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Tension in Honduras seizes the week in Latin America

By Thiago de Aragao.

Predictably enough, the current situation in Honduras has been the main source of news in Latin America during the last week. Manuel Zelaya's return has yet to be explained in full, clear detail, with Brazil taking an active role in the entire affair.

Regardless of how Manuel Zelaya entered the country, what remains is that he made it happen before the UN's General Assembly, based on his own schedule. After the coup led by Roberto Micheletti set in, the whole subject seemed to wane week after week, with Zelaya roaming across countries in search of what to do next.

After 86 days, his not so triumphant return (in contrast to the first attempt weeks earlier) took place with Brazil assuming an active role in the entire situation, a role Brazil has longed for in many years as the doorway into the region's diplomatic spotlight. One cannot doubt, still a hard thing to believe, that Brazil – one of the region's leading nations – did not know of Zelaya's return until he pressed the buzzer of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucicalpa. I believe, for sake of our diplomacy, that Brazil had already been informed of the affair before it happened.

It is not difficult to acknowledge Brazil's refuge of the overthrown president as appropriate and legitimate. Since the Brazilian government recognizes Zelaya as Honduras' legitimate president, how could the embassy staff tell him to turn around and seek refuge elsewhere? The Brazilian government's decision in this respect was correct and fortunate. On the other hand, the nation has made a serious mistake that can jeopardize its pursuit of a more active, leading role as global mediator in that it allowed and authorized Zelaya to take hold of a microphone and stir the country's population right from the embassy's balcony in Tegucicalpa. At that very minute Brazil switched its stance, ceasing to be a mediator and taking an active, collaborative role in the entire affair. If you take sides with a man who happens to be the enemy of the de facto government (whether or not a legitimate one), it is no surprise if some retaliation will ensue afterwards (such as the cutting off of water, power and phone services.)

Over the years Brazil has seen its importance grow as a regional leader. Some facts are still under considerable shade when contrasted to the country's power and diplomatic tradition. Argentine journalists have said that Honduras could well be president Lula's "Waterloo" in the realm of foreign policy. The Colombian media kept asking the one and only question: how come Brazil was not aware of Zelaya's return?

The emerging picture suggests that it has been a well concocted plan by Hugo Chávez, since the plane that took Zelaya to the border was of Venezuelan nationality and it is the Venezuelan leader, not Lula, with whom Zelaya maintains an almost daily telephone exchange. However, just when the controversy reached its apex, here comes Zelaya knocking at the front door of the Brazilian embassy. Although conceived by a third nation, Venezuela, this situation may well bring some gain and yet a lot of trouble for the image of Brazilian diplomacy.

The Brazilian government is trying to convince Zelaya to take asylum in Brazil. In doing this, tension around the Brazilian embassy might subside and negotiation might emerge as the only way out. Despite talks over the use of violence, this does not seem a feasible alternative at the moment. A significant disruption in the ranks of the country's military would have to occur for a civil war to ensue. In Honduras, however, the Armed Forces and also the Legislative and Judiciary branches rallied alongside Roberto Michelletti, as well as a significant portion of the country's population. Zelaya, on the other hand, has insufficient supporters within the military to hope for such rupture. Moreover, supporters of Zelaya are but a minority group within the country's population.

Micheletti is expected to strain and overcome Zelaya and Brazil with exhaustion. Brazil should try to convince Zelaya to take political asylum. It is unlikely that a different scenario may take place as the situation develops.