CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday put troops on alert after a coup in Honduras and said he would respond militarily if his envoy to the Central American country was kidnapped or killed.
Chavez said Honduran soldiers took away the Cuban ambassador and left the Venezuelan ambassador on the side of a road after beating him during the army’s coup against his leftist ally, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
The Honduran army ousted Zelaya and exiled him in Central America’s first military coup since the Cold War, after he upset the army by trying to win re-election.
Chavez said on state television if his ambassador to Venezuela was killed, or if troops entered the Venezuelan Embassy, “that military junta would be entering a de facto state of war. We would have to act militarily ... I have put the armed forces of Venezuela on alert.”
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, part of a coalition of leftist governments headed by Chavez that includes Honduras, said he would support military action if Ecuador’s diplomats or those of its allies were threatened.
The socialist Chavez has in the past threatened to use his armed forces in the region but never followed through. He said that if a new government is sworn in after the coup it would be defeated.
“We will bring them down, we will bring them down, I tell you,” he said, while hundreds of red-shirted supporters gathered outside Venezuela’s presidential palace in solidarity with Zelaya.
The United States has long accused the Venezuelan former soldier of being a destabilizing force in Latin America. Chavez himself tried to take power in a coup in 1992 and was briefly ousted in a 2002 putsch but was reinstated after protests.
Chavez, who accused the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush of backing his removal, said there should be an investigation into whether Washington had a hand in Zelaya’s ouster.
“They will have to get to the bottom of how much of a hand the CIA and other imperial bodies had in this,” he said.
The White House denied any U.S. participation in the coup. “There was no U.S. involvement in this action against President Zelaya,” a White House official told Reuters.
President Barack Obama said he was deeply concerned by the events in Honduras and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemned the action taken against Zelaya. A senior U.S. official said Washington recognizes only Zelaya as president.
The United States supported a number of military coups in Central America during the Cold War and used Honduras as a base for its counter-insurgency operations in the region in the 1980s.
Washington still has several hundred troops stationed at Soto Cano Air Base, a Honduran military installation that is also the headquarters for a regional U.S. joint task force that conducts humanitarian, drug and disaster relief operations.
Chavez and other Latin American leaders from his ALBA coalition, including Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, were headed to Nicaragua on Sunday to discuss what action to take over Honduras.
ALBA’s nine members also include Cuba, Honduras and Nicaragua. Ecuador said Sunday it will not recognize any new government in Honduras.
Editing by Chris Wilson