The admission this week by former Minister of the Presidency Enrique Flores Lanza that he did authorize the withdrawals of Lps 50 million ($2.5 million) from the Central Bank of Honduras in the days just prior to the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009 has created a firestorm in Honduras. The money, which was not authorized by Congress, was, according to Mr. Flores, distributed to 33 representatives of the Zelaya government and was to have been used to pay for personnel and materials needed to stage the cuarta urna (fourth ballot box) public opinion poll, which had been ruled to be illegal by the Public Ministry, the Attorney General, and the Supreme Court in May 2009.
For the past five years, Mr. Flores, along with Manuel Zelaya and all of his friends and political supporters, has vehemently denied any knowledge of or involvement in "El Carretillazo", as the withdrawals have popularly come to be known. The word is taken from the word carreta (cart). The money was withdrawn from the vault of the Central Bank on two occasions -- June 24, 2009 (Lps 40 million) and June 26, 2009 (Lps 10 million). On the first day, the money was loaded onto carts and wheeled out of the bank. Hence the El Carretillazo -- the big little cart scam. The incident was caught on the bank's security cameras and has been replayed endlessly on Honduran television. Video clips can also be found on YouTube.
Without going into the reasons Mr. Flores finally decided to come clean, the short of it is that he has now given the names of 33 "departmental coordinators" who he claims received a total of Lps 47 million prior to the scheduled cuarta urna. See "Honduras: Enrique Flores Lanza Comes Clean". At least three of the individuals -- José Saro Bonano, Ricardo Martinez, and Armando Sarmiento -- named by Mr. Lanza have already come out and denied having received any funds. More will surely follow in the next few weeks, and so this scandal is just getting started. The accusations will inevitably fly back and forth, as no one who received any of the cash will want to give it back or risk going to prison for having accepted it.
The response from Mr. Zelaya's supporters, specifically members of the Libre Party, for which Mr. Zelaya is the General Coordinator, has been relatively muted. There is a huge element of surprise, because suddenly what they believed to be unfounded accusations -- politically motivated -- against Mr. Flores have now been shown to be the truth, and nothing but the truth. With Mr. Flores' admission, not only has Mr. Flores been exposed as a liar, that reputation will now taint anyone who has been backing him during the past five years. Sadly, rather than simply come out and say, "Yeah, we really did blow it with Mr. Flores, sorry about that", many of the Libre people, who may still be in shock, are taking the rather predictable position of, "Well okay, but this doesn't begin to rise to the level of those who perpetuated the coup, or it doesn't compare to the more than Lps 7 billion stolen by Mario Zelaya (the former director of the Honduran Social Security Institute)."
In other words, nobody likes the taste of crow. Even more... nobody likes to accept that their politicians are no better than anyone else's, and in some cases they may even be much worse.
Poor Mr. Flores has suddenly become a kind of Judas figure -- the guy who snitched and betrayed the cause. It's over for him. He will either go to prison (unlikely) or be sentenced to a very long confinement to his home (most likely), plus a manageable fine. But he will surely not have many friends within Libre, certainly no role within the party. And he will definitely have some new enemies who will not miss any opportunity to insult him and try to bring him down lower than he has already managed to pull himself. One who will not be among Mr. Flores' fans is Esdras Amado López, the owner of the Channel 36 TV station known as Cholusat Sur. Mr. López is a longtime ally to Mr. Zelaya and is now in the process of contesting Mr. Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, to be Libre's next presidential candidate. That's another drama waiting to unfold.
A few days ago, Mr. López expressed his dismay over the revelations by Mr. Flores, specifically over a press conference called by Mr. Zelaya and other Libre leaders to call for a full accounting of the Lps 50 million by those who received money. "I am surprised, because Libre did not exist during the time of the cuarta urna... that was a pedo (fart) of the Liberal Party. That press conference to defend that sapo (frog) of the carretilla, as the country now calls it, should have been held at the offices of the Central Executive Council of the Liberal Party. Besides, everyone should defend themselves in whatever way they can, because we should not adopt a problem that does not pertain to Libre."
"I am shocked. I did not believe the whole carretilla thing, and now that that frog Flores Lanza confirms it and Mel (Manuel Zelaya) confirms it, I feel disconcerted because the confession eliminates any need of any further proof," Mr. López added. "What truly hurts is that Libre, which as a party did not exist at that moment, is today openly and at all costs defending a shameless act against the national treasury."
As the designated fall guy, Mr. Flores will have to continue to absorb the brunt of the Honduran public's vitriol for the lies he has told. He's an easy target, because he's mostly seen as a gopher for Mr. Zelaya, an errand boy -- much in the same way Lewis "Scooter" Libby was viewed in relation to Vice President Dick Cheney in the United States. What is astounding and unfortunate is that, precisely because he is so easy, Mr. Flores will continue to be used as a convenient shield to protect the real culprit in this heist and cover-up scandal, the guy who instructed Mr. Flores to withdraw the funds in the first place: Manuel Zelaya.