Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Honduras: The Chávez factor

The media, both in the U.S. and in Honduras, is truly obsessed with whether Hugo Chávez "wins" or "loses" as a result of the crisis. This bothers me for two reasons. First, it purposefully ignores the internal factors that led to the coup by labeling them as foreign-driven, thus making Hondurans peripheral to what is a Honduran crisis. But in a way, the second reason is worse--most analyses actually get it wrong by claiming that support for Roberto Micheletti is a blow to Chávez. The opposite is true.

By "winning" I mean that Chávez gains political influence regionally. I can't see how the Honduran crisis matters to him domestically. "Winning" centers on whether there are more or fewer prominent politicians with ideologies that are relatively close to his, which we might measure by election results, visits, references to him and his policies, etc.

Conservatives, both here and in Honduras, assert that keeping Zelaya out of power hurts Chávez because he loses an ally--just read La Prensa, the opposition paper that can barely publish an article without a reference to Venezuela. This is why conservative commentator Cal Thomas (like many others--I choose him because I read him most recently) criticizes Obama for saying it was a coup--we want the Chávez guy out and the "good guy" in.

The problem with this argument is that the coup itself changed Honduras' political dynamics in a way that makes the thesis irrelevant. Zelaya has bent over backwards to tell the world that he will not do all the things his opponents claim he wanted. If he returns to office, it will not likely be as a fired up Chávez acolyte. In any event, he cannot stand for office again, and it is clear as day that the next president will not be leftist.

So if Zelaya is returned to the presidency, Chávez "loses." The Honduran president everyone believed (rightly or wrongly) as his man will by necessity be attuned to domestic political realities. In a few short months, someone very different will be elected. Chávez would only lose diplomatically by claiming that negotiation was the wrong choice.

If Micheletti remains in power until the November elections, he gives Chávez a tremendous platform to decry attacks on the left. No matter what you think of Chávez, those concerns will resonate across the region. Zelaya thus becomes a martyr because he was overthrown and the United States played a role in that result. There is no political "loss" there for Chávez, but rather more evidence that everything he rants about is true.


leftside 12:03 AM  

Yeah, it is amazing for me to see right-wingers so oblivious to the fact that they play right into Chavez's ideology when they act like this. Castro has used this tendency masterfully over the years...

I'll only disagree with this analysis in that I think Chavez becomes a "winner" almost any way with Zelaya's re-reinstatement. The biggest win would be if Chavez is seen as playing some role in succeeding where the US failed. He will be seen as the man of action, while the US dilly-dallied (or worse). I think he's also gaining respect by leaders in the hemisphere by doing some of the heavy lifting on this issue, but actually restraining himself for the most part.

I think whatever the method of return, it will be hard for Chavez to "lose." He's the one always talking about the oligarchies and economic elites who fight to retain their privileges using any means. Military-business coups began to sound old fashioned to many until this happened. Chavez sees this as an attack on ALBA and evidence of that his own paranoia is justified.

But this is really sideshow material. I increasingly believe that things are going to get ugly before they get better. The right will blame Chavez. The left will blame the US. To the extent that either side is correctly blamed, will determine who "wins."

Jeff 2:37 AM  

I recently began to follow your blog after stumbling upon some of your postings about Honduras; I've been impressed with the degree to which your analysis mirrors, clarifies, and contextualizes much of my personal experience (I've lived on and off for about 4 of the last 7 years in Honduras). This post about Chávez's actual position in the whole mess helped me to get my own thoughts straight; I have been frustrated with the way that many of my Honduran friends and associates have repeatedly voiced the view that you mentioned (ousting Zelaya as a blow to Chávez) as a justification -sometimes the only justification- for the Micheletti government.

I agree completely with your view that Chavez´s biggest 'win' would actually be to have Zelaya as a symbolic martyr for his cause and, as leftside says, additional 'evidence' justifying his paranoia.

Thanks for the good coverage and thoughtful analysis of this crisis.

Anonymous,  11:09 AM  

Well, apart from the fact that I disagree with the right's analysis of whether it was a coup and whether one should support it, I would say that there is some reason to want a Chavez loss. Bullies don’t stop bullying because you ask them to. There must be countervailing forces.

Over the last twenty years the US has done a better job, by historical standards, of less meddling and intervening in Latin America. Aside from notable exceptions, its foreign policy focus has been elsewhere. So, in the interim the growth of various forms of democratic practice have taken root but remain fragile. Elections take place but the social, cultural, legaL and economic qualities of democracy have been shortchanged. Various forms of corruption have undermined the self-correcting nature of democratic practice. However, the US policies toward the left have evolved considerably since 1962. The Cold War is over and many revolutionary movements have become political parties.

One current problem is with peaceful transfers of power. ALBA may represent a similar threat to sovereignty as the historical role of the US. It simply overwhelms small countries with offers of discounted oil and subsequent political manipulation. The policies are driven by the needs of this Bolivarian Revolution. Demagogic populism demands enemies both within and without. It bullies its way past major transgressions of the democratic ethos (censorship, electoral fraud etc...) by distraction and claiming there is a greater threat (US imperialism). In the meantime the populists bankrupt countries by profligate spending and making economic decisions on the political basis of loyalty to a party line. Today, for example, the Venezuelan oil minister announced that to work for the state company one must proclaim adherence to socialism.

Until we see countries join ALBA, and leave peacefully, this alliance may be in many small countries as an existential threat rather than simply an election won or lost. Brazil, Argentina and Chile can afford to downplay the threat and express varying levels of "solidarity" while they take more practical paths. (The rhetoric helps maintain their leftist bona fides at home with little cost.) For a small country like Honduras this position is not so easy.

