the Obama administration made an uninformed decision to call this constitutional process a ``coup,'' despite no one at the State Department or the White House having made a thorough review of the facts and the law.
Instead, we simply follow the lead of the Western Hemisphere's most corrupt and anti-American tyrants: Fidel Castro of Cuba, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The President sided with these thugs and against Honduras--a poor, loyal, and democratic friend of the United States.
To date, I am unaware of any provision in the Honduran Constitution that was violated in Zelaya's removal from office, except perhaps removing him from the country instead of putting him in jail.
The Congress, of Zelaya's party, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and the vast majority of the Honduran people support Zelaya's removal.
The Honduran military has remained at all times under civilian control. The November 29 elections remain on schedule. Interim President Roberto Micheletti is not on the ballot. The nominees for the major political parties are campaigning, and the country's citizens are preparing for a free, fair, and transparent election.
If that does not sound like a coup to you, you are not alone. Last month, a thorough report--and I have it here--by the Congressional Research Service found that the removal of Zelaya and the actions of the Congress and Supreme Court were both legal and constitutional--a very detailed evaluation which apparently the administration has not taken the time to see. There was no coup. But the Obama administration, nevertheless, has cut off Honduras from millions of dollars of badly needed United States aid.
The trip I planned--which is tomorrow--along with three Members of the House of Representatives was to get to the bottom of this so we could report back to the Senate and the House as to what was going on.
Our trip met every necessary criteria. I have scheduled meetings with President Micheletti, the Supreme Court, and the leading candidates in next month's Presidential election. I was going to meet with the business and civic leaders.
This afternoon, I was informed that the Senator from Massachusetts, Senator Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was blocking the trip. No reason was given, except that there were concerns at the State Department. If I were the Obama State Department, I would have concerns too, concerns the American people might find out the truth about what we are doing to the Honduran people.
To date, not a single Member of the Senate has assessed the situation in Honduras firsthand, and the Obama administration refuses to allow Honduran leaders and even private citizens to come here to talk to us. What are they afraid of? Are they afraid of the world discovering that their policy is based on a lie concocted by Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers? That we are backing a corrupt would-be tyrant?
This administration is only too eager--or at least seems to be too eager--to talk to any anti-American tyrant on Earth, but not even Members of Congress may visit a loyal ally 3 hours away.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, for stepping in and authorizing the trip. He would like to get to the bottom of this as well.
The trip is back on, and I look forward to reporting back to the Senate next week after my return. But this is an outrage, if not a surprise. For 8 months, President Obama has circled the globe, apologizing for America, appeasing our enemies, and insulting our friends. Meanwhile, the President has spent more time lobbying for the Olympics and appearing on late-night comedy shows than meeting with his advisers about the troop surge in Afghanistan.
Apparently, the administration is upset with me because I am asking for a debate and vote on two nominations they want for the State Department. Indeed, I was told today if I lifted my holds, the trip would be authorized by the Foreign Relations Committee.
The two nominees are Thomas Shannon, currently Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, President Obama's nominee to be Ambassador to Brazil, and Arturo Valenzuela, currently an academic nominated to replace Shannon at the Latin American desk.
I am asking for debate and a vote on Mr. Shannon's nomination because he has supposedly been behind our policy in Latin America in recent years. Our mistakes in Honduras occurred on his watch, and with his advice. He was a Bush appointee, but I have a lot of questions about what is going on in Honduras. He supports the Obama aid cutoff and the ``coup'' classification. He hardly deserves now to represent America in the largest country in Latin America, at least without a debate and a vote.
Mr. Valenzuela shares these positions, even though he admitted at his confirmation hearing he was not up to date on the facts.
Unless and until the Obama administration reverses its ill-informed and baseless claim that Zelaya's removal was a coup and also restores American aid, I will continue to ask for a debate and vote on these nominees so we can discuss the issue openly on the floor of the Senate.
This country also needs to recognize the upcoming election, which has been going on. The campaign is open and transparent, but the Obama administration is threatening not to recognize the election, which is destabilizing the country and threatening to do more harm not only in Honduras but throughout Latin America. This policy is confirming Hugo Chavez. It certainly is not confirming a constitutional form of government.
I look forward to reporting back to my fellow Members what I find in Honduras. I again thank Mitch McConnell for taking the initiative to make sure the trip is authorized.
With that, Mr. President, I yield back.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT