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.




Jun 30, 2009 at 3:38pm

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.

Winer Dying

Jun 30, 2009 at 3:44pm

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


Jun 30, 2009 at 4:27pm

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.


Jun 30, 2009 at 9:17pm

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...

Hector Mena

Jun 30, 2009 at 9:23pm

Very objective, almost as she lived everything in Honduras. I ´m a Honduran in Tegucigalpa. Just investigate the rallie held today Anti-chavez

Brain Food

Jun 30, 2009 at 10:18pm

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?


Jun 30, 2009 at 10:44pm

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.

John oh

Jun 30, 2009 at 11:01pm

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.


Jun 30, 2009 at 11:24pm

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?


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.