Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Zelaya Holes Up in the Brazilian Embassy: Now What?

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So he’s back in Honduras.  How Zelaya got in is still a mystery and to the de facto President Micheletti a source of some concern, primarily if it may mean that some segments of the armed forces may have been complicit. That concern will increase as the  nervous Micheletti asks the armed forces to enforce his curfew and crack down on pro-Zelaya demonstrators .  The clamp down has already caused a number of injuries and reportedly between one to six deaths, prompting a public statement from Amnesty International condemning the government’s heavy handed tactics.

In any democratic transition, the point of change comes when moderate segments of the armed forces decide that the cost of repressing escalating social unrest is too great and break with the government.  Such a scenario is looking possible in Honduras.  (Remember also the statement of some junior military officers in late July endorsing the San José accord that called for Zelaya to return?) But by no means is it desirable.

Getting to that point implies increased upheaval and turmoil, something that President Zelaya is clearly trying to stoke from his temporary quarters inside the Brazilian embassy The stunt of his sneaking into Honduras (as with his earlier antics of flying over the capital threatening to land and his two-step over the Nicaraguan/Honduran border) are unfortunate efforts to energize his supporters, keep himself in the news and provoke clashes.   And they make it difficult for the diplomatic world to support him—even when they are (as they should be) supporting the institutional and democratic/electoral process that he represents and that was overturned on June 28th.  It’s just that it would be easier if he weren’t so cynically trying to seize media attention, ally himself with unsavory allies who themselves have little interest in institutional integrity and use his supporters as cannon fodder.

It was clear when Zelaya made his return to Honduras—supposedly across the El Salvador/Honduras border after landing in El Salvador in a Venezuelan jet from Nicaragua—that he was trying to break the stalemate. Clearly, time was on the de facto government’s side.  Micheletti showed no sign of budging on his refusal to allow Zelaya to return under any conditions (envisioned in the San José accord).  Instead Micheletti and the government were clearly just trying to run out the clock until the November 28th elections and then hope that the world would forget its pledge that it wouldn’t accept election results convened by a coup government.  (Ojo: this will never happen.  Zelaya, as cynical and cagey as he is, will call on the 30 percent or so of the population to boycott the elections, even further undermining their legitimacy.) 

Taken by surprise, the international community is now hoping that something can come out of this—all the while calling (rightly) for calm.  They too were clearly running out of options.  Now it looks as if Brazil and the U.S. will coordinate to try to increase international pressure on the de facto government to negotiate.  By accepting Zelaya at their door (by all accounts with little foreknowledge) Brazil stepped into the fray. And there’s no going back—as demonstrated by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s call at the UN for Zelaya to return to office and for a meeting on Honduras.   This works to the advantage of the U.S., which will now have a partner in this effort (and one that until recently had been skeptical of the San José accord but may now need to embrace it). 

Let’s hope that this renewed international pressure can bring both calm inside the country and do what the OAS and others have been unable to do: get Micheletti to climb down from his refusal to allow Zelaya to return to a constrained, defanged coalition government to serve out his lame-duck term until January 2010.  It’s better than either alternative: a military that asserts its role to return Zelaya or an intransigent de facto government that takes the country to illegitimate elections.  For now Micheletti is saying he will talk to Zelaya, but what’s on the table is unclear. Both are now clearly trying to mobilize their supporters—not a pathway to a peaceful solution.  It’s hard to put any faith or believe that a stunt like the one that Zelaya pulled this week could work.  But if there is a way out, international pressure that both urges calm and tries now to leverage the unexpected situation may be the best route for two leaders who clearly operate with little regard for the greater good.

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


Christopher Sabatini is the former editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and former senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas. His Twitter account is @ChrisSabatini

Tags: Brazil and U.S., Clashes in Honduras, Honduras, Negotiations in Honduras, Zelaya returns
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