Ousted Honduran leader Zelaya returns

President Manuel Zelaya said Monday on a local television: 'I cannot give details, but I'm here,'

Edgard Garrido/REUTERS
Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya greets supporters inside the Brazilian embassy after his arrival in Tegucigalpa on Monday.

Three months after President Manuel Zelaya was deposed by the military and exiled from Honduras, the controversial leftist leader says he has returned to reclaim the presidency.

"I cannot give details, but I'm here," Mr. Zelaya said on a local television station that did not air his image live. "I am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue."

One of Zelaya's key aides said he was at the Brazilian Embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim – who said he spoke with Zelaya directly – confirmed this on Monday, saying that he hopes Zelaya's return will represent a new stage in the negotiations with the country's de facto rulers. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a key supporter of Zelaya, also claimed the exiled leader was back.

Regardless of how his dramatic return plays out, the move has already accomplished an important goal: generating headlines around the globe, and fulfilling a public relations mission to stay on the international radar screen.

"He risks being overtaken by the news.... He has to stay relevant," says Christopher Sabatini, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly in New York. "It's important for him because he has created this whole political persona of martyrdom, and the more he can stoke this – Zelaya as the martyred figure in the news – the better."

Zelaya was arrested by the military June 28 after seeking to hold a vote on whether a constitutional assembly should be convened – a move that his critics said was intended at scrapping presidential term limits. While the world has rallied behind Zelaya's reinstatement, the interim government has refused to allow his return, threatening to arrest Zelaya if he attempts to do so.

This is not the first time he's attempted to reach Honduras. He flew over the Tegucigalpa international airport a week after his ouster, but the military refused to allow the plane to land. Weeks later he crossed the border on foot from Nicaragua, but quickly retreated.

Critics of Zelaya have condemned these attempts as stoking tensions that could lead to violence. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced an earlier attempt to return home, before a negotiated solution was reached, as "reckless." But he may be running out of choices.

Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias has attempted to broker a deal to allow Zelaya to complete his term, which would have ended in January, among other concessions, but there has been no headway, even as relief organizations and governments around the world have limited aid from Honduras, now led by Roberto Micheletti.

Mr. Micheletti promises to step down after elections, scheduled for November. The US and other countries say they will not acknowledge results of an election held under an administration that was not democratically elected. But time is on Micheletti's side.

"The extent to which we let things run their course, that's very much in the de facto government's favor," says Mr. Sabatini. "Elections are fast approaching, and that is the point of no return."

Zelaya said he would hold a press conference Monday afternoon in Tegucigalpa.

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