Obama Owes Honduras the Audacity of 'Nope'

The international and domestic problems of el Presidente Chávez are increasingly pressing, and a few well-placed nudges might help him further along the path toward irrelevance in the Americas. Now would be a good time for the purveyor of hope to stop trying to befriend Chávez -- and instead show that he has the audacity to say "nope." Conceivably, the escalating threats and actions by Chávez's ally, former Honduran President Zelaya, might push Obama in that direction, even if ever so slightly.

As previously noted here, Chávez had opposed negotiations in Costa Rica over the situation in Honduras, and they have thus far been unsuccessful. Only a few hours after President Arias announced the resumption of negotiations in Costa Rica on July 18, Zelaya openly called for insurrection -- not if the negotiations fail, but immediately.

Chávez had already pronounced the negotiations dead. Zelaya apparently agrees, and sees insurrection as his only hope for reinstatement as president. An offer by the interim president to step down, provided that Zelaya does not return, apparently did not sway him.

Zelaya addressed his supporters in Honduras on July 14, during a press conference with Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom. Zelaya said that insurrection is legitimate "when faced with a usurping government and a coup-supporting military. ... When the democratic order of a country is disrupted ... I want to tell you to not leave the streets, that is the only space that they have not taken from us."

Zelaya called for strikes, marches, takeovers, and civil disobedience. Although he did not expressly call for violence, the message was clear that he wants it, and more of it than his unsuccessful effort to return to Honduras following the "coup" produced. Martyrs are useful, and the more of them the better. Speaking earlier in Nicaragua, Zelaya had pledged he would pay "any cost" to reclaim his presidency. It has been reported, but not confirmed, that Zelaya may now be on his way back, and that people are infiltrating through Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Hundreds of pro-Zelaya protesters have begun blocking roads and a curfew has been imposed by the interim government. It seems likely, if the insurrection continues, that the costs will be high and that Zelaya will pay far less than his followers and other Hondurans.

The United States has a small military component in Honduras of about 550 U.S. military personnel and some 650 U.S. and Honduran civilians. The military component has been claimed by Chávez to have been, in some unspecified way, involved in the recent "coup." In the event the violent insurrection threatened by Zelaya continues, the U.S. personnel would almost certainly come under attack by Zelaya's supporters.

Although Secretary of State Clinton was instrumental in facilitating the negotiations in Costa Rica, President Obama was four-square against the "not-legal coup" in Honduras from the beginning. By calling for insurrection even before the negotiations resume on July 18, Zelaya appears to have demonstrated that his participation lacked good faith -- he was never willing to accept any result other than reinstatement, and that is unlikely to happen. President Obama has been characteristically silent, insofar as public statements are concerned.

It has been suggested that there is a growing difference of opinion between Obama and Clinton. President Obama should, at least, now condemn Zelaya's recent call for violent insurrection -- an insurrection which Chávez's loyal ally, Ortega, might back even were Chávez himself not in the mood to do so.

Chávez has many other fish to fry, and they continue to pile up. Chávez will continue do whatever he thinks best for Chávez, in Honduras and elsewhere. His own "coup" against opposition leader Mayor Antonio Ledezma -- overwhelmingly elected in November as the mayor of Caracas -- was accomplished by installing a non-elected "super mayor" in his place and depriving the elected mayor of his offices and most of his budget. It seems to be failing, and that may have an impact on the Honduran situation.

José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the OAS, finally agreed to meet with Ledezma after the situation in Honduras "settles down." Meetings have been announced for July 21 in Washington. This may mean that Insulza thinks Honduras will have cooled by that time, one way or another. Unless Zelaya goes forward with his threatened insurrection, apparently already underway, that might be possible. On the other hand, Insulza may foresee a prolonged and violent conflagration in Honduras, and may hope that it will give him a credible excuse not to meet with Mayor Ledezma; Chávez would like that.

To the extent that President Obama persists in coddling Chávez, Zelaya, et al, this seems more likely. Even a meeting with no substantive result would be awkward for Chávez. Should Chávez think that giving further help to Zelaya would enhance his own domestic and international power, he may try to provide it; otherwise, not.