Chris in Honduras
Summer is ending, our elected gringo “leaders” soon will be returning to Washington, D.C., so it’s a good time to start blogging anew. I expect to continue writing about Roger Noriega’s activities, including the ongoing defamation lawsuit that exiled Venezuelan banker Eligio Cedeno has brought against Noriega and his Venezuelan associate Martin Rodil. But I’ve been reading a lot of history recently, so I’m returning from my summer vacation from blogging with the following historical anecdote reproduced verbatim from the memoirs of a former U.S. Ambassador who served in Central America during the mid-1980’s…
Dodd: Add Sleaze to Corruption
The regional security officer was upset when he arrived in my office the morning of February 20, 1987. His men – my personal security team, consisting of two U.S. officers and 14 Honduran contract employees – felt their professionalism had been compromised by the nocturnal pursuits of two visiting American senators: Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and a Democratic colleague of Dodd’s from a border state.
Dodd was a frequent and unwelcome visitor to Tegucigalpa where I was serving as Reagan’s ambassador. Besides overseeing U.S. support to the Nicaraguan Resistance (known as the contras), my instructions were to work closely with the Honduran government to strengthen democracy and aid that poverty-stricken country’s economy. Our aim, fully backed by Honduras’ government, was to cleanse Central America of the communist threat posed by rebel movements in El Salvador and Guatemala, aided by the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, Castro’s Cuba and the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the subsequent impoverishment of Cuba, and the mistake of the Sandinistas in allowing a free election that ousted them from office put an end to the Central American crisis. But before that happened, Dodd had made it his business to try to undermine U.S. policy by seeking to persuade the Honduran government to withdraw its support to the Nicaraguan Resistance and to block further U.S. aid to the anti-Sandinista combatants.
Dodd – and a number of fellow-traveling congressional cohorts whom he was wont to drag along on his visits to Honduras – made our job more difficult, but we succeeded in thwarting him, and our relationship with the Honduran political leadership (government and opposition) remained strong and mutually-supportive.
When Dodd announced, on the second day of a three-day visit, that he and his sidekick would relieve the Embassy of responsibility for entertaining them that evening, and asked that we recommend a suitable restaurant, my staff and I were delighted to oblige. But given a high incidence of street crime, my security detail was assigned to escort them – to make sure they could enjoy a safe and relaxing evening together.
During Clinton’s presidency much was made of the risks inherent in a president’s losing confidence in his Secret Service detail – as would result from disclosures members of the detail might make about their principal’s “private,” personal activities. “Professionalism,” it was said, required that they remain impassively mum about any inappropriate extracurricular acts by their boss, so as not to lose his trust and thereby place him in greater jeopardy.
That argument was exactly backwards. It’s not the principal’s losing confidence in his security team that matters, but vice-versa. If the principal is a sleaze, his bodyguards will lose respect, and that can and will undermine their willingness to risk all on his behalf. In fact, expecting them to do so when the principal is engaging in immoral acts is a direct insult to their professionalism.
And that is precisely what happened in Tegucigalpa, with Dodd and his buddy.
The regional security officer was specific in his complaint.
“Sir,” he said, “my men consider themselves professionals. They weren’t trained to escort U.S. senators to whorehouses.”
He handed me a written report (naming the three bordellos visited – Villa Hermosa, Gran Via, Punta Azul), he wanted to know what the Embassy could do about it. Other than denouncing the two visitors to their hometown newspapers, which I’m sorry now I counseled him not to do, the answer was, absolutely nothing. Visiting members of Congress are pretty much untouchable.
But, lesson learned: Should the situation arise again where visiting members of the Legislative Branch wished to go off on their own, we would caution them that they’d be on their own if they went to certain areas of the city considered off-limits to Embassy personnel.
Shortly after this incident, a very senior Democratic senator, known for his probity, visited us, with his wife. One of the Embassy’s junior officers asked him point-blank why someone like Dodd would frequent whorehouses in a place like Tegucigalpa (where AIDS was known to be rampant). This visitor’s response (as reported to me) is not printable, but I’ve always wondered if he carried back a message of caution, if not remonstrance, to his sleazy Connecticut colleague.
On subsequent visits, Dodd, as far as the official record goes, managed to hold his baser instincts in check, if not his anti-Administration antics.
Gringo’s PS: The former senator from CT has been Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America since March 2011. Given Dodd’s historical record of ferociously opposing the US embargo against Fidel Castro’s Cuban dictatorship, I’ve always wondered if he was honeytrapped by Cuban G-2 in Central America or during one of his many trips to Havana.