U.S. Cuts Aid To Honduras In Support Of Ex-Leader
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
And Latin America is also the focus of our next story. The Obama administration is not happy with Honduras. It's letting the Central American country know by cutting more than $30 million in aid. Honduras ousted President Manuel Zelaya in June, and the new rulers won't let him back, even as the country prepares for new elections. Zelaya met yesterday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and NPR's Michele Kelemen has that story.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The Obama administration has been slowly ratcheting up pressure on the de facto rulers of Honduras, first suspending aid and now cutting it off, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, State Department): These are not temporary measures. We now have pressed the stop button. This aid is lost to Honduras for the time being. There's going to be greater impact on those individuals who are part of the de facto regime and those individuals who support the de facto regime. It's time for everyone to reassess where they are.
KELEMEN: He says the U.S. wants to see those who forced Zelaya out of office on June 28th to agree to let him back under a deal negotiated by Costa Rica's president. Crowley says the State Department is revoking diplomatic visas of Honduran officials who were involved in the coup or who supported it. He also called for free and fair elections in November and said at this moment, the U.S. won't be able to support the outcome of that scheduled vote.
Mr. CROWLEY: Because, you know, ultimately, you know, this is about getting to January 27th, 2010, where you have a new government in place in Honduras, one that has come into office through legitimate means, and one that the people of Honduras can believe in, and one that the people of the United States and the rest of the region can support.
KELEMEN: That was the strongest sign to date that the U.S. is serious about overturning the coup, according to Vicki Gass of the Washington Office on Latin America, which monitors human rights and political developments in the region. Still, she was perplexed that the State Department did not go as far as formally declaring it a military coup.
Ms. VICKI GASS (Washington Office on Latin America): I don't know what else you call it when you take a president out in his pajamas and fly him out of the country, except for military coup. I mean, granted the military is not in power, civilian rule is still there, but it was a coup by any other name.
KELEMEN: State Department officials would only say that there were other branches of government involved in Zelaya's ouster, and the secretary of state didn't need to make that sort of determination to cut aid programs, anyway. If the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti does not respond to the latest U.S. move, Vicki Gass says the State Department should be prepared to do more.
Ms. GASS: You know, if they start cancelling the visas, the student visas of children of the elite who come to colleges in the United States and their wives who go shopping on the weekends in Miami, then that might have a real impact.
KELEMEN: But Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations is not so sure the U.S. can really push the de facto rulers to bend.
Ms. JULIA SWEIG (Council on Foreign Relations): What the last couple of months have demonstrated is something broader in American foreign policy, which is that the tools in the toolbox are a lot duller than they used to be, and actors - whether they're Micheletti and his supporters in Honduras or forces in Afghanistan that we want to be working with - can't necessarily be easily controlled or coerced even when they very, very much depend upon the United States.
KELEMEN: Sweig also says the crisis in Honduras has brought out ghosts from the Cold War closet. Republicans on Capitol Hill are furious that the Obama administration has been supporting Zelaya, a leftist leader close to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Republicans have been holding up some State Department nominees over this issue. Sweig says it appears the Obama administration, frustrated by those holdups, is no longer trying to play it safe politically and joining others in Latin America to firmly oppose the coup.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.