Clearly the right in both Latin America and the US scapegoats Chavez endlessly. It is tiresome. It is also a form of diversion. In Honduras it has now gone beyond electoral tactics to a coup in the name of “democracy.” Was there an existential threat? Why did the Honduran institutions act now and in this way? Had the Hondurans in high government office been told something by the US in the crisis leading up to the coup—not about supporting a possible coup-- but the opposite. It seems as likely the motivation is underlied by fear as bold confidence (fundamental US support). How did the recent election results in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala affect their decision-making?

While there is simply too much evidence of Zelaya’s political weakness to take his rhetoric at face value, it is also clear that Chavez has been intervening for his own purposes. Zelaya’s pathetic speech on June 2 to the OAS in San Pedro de Sula, for example, and his subsequent reckless actions with regard to Honduran institutions, just parrot the ALBA script.

Anonymous,  11:10 AM  


One element that has gone unaddressed on this board is the actual Honduran entry into ALBA in 2008. According to the Honduran constitution was this a presidential decision alone? What level of congressional consultation was required to accept the discounted oil and the political terms of the alliance? I have read Zelaya's rhetoric about it, but little or nothing from anyone else in Honduras.

The single best reason to support Zelaya's return remains upholding democratic principles and practices. The US may end up deciding that the full restoration of Zelaya is impractical. It may not even be able to get the parties there if it wants to. But I don't think it will be seen by many in the region-- except those so predisposed already-- as a return to US imperialism and a justification for Chavez’s populism. Obama's administration represents a different approach and Latin Americans, left, right and center, know it. The American right is defending the coup in part to attack Obama and this will fail too unless world affairs repeatedly head in a substantially anti-American direction (e.g. Carter in the 1970s).

leftside 3:35 PM  

ALBA may represent a similar threat to sovereignty as the historical role of the US. It simply overwhelms small countries with offers of discounted oil and subsequent political manipulation.

You've got to be joking.

ALBA is nothing more than a vehicle to produce trade and economic agreements outside of the regular neo-liberal framework. Agreements that have to be negotiated by State parties on a case by case basis. With regards to Honduras, the "threat" of ALBA has meant is that they get good financing on oil, $30 million for loans to small farmers, $100 million in bonds for housing programs, plus 100 tractors and general technical support programs in health, education and oil exploration.

If that is more of a threat to Hondurans than the US history of intervention there, I think I have to disagree.

You talk about the threat of "political manipulation" by appearing to blame Zelaya's actions you don't like on Hugo Chavez. I am sure Zelaya would tell you that he is a free man and when he makes speaches or takes actions they are done on his own accord, without some worry about Venezuela or other ALBA nations taking back their assistance. Now, pissing of the US and losing that assistance is of real and actual concern. The US has shown over and over again it uses supposed aid and assistance programs for political purposes (see Bolivia just last week). However Venezuela has never shown to be so vindictive.

And yes, ALBA was ratified by the Honduran Congress last October.

Anonymous,  4:21 PM  

Hey, thanks for the link. The congress' approval of entry into ALBA less than a year ago also works against their justification for the coup. What, they did not know who Hugo Chavez was and what kind of alliance this would be? Were they idiots? Did they think the discounted oil would come without a price? Why doesn't the right chomp on this for awhile, the same people who led the coup voted to enter into ALBA less than a year ago.

And, yes, I stand by the idea that Zelaya was parroting Hugo's ideas in his speech. The speech was pathetic, derivative and submissive. This Zelaya is the same man who fawned all over George W. Bush when he went to the White House. That he doesn't have many solid convictions and can be led in many directions is clear.

leftside 5:50 PM  

What, they did not know who Hugo Chavez was and what kind of alliance this would be?

I thought this paragraph from the (La Prensa) article was very interesting

The Congress on Thursday approved the accession of Honduras to ALBA, the first inclusion of a country whose government has no ideological affinity with the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez...

So, less 9 months ago the Honduran press believed there was no ideological affinity between Zelaya and Chavez. Now they are best buds... right.

That he doesn't have many solid convictions and can be led in many directions is clear.

I will give you part of that. It is pretty clear Zelaya never really stood for anything ideologically when he was running and in his frist 2 years in office. But he did always speak of his preference for the poor. He thought he could improve things by playing nice with the old institutions and neo-liberal doctrines. At some point he realized that was not going anywhere and wanted to do something more. He enlised the help of nations willing to help. Remember that Zelaya had asked Bush point blank to provide some assistance with rising energy costs. The US told him forget about it and that he ought to not question, let alone interfere, with the oil market. With costs blowing holes though his budget, he went to Chavez and ALBA. He got the help he was looking for - without strings attached, without pre-conditions.

Where I disagree with you is in implying that Chavez is somehow pulling Zelaya's strings. There's simply no evidence of that. And I believe Zelaya is far too proud of a man to become someone's whore like that. Did he change his mind on some ideological issues - yes. Did he do so because he was manipualted or felt under pressure from Chavez - don't think so.

Defensores de Democracia 1:16 PM  

The Chavez Factor :

Chavez, Correa and Ortega, A Trio of Madmen, dedicated to Vulgarity, Gross Populism, and Economic Demagoguery.

Mono Jojoy the Worst Terrorist of FARC tells us how this organization of Murdereres killing children has given money to Rafael Correa for Presidential Campaign.

For Years the Colombian Authorities have been complaining of the "Sanctuary" in Ecuador for Murderer Terrorists.

Search in YouTube.com for "Mono Jojoy" and Correa ( asking for more recent videos )

Mono Jojoy affirms categorically that FARC has given money to Correa for Politics :







Vicente Duque

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