President Zelaya and the Audacity of Action

Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected
president of Honduras, is back in his country after being deposed in a
military coup June 28. Zelaya appeared there unexpectedly Monday
morning, announcing his presence in Tegucigalpa, the capital, from
within the Brazilian Embassy, where he has taken refuge. Hondurans
immediately began flocking to the embassy to show their support.
Zelaya's bold move occurs during a critical week, with world leaders
gathering for the annual United Nations General Assembly, followed by
the G-20 meeting of leaders and finance ministers in Pittsburgh. The
Obama administration may be forced, finally, to join world opinion in
decisively opposing the coup.

How Zelaya got into Honduras is still
unclear. He told the press Monday, "I had to travel for 15 hours,
sometimes walking, other times marching in different areas in the
middle of the night." One source inside the Brazilian Embassy said he
may have hidden in the trunk of a car, successfully bypassing up to 20
police checkpoints.

Around dawn Tuesday, supporters who defied
the government-imposed curfew outside the Brazilian Embassy were
violently dispersed with tear gas and water cannons. Electricity, phone
and water service to the embassy have been shut down, and the Honduran
military has reportedly set up a truck with loudspeakers there,
blasting the Honduran national anthem. On Monday, the Organization of
American States (OAS) reiterated its call "for the immediate signing of
the San Jose Agreement," the accord negotiated by Costa Rican President
Oscar Arias calling for Zelaya's return as president, with members of
the coup regime included in the government, and amnesty for anyone
involved in the coup. Zelaya has agreed to the terms, but installed
coup President Roberto Micheletti has rejected them.

After the June 28 coup, the OAS
immediately suspended Honduras from OAS proceedings and called for
Zelaya's immediate reinstatement. On June 30, the U.N. General Assembly
issued a unanimous demand for "the immediate and unconditional
restoration of power" for Zelaya.

Likewise, UNASUR, the Union of South
American Nations, at its summit in Quito, Ecuador, formally denounced
the coup. The OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights traveled to
Honduras in late August and reported that demonstrations in support of
Zelaya "were broken up by public security forces, both police and
military, resulting in deaths, cases of torture and mistreatment,
hundreds of injured, and thousands of arbitrary detentions."

President Barack Obama, on June 29, said
clearly, "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President
Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected
president there." But subsequent action, or inaction, by Obama and
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sent mixed signals. While Obama
originally used the word coup, official policy pronouncements
have avoided the term, which, if used, would trigger mandatory
suspension of foreign aid. Instead, the Obama administration has
deployed selective punishment of the coup regime, rescinding visas for
Micheletti and other key coup figures, and halting a relatively token
$30 million in aid.

said Monday, at a meeting with Costa Rica's Arias: "We just want to see
this matter resolved peacefully, with an understanding that there will
be the remainder of President Zelaya's term to be respected." The
United Nations will most likely take action this week in support of
Zelaya. Zelaya said Tuesday from the Brazilian Embassy: "The U.S.
should respond and respect the OAS charter. The United States should
call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
The United States should take every type of trade sanction measure in
order to pressure this regime now in power in Honduras."

Obama is expected to chair a session of
the U.N. Security Council, marking the first time a U.S. president has
done so. Costa Rica currently has a seat on the Security Council, and
could in theory bring up the issue of Honduras. Then in Pittsburgh,
where the G-20 is meeting to assess and act on the global financial
crisis, Brazil's support for Zelaya may be a factor. Brazil, a G-20
member, is by far the largest economy in South America, and is a key
ally and trading partner of the U.S. With tear gas wafting through the
Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and a potential armed assault on it
by the coup regime to arrest Zelaya, this week may force Obama and
Clinton to finally help the people of Honduras undo the coup.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

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