U.S. Hardens Stance Against Honduras

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moved to terminate aid to Honduras today in response to a June 28 coup that deposed its elected President Jose Manuel Zelaya. The U.S. also decided to revoke visas for officials in the de facto government and supporters of Zelaya's overthrow.

"Today's, you know, 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, you know, is unacceptable. And the time has come for all the parties to sign the San Jose accords," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.

The U.S. is cutting off $30 million in aid to Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Those funds had already been frozen earlier this summer, now they can be reprogrammed for other uses. Some aid, like HIV/AIDS treatment continues.

Crowley said it will only restart aid once there is a "return to democratic, constitutional governance in Honduras."

The move comes as Secretary Clinton met today with Zelaya for one hour in Washington to explain the action, and urge him to take steps towards reconciling the impasse in negotiations with the de facto government.

Clinton declined to declare Zelaya's ouster a "military coup," a determination that would trigger an automatic cutoff in aid under U.S. law. In effect, not doing so retains the ability to restart aid within the State Department as opposed to receiving approval from Congress. Clinton's legal advisor had recommended last week that the coup be branded a "military coup."

In the statement today the State Department referenced the military's role in the coup, but counted it as one of several players. On June 28, Zelaya, still wearing his pajamas, was expelled from the country by the military but power was quickly transitioned to a civilian government.

The United States delayed the decision to cut off aid to Honduras for months in hopes diplomatic efforts led by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias would resolve the situation, but though a settlement has been proposed, it has not been agreed to. Known as the San Jose Accords, it would allow for Zelaya's return to power until scheduled elections in November, but not allow him to run for office. Zelaya had been trying to modify the country's constitution to remove term limits to allow him to run for re-election.

The United States revoked visas for some Honduran officials earlier this summer, but today expanded that step. Last week the U.S. embassy in Honduras halted issuing visas, an effort to tighten the screws on the de facto government.

National elections are currently scheduled to take place Nov. 29, but on Wednesday Zelaya said that the international community would not recognize the newly elected president, and that he was assured that the Organization of American States wouldn't either.

Nor would the United States.

In a statement today, the State Department said: "At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections. A positive conclusion of the Arias process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed. We strongly urge all parties to the San Jose talks to move expeditiously to agreement."

"That election must be undertaken in a free, fair and transparent manner. It must also be free of taint and open to all Hondurans to exercise their democratic franchise," the State Department statement added.

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