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August 27, 09

NEWS / United States Limits Visa Services for Honduras

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — The Obama administration has temporarily suspended nonemergency, nonimmigrant visa services in Honduras and is conducting a full review of its visa policies in the country. The steps are to show support for an accord to end the political stalemate in the country following the June 28 ouster of the elected Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in an August 25 statement that the de facto regime in Honduras led by Roberto Micheletti has been reluctant to sign the San Jose Accord that was negotiated by Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias, which the United States believes “would restore the democratic and constitutional order and resolve the political crisis” in the country.

The Obama administration also suspended the visa services to support the current Organization of American States (OAS) mission in Honduras, which is seeking support for the accord, Kelly said.

“We firmly believe a negotiated solution is the appropriate way forward and the San Jose Accord is the best solution,” he said.

A senior State Department official speaking on background August 25 said, “There still seems to be very strong resistance or reluctance” among some in the de facto regime to signing the accord, particularly due to its call for President Zelaya to return to Honduras to finish out his term.

The Arias plan is “the only viable plan at this point,” and the United States “continues to believe that that accord is very painstakingly worked out, [and] that it is the best way forward for a negotiated solution to this crisis,” the official said, adding “the return of Zelaya as the elected president and to finish out his term is still a core tenet in the plan.”

The Obama administration is looking for leadership from the parties in Honduras, and “for people to say: All right, it’s time to bring this to closure. And we can work out the differences,” the official said.

“We will agree all on the basic premises that are in the plan and work out the details of the solution, verification, as we go forward,” the official said, adding that the United States wants to see the situation resolved before the next Honduran elections, which are scheduled for November.

According to the senior official, the suspension of nonemergency, nonimmigrant visa services affects about 30,000 tourist, business and temporary work applicants who seek to enter the United States from Honduras every year.

“We really believe that this will help. It is a signal how seriously we’re watching the situation there. We believe that this will help advance coming to closure, and we thought it was important to take this step at this time,” the official said.

Following President Zelaya’s ouster and expulsion from the country, the Obama administration voted with other members of the OAS to suspend Honduras’ participation in the organization, suspended some of the regime’s diplomatic visas, and suspended its $35 million in direct assistance to the Honduran government and military, the official said.

The latest limitation of visa services is “one more measure,” the official said, and once a full review of U.S. visa policies to Honduras is conducted, “we’ll see what kinds of changes, if any, we need to make.”

The Obama administration considers the removal of President Zelaya to be a coup, but has not yet determined whether his removal was a military coup, which would force limitations on the bilateral relationship and assistance to Honduras under U.S. law. The official said State Department lawyers are working to make that determination and would complete their assessment “imminently.”

“When events evolved about a month ago, we had very conflicting stories as to what exactly occurred. And we have tried very hard to get to the bottom of what has occurred,” the official said. The State Department has assembled what it believes to be the sequence of events that led to the June 28 removal of Zelaya, and its lawyers are looking through that information to decide whether the United States should consider whether what took place was a military coup or “something that was done by the judiciary … by the legislature” or another party. “There’s a difference,” the official said.

Regardless, “what we do know is that the legitimate government, the legitimate president, was taken out of office, in a way that was not prescribed, in a way that was unexpected and forced. And we call that a coup, a coup to the head of the government,” the official said.




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