Belmont Club

At the limit of Honduras

Fausta has been following events in Honduras. Start here and keep scrolling down. Ferdsblog has tried to summarize events from the point of view of whether or nor Hugo Chavez gets to extend his sphere of influence. My guess is that the domestic Honduran situation is complex, but the international politics of the crisis are not. Both the anti-Zelaya and Zelaya groups appear to have supporters on the ground, if this entrepeneurial blogger who lit out for the Honduras with nothing but a notebook is right. From the international political perspective, Chavez is undoubtedly backing the ousted President Zelaya.

Zelaya himself appears to be riding the ever present tide of resentment against the elite to position himself as a populist strongman. Whether or not he is a convinced Marxist, the success of the Chavez formula has probably encouraged others to copy his authoritarian methods, whatever their actual ideologies. Everybody who wants power — permanently — wants to be another Chavez. And there is no shortage of unrest in Latin American countries that a politician can’t appeal to in order to justify an extended grip on power. The AP cites an area expert as saying that Zelaya was moving towards an authoritarianism. That much seems clear. What is debatable is what he intended to do with power once he got it.

The Honduran coup last Sunday was swift and bloodless. But the tension that culminated in Zelaya’s overthrow had been building for months as his politics and rhetoric moved left, and he aligned himself closer to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Though Zelaya made no sweeping changes, his alliance with a president who abolished term limits and is making an economic shift toward socialism was unsettling to the business and political elite who still run Honduras — and from whose ranks Zelaya originally came.

“There’s a sense of Zelaya overstepping his power and confusion over this embracing Chavez,” said Peter DeShazo, who directs the Americas Program for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Barack Obama has so far taken the position that Zelaya remains the President of Honduras and has acted to restore him through the Organization of American States (OAS) and by suspending bilateral military relations. The OAS recently threatened to expel Honduras, but the current Honduran government pre-empted them by withdrawing from membership. In response the OAS said that Honduras had no right to withdraw because it isn’t the legal government. They’re like the boss who won’t let you resign. They want to make a point of firing you.

The goal of the US is ostensibly to restore the status quo ante and use negotiations to resolve things from there. But with the positions between the two parties hardening, things may be moving towards a zero-sum game. In a winner-take-all scenario Zelaya either wins or loses. If Zelaya is kept out by the Honduran interim government, the new guys will have established themselves, baggage and all, in the saddle. If Zelaya returns it may represent a clear victory for the Chavez camp in Latin America. The new guys will be toast. My guess is that unless an amicable solution can be brokered quickly, the choices will be stark. Chavez’s bad (or not so bad) guy versus a bad (or not so bad) guy opposed to Chavez. How will the Hondurans fare? Poorly in any case. In power plays of this kind, no matter what anyone says, it is never about the poor. At the end of the day, they will be just as poor, or poorer, than ever.

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