- Obama "is not going to trick us with an ambiguous discourse or with a smile," warned Chávez. He added that Obama wants to be seen "as a peaceful dove, as an innocent lamb."The Venezuelan ruler said that he would rather deal with former US President George W. Bush than with Obama. In Chávez's words, "you better face the head of the empire assuming his role as such, than face someone who is off and on.
- He placed blame for the removal of the Honduras President on "the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US Department of State and the Pentagon,"
- Warned the President to stay away from Latin America, "The process of change in Latin America is not going to stop, President Obama. You can send the Fourth and the Sixth Fleet, or the world's largest bombers, but changes will not end,"
The U.S. Steers Left on Honduras
Why would Hugo Chavez expect Obama to help him?
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
When Hugo Chávez makes a personal appeal to Washington for help, as he did 11 days ago, it raises serious questions about the signals that President Barack Obama is sending to the hemisphere's most dangerous dictator.
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (left) with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
At issue is Mr. Chávez's determination to restore deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya to power through multilateral pressure. His phone call to a State Department official showed that his campaign was not going well and that he thought he could get U.S. help.
This is not good news for the region. The Venezuelan may feel that his aims have enough support from the U.S. and the Organization of American States (OAS) that he would be justified in forcing Mr. Zelaya on Honduras by supporting a violent overthrow of the current government. That he has reason to harbor such a view is yet another sign that the Obama administration is on the wrong side of history.
In the three weeks since the Honduran Congress moved to defend the country's constitution by relieving Mr. Zelaya of his presidential duties, it has become clear that his arrest was both lawful and a necessary precaution against violence.
Mr. Zelaya was trying to use mob rule to undermine Honduras's institutions in much the same way that Mr. Chávez has done in Venezuela. But as Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada pointed out in the Los Angeles Times on July 10, Mr. Zelaya's actions were expressly forbidden by the Honduran constitution.
"Article 239," Mr. Estrada noted, "specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection 'shall cease forthwith' in his duties, and Article 4 provides that any 'infraction' of the succession rules constitutes treason." Congress had little choice but to take its next step. It convened "immediately after Zelaya's arrest," Mr. Estrada wrote, "condemning his illegal conduct, and overwhelmingly voting (122-6) to remove him from office."
Mr. Zelaya was shipped out of the country because Honduras believed that jailing him would make him a lightning rod for violence. Interim President Roberto Micheletti promised that presidential elections scheduled for November would go forward.
That might have been the end of it if the U.S. had supported the Honduran rule of law, or simply refrained from meddling. Instead President Obama and the State Department joined Mr. Chávez and his allies in demanding that Mr. Zelaya be restored to power. This has emboldened Venezuela.
On July 5, Mr. Zelaya boarded a plane manned by a Venezuelan crew bound for Tegucigalpa, knowing full well that he would not be allowed to land. It didn't matter. His intention was to incite a mob on the ground and force a confrontation between his supporters and the military. It worked. One person was killed in clashes near the airport.
Yet the tragedy did not produce the desired condemnation of the Micheletti government. Rather, it empowered Honduran patriots. Perhaps this is because the airport violence reinforced the claim that Mr. Zelaya is a threat to the peace.
He was not the only one to lose credibility that day. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza had encouraged the fly-over stunt despite its obvious risks. He even traveled in a separate plane behind Mr. Zelaya to show support. The incident destroyed any possibility that Mr. Insulza could be considered an honest broker. It also proved the charge that by insisting on Mr. Zelaya's return the U.S. was playing with fire.
The next day Costa Rican President Oscar Arias offered to act as a mediator between Mr. Zelaya and the new government. Mr. Arias would seem to be far from an impartial referee given that he is a supporter of Mr. Zelaya. Yet it is also true that Central America has the most to lose if Honduras descends into civil war. It follows that the San José venue offers better odds for the Honduran democracy than, say, the auspices of the OAS.
Other influential Central Americans have expressed support for Honduras. Last week the Honduran daily El Heraldo reported that Salvador's OAS ambassador said he hopes to see the resolution that suspended Honduras from the group revoked under the new permanent-council president. Catholic Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has condemned Mr. Zelaya's violent tactics and says that Honduras does not want to emulate Venezuela.
Mr. Chávez understands that Mr. Zelaya's star is fading, which is why he called Tom Shannon, the State Department's assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere at home at 11:15 p.m on July 9. Mr. Shannon told me that Mr. Chávez "again made the case for the unconditional return of Mr. Zelaya, though he did so in a less bombastic manner than he has in the past."
Mr. Shannon says that in response he "suggested to him that Venezuela and its [allies] address the fear factor by calling for free and fair elections and a peaceful transition to a new government." That, Mr. Shannon, says, "hasn't happened."
Nor is it likely to. Yet the U.S. continues exerting enormous pressure for the return of Mr. Zelaya. If it prevails, it is unlikely that Mr. Zelaya's mobs or Mr. Chávez will suddenly be tamed.