Kerry blocks DeMint trip to Honduras

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) trip to Honduras slated to begin Friday, according to DeMint's office.

But the chairman's office claimed that the DeMint trip was stopped because the South Carolina Republican is blocking two of President Barack Obama's nominations: Auturo Valenzuela, Obama’s nominee to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Tom Shannon, the current assistant secretary and nominee to be ambassador to Brazil.

DeMint’s office informed The Hill of Kerry’s decision Thursday afternoon.

ADVERTISEMENT
On Thursday morning, the freshman Republican announced that he would lead a congressional delegation to Honduras on Friday ahead of the country’s Nov. 29 elections. The U.S. State Department, which acknowledges ousted President Manuel Zelaya as the legitimate ruler of the Central American nation, has said it will not recognize the contests because of ongoing political turmoil.

“No U.S. Senator has yet been to Honduras to assess facts of crisis. [Kerry] & Obama admin using bullying tactics to hide truth,” DeMint, who also sits on the Foreign Relations panel, said on Twitter after he heard the trip would not occur.

"@JohnKerry (Foreign Rel. chair) trying to hide truth to protect Zelaya, blocking our fact-finding trip to Honduras at last minute," DeMint also tweeted late Thursday afternoon.

DeMint's office followed with a statement. "These bullying tactics by the Obama administration and Senator Kerry must stop, and we must be allowed to get to the truth in Honduras. Not a single U.S. Senator has traveled to Honduras to learn the facts on the ground.

"While this administration has failed to act decisively in Afghanistan, it is has no problem cracking down on a democratic ally and one of the poorest nations in Latin America," DeMint added. "Now, President Obama and Democrats' blind support for this would-be dictator and friend of Hugo Chavez will prevent members of Congress from learning the truth first hand."

Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones responded Thursday evening that "Senator DeMint’s statement wins an A for ‘audacity.’"

"The Foreign Relations Committee always prefers to operate in a bi-partisan and collegial fashion, and it did so when it approved these two nominees by votes of 14 to 4 for Mr. Shannon and 15 to 4 for Mr. Valenzuela," Jones told The Hill in a statement. "But now Sen. DeMint refuses to let the nominations of two distinguished public servants even be considered on the floor of the Senate."

"When Senator DeMint lifts these holds and allows these individuals to receive an up or down vote on the Senate floor, the Committee will approve his travel to Honduras, a country that is in the middle of delicate, political crisis.”

Honduras has experienced political turmoil since June, when the Honduran military deposed Zelaya after a supreme court ruling ordering his removal. The now-exiled president had attempted to change the country's constitution in part to eliminate presidential term limits.

DeMint has long objected to the Obama administration's response to the crisis, saying they should shun Zelaya, not promote his return to power.

The United States does not recognize the de facto government led by President Roberto Micheletti. Honduras’ acting government has hoped that the November elections would put an end to the political crisis there.

Zelaya’s ouster has divided members of Congress. Many Republicans accused Zelaya, who is a left-leaning figure, of acting unconstitutionally to extend his term as president. Many Democrats stood behind Zelaya and alleged the coup was an undemocratic power grab.

Kerry has frequently criticized the acting regime for shunning diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis. In early September, he praised a vote to slash $30 million in aid to the country in reaction to the ouster.

The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee also demanded that Zelaya be returned to power under the conditions of a negotiated agreement with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

“I strongly support Costa Rican President Arias’s efforts to restore democracy with the conditioned return of President Zelaya,” Kerry said after the aid reduction. “The coup regime has engaged in undemocratic practices that cast a dark shadow over elections scheduled for November.”

Kerry echoed the stance of the U.S. government, which also backs supports restoring Zelaya to power. Under the terms of the agreement, Zelaya would return to office with limited power then leave office when his term expires in December.

DeMint first announced the delegation’s trip on Twitter, a statement that was later confirmed by his office.

“Leading delegation to Honduras tomorrow to support Nov 29 elections. Hondurans should be able to choose their own future,” he wrote. The identities of the lawmakers who planned to travel with DeMint are unknown.

Under the current constitution, both Micheletti and Zelaya are ineligible for re-election.