Rumors are flying among the expat Venezuelan (anti-Chavez) community and Hondurans that a Venezuelan offensive is in process, possibly for as early as tonite or tomorrow. Details of the rumors include:
1) Venezuelan agents are infilitrating tonite through neighboring countries to prepare for (a) attacking Micheletti and the presidential administration directly and (b) taking principal roads and bridges along with trade union supporters (which demonstrations have already been announced publicly).
2) Payments are being made to military officers to switch sides and to execute a “counter-coup”. Payments are also being made to politicians to switch sides.
3) Violence is to be instigated, and chaos, creating the opportunity for some military units to take over an airport and a border region to facilitate different options for Zelaya’s return to the ground. Such violence also is intended to undermine the legitimacy of the interim regime, which to date has created unexpected local unity of response.
Update: Variations on these email rumors hit the Honduran press last night.
As discussed in our previous posts, these rumors are consistent with what we would expect given Chavez’s tactical and strategic goals (Chavez Chess, Queening his Pawn, Smoking Gun). First, as a tactical matter right now Zelaya is precariously close to becoming a joke, and his physical presence outside the country only emphasizes his cozy relationship with Chavez. Therefore Chavez must get him back on the ground, and a violent encounter turns him into a serious figure again. It also provides cover for the “international community” to send in more reinforcements; to date, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan citizens (or agents, if you will) have been sent out of the country in numbers — getting Zelaya back will allow for a reversal of this trend.
Chavez has calculated that the US is sidelined militarily under Obama; it is expected that the barest pretense of legitimacy for his offensive operation will neuter the possibility of defensive aid from Palmerola. Obama’s stance has become an invitation for aggressive behavior.
As we have pointed out in previous posts, Chavez oil revenues are such that it is trivial for him to flood the Honduran economy with bribes. He has already broadcast his intention to turn junior officers to his side, and of course he was a junior coup-ster himself in 1992.
Moreover, apart from his expansionist desires, it is now important to Chavez for defensive reasons that Honduras falls. The counter-example of a small country that can successfully push back is a serious threat both to ALBA and to his domestic flank (Castro has discussed the risk of more regional “coups” against leftists). Chaos is important for these reasons now; it will undercut the “success” of the Honduran push-back against Chavez even if Zelaya is not ultimately reinstated. Chaos also supports his general goal of weakening the American strongpoint in Palmerola. Last, it potentially derails the election process. For all these reasons, he is incentivized to be more aggressive rather than less.
Apart from the rumors, there are other indications that action is pending. Zelaya has publicly hinted that there will be unspecified “activities” by this weekend, and he has stated that insurrection is justified. Chile’s Bachelet has stated fears of a bloodbath. The curfew has been renewed. Costa Rican legislators have called for Micheletti’s arrest (further delegitimizing his status) if he re-visits Costa Rica. Most of all, the clock is working against Chavez and Zelaya as negotiations move forward; they have to reset the game and do it quickly.