CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush is targeting the U.S. accounts of leading government officials and others in Zimbabwe, saying those who work to support President Robert Mugabe must restore democracy or face sanctions.
The White House announced Wednesday that Bush had signed an executive order Tuesday blocking all property and financial holdings in the United States owned by 128 people and 33 farms and businesses in Zimbabwe. It also bars U.S. citizens from having financial dealings with them.
"This action is not aimed at the people of Zimbabwe, but rather at those most responsible for their plight," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Bush already had issued sanctions against Mugabe and 76 other officials under an executive order signed in March 2003. Tuesday's order included 75 from that list and added 53 others, and it applied sanctions to their immediate family members. It also allows the secretary of state and treasury secretary to expand the list without a presidential order.
Bush said that since the first order, conditions in Zimbabwe had continued to deteriorate.
"The government continues to suppress opposition groups and civil society, undermine the independent media, ignore decisions by its courts, and refuse to enter into meaningful negotiations with other political actors," Bush wrote in a leader to congressional leaders. "Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections in March 2005 were not free or fair. Recent demolitions of low income housing and informal markets have caused 700,000 people to lose their homes, jobs, or both. Additional measures are required to promote democratic change."
The United States has refused to recognize Mugabe as winner of last March's presidential election, which was seen widely as rigged.
Mugabe led Zimbabwe to independence from Britain in 1980 and had its name changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, harking back to a great city in the country built by an advanced ancient culture. Mugabe has become increasingly authoritarian, spearheading media controls and takeovers of white-owned farms.
Those and other policies have led to Zimbabwe's increasing international isolation and raised criticism from opponents at home.
Mugabe's government has seized thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 under a land-reform program critics say has crippled Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy and contributed to widespread hunger there. About 4 million Zimbabweans, or a third of the population, urgently need food aid, according to U.N. estimates.
Mugabe defended the seizures as "redressing the past gross imbalances in land ownership which were institutionalized by British colonialism." Until 2000, whites farmed 17 percent of the country and earned most of its export revenue.
Recent constitutional changes in Zimbabwe will prevent white owners from recovering confiscated farms and could be used to strip critics of their passports and right to travel.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe that include banning Mugabe and other government officials from traveling to EU countries.