Diplomats see three possible outcomes of the bizarre political crisis in Honduras, a country with two leaders — one in control, the other powerless but recognized by the world community — since ousted President Manuel Zelaya's brazen return earlier this week.
The final outcome will ultimately depend on whether Zelaya, who took refuge at the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital, can muster enough support on the streets to turn the country ungovernable, and trigger a greater international intervention to prevent more violence and reinstate him.
"In the end, it will depend on which of the two presidents has more pawns," one well-placed Latin American ambassador said, using a chess analogy. "If there are big riots and deaths, the United States and Latin American countries will be more likely to step up their pressure for Zelaya's return to office."
Here are the most likely scenarios for what's likely to happen in Honduras:
Scenario 1: Chaos followed by U.N. intervention. Zelaya supporters take to the streets, provoking an even greater repression from the de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti. There are several dead and wounded. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez claims that there is a U.S.-backed "genocide" against the Honduran people.
Micheletti's government decides to force Zelaya out of the embassy to arrest him, invoking a Supreme Court ruling that ordered Zelaya's arrest before he was ousted June 28, citing his violation of constitutional rules that barred him from running for re-election.
In addition to cutting water and electricity to the Brazilian Embassy, the Micheletti government forces Zelaya out of the building by bombarding it with heavy-metal rock music, much like the United States successfully did when former Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega took refuge at the Vatican Embassy in Panama in 1990.
Brazil calls on the United Nations Security Council to intervene in the Honduran crisis. Unlike the Organization of American States, the United Nations can send peace troops to a country when its Security Council determines that there is a risk of regional violence. Much like in Haiti in 1994, when the Security Council authorized a multinational force to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, U.N. peace troops descend on Honduras to bring back Zelaya and supervise the November elections.
Scenario 2: Short-lived chaos, followed by elections. Zelaya remains inside the Brazilian Embassy, and — despite scattered incidents of violence by his supporters — the Micheletti government manages to restore order. After a few days of commotion, the Honduran crisis fades from the headlines.
Washington and Latin American countries begin pondering whether to accept the results of the Nov. 29 elections convened by the Micheletti government. Several countries begin to make the point that most of Latin America's current democracies were born from elections called by dictatorships. In addition, they argue that the Honduran coup was not a traditional military coup because its leaders never intended to stay in power.
"The idea could gain ground that this is a new kind of coup, a 'corrective coup,' which doesn't seek to remain in power for many years, but rather to block [an illegal] presidential action," said Dante Caputo, a special adviser to OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
Scenario 3: A government of national unity. Under growing international pressure, Micheletti and Zelaya start negotiating a coalition government with some kind of Zelaya representation in power, that gives everybody a face-saving way out. The new national unity government, based on a proposal by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, will supervise the November elections.
My opinion: As an eternal optimist, I think we will see something close to the third scenario. Perhaps prompted by the threat of a U.N. intervention, the Micheletti government is likely to accept a dialogue aimed at ensuring international recognition of the November election's outcome.
Barring that, the winner of the November elections may convene new elections, under international supervision, to solve the crisis.
Either way, as often happens, this crisis is likely to fade away from the headlines soon. Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti are deep-thinking statesmen, nor charismatic leaders. I would be surprised if many of us will remember their names a few years down the road — let alone miss them.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at aoppenheimer @ herald.com Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.