Deposed Honduran President Michel Zelaya is back in the country, however under the most extreme circumstances - holed up in the Brazilian embassy with pseudo-president Roberto Micheletti's troops having a field day with protestors.
Amnesty International Canada has reported beatings, arrests and suppression over past days in this volatile situation. There is potential for massive loss of life. Just look at what happened with the shootings a few months ago when Zelaya put a toe across the border for an afternoon in El Paraiso.
I'm surprised Zelaya is back - certainly an act of courage - but it's difficult to believe the democratically-elected president will be allowed to resume his duties. He has not been supported - except with rhetoric and empty acts - by the OAS, or its most powerful members, including Canada and the U.S. since he was kicked out in June. Setting up a task force under Costa Rican president Oscar Arias has appeared to be meaningless; Arias has asked Zelaya to be patient while the clock ticks down to elections still scheduled for November. The negotiations - marked by the unfortunate absence of Arias from the scene because of swine flu this summer - have been fruitless. The military-supported government insists it intends to arrest Zelaya.
Although the U.S. and Canada don't recognize the de facto government, gestures of disapproval have been limp. In my experience as correspondent in Latin American and the Caribbean, coups don't happen without at least a nudge-nudge, wink-wink between U.S. intelligence forces and the local military. Remember, the U.S. has a large regional military base in Honduras and it's a stretch to believe the coup happened in an intelligence vacuum. (That doesn't mean in multifaceted Washington, senior levels of government signed off, or even that more than a few "need-to-know" people were involved. That, we'll know in 30 years.)
However, this situation is extremely dangerous, beyond the precarious position of Hondurans who have placed themselves in the sights of army guns. A deep left-right hemispheric split - arguably the first since Haiti - has developed over Zelaya, with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Brazil's Luiz Ignacio "Lula" de Silva, among others, calling for his return and offering support. Chavez at first threatened military action, which appears extremely unlikely. But these leaders can't be seen to be backing down. If one democratic president is allowed to be removed by coup leaders in the middle of the night and put on a plane to Costa Rica under trumped-up charges, every president is at risk - and the days of the coup in Latin America are not over. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was enthusiastic about the Arias mission - but the little else. The OAS has currently sent a mediator to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
The lack of real support for a president who moved left after his election was evident from the beginning. Latin America has, sadly, largely fallen off the political landscape in northern countries wracked by their own economic turmoil. But, as Canadian filmmaker Peter Raymont pointed out his award-winning documentary about Nicararagua, The World is Watching, events do not go completely unobserved. Raymont later made another documentary, The World Stopped Watching, about Nicaragua's fall from international appeal. But every time democracy is seen to be ignored in the region, it affects opinion in other countires, including Mexico to the north. There, massive social resistance is barely kept suppressed and the massive assault to cross the U.S. frontier remains constant. The leaders of tomorrow's Latin America are watching, forming their opinions about whether Canada and the U.S. are serious about democracy for their countries, or prefer the paper version. So are their disillusioned citizens. Whether Zelaya is reinstated as president will shape their views.