WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it would cut more than $30 million in aid to Honduras in an effort to pressure the de facto government to step down and allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to power.
The U.S. State Department also moved to revoke the U.S. visas of some of the government’s supporters and said it could not, for now, regard as legitimate Honduran elections scheduled for November because of Zelaya’s June 28 ouster.
The United States did not, however, address the question of whether Zelaya was removed by the military despite the fact that he was arrested by soldiers while still in his pajamas, put on a army plane and flown into exile against his will.
Zelaya was ousted after he angered the judiciary, Congress and the army, which has longstanding ties to the U.S. military, by seeking constitutional changes that would allow presidents to seek re-election beyond a four-year term.
The Honduran Congress named an interim president, Roberto Micheletti, and the country’s Supreme Court said it had ordered the army to remove Zelaya.
“Today’s action sends a clear message to the de facto regime that the status quo is unacceptable and that their strategy to try to run out the clock on President Zelaya’s term of office is unacceptable,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
“There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking if we can just get to an election that this will absolve them of all their sins,” he added. “That is not the case.”
U.S. officials said the aid cut-off included $9.4 million from the Agency for International Development, $8.96 million from the State Department, including funds for arms sales and military training, and $1.7 million in security assistance.
Roughly $11 million from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, which aids countries with a track record of sound governance and economic policy, would also be terminated.
Zelaya welcomed the U.S. moves after a more than hour-long meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and he suggested that the members of the Organization of American States were united against the de facto government.
“They are not going to recognize a regime wrapped in illegality to call elections that will bring impunity to the coup regime,” Zelaya told reporters.
Micheletti, the country’s de facto leader, suggested he had no plans to step down.
“We have been, are and will continue to be friends of the United States,” Micheletti said in a televised address. “But at the same time we are firm, determined and stronger than ever in defending our democracy and our freedom.”
Clinton’s action to terminate the aid was consistent with U.S. law barring aid other than humanitarian and pro-democracy funds “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”
U.S. officials said they shied away from determining that a military coup occurred in part because so many actors were involved in the coup, including the country’s supreme court, Congress and the military.
“It’s not your garden-variety military coup,” Crowley told reporters.
Honduras watchers who have criticized the Obama administration for being “ambivalent” on Honduras said the measures were a step in the right direction, but not enough.
“The State Department is responding to pressure, but it’s still not clear if the Obama administration is serious about dislodging the coup regime,” said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Some Latin American leaders have suggested Washington apply more pressure but some U.S. Republican lawmakers believe it has already done too much for Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela’s socialist and anti-American president, Hugo Chavez.
Editing by Kieran Murray and Anthony Boadle