Chavez blames U.S., not Obama, for Honduras 'junta'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged President Obama to take a "clear stance" on deposed Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya, who reportedly is to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week.

Zelaya attempted to take a flight from Dulles International Airport to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on Sunday, but his plane was not allowed to land and he eventually flew to more friendly territory in Nicaragua en route to El Salvador.

While carefully declining to blame Obama for the Zelaya overthrow and aftermath, Chavez did blame the United States for the turmoil, claiming that "the Honduran military junta is supported by the Yankee Empire."

In an interview with TeleSUR, a Caracas-based network launched by Chavez to carry a "Bolivarian" message, Chavez said, "It would be good to hear the president of the United States voicing a clear stance, because it all has been cut-and-thrust."

Calling those who deposed Zelaya "a group of gorillas," Chavez said the U.S. must be backing them — "otherwise, they would not act the way they are acting."

"I am not saying that they have the support of Obama because I believe he is more like a prisoner of the Empire," said Chavez, who commonly uses the term to refer to the U.S.

Zelaya is expected in Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. On Monday, Kelly renewed the State Department's call for the return of Zelaya to power, calling it the restoration of "democratic order."

Kelly added that the State Department was still weighing whether the ouster met the definition of a coup that would result in a cut-off of U.S. aid. "We are still in the ongoing process of determining whether the law applies, but we're not inclined to make a statutory decision while diplomatic initiatives are ongoing," Kelly said.

In a conference call with reporters on Sunday, senior administration officials confirmed that Zelaya had met with U.S. officials on Saturday before departing from Dulles. "We have maintained a very close communication with Zelaya, and we have high-level consultations that will begin in Washington should Zelaya return," one of the officials said.

Chavez has interjected himself in the Honduras crisis since it began. Zelaya was ousted for pushing a constitutional referendum that would remove the current limit of one presidential term, and Chavez twice pushed a referendum — the second time successfully — removing presidential term limits.

"President Chavez has been quite outspoken in his defense of President Zelaya," one of the administration officials on the conference call said. "But so have all the other leaders of the hemisphere. And at this point, we have not seen any Venezuelan action that has been inconsistent with the larger effort by the OAS [Organization of American States] to restore democratic and constitutional order to Honduras."

Chavez has hatched conspiracy theories about U.S. involvement in the overthrow while simultaneously urging Zelaya to try to speak with Obama, saying last week that the American president's support would "deliver a major blow" to Honduras's interim government.

In the TeleSUR interview, Chavez added, "How is it possible that the military junta, which is the spitting image of the Yankee Empire, is challenging the world, as if it were Israel?"