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Has Chavez Quit on Zelaya?

This is odd; Chávez is generally quite loquacious. It may indicate that something is brewing, or perhaps it may mean that Chávez is unhappy with Zelaya and President Arias for having met without his prior approval and is content to leave Zelaya hanging in the wind. On July 10, Chavez complained, apparently without his usual bombast, that the meeting had been a "very dangerous trap for democracy, which set a very serious precedent."

Chávez's relative silence may simply indicate that he is very busy with other things. As I wrote here about a month ago, Chávez has numerous domestic problems and they are worsening daily. He now faces more problems internationally as well:

--  "Media terrorism," as to which Chávez's approach has become increasingly repressive.

-- The skyrocketing cost of living in Venezuela. Caracas is now the most expensive city in Latin America. This year it shot up from the 74th to the fifteenth most expensive city in the world. The problem is exacerbated by the low wages in Venezuela.

-- Chávez's own "coup" depriving the opposition mayor of Caracas, elected by a landslide in November of 93 percent, of his budget and of his offices, and appointing his own unelected loyalist as ''super-mayor.'' The head of the OAS, although an ally of Chávez, has agreed to meet with opposition leaders after the Honduran crisis is over. Chávez then relented, saying that partial funding will now be provided for the mayor.

-- Chavez's popularity in Venezuela is declining; a recent poll indicates that two-thirds of the people want Chávez out by 2012 when his current term in office ends -- or sooner.

-- Keeping his allies in line. On July 10, the Revolutionary Marxists of Iran published an open letter to the workers of Venezuela on Hugo Chávez’s support for Ahmadinejad. The letter is well worth reading. It came down very hard on Chávez for supporting the theocracy in Iran. This report was reprinted by at least one Venezuelan news site.

-- The "obstinacy" of Brazil in failing thus far to agree to the entry of Venezuela into the Southern Cone Economic Zone (Mercosur) due to "doubts" about the existence of democracy in Venezuela and the refusal of the Venezuelan ambassador to appear before the congress to explain Venezuela's position.

-- The unexpected and very substantial June 28 electoral defeats suffered by the Chávez backed Peronista party in Argentina, prompting the husband of the current president (her immediate predecessor in office) to resign on June 30 as head of the party and casting doubt on whether he will run again for president in the next election.

-- Chávez also has continuing problems in Chile.

-- Chávez may be preoccupied with what he claims are incipient coups in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This would be consistent with former President Castro's assertion the day before that if former President Zelaya "is not returned to his post, a wave of coups threatens to sweep many Latin American governments."

-- Or perhaps Chávez's head has simply become too large for his red beret and he has a very bad headache.

The list could go on and on. However, what now happens in Honduras probably depends to a great extent on the international power of President Chávez, which seems to be diminishing. Also, as the Venezuelan economy nosedives and repression of the opposition escalates, the domestic resistance to Chávez appears to become better organized and Chávez's problems increase. Perhaps Chávez has too many balls to juggle all at once; perhaps his balls are inadequate to permit him to juggle them all.

At this point, it seems unlikely that there will be a resolution of the Honduran question acceptable to Chávez, Zelaya, and Castro. The best resolution for the people of Honduras would be for Zelaya to stay away. According to a CID-Gallup poll published on July 9, 41 percent of Hondurans considered Zelaya's ouster justified while only 28 percent did not. The poll results are consistent with what happened in last year's presidential primaries: Zelaya endorsed Micheletti's candidacy and, apparently due to that endorsement, lost in the primary.

Any number of countries -- Venezuela, Nicaragua, Argentina, Ecuador, and possibly even the United States -- might be happy to grant asylum. Zelaya should take advantages of those opportunities while they last.