Deposed President Manuel Zelaya has surprised us all by sneaking back into Tegucigalpa overland, and announcing his return from the safety of the Brazilian embassy. (The embassy, according to reports on Twitter, happens to be next door to the residence of the de facto post-coup president, Roberto Micheletti.)
Zelaya’s return is clearly a shock to Micheletti, who responded to early reports of Zelaya’s return as “media terrorism,” insisting that Zelaya was “in a suite in a Nicaraguan hotel.”
As thousands of supporters gather outside the Brazilian embassy, the obvious question is: now what?
- Micheletti is vowing to arrest Zelaya, but that appears unlikely since the President is technically on Brazilian soil and surrounded by a large number of supporters.
- Zelaya is offering to negotiate; if Micheletti digs in his heels and refuses, the result could be a long standoff in the middle of Tegucigalpa – one that risks outbreaks of violence in the capital and elsewhere.
- Unless, of course, the political ground under him caves in completely, and Micheletti has to give up power unilaterally – but that is far from certain given the solidity of elite and armed-forces support he appears to enjoy. For now, the coup government has the guns, and most of the political class, on its side.
- The best outcome would be for Micheletti immediately to accept the dialogue offer and reach an agreement to restore democratic order. An agreement, perhaps, along the lines of the San JosÃ© Accord, which allows for Zelaya’s return with no further re-election discussion and a mutual amnesty. (The latter is probably necessary because both sides can credibly be accused of having broken Honduran law.)
Achieving this outcome will require quick, unanimous international pressure. Brazil, the United States, Oscar Arias and the OAS – as well as Europe and the rest of the Americas – must make clear to Micheletti, the coup government, and their contacts in Honduras’ pro-coup elite that they are all alone. The game is over. They must leave power – and for them, the best exit is the one that passes via the negotiating table.
A long standoff, with a high risk of violence, is in nobody’s interest. It’s time to negotiate a deal that allows Honduras to return to legality and democracy. The president must finish his term.