Bernd Debusmann- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Spare a thought for Hugo Chavez, the larger-than-life Venezuelan leader who flourished in the role of Latin America’s defender against an evil empire led by a devil who smelt of sulphur and was named George W. Bush.

Those were the easy days for Chavez. Now he has become a dragon-slayer without a dragon, an actor on a stage without the most important prop. It was one thing to rally the Latin masses against the widely-detested Bush, it is another to deal with Barack Obama, “the first (U.S.) president who looks like us,” in the words of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house, ” Chavez said, to laughter and applause, in his infamous 2006 anti-Bush speech to the United Nations General Assembly. “And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. And it smells of sulphur still today.”

Chavez’s reaction to the bizarre coup that ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was evidence that the Venezuelan knows the rules of the game he played for years no longer apply. In his weekly television show, he said he did not think Obama was behind the plot.