Heather Berkman: Battle for power only masks problems that need fighting

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The Independent Online

Nearly three months after he was forcibly removed from office, the Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has reinvigorated his quest to return to the presidency by secretly returning to Honduras. His return has reignited tensions and set the stage for mass demonstrations, curfews, and even violence. The final showdown has begun.

Zelaya and his great rival, the interim president Roberto Micheletti, are both convinced they represent the best path for returning Honduras to democracy, stability and economic growth. Neither appears shy about embracing tough measures to advance their respective points of view.

But whatever he has done, Zelaya has been unable to garner enough internal support or external pressure to facilitate his return to the presidency. Now he is betting that he can mobilise enough support on the streets to force Micheletti to the negotiating table.

Micheletti, on the other hand, has proven to date that his government can withstand international economic pressures, diplomatic isolation and domestic strife. He appears ready to use a heavy hand to force Zelaya to answer to his alleged crimes of corruption and trying to change the constitution to allow him to run for another presidential term. Zelaya will have international backing and his supporters in the streets; Micheletti has the business and political elite and the armed forces.

But the government cannot impose security measures on the country indefinitely without alienating its supporters. The situation could very well escalate into a battle for the streets.

Sadly for Hondurans, this political crisis erupted during an economic slowdown that has hurt the poor. Meanwhile, an expanding network of organised crime is challenging the institutional integrity of the government and provoking violence. In their battle to advance their own ambitions, Zelaya and Micheletti have only hurt the country by distracting it from the battles it needs to be fighting.

Heather Berkman is a Latin America associate at the global political risk consultancy Eurasia Group