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U.S. pulls visas of top Honduran officials over coup

Roberto Micheletti, who replaced President Manuel Zelaya after a coup, says his visas and those of a minister and 14 judges have been revoked by the U.S., which is demanding that Zelaya be reinstated.

September 13, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — The de facto ruler of Honduras said Saturday that Washington had pulled his U.S. visas as punishment for failing to reinstate President Manuel Zelaya, ousted more than two months ago.

Roberto Micheletti, acting as president since the June 28 coup, said on a radio program that the visas of his foreign minister, Carlos Lopez, and 14 Supreme Court justices were also revoked.

Micheletti said he accepted the U.S. decision but would remain firm in refusing to allow Zelaya to return to power.

"We will not take one step back," he said on Honduras' Radio HRN. "We Hondurans have our dignity. . . . This is one more demonstration of the pressure the United States is applying against our nation."

There was no immediate comment from Washington, but the Obama administration in late July suspended the visas of four Honduran officials allied with the coup. And this month, the State Department said it would add more officials to the list of people being denied entry to the United States as part of a wider package of measures to pressure the acting Honduran government.

The United States, along with the rest of the Western Hemisphere and Europe, is demanding that Zelaya be reinstated. Washington has yanked $30 million in aid, is threatening to cancel $200 million more and has suggested that it would not recognize the results of the upcoming presidential elections. But Micheletti and his government have steadfastly refused to allow Zelaya to return to the presidency.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher whose politics took a turn to the left in the final years of his presidency, was overthrown six months before the end of his term. Honduran soldiers burst into Zelaya's home, seized him and put him on a plane to Costa Rica.

Backers of the coup said the army was acting on an arrest warrant issued by the Supreme Court because they feared Zelaya would use a constitutional referendum on whether to extend term limits to hold on to power illegally. The Honduran Congress then named Micheletti as "interim" president.

Revoking visas, which Hondurans must have to travel to the U.S., has an especially sharp sting for the country's elite, which cherishes shopping and business trips to U.S. cities.

Micheletti said he lost both his diplomatic and tourist visas. "We knew this was coming," he said.

He complained that the letter notifying him of the sanction addressed him as head of Congress, his position before the coup, and not as president.

Micheletti has also refused to accept an accord mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel peace laureate, that called for reinstating Zelaya with limited authority until the November election.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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