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Role-Playing in the Honduran Crisis

Deposed leader Manuel Zelaya yook refuge in the Braziian Embassy September 21. (AP Photo)

September 25, 2009

Updated September 29 - The surprise return of overthrown leader Manuel Zelaya to Honduras on September 21 sparked a tense—and at times violent—week in the Central American country. Zelaya remains sequestered in the Brazilian Embassy while he and the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti engage in a war of words and on-again-off-again offers of dialogue. Honduras finds itself increasingly isolated, facing millions of dollars in aid cuts and as almost all countries have scale back diplomatic ties. With the outcome in doubt inside the country, AS/COA takes a look at the roles of external actors seeking to resolve the crisis.

  • Brazil found itself thrust into the center of the crisis when Zelaya took shelter at its embassy in Tegucigalpa on September 21. Clashes outside the building and the interim government’s decision to cut electricity and water to the compound spurred Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to remind Honduras of “the inviolability of Brazil's diplomatic mission” during his speech at the UN General Assembly. Lula also called for Zelaya’s immediate reinstatement. When calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council about Honduras, he suggested his country's representative should be present for the meeting. Brazil seeks a permanent seat on the Security Council.
Brazilian officials say they had no advance notice that Zelaya intended to arrive at their embassy. Lula told PBS’ Online NewsHour that he was unaware of the situation until he arrived in New York for the UN General Assembly. Regardless, Zelaya seeking refuge in the Brazilian embassy highlights the country’s rising leadership role. “Seeking asylum with Brazil shows that [Zelaya] thinks Brazil is the neutral voice in the crisis, not the U.S., Costa Rica, [or] Venezuela. He's essentially throwing in his lot with the party he thinks has the best chance to get him restored to power,” said Farnsworth. “It's a tangible representation of a power shift in the region.”

Regardless of how Zelaya arrived at the embassy, Micheletti's government is, not surprisingly, displeased by his presence. Over the weekend, the weekend, the de facto government gave Brazil a 10-day deadline to make a decision about Zelaya's status or face ramifications. Brazil vociferously rejected the ultimatum. Lula said Brazil "does not accept ultimatums from a coup-making government."

  • Costa Rica has played a major role as a mediator between the two sides. The Honduran military sent Zelaya to Costa Rica after marching him out of his home in his pajamas early in the morning of June 28. Since then, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias led several rounds of negotiations in efforts to end the political impasse. His 12-point San José Accord for Zelaya’s reinstatement but with a weakened position and a coalition government. The pact has received international support.
Despite an earlier proposal to send a team of negotiators to Honduras that would include Arias and Panamanian Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, Arias said September 25 that he did not have plans to go. As Arias explained: “Roberto Micheletti said that he would like for me to go there with Jimmy Carter. I spoke with the [ex]-President Carter, telling him that I would not go at this moment and that he should not go either.”
As the latest stage of the crisis unraveled, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a joint press conference with President Arias urging signature of the San José Accord, saying, “It’s all we have on the table. There is no B plan.”
  • Venezuela may have helped orchestrate Zelaya's return and arrival at the Brazilian embassy, according to President Lula's advisors. according to Honduran interim Foreign Minister Carlos Contreras. President Hugo Chávez repeated his call for Zelaya’s return to power in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 24. Chávez has been a supporter of Zelaya from the outset of the crisis, calling the ousted leader's successful reentry a victory for the Honduran people. During Zelaya's presidency, Honduras became a member of the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean, a body initiatied by Chávez in 2004.
  • United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon temporarily suspended UN assistance to the electoral authority in Honduras on September 23 because “current conditions are not conducive to … credible polls.” Heads of state speaking at the UN General Assembly this week reiterated support for Zelaya’s return to power while Central American presidents warned the coup threatened repercussions across their region.
Following a September 24 emergency meeting of the Security Council session, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that the Council calls for an end of the de facto government’s harassment of the Brazilian Embassy. She urged for calm, voiced support of OAS mediation efforts, and said she did not foresee that the Council would hold another meeting about the crisis. Rice serves as the current Security Council president—a position that rotates monthly.
After Zelaya’s return, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza had suggested an OAS mission to Honduras, but the Micheletti government’s decision to close the airports prevented the possibility. On September 27, Honduran officials expelled a team of OAS negotiators seeking to enter the country and attempt dialogue between the two side. The OAS condemned the move, which came as the Micheletti government issued a decree suspending the constitution and closing opposition media outlets. A day later, the de facto government lifted the emergency restrictions after facing international criticism.