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Bad News for the Axis of Chavez

Francisco Toro and Juan Nagel write the Venezuelan news blog Caracas Chronicles.

The Honduran crisis surely reached its Rococo stage this week after fresh elections organized by the coupsters' regime saw the election of a conservative rancher as president—while Brazil's nearly sainted left-wing president, Lula da Silva, promptly rejected the poll as undemocratic ... a scant few days after welcoming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil with open arms.

The election of President Lobo has split the international community, and in mostly predictable ways. His victory has been recognized by the U.S., Peru, Panama, Colombia, and Japan, while Spain has announced it will soon re-visit its tough stance. The region's left-wing governments, however, remain staunchly opposed to recognizing any election tinged by association with June's coup.

Brazil is now leading the guys with the pitchforks, a group that includes Argentina's Cristina Kirchner, Chile's Michelle Bachelet, and the OAS, alongside such shining exemplars of democratic principle as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and the Castro brothers in Cuba. The problem for this group is that Lobo's election comes with the real legitimacy of a vote that was mandated by Honduras’s constitution and had been scheduled and planned long before June's coup. What's more, despite calls for a boycott by deposed president Mel Zelaya, Sunday saw turnout top 60%--slightly higher than the turnout five years ago, when Zelaya himself was elected, and about the same level of participation that saw Barack Obama elected in the U.S. last year.

Sunday's election also put to rest any suspicion and much propaganda to the effect that the coup-regime had a secret agenda to remain in power indefinitely. Much of the Axis of Chávez is now in the uncomfortable position of asserting that they are better arbiters for what constitutes Honduran democracy than the country's own congress, Supreme Court, and 60%-plus of its electorate.

In any event, Brazil's claims to leadership in the region are looking pretty threadbare, and the site of Lula defiantly vowing not to recognize the new government will do little to restore it. However much the Brazilians huff and puff, they really have very little leverage when it comes to Central America. Turns out that Hondurans couldn't care less what Itamaraty thinks of the leaders they choose to elect.

Still, it's hard to conceive of this latest episode meaning very much for the region in general. As it stands, one small country is proving that it can resist the subversion of its democratic institutions both from within its own presidential palace and from the pressures brought to bear by supposedly concerned outsiders.

Indeed, what has proved most remarkable about the crisis is how little instability it has produced inside Honduras itself, where the political class has closed ranks around the Supreme Court's interpretation of legality, whatever outsiders may say. As Porfirio Lobo celebrates his election victory and the crisis begins to recede, it’s easy to guess that at some point over the next few years, foreign ministries from Quito down to Buenos Aires will descretely start recognizing his government. They may not be able to do it now, they may have to swallow hard, but, in the medium-term, what choice do they really have?