Guest Post by Caroline Esser: Zelaya, Chavez, and the United States


chavez, zelaya, castro.jpg
Caroline Esser is a research intern at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
After reading this Council on Foreign Relations interview with Bernard Gwertzman, it struck me how strange and remarkable Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s simultaneous relationships with both the United States and Venezuela truly were.
While in power, Zelaya managed to join the Hugo Chavez-led, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas while preserving friendly relations with the United States and maintaining a steady flow of foreign aid from Washington.
The success of Zelaya’s balancing act partially explains the surprisingly similar responses of the United States and Venezuela to the recent political unrest in Honduras. In addition to both countries demanding Zelaya’s reinstatement in the name of democracy (a rather ironic statement coming from Chavez), both countries also levied economic sanctions against Honduras last week.
Venezuela’s announcement on Wednesday that it will cease the shipment of subsidized Venezuelan oil was followed a day later by the Obama administration’s announcement that the United States will place a hold on its $16.5 million military aid program.
Unsurprisingly, Chavez and Obama desire the reinstatement of Zelaya for quite different reasons. Chavez’ influence in Latin America would benefit from the return of a leftist ally who followed in his footsteps by trying to alter his country’s presidential term limit to extend his rule.
Obama, on the other hand, has no personal allegiance to Zelaya. As I discussed in an earlier post, Obama has made it clear that his interest is in the preservation of the democratic process rather than any one political leader. Obama acknowledged his ideological differences with Zelaya, stating last week that “America supports now the restoration of the democratically elected president of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies.”
It will be difficult for Honduras to maintain friendly relationships with both Washington and Caracas going forward. As Gwertzman notes in his interview, it seems unlikely that Zelaya will be able to maintain his relationship with Chavez and reclaim the presidency seeing as “a good part of the Honduran elite and those supporting Micheletti live in absolute fear of Hugo Chavez“.
As negotiations between Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti continue, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether the Obama administration can score a strategic victory by creating some distance between Honduras’ new political regime and Caracas.
— Caroline Esser


17 comments on “Guest Post by Caroline Esser: Zelaya, Chavez, and the United States

  1. rdmsacto says:

    Bellsouth: You putting 2 and 2 together yet?


  2. rdmsacto says:

    For the same reason the people of Iran are being slaughtered after their last election.


  3. smarmy_steve says:

    “I’m a republican who voted for Obama. As far as foreign policy goes…”
    …you know nothing, never did, and never will. You got Bush into the White House, didn’t you?
    Give y’rself a pat on the back, go get a cookie, and tuck y’rself into bed. Iraq’s lost, Afghanistan soon will be, we’ll never get to see any of that money that y’all wasted on them, and the oil is gonna wind up in China’s hands anyway.
    Congratulations. You and yours bankrupted the US for the next twenty years.


  4. David says:

    Demands that Zelaya cut all ties with Chavez? WTF?


  5. Sand says:

    Al Giordano has something to say about Lanny Davis coming on board as well. The comments are interesting too!
    –Lobbyist Lanny Davis Seeks a Rematch with Obama over Honduras Coup
    Al Giordano
    July 14, 2009


  6. Clint says:

    I agree with the above commentators who’ve pointed out the unfounded disparaging of Venezuelan democracy.
    I’d also like to cast some doubt on the widely-held assertion that Obama somehow supports Zelaya.
    The general in charge of the coup was trained at the U.S.-based School of the Americas, and it’s been reported that Obama officials had communication with the coup planners beforehand. They couldn’t or wouldn’t stop it.
    In the aftermath, the Obama administration denounced the coup, but did not level any demands on the new, illegitimate government — nor did it declare the event a coup, which would have triggered a freeze of all aid.
    I wrote more about this here:


  7. arthurdecco says:

    devlin_upya, Thank you for saying for me what I don’t have the energy to say for myself. A tour de force submission that will never be honestly addressed by the perp that forced it out of you, based on past experience…
    Interchangeable, characterless apparatchiks wear me out with their never-ending lies, lies and more lies, all dressed up in shiny, brittle, empty rhetoric.
    Ms Esser, I suppose you can take comfort in the fact that you’re no more a liar than the rest of those writing fiction in the back rooms of Washington ThinkTankOpia.
    But how long before your head explodes?


