Politics

U.S. to Stop Issuing Most Visas in Honduras Due to Zelaya Overthrow

Honduras' interim leader said Tuesday he doesn't fear sanctions after an international delegation failed to win a pledge to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya and Washington announced it will stop issuing most visas at its embassy in Honduras.

Roberto Micheletti acknowledged the country will suffer consequences for refusing to reinstate Zelaya, but he suggested that nothing short of armed intervention could change the situation.

"We are not afraid of an embargo by anybody," he said after meeting with a delegation of foreign ministers from the Organization of American States pressing for Zelaya's return. "We have already analyzed this and the country can carry on firmly and calmly without your support and that of other nations."

"Nobody is coming here to impose anything on us, unless troops come from somewhere else and force us," Micheletti said.

He said he places his trust in a large voter turnout for the Nov. 29 presidential election to pick Zelaya's successor, a ballot scheduled before the leader was ousted June 28 amid suspicions among his opponents that he wanted to overturn the constitutional provision limiting Honduran presidents to a single term. He denies that was his goal.

"I know that it will be massive, I have a lot of faith," Micheletti said of the election.

In a public letter published Monday, Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez rejected Zelaya's reinstatement and an amnesty for his alleged offenses, both part of the San Jose Accord -- a compromise proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who has acted as a mediator in the dispute.

The seven foreign ministers from OAS member states visited Tegucigalpa with OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza to cajole the government into accepting Arias' plan, which also calls for forming a unity government of all Honduras' political parties.

Micheletti suggested a compromise under which a third person -- neither he nor Zelaya -- serves out Zelaya's term, which ends in January.

But the delegation said it was ending its visit because Micheletti refused to fully accept the San Jose accord.

"The commission must recognize that the willingness to fully accept the San Jose Accord does not yet exist among Mr. Micheletti and the sectors that support him," Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno said in a statement.

Canada's minister of state for the Americas, Peter Kent, said the delegation felt "disappointed that we could not get more people to join the accord. Time is running out."

Kent said Micheletti "understands very well the consequences of prolonged isolation, and I am sure he cares about that."

The OAS announced late Tuesday that its permanent council would meet in the group's Washington headquarters Wednesday to hear Insulza's report on the mission.

Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, has said the exiled president has accepted all of the Arias plan's 12 points, including abandoning his efforts to change the constitution, the action that prompted the coup.

The OAS wants Zelaya reinstated, and the U.S. government announced the visa measure because of the Micheletti government's refusal to accept Arias' proposal.

The decision to suspend the issuance of all non-emergency and nonimmigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, effective Wednesday, is part of a review of U.S. visa policies in Honduras, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

He said the review was ordered in support of the OAS mission "and as a consequence of the de facto regime's reluctance to sign the San Jose Accord." The embassy handles about 45,000 applications a year.

A State Department official, speaking to reporters on background, said the only sticking point for Micheletti's government is Arias' stipulation that Zelaya return as president.

The State Department official indicated the U.S. reaction to the impasse might toughen against Micheletti's government if the department's lawyers determine Zelaya's ouster constituted a military coup. U.S. law would specify stronger actions in that case, but the official said they had not made the determination yet.

The interim government says Zelaya's removal was legal because it was ordered by the Supreme Court after he went ahead with plans to hold a referendum asking Honduran voters if they wanted to form a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. The court had ruled the vote illegal.