Zelaya Returns Through Bold Direct Action

11/22/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

President Manuel Zelaya did not "sneak" back into Honduras as both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times reported. He took bold direct action supported by a vast social movement, coordinated with other players in the region, and with the knowledge of the U.S. government.

When I interviewed Zelaya two weeks ago for the Nation, he seemed serenely confident that he was going back at a time and place of his own choosing. He has done so, apparently traveling over the Nicaragua border and following back roads with a small security force until reaching the Brazilian embassy in Teguchigalpa undetected all the way by the coup government.

For now, Zelaya is in a strong position. He is secure in the embassy of Brazil, the strongest power in the region and a government that serves as an intermediary with Washington. Zelaya is surrounded by a powerful new social movement which is on virtual general strike. Army support for the coup government is uncertain. The U.S. is unlikely to oppose his action.

The compromise San Jose Agreement, negotiated by Oscar Arias of Costa Rica with the support of the U.S. State Department, appears to be dead. The proposal would have limited Zelaya's powers while restoring him to the presidency. Zelaya accepted the proposal while, for several weeks, the coup government continued to refuse. Now the terms of a new social compact will have to be negotiated from within Honduras.

The best eyewitness account of what happened yesterday is from Al Giordano, a rebel journalist in Mexico City would was in contact with people on the ground in the Brazilian embassy:

2:04 p.m.: Connecting the dots... The return of Zelaya has all the markings of a very well coordinated operation by the Honduran civil resistance and the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS). The choice of Brazil's embassy - the Latin American country with the largest Air Force - pretty much guarantees that the coup regime can't possibly think it can violate the sovereignty of that space. That the US State Department confirmed, this morning, that Zelaya is in Honduras while the coup regime denied it strongly suggests it had advance knowledge that this would happen today (if not active participation).

This is a textbook example of what we've referred to before as "dilemma actions." It puts the coup regime on the horns of a dilemma, in which it has no good options. It can leave Zelaya to put together his government again from the Brazilian embassy with the active support of so many sectors of Honduran civil society, or it can try to arrest the President, provoking a nonviolent insurrection from the people of the kind that has toppled many a regime throughout history. Minute by minute, hour by hour, and, soon, day by day, the coup regime is losing its grip. At some point it will have to choose either to unleash a terrible violent wave of state terrorism upon the country's own people - which will provoke all out insurrection in response (guaranteed by Article 3 of the Honduran Constitution) - or Micheletti and his Simian Council can start packing their bags and seeking asylum someplace like Panama. Meanwhile, the people are coming down from the hills to meet their elected president. This, kind readers, is immediate history.

2:24 p.m.: Some other consequences of today's breaking development: President Zelaya today erases any of the talk or speculation that he did not have the courage to put himself at risk in this struggle, which will also have an emboldening effect on every single individual among the hundreds of thousands in the civil resistance. The effect is causing all to think: If he's willing to risk all, then so am I.

This move also makes a laughing stock out of Micheletti and his security forces. Remember our reports about how airfields throughout the country were blocked by buses and other vehicles, so paranoid was the regime about Zelaya's potential return? That Zelaya slipped through the security net demonstrates that the coup regime does not have the control it claims to have. Micheletti - the usurper dictator - has also helped elevate his status as a national buffoon with his early claims today that Zelaya hadn't really returned. He accused the media that reported his return of lying and of "media terrorism." Well, now the same pro-coup newspapers that reported his tantrum have this photo, taken today, of President Zelaya and his cabinet members inside the Brazilian Embassy:

There you have it. Countdown to complete mental breakdown by Micheletti and his dwindling core of supporters (and, yes, that includes a grouplet of US expats that have been blogging constant disinformation from Honduras - their self-delusion and dishonesty to all is now crashing on the rocks of reality, too).

2:56 p.m.: Ivan Marovic - who as a young man played a major role in strategizing the civil resistance that toppled the Serbian dictator Milosevic, and who spent a few days in Honduras this summer at the invitation of the civil resistance - and I just had a chat online about our observations of what is happening and how it changes everything in Honduras.
With his permission, I'll share with you an excerpt:

me: So, let's put ourselves in Micheletti's shoes. What options does he have at this point?
Ivan: It's a tough one. He can arrest Zelaya, but Zelaya said he's here to call for dialogue. That would be bad. Micheletti can enter a dialogue, but then he's screwed.
me: Well, I don't think he can send troops into the Brazilian Embassy, which is sovereign territory. Brazil has the biggest air force in Latin America. Brazil is the coordinating nation of the UN security forces in Haiti...
Ivan: This is important, because with Zelaya in the country, the momentum has shifted. Stalling doesn't work anymore.
me: It's a textbook "dilemma action."
Ivan: Yes.
me: The regime can either leave him there to reassemble his government with broad popular support, or it can unleash a wave of violence and terror, which would provoke all out insurrection. Now that Zelaya has demonstrated he is willing to risk his own freedom and safety, that becomes contagious to hundreds of thousands that will decide to do the same.
Ivan: Yes, this has a big symbolic value. That's why no regime is afraid of the government in exile. But in the country, that's a different thing.
It's a game changer, folks.

3:05 p.m.: Here's transcript from today's US State Department briefing in Washington DC with spokesman Ian Kelly and reporters:

QUESTION: Do we know if President Zelaya has come home? And what does it signal?
MR. KELLY: Well, you know, literally, as I was about to come down, I saw the news report and I was able to talk to my colleagues in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. It does seem to be true that he has returned to Honduras. And the Embassy is still seeking details about what he hopes to achieve and what his next steps are.
I think that at this point, really, all I can say is reiterate our almost daily call on both sides to exercise restraint and refrain from any kind of action that would have any possible outcome in violence, refrain from activities that would - could provoke violence.
QUESTION: How did he come in, and where is he? What --
MR. KELLY: Don't know.
QUESTION: When did it happen?
MR. KELLY: Like I say, the Embassy is trying to find out these details. But I do know that we have confirmed that he's in Honduras. Where exactly he is, I don't know. And we're just trying to find out more details.
QUESTION: Last time we tuned in, he was under threat of arrest if he came home. Is that still what's in play right now?
MR. KELLY: I'd have to refer you to the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa. Of course, we believe that he's the democratic - democratically elected and constitutional leader of Honduras.