By Kevin Bogardus - 09/27/09 05:58 PM EDT
The de facto government of Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya has hired a well-known public relations firm to bolster its image in Washington.
According to Justice Department documents, the Honduran government signed Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates to a four-month contract worth more than $290,000. Filed on Sept. 18 with Justice by the public relations firm, the documents say the company will “advance the level of communication, awareness and media/policy maker attention about the political situation in Honduras.”
The contract comes as the crisis in the Central American country has flared up again. Zelaya, who was exiled to Costa Rica by the Honduran military, has slipped back into the country to try to reclaim his position as president. He has taken shelter with family members in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, threatened with arrest if he leaves its grounds.
Zelaya was forced into exile after the opposition alleged he wanted to remove term limits on the presidency and stay in power past the country’s November elections. Zelaya has denied those charges and instead has said he should be reinstated as president.
Many countries, including the United States, and international organizations have condemned the exile of Zelaya and said he should be returned to power. The U.S. government has increasingly put pressure on the de facto Honduran government to meet those demands by suspending some foreign aid and canceling American visas for many of the leaders behind Zelaya’s ouster.
As part of the contract with Chlopak, the firm will reach out to Capitol Hill aides to improve the image of the de facto government. They will also reach out to opinion leaders and media outlets.
At least nine people at the firm will represent the Hondurans, according to registrations on file with Justice. Several are familiar with Congress and the political world, such as Mike Buttry, once chief of staff to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), and Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.
Chlopak’s entry into the Honduran crisis is not the first among Washington advocates. Business leaders in Honduras have hired a variety of firms, such as Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Vision Americas, to lobby in support of the de facto government and say the ouster of Zelaya was just.