Gwynne Dyer: Hugo Chavez's threats to Honduras will fade away

Venezuela”˜s president, Hugo Chavez, has declared that any attack on his country's embassy in Honduras will lead to war between the two nations, and I can't help wishing that the Hondurans would call his bluff. The Venezeluan blowhard is getting tiresome.

In the first of the Dirty Harry movies 30 years ago Clint Eastwood achieved immortality with a single line. Pointing a very large pistol at an evil-doer (as George W. Bush might have put it), he addresses the miscreant, who is thinking about reaching for his own gun, as follows: "You've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?''

Hugo Chavez is more a well-meaning idiot than an evil-doer, but the question is the same: will he really go for his gun? The answer is no. He's not a complete idiot, and his threats to attack other Latin American countries whose behaviour offends him (the most recent was Colombia, last year) always fade away after a while.

What provoked Chavez's threat was the removal of the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, who had become Chavez's close ally. Zelaya was arrested by the Honduran military, bundled into a plane and flown to Costa Rica on June 28.

Elected to a single term as president in 2006, Zelaya astonished friend and foe alike by turning out to be not the centre-right, business-friendly politician he had seemed. Instead, he began moving steadily to the left in his domestic policies, and linked Honduras diplomatically with the other socialist governments in Latin America.

There is no doubt that he caused deep annoyance to the conservative elite who have traditionally dominated Honduran affairs, but they made no move to overthrow him. Why bother? The constitution limits Honduran presidents to one four-year term in office, and Zelaya's term comes to an end next January.

No other leftist candidate was likely to win the presidential election that is due in November: recent opinion polls suggested that Zelaya's support nationally is down to around 30 percent. Even Zelaya's own party was unlikely to nominate another leftist as his successor, and many of its members no longer supported him. So all the major political forces were content to wait for the clock to run out on him—until he started trying to change the constitution.

Zelaya's bright idea was to end the one-term limit so he could run for president again himself. It's exactly the same tactic that Chavez has used in Venezuela to prolong his rule indefinitely (he now talks about being in power until 2030), and Zelaya believed, rightly or wrongly, that he could make it work for him in Honduras. So he set about organizing a referendum on the subject. It was scheduled for last Sunday (June 28).

Alas, the president of Honduras does not have the right to organize a referendum all by himself, and the country's Supreme Court ordered him to stop. Congress also condemned the manoeuvre, but Zelaya plowed ahead regardless. When the army, obedient to the Supreme Court's orders, refused to help Zelaya run the referendum, he fired the army's commanding general and got his own party activists to distribute the ballot boxes.

At that point, Congress voted to remove Zelaya because of his "repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions," and the Supreme Court ordered the army to intervene and arrest the president. It was a mistake to put him on a plane bound for Costa Rica, as that made it look like a traditional Central American coup, but apart from that everything was done within the law.

The speaker of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, who has taken over until the November elections, insists that he has become interim president "as the result of an absolutely legal transition process." Chavez and his Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Nicaraguan and Cuban allies claim it's a military coup, and insist that the United States is behind it.

Washington, which wasn't paying much attention until last Sunday, has been bounced into backing Zelaya too, as has the Organisation of American States, whose secretary-general, Jose Miguel Insulza, has promised to accompany Zelaya in a grand return to Honduras. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the events in Honduras as a coup, and for all we know she might accompany Zelaya too.

If Chavez decided to go along too, they would have enough people for a game of celebrity bridge, but all this posturing won't change anything. It might be different if the next Honduran election were years away and there was time for diplomatic and economic pressures to wear the legitimate Honduran authorities down, but it's only five months until November 29.

So long as that election is conducted properly, other countries will have no grounds to reject its outcome—and Zelaya is constitutionally barred from running again. End of story.

Unless Chavez actually attacks Honduras, that is, but it is a long way from Venezuela and Chavez's forces are not really equipped or trained for amphibious assaults or long-range air-drops. You can almost hear the Honduran soldiers muttering "Go ahead, make my day."

Gwynne Dyer's latest book, Climate Wars, was published recently in Canada by Random House.

Comments (17) Add New Comment
nick
what an absolutely moronic propaganda piece. you are a joke. you know nothing about the subject yet that by no means stop you from running your moth off.
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Winer Dying
You understamate Chavez, the ALBA allianze will be the one attacking the illegal coupsters you defend. Besides, all the hondurans in the front lines with the Nicaraguans an Cubans and Venezuelan volunteers, it won't be long before the people of honduras re-stores their president.

You are just a hater hired to lie and mis-inform the public. You are part of that gorilla organization defendeing the mafia in Honduras
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Thomas
Gwynne Dyer knows more than most people when it comes to international affairs. I suggest you check his bio before you reveal your ignorance by claiming his.

