Friday, July 03, 2009

Mel and the Cartels? Hmmm

By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, July 02, 2009 4:20 PM PT

The Hemisphere: A Honduran official has warned that deposed President Mel Zelaya was in league with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to ship drugs to the U.S. If true, can this really be the man the U.S. wants back in power?

Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez dropped a bombshell last week when he said Zelaya, the president who was thrown out by a constitutional process June 28 after defying the law, had a little side business with the Caracas caudillo allowing cocaine to roll into Honduras from Venezuela before heading to the U.S.

"Every night, three or four Venezuelan-registered planes land without the permission of appropriate authorities and bring thousands of pounds . . . and packages of money that are the fruit of drug trafficking," Ortez told CNN En Espanol. "We have proof of all of this. Neighboring governments have it. The DEA has it."

If Ortiz is right, the U.S. effort to restore Zelaya to power would be suicidal for U.S. efforts to destroy drug organizations south of our border. It would undercut Mexico's and Colombia's savage drug wars and give drug lords such as the Sinaloa cartel's Shorty Guzman, who has bases in Honduras, reason to strengthen operations.

It also means the U.S. must start asking questions about Chavez's role in the drug trade now that U.S.-Venezuelan diplomatic ties are being restored. Right now, it's such a hot potato that nobody in either the State Department or the Drug Enforcement Administration wants to comment on it.

Zelaya's return would put the U.S. in a dilemma. The U.S. has gone along with the Chavez-led global consensus denouncing Zelaya's exit as a coup d'etat and condemning the current Honduran government. But that position means the U.S. would have to cut off a $43 million aid package to Honduras that includes drug-fighting.

This is why the legal definition of "coup" is so touchy.U.S. policymakers are stalling about labeling Zelaya's removal as such — though hotheads in the Obama administration, such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, don't hesitate to use the term.

It also would represent a sorry retreat on current policy.

In 1989, the U.S. took out Manuel Noriega in a military operation over his ties to the Medellin cartel. In 1994, the U.S. cut off aid to Colombia when its new president, Ernesto Samper, was caught on tape with the kingpins of the Cali cartel and taking their cash.

Restoring Zelaya and then pretending the drug war can be won would be a travesty, harming the interests of the U.S. and all the battered nations fighting drugs alongside us.

Ortez's warning lacks detail. But it does describe the well-known problem of traffickers using Central American countries as transshipment points for drugs. This has gotten worse since Zelaya made his alliance with Chavez two years ago.

The aircraft landings, many of which become known after they've crashed with multiton shipments — cannot happen without the president of a small country knowing about them.

The recent high-profile murder of an attorney investigating money-laundering in Guatemala highlighted the problem of corruption extending all the way to the president of that country. Before he was shot dead in the street, Rodrigo Rosenberg videotaped testimony calling Guatemala's president his murderer and said the motive was to cover up the drug-linked corruption he was probing.

This same drug onslaught has slammed Honduras with crime and corruption. The country now has the highest murder rate in the hemisphere, with 4,000 dead in 2008.

It's a fact that the crime has gotten worse under Zelaya, whose commitment to the war on drugs is weak. The leftist demagogue's call to legalize drugs last October didn't come out of some principled libertarian impulse.

If Zelaya is behind Honduras' drug problems, then he can't be allowed back into the country. An international investigation must be undertaken, and Honduras must provide information.

If Zelaya is found to be in league with Chavez on drugs, then the quarrel over whether or not he was removed in a coup becomes a small matter. Then the only place for this former dictator is a jail cell, the same as Noriega got.

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