Zelaya's Return to Tegucigalpa Brings Coup Closer to its End

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America's Program

Zelaya's Return to Tegucigalpa Brings Coup Closer to its End

Calls for face-to-face dialogue, without mediation * Coup "betrayed and made a mockery of" the Arias process * Zelaya building public international support and meeting with resistance leaders * Calls for Hondurans from around the country to gather in Tegucigalpa

At midday today, 86 days since the military coup d'etat in Honduras, President Zelaya returned to join the resistance movement in the final stretch of the long fight to restore constitutional order. As a spy helicopter buzzed the demonstrators and police poured into the area, thousands of supporters gather outside the Brazilian embassy to receive the President. (Telesur has continuous coverage here in Spanish.)

In his first comments, Zelaya declared a "day of celebration." Zelaya called on everyone to gather at the Brazilian Embassy, and reasserted the commitment to non-violence. "I'm not afraid of the judicial process," he affirmed and added he would face any accusations but that so far all the coup had produced was calumnious statements.

Zelaya is lining up his support and his strategy in these moments. He announced that he was waiting for communication from President Lula, the OAS, the United Nations, the European Union and others in an interview with Telesur. He said his plan is to initiate internal dialogue and that the idea is to demonstrate the support of the international community without involving it in the dialogue. He added that he has not spoken with de facto government and was meeting with his cabinet and resistance groups.

The legitimate president of Honduras called on the Armed Forces to maintain the calm. "The Armed Forces are part of the people, they come from the villages and neighborhoods and should never point their guns at their own people," he stated. He urged a process to "recover peace and tranquility" in the country.

Although the police are deploying to control the growing crowd, resistance leaders are maintaining control. In a Telesur interview, Juan Barahona, a leader of the National Front Against the Coup, expressed his opinion that the "Army cannot launch an offensive here—there are too any people."

A visibly shaken Roberto Michelleti appeared before on CNN, denying that the Zelaya was in the country and claiming that the news was an invention of "media terrorism" to stir people up and provoke a huge mobilization. "It's not true. He (Zelaya) is relaxing in a suite in Managua," Micheletti told the press with a chuckle. He later added that if the news turned out to be true, Zelaya would be arrested.

By that time, Zelaya's return had already been confirmed. As the coup chief went into denial, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom confirmed the news, stating that he hoped this would mean the end of the coup. US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly confirmed the presence of Zelaya in Honduras in a brief statement calling for all sides to avoid violence, and President Chavez of Venezuela praised Zelaya for what he called his "peaceful and courageous" return. Zelaya is reportedly meeting with resistance leaders at this moment.

By showing up without violent confrontations at the Brazilian Embassy before thousands of cheering supporters, Zelaya plays his strongest cards. As most eyes were on the Obama adminsitration—and with good reason given its power in affecting economic and political sanctions—Brazil has been a low-profile but high-impact actor in the drama. Its power as a regional leader carries clout not only with other nations throughout Latin American but also with the United States, which cannot risk strained relations with the South American giant.

Hondurans are expected to continue to arrive in Tegucigalpa from all over the country. This massive display of support also strengthens Zelaya's hand. His most important base and chance for restoration has been in the popular mobilizations that have not missed a day since June 28.

Zelaya's peaceful journey and bloodless return also underline the non-violent character of the resistance movement since the beginning. The president gained the capital without provoking confrontation, thus taking the wind out of the sails of the State Department's previous reasons for opposing his return. Now he is back in the capital, close to a return to power—a condition of the San Jose Accords. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has no excuse for not supporting Zelaya's return and efforts at internal reconciliation.

Laura Carlsen

Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(at)ciponline.org) is director of the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org) in Mexico City, where she has been an analyst and writer for two decades. She is also a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.

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