Manuel Zelaya hurts his own cause

There is, and has been, nearly global consensus on the fundamentally democratic question of whether Manuel Zelaya belongs back at the helm of Honduras for the remainder of his presidential term, with restrictions or otherwise. He probably does. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Honduras will be better off for it.

The story that has developed over the past three months has not made it easy for a reasoned international community that calls for his return on democratic principles. His border stunts and promises to carry out the unconstitutional referendum which ultimately led to his ouster are each signs that Zelaya's goals for Honduras – even if taken at face value as genuine – are neither practical nor likely to bring about a resolution to the conflict that he himself began.

Zelaya's unanticipated arrival at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa on Monday has pushed the ongoing crisis to a head. Diplomats the world over are calling this an opportunity for dialogue and resolution. They must know, sadly, that we are not likely to see the resolution of this saga too soon – and certainly not as a result of the interim government's forced hand.

On Monday, while the leaders of Brazil, Costa Rica and the Organisation of American States formed impromptu press conferences to pronounce this an opportunity for Zelaya to peacefully return to power via the San José accord – which effectively clips his presidential wings – Zelaya gave a speech at the Brazilan embassy pronouncing his intention for an unconditional return to full power.

His presence is considered illegal by the ever-stubborn interim government of Honduras, and will result in either a sudden and unlikely acquiescence, or even more radical obstinacy. It will also likely spur an unfortunate clash with Zelaya's most ardent supporters, many whom are now ratcheting up street protests and low-grade destruction in violation of an extended curfew.

While the clock may be unfairly running out on his upended presidency, Zelaya has failed to convey an appreciation for either the sensitivity of the situation at hand or his own role in its development. Both are factors that may have worked against him and those trying to help his rightful return.

This week, as we watch Honduras awkwardly attempt to craft the unfettered "Honduran solution" it has sought since 28 June, it is only reasonable to be minimally suspicious of Zelaya's motives for sitting at Honduras's helm as a lame duck for three months without compromise. He must understand that the alternatives to compromise are either bloody or unsustainable for Honduras.

To be clear, the interim government bears as much responsibility for the impasse, and are considered by many analysts to be the true culprits of the failure of the San Jose accord. Most countries, including the OAS member states, lay a majority of the blame for the current standoff on Roberto Micheletti alone. Moreover, the now admittedly shortsighted exile of Zelaya may have been a mistake. Still, it should not mean carte blanche for the deposed leader accused of numerous infractions by nearly every impartial institution in his country.

For their part, the US and other governments are doing a commendable job in attempting to broker a resolution. Those in the US that have vehemently argued otherwise have painted themselves into an ideological corner, either those tied to the business community with interests in Honduras or inclined toward an Obama-Chávez socialist conspiracy theory or those interested in pushing the narrative that the president has a soft spot for despots. These opportunistic stances say less about Honduran than US politics.

An ever-unlikely compromise between the two parties remains the most promising scenario. Nonetheless, and no matter the righteousness of the pretext, if the principled efforts to fully restore Zelaya now are met with success, the results may well engender another impasse, the various scenarios for which are easily imagined – each one unfortunate.

Some have come to see the situation as not unlike releasing a defendant accused of crimes for which the arrest was botched: You must let him go, but you have the sinking feeling you'll be seeing him again soon.

Michael Lisman, an associate at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC.