MEXICO CITY — A year before the coup that ousted Manuel Zelaya, an outgoing US ambassador called the Honduran president a "rebellious teenager" who secretly wanted to leave office a martyr, according to a diplomatic memo released on the Wikileaks website.
Ambassador Charles A. Ford sent the unflattering portrait of Zelaya — classified as "secret" — on May 15, 2008, to incoming Ambassador Hugo Llorens. More than a year later, on June 28, 2009, soldiers forced Zelaya into exile in a dispute over changing the Honduran Constitution.
The coup provoked worldwide condemnation, but months of sanctions and US-led negotiations ultimately failed to restore Zelaya to power.
Ford also expressed concern that Zelaya had ties to organized crime, although he offered no evidence. His memo said Zelaya's delay in naming a vice minister for security "lends credibility to those who suggest that narco traffickers have pressured him to name one of their own."
"I am unable to brief Zelaya on sensitive law enforcement and counter-narcotics actions due (to) my concern that this would put the lives of US officials in jeopardy," Ford wrote.
The interim government that ruled Honduras for seven months after the coup also accused Zelaya of supporting drug traffickers, but the US did not publicly support those allegations.
Zelaya, whose gradual shift to the left and increasingly close ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez alarmed powerful Honduran business leaders and alienated his own political party, remains in exile in the Dominican Republic.
"Ever the rebellious teenager, Zelaya's principal goal in office is to enrich himself and his family while leaving a public legacy as a martyr who tried to do good but was thwarted at every turn by powerful, unnamed interests," Ford wrote in the memo released by Wikileaks on Friday.