As to this editorial, Mr Dyer demonstrates a discerning and nuanced opinon, one I happen to mostly agree with. If everything palys out to its logical end, Dyer is right. My experience with people in general and mobs in particular suggests thareason and logic will not be the rule in Honduras.
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simpatizante
The truth should come out in an investigation that focuses on the most important point about this incident - was the destitution of Zelaya legal or not? Like, were the combined actions of the Honduran Supreme Court, congress and other bodies really constitutional, or was it just "smoke and mirrors" to get Zelaya ousted? The move of the OAS to call it a "golpe" came after an initially-weak statement, but the OAS was probably waiting for Obama to make the first move, and when he nodded, they said "golpe"! However, there may have been more time for American and OAS experts to really see that the so-called "legal" ouster was just a manouvre by force. Time will tell...
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Hector Mena
Very objective, almost as she lived everything in Honduras. I ´m a Honduran in Tegucigalpa. Just investigate the rallie held today Anti-chavez
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Brain Food
Hugo Chavez is not a liar, and you are just spouting propaganda you have been fed with a spoon. If you really knew how this country works and how it evil it is you might see that the US likely had a hand in the coup. The School of the Americas was probably involved as well. Hugo Chaves is a god fearing Christian who only wants what is right for this world. And any ally of his is most likely on the right side of the fence as well. Are you uneducated or paid to write this garbage piece?
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Tony
This is a great article. It sumarizes everything clearly. You forgot to add that the ballots were printed in Venezula, and that Zelaya went with his private mob (I bet some of them are not even from Honduras) and took the ballot and distrubuted them. How convinient, he was going to count his own ballots. And probably change the constitution and become King of Honduras, just like Chaves is king of Venezuela. That doesn't look like a democracy to me. I thought it was odd to see Raul Castro demanding for democracy in Honduras, when he has blood on his hands from the Cuban people. The odasity!!! and all this big countries trying to intimidate a little country like Honduras. I'm so proud of their courage to fight for their freedom.
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John oh
I've been following events in Honduras for a couple of months. You more or less nailed it, thank you very much Mr. Dyer, and as usual very well written.
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asp
The disputed poll question made no mention of extending term limits.

"Está de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna en la cual el pueblo decida la convocatoria a una asamblea nacional constituyente?

Sí­.......ó...........No."

All it asks is if a national constitutional assembly be formed. That is all. Hardly anything at all. Over this, the powers that be in Honduras had a guy "arrested" and expelled from the country?

Our PM has broken more important laws then that.



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asp
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Harris Pohl
GD knows about politics in Honduras like he knows about it here in Canada: NADA, nothing. He lives here and I cannot find one of his columns that actually de-construct the mess we find ourselves in (from economics, to environmental, you name it). If he is incapable to place our mess in perspective, how can he judge any other country administration?
Go GD, keep your house in order before criticizing any one else's house. Canada is in a huge mess, what are you doing about that?
You don't have what it takes to confront our politicians (you work for canwest), how can you influence Venezuela or Honduras?
Another distraction piece brought to you by GD (the parroting propagandist in chief). How sad! Just remember we are no fools!
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simpatizante
Seems that the US State Department is now parsing the whole incident into two separate actions - what the Honduran legal bodies did to reject Zelaya's referendo moves, versus what the Honduran military did in arresting Zelaya and carting him off to Costa Rica. The US interpretation of "golpe" or a coup d'etat focuses on the illegality of the military moves, while remaining silent on the actions of the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress. So, if Zelaya returns to Tegucigalpa next week, he will be arrested as a perpetrator, but he is also a victim of the military. This should keep the US State Department and OAS lawyers busy for awhile, but seems to have already resulted in some careful "word-crafting" in the White House...
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Dale
Hugo Chavez Is a bitch with a big mouth and a shit used equipment russian army. THAT HE PAID FOR WITH AMERICAN DOLLARS, YOUR WELCOME DUCHO CHAVES.Always pointing the finger at the US which by they way why would they bother to coup this guy?? And to say i think he would have won the election for life. Thats why the poor got their little pay raise if you have support of the poor in these countries you have support of the country. Just like little chaves take from the rich give to the poor and now their are more poor people in Venezuela than ever.
Chaves should just go blow fidel and keep hes mouth shut. ??? Has he done anything worth a shit in his own country??
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Santriguer
Can anybody tell me if it is true that Zelaya supporters are getting paid USD$25.00 each to demosntrate (get shot) and is this money coming from Obama?
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Z in Victoria
No term limits? Horrors! That would be like... Canada.
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Ramos
Thank you. Someone fiannly got it correct. Living in Honduras haas been bad with Zelaya. Why is the rest of the world ignoring the facts. I thank you for exposing this corrupt man of evil intentions. I hope my english spelling is good.
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MASSA GRABBER
Dale, the money was specifically from New Jersey. He sold oil at a deep discount to folks who could barely afford it.
Perhaps you have shares in the mortuary and are a bit ticked off as he interfered with another 'capitalist moment'.
Venezuela, Peru and Honduras Columbia.
Thats a real divide. Who are the bad guys. a hint 'snort'
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