The US government has turned up the pressure on the interim government of Honduras to accept the return of exiled president Manuel Zelaya, suspending the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials a month after a military coup.
The interim regime showed no signs of relenting, saying Tuesday’s suspensions would have no significant effect on Honduras. Zelaya, buoyed by the news of the US action, quickly returned to prolonged negotiations for the release of his wife, mother and children into Nicaraguan territory.
Zelaya has parked his government-in-exile near the Honduran border, accompanied by hundreds of supporters who have hiked into Nicaragua.
The US State Department did not identify the four officials stripped of their visas, but the interim government said they included the Supreme Court justice who ordered Zelaya’s arrest before the coup and the president of Honduras’ Congress.
The State Department is also reviewing the visas of all officials serving under interim president Roberto Micheletti, department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
Micheletti’s deputy foreign minister, Marta Lorena Alvarado, insisted the decision would not have major consequences for the government, which already has seen the suspension of millions of dollars in US and European development aid and the threat of further sanctions to back international demands that Zelaya be restored to the presidency.
“It’s part of the international community’s incomprehension of what is happening in Honduras,” Alvarado said. “It’s not definitive and it will not have major consequences for the future of Honduras.”
Zelaya, a wealthy rancher whose left-leaning populist policies led to conflict with others in the government, vowed to stick to his campaign of civil disobedience by Hondurans, while urging harsher international sanctions.
“There have been a lot of suggestions from people inside Honduras that someone who uses firepower and violence can only be defeated the same way, but I have opposed that,” Zelaya said on the outskirts of Ocotal in northern Nicaragua.
“We should keep insisting that the United States pressure the coup leaders more to give a clear demonstration of repudiation of the coup.”
The interim government said visas were stripped from Supreme Court Justice Tomas Arita and Congressional President Jose Alfredo Saavedro. Arita signed the order for Zelaya’s arrest several days before soldiers whisked him out of the country on June 28.
Former Honduran ambassador to the US Roberto Flores said his credentials were removed. He was appointed by Zelaya but recognized Micheletti after the coup.
The US decision came on the one-month anniversary of the coup and at a time when international mediation efforts to reinstate Zelaya are deadlocked.
The Honduran Supreme Court and Congress have spent a week mulling over a proposal that would make Zelaya president in a coalition government and give amnesty to him and the coup leaders.
Kelly said the US embassy “is urging the Honduran Congress to send a strong signal of support” for the compromise proposed by the mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
Micheletti, the former congressional president who is a member of Zelaya’s party, has repeatedly rejected any agreement that would restore Zelaya to office, though he has promised to abide by any decision Congress and the Supreme Court make.
Honduras’ interim leaders have vowed to arrest Zelaya on charges of violating the Constitution if he sets foot in his homeland.
The charges stem from Zelaya defying a Supreme Court order in trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted a special assembly to rewrite the Constitution. Many people felt he wanted to end the constitutional provision limiting a president to a single term. Zelaya denied that was his intent.
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