Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Honduras Crisis: Did Zelaya Snub Hugo Chavez for Brazil?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Honduras Crisis: Did Zelaya Snub Hugo Chavez for Brazil?

Article excerpt

Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez never misses a chance to put himself front and center.

After the Honduran military ousted President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, Mr. Chavez loudly condemned the US for a lukewarm response and said he would send his own forces to Central America to boost his ally if need be.

But when Mr. Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa after three months in exile on Monday, he conspicuously turned to Brazil for help, not Venezuela. As police fired tear gas at Zelaya supporters on Tuesday, he was holed up in Brazil's embassy, not Venezuela's.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stood behind Zelaya saying Tuesday that his country will not tolerate any actions against the embassy.

It could be a calculated political decision on the part of Zelaya - to distance himself from Chavez, a polarizing figure in Honduras. Though Zelaya denies it, his foes say he was following the steps of his Venezuelan ally, particularly in regard to his alleged desire to change the Constitution to scrap presidential term limits, which was the reason for his ouster. Yet whether calculated or by default, Zelaya's refuge in the Brazilian embassy eclipses any role, for now at least, that Chavez may have hoped to play in this political crisis.

"Seeking asylum with Brazil shows that [Zelaya] thinks Brazil is the neutral voice in the crisis, not the US, Costa Rica, [or] Venezuela. He's essentially throwing in his lot with the party he thinks has the best chance to get him restored to power," says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a consultancy based in New York. "It's a tangible representation of a power shift in the region."

Zelaya, a Chavez ally

It is clear that Zelaya and Chavez remain staunch allies. Chavez, who calls Honduras's interim leaders "coup mongers," has seized every possible opportunity to rail against the US for not coming down harder on leaders in Honduras.

Mr. Farnsworth says he believes that a prolonged crisis in Honduras works in Chavez's political favor. …

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