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Honduras crisis: Brazil grabs leadership role

By allowing ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to hole up in its embassy, Brazil has thrust itself into the middle of Latin America's most volatile political crisis.

By Staff writer, Andrew DownieCorrespondent / September 22, 2009

Police walk near the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa Tuesday after dispersing supporters of ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya. President Zelaya took refuge in the embassy after sneaking back into the country in a bid to return to power.

Oswaldo Rivas/REUTERS


Mexico City and São Paulo, Brazil

On the eve of this week's gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Brazil has thrust itself into the middle of Latin America's most delicate and volatile political crisis.

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By allowing ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya to hole up in Brazil's embassy in Honduras on Monday, just hours after he sneaked back into the country from three months in exile, Brazil has seized a chance to consolidate its position as Latin America's undisputed leader.

"If Brasilia can somehow find the key to peaceful, prompt resolution, they will win major plaudits, and many will begin to see Brazil as the new arbiter of hemispheric issues," says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a consultancy based in New York.

Brazil, along with the rest of the region and the world, has not backed down from slamming the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, who took over the presidency after Mr. Zelaya was arrested and flown out of the country on June 28 over a constitutional conflict. No government has recognized the Micheletti administration, and countries have withdrawn aid to break Micheletti's resolve. But Micheletti has remained defiant.

When a Zelaya colleague phoned the Brazilian mission less than two hours before Zelaya walked through its doors – essentially putting himself under house arrest since he has been threatened with arrest should he set foot on Honduran territory – Brazilian officials apparently did not hesitate.

"I reiterated that Brazil would not just support him, but we would also house him under the circumstances and do whatever was necessary to help him in the dialogue," Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters in New York. Mr. Amorim said that Brazil did not help Zelaya sneak into Honduras.

Spotlight on the embassy

The decision to house Zelaya has put the Brazilian embassy at the center of the Honduran political crisis. Hundreds of Honduran troops descended on the area early Tuesday morning, violently dispersing the 4,000 or so Zelaya supporters who had gathered outside. Police fired tear gas and charged with batons. They then placed speakers in front of the embassy and played the Honduran national anthem.

"The soldiers played loud noises to try and make those inside the embassy go crazy," Zelaya said. Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in New York for the UN gathering, said that he asked Zelaya to not give the Honduran military any pretext to resort to violence, according to the Associated Press. "We can't accept that for political differences people think they have the right to depose a democratically-elected president," he said.