Zelaya, ousted in a military-backed coup, briefly stepped into Honduran territory
on Friday before returning to Nicaragua [AFP]

It is not easy being the deposed president of a small Central American country. Staying in the headlines, and engaging the conflicting interests of larger, more powerful neighbours requires the talents of a trapeze artist.

Manuel Zelaya, the wandering Honduran president, has shown both the skill and the showmanship.

With his brief, cross-border excursion back to his homeland, Zelaya has vaulted himself back into the news. More importantly, he has challenged the efficacy of the diplomatic process intended to restore him to his constitutional role, and put the pressure on its prime backer, and most powerful regional player, Washington.

Centre-stage

For some time, Zelaya has been juggling support from opposite ends of the political spectrum. There was the suspicion that his threats to return to Honduras were a bluff, to appease Venezuela, who not only championed him, but were crucially providing a private plane for his travels.

Zelaya has been juggling support from opposite ends of the political spectrum [AFP]
It appeared he might actually be heeding the US state department’s call for restraint, and to allow the mediation efforts by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to take their course.

Washington is, after all, the only party with any real influence on the military- installed government.

It was a difficult position to be in. The left, from where Zelaya draws his foot soldiers, those willing to march and protest, were impatient with the negotiations from the start.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro denounced them as a delaying tactic, and with the intransigence of de facto president Roberto Micheletti, they did resemble a mechanism to run out the clock on Zelaya’s presidential term.

It was also unclear how long his followers inside Honduras could continue to rally without some form of motivation.

Fortunately, Oscar Arias himself, mindful of his own legacy, made his final offer and bowed out. Rather than waiting for the next act, Zelaya has thrust himself onto centre-stage.

Though it has provoked the strongest condemnation yet from Hillary Clinton of any incident in the entire Honduras crisis, it is more a case of, as the saying goes, better to be talked about than not.

It was no small feat to shoulder aside the likes of North Korea and Iran, and enjoy the full attention of the US secretary of state.

Symbolism

The cross-border trip was described as ‘reckless,’ but the burden is now on Washington to prove that the diplomatic process will yield results, and that it merits the calls for restraint.

It was undoubtedly a circus, but there was no denying the symbolism of the unarmed president barred from reuniting with his people, including his wife and family, by the army.

It was, literally, Manuel Zelaya and Patricia Rodas, his foreign minister, who were wearing the white hats.

It is a scene that is certain to energise the Honduran opposition. It should also keep the Venezuelans happy, in whose car Zelaya travelled to the border.

It remains to be seen if it will goad the US into drawing the unfolding drama to a close.

Source: Al Jazeera