The Central American migrant caravan is a vivid illustration of the refugee crisis rocking Honduras in recent years. The caravan, composed mostly of Hondurans (more than half of whom are women and children), comes on the heels of a dramatic rise in emigration after the nation’s military coup in 2009.
Republicans have claimed without evidence that Democrats engineered the caravan, but the conditions responsible for so many Hondurans fleeing the country emerged after a 2009 coup, the leaders of which received extensive assistance from a firm run by a prominent Democratic operative and an employee of his who is now a top adviser to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
It’s not hard to see why Hondurans are fleeing their country. As Adam Isacson, senior program associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, told The Guardian, “After the 2009 coup, the government essentially stopped functioning in rural areas where organized crime took hold and cocaine shipments started arriving in larger numbers….Then, as institutions hollowed out and became corrupted, gang activity increased and the United States got a wave of migrants.”
Six months after President Porfirio Lobo Sosa took over, Human Rights Watch concluded in 2010 that "serious human rights abuses since the 2009 coup" continued with impunity.
By 2012, Honduras would have the highest murder rate of any country on the planet, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.
Around the same time, between 2009 and 2014, there was a 1,272 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied Honduran minors apprehended crossing the border into the U.S.
The coup, which took place on June 28, 2009, ousted Honduras’ democratically elected progressive president, Manuel Zelaya. Among Zelaya’s signature reforms was hiking the minimum wage by 60 percent, raising teacher salaries, and making school enrollment free.
Whereas poverty decreased under the Zelaya administration, after his ouster, inequality increased dramatically. As the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded, "In the two years after the coup, Honduras had the most rapid rise in inequality in Latin America and now stands as the country with the most unequal distribution of income in the region."
The coup was immediately followed by a flurry of lobbying in Washington for the new regime.
On July 6, 2009, Lanny Davis registered as a lobbyist for a group of Honduran business leaders who had opposed Zelaya and supported the new regime. Davis, an attorney and public-relations consultant, had served as special counsel for President Bill Clinton and defended him during several scandals, including the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Davis testified before Congress in July 2009 on behalf of his Honduran clients. Later, moving to new lobbying firms, Davis ultimately represented the new Honduran government itself and took his new client to two new firms he formed: Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and Davis-Block, LLC. The latter was a strategic communications firm whose vice president was Omri Ceren. Earlier this year, Ceren was hired as Ted Cruz’s national security advisor.
Justice Department documents released under the Foreign Agents Registration Act provide a window into the work Davis and his firms did for the regime.
In a formal contract sent from Davis to Honduran Vice President María Antonieta de Bográn and Honduran Ambassador to the U.S. Jorge Ramón Hernández-Alcerro, both of whom assumed office after the coup, Davis describes how he set to work immediately after the coup to establish the legitimacy of the regime’s newly announced election.
“Indeed, when I testified at the July 2009 [US] subcommittee hearings, I was … seeking a reconciliation solution that would achieve maximum consensus, peace, order, and most important, recognition of the coming election of a new president,” Davis wrote.
Hernández-Alcerro, previously a prominent banker who served as executive director of the Honduran Business Council for Sustainable Development, had advocated for the overthrow of Zelaya.
In the coup's aftermath, Obama condemned it as "illegal" and the administration was leaning toward Zelaya. That would soon change.
Emails later released by the State Department showed that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought at the time to use Davis as a back channel to the coup regime's acting leader. The emails don't show whether anything came of Clinton's interest.
On Nov. 9, 2009, Davis wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal urging the U.S. to recognize the post-coup elections so that, "Mr. Zelaya will be irrelevant." The Journal identifies Davis as representing the Honduras chapter of the Latin American Business Council.
Davis's filings detail a sophisticated plan to “develop positive, pro-active media narratives about Honduras – on the theme of ‘turning the page.’”
Davis sought to “develop continuing communications with the key foreign affairs reporters and editors in the U.S.,” as well as “Editorial Board meetings/special meetings with key reporters and columnists and TV analysts.”
“Similarly we would help arrange when senior officials of the Honduran government are visiting Washington for special meetings with key editorial writers, reporters, and opinion analysts in the Washington media, think tanks, and Internet blog sites.”
For $20,000 per month, Davis would work “under close supervision and coordination with the Ambassador and government in Honduras,” meeting with the ambassador at least 1-2 times each month.
The contract also notes that non-lawyer professionals might work alongside Davis as subcontractors — which is where Davis-Block comes in.
Davis was already a controversial figure. His work for Ivory Coast dictator Laurent Gbagbo, who today is standing trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity, drew headlines. Ceren's involvement did not come to light at the time, but TYT recently reported he registered as working on Gbagbo's behalf.
On December 17, 2010, Davis-Block registered as a foreign agent for the Honduran Embassy, working with Ambassador Hernández-Alcerro.
According to the Justice Department filing, Davis-Block assisted Lanny J. Davis & Associates “in its work for the Government of Honduras by providing public affairs and policy consulting with the objective of improving United States-Honduras relations.”
Ceren did not file paperwork detailing specific work for Honduras, so it's not clear what, if anything, he specifically did for the new government. Registration is not required for administrative and other types of work for foreign interests. Davis-Block’s filings detail its interactions with a number of prominent media figures on Honduras' behalf but don't identify what work was done by Ceren, Davis, or partner Josh Block.
The filings also include what is perhaps the firm’s most impressive media feat: “connecting [Honduran] President Lobo with editorial board of Wall Street Journal, which ultimately published an op-ed written by President Lobo.”
In addition to Davis-Block's contacts with the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the firm's filings also say that it had phone calls and emails with reporters including Eli Lake of Daily Beast/Newsweek and Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy magazine during the week of Oct. 2, 2011.
On Oct. 5, 2011, Foreign Policy published a Rogin article about his interview with Lobo. Rogin wrote, "We asked Lobo if he forgave the Obama administration for sticking with Zelaya for so long and initially opposing the process that led to his election."
Lobo was magnanimous in his response. The administration, he said, "Was extremely helpful."