>First published at BlogCritics on 9 July 2009
Mediation of the Honduran Situation by President Arias May Well be a Good thing.
The selection of Costa Rican President Arias to mediate the dispute between former Honduran President Zelaya and the Government of interim President Micheletti appears to have been a wise one. It may be useful to speculate a bit about why and by whom President Arias was selected, as well as about the likely impact of these things on the power of Venezuelan President Chávez in Latin America.
The possible role of President Arias as a mediator was suggested to Zelaya during his 7 July Washington meeting with Secretary Clinton, and Zelaya agreed to it. Secretary Clinton promptly telephoned President Arias to ask for his help and he agreed. However, her's was not the only contact with President Arias regarding the Honduran situation: he had been asked the day before by Honduran interim President Micheletti to consider playing such a role. I am unaware of any reports indicating that Chávez had sought Arias' selection, and the United States Government has said nothing to indicate that it has been in discussions with the interim Government of Honduras; it seems not to have been.
Zelaya and Micheletti went to Costa Rica as contemplated, and are to meet separately with Arias. Their positions, at least for now, are unchanged: Zelaya says he must be reinstated and Micheletti says that's out of the question. As I suggested in the linked article, this may prevent, or at least postpone, a military confrontation between the Honduran military and forces from other countries, principally Chávez ally, Nicaragua.
During the 1980s, President Arias played a substantial role in efforts to decrease the influence of the United States over much of Latin America and to bring some measure of stability to the region. He received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for doing so. However, President Arias is not very chummy with Chávez. During his barely successful campaign for reelection as President of Costa Rica in 2006, Arias' principal opponent was Ottón Solis, much favored by Chávez.
Things seem to be happening behind—but not all that far behind—the curtain. On 7 July, the same day that she met with Zelaya and telephoned President Arias, Secretary Clinton submitted to an interview by Globovisión. The interview was at the State Department in Washington. Globovisión, one of the very few broadcast outlets in Venezuela still able to criticize the Chávez government, has been under vigorous attack by that Government, and may soon be closed; its principals are under criminal charges. Here are comments by a blogger in Venezuela, who does not much care for Chávez:
Questions were standard and Hillary responses standard . . . Still, she made it clear that things in Venezuela are not kosher and that she is aware of it.
No matter what, the interview does not solve anything, does not protect Globovisión from being closed though it makes very clear that the price Chavez will have to pay for it will be very high. Interestingly, the Honduras part . . . revealed how irrelevant Venezuela will become as negotiations keep going.
As soon as the interview was over I switched to VTV to watch La Hojilla reaction. I was not disappointed as Mario Silva was livid, as furious as I ever saw him. . . . Proving that the interview hit a raw nerve. The top was Silva belching "who named Arias?" betraying his resentment at 1) his boss not being on the forefront anymore and 2) that Arias did the most to block a commie takeover of Central America 20 years ago.
According to Alberto Federico Ravell, head of Globovisión, interviewed on 8 July in Miami as he returned to Venezuela from Washington, he is convinced that
Clinton supports Globovisión's efforts to speak out against Hugo Chávez's government. . . .In every thing she said I was seeing a red beret . . . .It was incredible that the same day she met with ousted Honduran President Zelaya, she also met with representatives from a television channel that is seen by Chávez as part of the opposition.
I think that the full transcript of the Clinton interview confirms that she was, indeed, talking about Chávez, whose media censorship continues unabated. A somewhat different take on the interview is provided here. If, as claimed in that article, Secretary Clinton wanted to "to lower the temperature" in the United States' relations with Venezuela, neither her Globovisión appearance itself, nor statements such as these may have been the best way to go about it:
Clinton said that what the White House hopes to see "over the next months in Venezuela is a recognition that you can be a very strong leader and have very strong opinions without trying to take on too much power and trying to silence all your critics."
"So I think there are ways that the current government in Venezuela could maintain a very strong presence without, in any way, raising questions about the commitment to democracy," the secretary said.
A reminder to viewers of the television station which Chávez is about to close that he shouldn't silence all his critics could hardly have been warmly received by Chávez.
Zelaya's attempt to amend the Honduran Constitution to eliminate the presidential term limit, and later his attempt to return to Honduras, had been vigorously supported by Chávez, who had supplied the aircraft in which he attempted to return to Honduras. It has been reported that Chávez was simultaneously on the telephone with Zelaya, Ortega of Nicaragua and Fidel Castro of Cuba during Zelaya's aborted flight to Honduras. It seems obvious that Chávez's standing in Latin America would have been enhanced by a spectacularly bloody reception of the former President on 6 July, and that it has been diminished by the failure of Zelaya's return and by the selection of President Arias as a mediator.
Despite Chávez's apparent earlier successes in helping to create the Constitutional crisis in Honduras and in pushing the UN, the OAS and ALBA to make it worse, things were not going entirely as he might have wished.
* Shortly before Zelaya's attempted return, several members of the OAS—an organization dominated by Chávez and his allies– apparently tried to dissuade Zelaya from making the attempt.
* Argentine President Kirchner was one of the dignitaries who flew to El Salvador and thence to Nicaragua to be with Zelaya following his attempt to enter Honduras. Her Peronista party had lost very badly in Argentina's 28 June congressional elections, and her husband resigned as the head of the Peronista party on 30 June; Chávez had been among the principal supporters of their party.
* The current President of Panama in June won a decisive victory with more than sixty percent of the vote over his opponent, a big Chávez supporter. During his inauguration address he announced, "As president, I will do everything within my reach to advance the ideals of a free economy, challenging the different ideological pendulum that Latin America has."
Nor are things going well for Chávez domestically. Here is a link to an article I wrote about that just over a month ago.
Hope perhaps springs eternal, and I may have too much of it. Still, during the days immediately after the "coup" in Honduras, Secretary Clinton's State Department seemed to be at least marginally less supportive of Zelaya's position than was President Obama. At a 30 June State Department briefing, it was stated that "it’s not up to us to determine what’s in line with the [Honduran] constitution." President Obama was quoted, at about the same time, as saying that the weekend ouster of Zelaya was a "not legal" coup and that Zelaya remains the country's president. These statements can be read to suggest a difference of opinion.
According to an article in Power Line by an author with whom I frequently agree, and with whom I very much agree on the nature of the Honduran "coup,"
Obama's position on Honduras is part of an emerging, and very sad, pattern. His bogus catchphrases may vary ("meddling," "illegal," or whatever), but the result always seems to be the same. Whether the venue is Honduras, Russia, or Iran, Obama instinctively sides, in the first instance, with the enemies of freedom and the rule of law. And it doesn't hurt at all if that party is also hostile towards the U.S.
I don't know whether Secretary Clinton's interview on Globovisión was cleared by President Obama. However, her appearance on a Venezuelan television station sufficiently at odds with Chávez that it is likely to be thrown off the air soon, and in the course of the interview to appear to challenge Chávez's silencing of his critics—was certainly a major step. It was one which I suspect would ordinarily have had to be approved by the President. Might these things at least hint that President Obama may yet see that Chávez et al are not the sort of friends he or the United States want? Or might they indicate that Secretary Clinton is looking for a graceful exit from the Obama administration ostensibly over foreign policy? She is a crafty person whom I don’t much like, but it will be quite interesting to see what happens over the next few months.