  8. JohnH says:

    The longer this goes on, the more it will be obvious to people in Latin America that Obama does not mean what he says and has no intention of backing up his words with deeds. Democracy be damned–what matters is whatever Washington wants.
    The shiny veneer applied by Obama is quickly wearing thin as people realize that American policy is the same as it has been since Monroe stated his doctrine.


  9. rfjk says:

    I’m a republican who voted for Obama. As far as foreign policy goes I’m damn proud I voted for this guy early and often last November.


  10. devlin_upya says:

    Lies, lies, and more lies.
    Lord, do you people in Washington even know what a fact is?
    “In addition to both countries demanding Zelaya’s reinstatement in the name of democracy (a rather ironic statement coming from Chavez),”
    Why is there any irony in Chavez’ support for democracy? He has been elected — repeatedly — by an overwhelming majority of the electorate. Are you saying that when the Venezuelan people have a vote on something, and take it, and the vote comes out in support of extending a president’s term limits, that somehow democratic rule has been abridged?
    Venezuela was a banana republic for forty years, and you pinheads never uttered a peep about the murders, the elitism, the military oppression, the poverty, the lack of education, of clean drinking water, of medical care —
    but now, when the Venezuelans unite under a guy, vote him into power and *vote* to keep him there, you suddenly are all up in arms about an abridgment of democratic rule?
    Chavez has given poor Venezuelans opportunities — opportunities! not just handouts! — and support — support! not just rhetoric — that Washington’s chosen anointed refuse to even *consider*, much less act towards realizing —
    and here you sit, in your Washington think-tank, making snide comments about how Chavez doesn’t really respect democracy?
    You’re a pathetic little child, but i’m sure you’ll have a fine road through Washington. It’s clear you’re someone’s anointed, and it’s clear you haven’t got a single cell in your brain that’s capable of distinguishing facts from spin — “spin”: that’s what the rest of us, y’know, call “lies”.
    And it’s fascinating how you utterly neglected to mention that two of the Clintons’ top lobbyists have signed on with the *coup* government, to represent Micheletti and his crew among Capitol Hill Dems. Why did you leave that out, i wonder? Maybe because, being a Washington think-tank democrat, you might not get promoted if you let it slip? Maybe because you know that what’s really in the works is a quiet, slow death for the coming call for aid cutoff, that the final decision will be to “Let State handle it — after all, it’s their job”, and then no more talk of it? Because you and i both know, that’s what those lobbyists are out asking for, right now.
    Another thing you left out is how the coup junta is going around assassinating activist leaders. Two, just yesterday. Why’d you leave that out, i wonder?
    Damn, Steve — you helped turn a second-tier Irani pop singer into an international icon. I’d think the least you can do is give a mention to the fact that the Honduran military is out, you know — hunting down political targets and murdering them in front of their families, friends and supporters, in broad daylight. After your hyperventilation over the Irani situation, I’d think that warrants at least a mention, yeah?
    But back to Ms. Esser: also interesting is how you’ve neglected to mention the utterly absurd preconditions Sec. Clinton has put on Zelaya’s return: he can return, but he’s not allowed to hold a (non-binding, perfectly constitutional) referendum (that merely asks if the Hondurans would be interested in *convening* a constitutional convention); he must cut all ties to Chavez — wait! Did you see that one?
    Let me repeat it: Hillary’s demanding that Zelaya cut all ties to Chavez.
    Wow. Let me repeat it again: Hillary’s demanding Zelaya cut all ties to Chavez.
    Now, do you speak Spanish, Ms. Esser? Because this is all over Telesur and the Latin American media. I’d’ve thought it’d be an important piece of information to float, here. Did you miss it? I’d think that, since you’re such a high-up muckity muck in the Washington think-tank crowd, and writing on Honduras, you’d speak Spanish, right? And if you do, then you must’ve heard what the Spanish media is reporting, right?
    So why aren’t you including that in your little “update”, here?
    Then, of course, full amnesty for those members of the coup and a “power sharing” arrangement, where Zelaya remains as a figurehead while they execute the official decisions.
    So what we’ve REALLY got, here, is the State Dept. loading down these negotiations with loathsome, unacceptable preconditions the same way they did with Yugoslavia back during the Kosovo crisis, the same way they did with the Palestinians, during the Oslo accords, and then publicizing to the world —
    that’s your job, dear, but i’m sure you already know that, yeah?
    — that they’re being reasonable, and upright, and then when the targeted party backs out Clinton and their State Dept. are going to throw their hands up in the air and say “What can you do with these damn commies/terrorists/dictators/blahblahblah! They never give even an inch!”
    Then your bosses, “dear” — yours and Steve’s — will get together and restore aid, the coup plotters remain in power, you wring your hands in faux contrition — “What must be done isn’t always what we hope for!” — and Obama and Hillary dance a jig with the IRI and whatever other reactionary scum planned this thing in the first place.
    Lies, lies, and more lies.
    But what the hell, Steve — they’re just Injun darkies. Just like that Chavez. “Democracy” means whatever we tell ’em it means, right?


