CARACAS, Venezuela — From the moment the coup in Honduras unfolded over the weekend, President Hugo Chávez had his playbook ready. He said the U.S.' hands were all over the ouster, claiming that it financed President Manuel Zelaya's opponents and insinuating that the CIA may have led a disinformation campaign to bolster the putschists.
But President Obama firmly condemned the coup, defusing Chávez's charges. Instead of engaging in tit-for-tat accusations, Obama calmly described the coup as "illegal" and called for Zelaya's return to office. While Chávez continued to portray the U.S. as the coup's aggressor, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.
In recent years, Chávez exploited the Bush administration's low standing after the Iraq war and its tacit approval for the brief coup that toppled him in 2002, and blamed the U.S. for ills in Venezuela and across the region. Now such tactics may get less traction, as the Obama administration presses for a multilateral solution to the crisis in Honduras by turning to the Organization of American States. In doing so, Obama is moving away from policies that had isolated the United States in parts of the hemisphere.
Honduras, which has long had close ties to the U.S., has more recently emerged as a proxy for the interests of both Venezuela and the United States. With subsidized oil, Chávez lured Honduras into his leftist alliance, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. Meanwhile, the United States did not cut off development and military aid to Honduras, in an attempt to maintain influence there.