Zelaya's Return to Honduras: Another Media Stunt?

September 21, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

Fame, even political fame, seems to depend more and more on your ability to grab the public fascination—even if it’s lack of respect—than any real attributes.  Just the mere aura of media attention confers importance, talent and relevance now-a-days.  Just ask the vacuous Paris Hilton, or the duly-elected president of Honduras, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, whose latest tactics indicate that more than resolving the constitutional crisis in a serious manner, he’d prefer to just be in the news. For whatever.   Just today (Monday, September 21) Zelaya appeared suddenly in the Brazilian embassy claiming he had crossed mountains, rivers and the military-manned border to re-appear in Honduras to defy the government’s arrest order.  And then he gave a friendly wave to supporters from the Brazilian embassy. 

This isn’t helpful. 

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Sure the man was deposed in a coup.  (Just a quick side note: as Mary O’Grady wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal, the Honduran constitution does allow for the Supreme Court to try a president and issue a warrant. What it clearly does not say is that it gives them the power to bundle him up and take him out of the country.  It also implies that the trial would be transparent and under due process—neither of which was true in the rushed, closed-door “hearing” that was held preceding President Zelaya’s jammy-clad plane trip into exile.  The U.S. constitution allows for an impeachment process; but once it has been completed and a president found guilty, it doesn’t allow for him to be sent into exile—most would agree that to be beyond the constitutional order.) 

But his antics: first circling over the airport in a Venezuelan government plane, then the hokey pokey at the Nicaraguan/Honduras border, and now this demonstrate a craven need to keep himself in the public eye and to remind the world of his martyrdom, and, in some twisted way, even present himself as a credible politician.

This whole thing undercuts the ability for a much-needed, serious solution.  That solution should follow the plan outlined by Óscar Arias in the 12-point San José plan that would have permitted for Zelaya’s return (with severely constrained powers) and the stepping down of the interim government.  Unfortunately, the interim government refused to yield.  And, worse still, in the absence of any formal diplomatic solution, Zelaya went goofy. 

As I write, the OAS is struggling to resolve the crisis and José Miguel Insulza has announced his plans to travel to Tegucigalpa on Tuesday. What it will do, I’m not sure. 

What is clear is the following: neither side—Zelaya or the de facto government—is playing in good faith.  The San José accord would have patched things up, de-fanged Zelaya, returned the country to some modicum of constitutionality (that could please both sides), and allowed for elections.  Now it’s pretty hard to see that happening.  Zelaya’s surreptitious, media-grabbing return will only inflame the indignation and suspicions of the de facto government and the recent declaration of that government to impose a curfew will only strengthen its image as overreacting in a heavy-handed fashion.  (One detailed earlier by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.) 

So, for the moment, as this farce unfolds, this is what appears clear:

-Zelaya now just wants (probably even craves) media attention to underscore his image as a martyr;

-The de facto government is even less likely to budge on the San José Accord now that Zelaya took it upon himself to appear in Tegucigalpa; and

-Both sides, by preferring to jettison a formal diplomatic solution (represented by the San José Accord), have only increased the farcical, media-driven game that does little to solve the root problems.

And what the OAS will or can do?  Who knows.

*Christopher Sabatini is the Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Tags: President Zelaya, Honduras crisis, Paris Hilton, Oscar Arias plan, Zelaya’s return, Honduran coup

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