  11. easy e says:

    Great comments all, and right on the mark. TWN/Steve?


  12. Chris Brown says:

    The series of “guest posts” by “interns” have been great, as is the fact you are posting their thoughts on your deservedly prominent blog.
    Always moving forward.


  13. David says:

    “As negotiations between Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti continue, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether the Obama administration can score a strategic victory by creating some distance between Honduras’ new political regime and Caracas.”
    Wrongheaded, misguided, and not in the long term interests of the Americas, where mutual respect and cooperation must become guiding principles. The US needs to start setting the standard, not working against it, and stop giving Chavez reasons to work toward a counter balance against US policies in the region. Not only is it wrongheaded, we will lose this time around. We cannot afford to continue to operate under such a retro mindset. The glory days of manipulative, mostly strong-armed US regional dominance are gone, and good riddance.
    Quite amusing that the lie about a huge Iranian embassy in Nicaragua could gain such traction here. I guess we assumed Iran was mirroring in Nicaragua what we have done in Iraq. Jeebus.


  14. JohnH says:

    Once again, TWN parrots the Washington War Party line, casting aspersion on Venezuelan democracy. Yet Venezuelans are increasingly satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. The only Latin American country where the citizens are more satisfied with their democracy is Uruguay. (The poll was conducted by Latinobarómetro, an independent Chilean firm. )
    So, in fact, it is not surprising that the two of the leading democracies in the Americas, the United States and Venezuela, would both support the return of the democratically elected Zelaya.
    What needs to be explained is why the War Party has such a revulsion at Chavez. Could it be because he took oil company profits and used them to fund universal health care, eliminate illiteracy, and invest in infrastructure, programs geared at the common good, not the special, private interest? What’s Washington’s problem?


  15. bellesouth says:

    I thought Chavez was democratically elected. Why do people call him a dictator, especially here?


  16. ... says:

    ot quote of the day – “You know the notion that this administration is going to come into office and they’re going to prosecute the brave men and women who carried out this program that kept America safe. It is, it is un-American.”


  17. Tony says:

    Bernard Gwertzman shows his hand in the first sentence by repeating the canard that President Zelaya sought a referendum to lift presidential terms limits. This was emphatically not the case. The non-binding, and therefore legal, referendum question was whether there should be a constitutional convention, period. And no amount of spin will change this fact; only evidence to the contrary can do that.


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