September 26, 2009 / 12:21 AM / 10 years ago

SCENARIOS: How will the Honduras standoff end?

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The United Nations on Friday condemned the de facto Honduran government for harassing the Brazilian embassy, where deposed President Manuel Zelaya is taking refuge after sneaking back into the country this week.

The Organization of American States has sought to broker an agreement to end Central America’s worst political crisis in years and both sides are in contact about possible talks.

But they are also sticking to their key demands: the de facto government says Zelaya must face criminal charges and he insists he must be restored to power three months after he was ousted in a military coup.

Here are some of the possible outcomes of the standoff.


With both de facto President Roberto Micheletti and Zelaya digging in, the chances of a negotiated end to the crisis appear slim. Time is on Micheletti’s side. He has resisted international pressure to restore Zelaya and with elections only two months away, his administration may believe it can hold out. Even if most governments say they will not recognize the results of a vote without a previous deal, Micheletti may believe elections will reinforce legitimacy.

Still, having Zelaya inside the embassy creates a thorny situation, especially if street protests grow to pressure for his return. Brazil says Zelaya can stay at the embassy as long as needed, which means the toppled leader will likely try to remain in refuge for as long as he can to make his case.

“I would place a fairly high probability on a stalemate,” said John Booth, a Central America expert at the University of North Texas. “The government really does have the upper hand here. They do not have to relinquish power.”


The OAS and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have sought to end the standoff and although both sides are holding on to key demands, they are in contact and say they are open to dialogue. Honduran church officials, some of whom have supported the coup, are also now acting as go betweens.

U.S. sanctions slapped on Honduran business leaders and the damage caused to the economy by the political crisis may lead some in the de facto government to adopt a more moderate stance. Zelaya’s presence in the country could also prompt some to see a negotiated deal as more feasible.

While Zelaya’s return is unlikely, the idea of a coalition government involving him has been broached before, as well as the idea of an amnesty to allow elections to go ahead with the nod from the international community.

Given the polarization of the situation, some form of external intervention may be essential to break the deadlock. But it is unclear what that would entail, said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former Costa Rican vice president now at the Brookings Institute. Previous OAS attempts made little progress. Regional powerhouse Brazil may step in though it is a high-risk bet that could drag it into a messy tangle.

“The Brazilians now own this crisis whether they like it or not,” Casas-Zamora said. “They are going to have to do something.”

He said the international community could demand prior conditions from the de facto government in return for accepting legitimacy of the November elections.


Zelaya’s success depends on how much support he can drum up on the streets as he tries to keep his case in the world spotlight. Micheletti may respond with a show of force of his own, as he has in the past, by mobilizing his supporters onto the streets. That could trigger more violence.

For a map of the events around the Brazilian embassy, click here

“Popular resistance is probably Zelaya’s only recourse to force the interim government to negotiate,” said Heather Berkman, a Latin American analyst at New York-based Eurasia Group consultancy.

“He will have to choose between mobilizing his supporters to pressure the government or retaining international support behind his effort to regain the presidency,” she said.

Negotiations have failed before and without a drastic breakthrough, another attempt will probably make little headway. Micheletti may engage in dialogue with Zelaya to keep the peace but is unlikely to allow him to return to office, Berkman said.


Most unlikely is a move by the de facto government that forces Zelaya out of the embassy. Micheletti says they have no intention of storming the embassy to capture Zelaya. Doing so would risk even more international isolation. Zelaya may opt to seek political asylum to leave the country again if the situation drags on. But that would be accepting defeat and the cowboy hat-wearing leftist is unlikely to give in because of the support he has on the ground and the international isolation of the de facto government.

Editing by Todd Benson and Anthony Boadle

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