Clinton leans harder on Honduran president

The US secretary of state threatens tougher sanctions if interim leader Roberto Micheletti doesn’t cut a deal soon.

MEXICO CITY – Pressure on Honduras’s interim government, installed after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted June 28, grew over the past day, with the US threatening tough new sanctions.

The two sides have been locked in a stalemate, as the interim government of Roberto Micheletti has refused to consider a resolution proposal that includes the reinstatement of Mr. Zelaya.

Nations around the globe have declined to recognize Mr. Micheletti’s administration, recalling their ambassadors, closing off trade, and suspending aid in protest. Many expected the interim government to back down in the face of international isolation. Yet even pressure from the US, a historic ally of the Central American nation, might not be forceful enough to get Honduran leaders to budge.

“For the Micheletti government it appears the risks of allowing Zelaya to resume his office outweigh the risks of further international pressure and isolation,” says Michael Shifter, a Latin America expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. “I think most people underestimated just how difficult it would be for the de facto government to back down.”

Hillary Clinton calling
After talks broke down Sunday night in Costa Rica, where President Oscar Arias is the lead negotiator, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Micheletti to warn him of consequences if he dismisses mediation efforts. The US has already suspended military aid, worth some $16.5 million, but an estimated $180 million in development aid could be at stake.

“She made clear, if the de facto regime needed to be reminded, that we seek a restoration of democratic and constitutional order, a peaceful resolution,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday. “She reminded him about the consequences for Honduras if they fail to accept the principles that President Arias has laid out, which would [have] a significant impact in terms of aid and consequences, potentially longer-term consequences ... for the relationship between Honduras and the United States.”

Those consequences could involve cutting off trade or even canceling visas for Hondurans traveling to the US.

The Obama administration had previously refused contact with Micheletti’s government, so as not to legitimize it. Ms. Clinton’s call signals how much the crisis has deepened in the past three weeks, after the Honduran military arrested Zelaya and exiled him from the country on June 28. Zelaya was pushing forward plans for a vote to consider altering the Constitution, even though it was ordered illegal by the nation’s Supreme Court. Many feared he was attempting to get rid of the term limit for Honduran presidents.

On Monday, the European Commission also stepped up its pressure on Micheletti – saying it was suspending $90 million in aid.

Micheletti not budging
Arias asked Sunday night for 72 more hours to help him find common ground between the two sides. Zelaya’s representatives have said they accept the proposal, which includes seven points, including his reaffirmation that he will abandon attempts to alter the Constitution.

So far Micheletti has not backed down, at least publicly, despite warnings from the US. “We have received pressure from all sides,” he said Monday to those gathered in Honduras to support Zelaya’s ouster. “One learns in life that people who seem to be friends are not really friends, but are only interested in what you can do for them or give to them.

On Monday, Micheletti sent a team of Hondurans to Washington to lobby the Obama administration. The Associated Press reports that the effort is diverse and representative, including a Christian Democrat labor leader, businessmen, soldiers, and a university law professor who is in an opposition party.

Mr. Shifter says that US threats – which he says is a middle-ground approach that does not go too far – might not be sufficient to change the outcome. “I doubt the Obama administration will be inclined to punish Honduras so severely. That would mostly hurt the poorest Hondurans,” he says. “It would also put Washington’s stamp on a risky policy that could have political costs at home if it doesn’t work out.”

Information from wire services was used in this report.

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