Chavez Queens his Pawn

The Venezuelan assault on Honduras has entered a new phase now that Chavez has maneuvered Zelaya into the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, a place that is conveniently both “in” and “not in” Honduras. From this beachhead Chavez will be able to control the tempo of events, ratcheting up the pressure and presenting the Honduran government with increasingly bad choices. In the end the electoral process scheduled for November, and so the Honduran Republic, is unlikely to survive. There is no more than a week, and perhaps only 48 hours, for the Michelletti government to remove Zelaya and re-take control of events.

Chavez has the disadvantage of being a foreign imperialist and deeply unpopular in Honduras, but money talks, and so a single flawed figurehead can be enough to rally properly motivated supporters. Chavez has successfully moved himself into the background and convinced Lula to take the lead (no small achievement). Now, having Zelaya “in” Honduras creates many ways to win.

As the UN-recognized leader of the country, for example, Zelaya might now invite in UN peace-keepers. Who knows, Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan blue helmets may even fly in through Obama’s airbase in Palmerola. A small UN force with tacit or explicit US backing will be enough to face down the Honduran armed forces, or to at least turn a squadron or two.

Turning a subset of the heretofore unified establishment is crucial (and probably sufficient) for Zelaya and Chavez since it will undermine the November election. Even as of this evening a group of congressmen has declared that they do not support the Michelletti government. If any Lieutenants or Colonels decide the wind is changing, November elections are further undermined. If internecine violence among the establishment follows, all bets are off and calls for UN peacekeepers will especially increase. This is the scenerio that Chavez and Zelaya are moving toward; creating chaos works to justify international intervention, and it also works in the longer term to undermine the US strong point. Institutional relationships between the US and Honduras, and perhaps the airbase itself, will be wrecked in the fallout.

Members of the Honduran political institutions now face difficult choices, as they face enemies that are hard men and know how to destroy democracies. If the Hondurans crack down but ultimately lose, will the consequences be worse for them afterward? If they act with discretion and Chavez continues ratcheting up the pressure, will they then lose any chance to control events? It is hard to know, but without a figurehead inside of Honduras, their enemies abroad (and they have indeed now proven themselves to be mortal enemies) would have no case. They must get the Queen off the board.

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