The Associated Press
OCOTAL, Nicaragua (AP) -The U.S. government has turned up the pressure on the interim government of Honduras to accept the return of exiled President Manuel Zelaya, suspending the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials a month after a military coup.
The interim regime showed no signs of relenting, saying Tuesday's suspensions would have no significant effect on Honduras. Zelaya, buoyed by the news of the U.S. action, quickly returned to prolonged negotiations for the release of his wife, mother and children into Nicaraguan territory.
Zelaya has parked his government-in-exile near the Honduran border, accompanied by hundreds of supporters who have hiked into Nicaragua.
The U.S. State Department did not identify the four officials stripped of their visas, but the interim government said they included the Supreme Court justice who ordered Zelaya's arrest before the coup and the president of Honduras' Congress.
The State Department is also reviewing the visas of all officials serving under interim President Roberto Micheletti, department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
Micheletti's deputy foreign minister, Marta Lorena Alvarado, insisted the decision would not have major consequences for the government, which already has seen the suspension of millions of dollars in U.S. and European development aid and the threat of further sanctions to back international demands that Zelaya be restored to the presidency.
"It's part of the international community's incomprehension of what is happening in Honduras," Alvarado told The Associated Press. "It's not definitive and it will not have major consequences for the future of Honduras."
Zelaya, a wealthy rancher whose left-leaning populist policies led to conflict with others in the government, vowed to stick to his campaign of civil disobedience by Hondurans, while urging harsher international sanctions.
"There have been a lot of suggestions from people inside Honduras that someone who uses firepower and violence can only be defeated the same way, but I have opposed that," Zelaya said on the outskirts of Ocotal in northern Nicaragua.
"We should keep insisting that the United States pressure the coup leaders more to give a clear demonstration of repudiation of the coup."
The interim government said visas were stripped from Supreme Court Justice Tomas Arita and Congressional President Jose Alfredo Saavedro. Arita signed the order for Zelaya's arrest several days before soldiers whisked him out of the country June 28.
The former Honduran ambassador to the U.S., Roberto Flores, said his credentials were removed. He was appointed by Zelaya but recognized the Micheletti government after the coup.
The U.S. decision came on the one-month anniversary of the coup and at a time when international mediation efforts to reinstate Zelaya are deadlocked. The Honduran Supreme Court and Congress have spent a week mulling over a U.S.-backed proposal that would make Zelaya president in a coalition government and give amnesty to him and the coup leaders.
Kelly said the U.S. Embassy "is urging the Honduran Congress to send a strong signal of support" for the compromise proposed by mediator Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican president.
Micheletti, the former congressional president who is a member of Zelaya's party, has repeatedly rejected any agreement that would restore Zelaya to office, though he has promised to abide by any decision Congress and the Supreme Court make.
Honduras' interim leaders have vowed to arrest Zelaya on four charges of violating the constitution if he sets foot in his homeland.
The charges stem from Zelaya defying a Supreme Court order in trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. Many people felt he wanted to end the constitutional provision limiting a president to a single term. Zelaya denied that was his intent.
Flores, the former envoy who is still in the U.S., said he believed Zelaya's ouster was legal because the Supreme Court ordered his arrest and Congress voted to remove him from office. However, soldiers flew Zelaya out of the country instead of turning him over for prosecution, a move that even Honduran military lawyers have said was illegal - while arguing it was necessary.
Zelaya has received support from nearly all foreign governments, which have condemned the coup and isolated the Micheletti government diplomatically.
Four companies that manufacture clothes in Honduran factories - Nike Inc., Adidas AG, Gap Inc. and Knights Apparel - released a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling for the "restoration of democracy in Honduras."
The companies said they were "very concerned about the continuation of violence if this dispute is not resolved immediately."
In an e-mail sent to The Associated Press, Nike spokeswoman Kate Myers said the company had "no intention of canceling orders with contract factories in Honduras."
Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez has said he believes the interim government will outlast Zelaya until a presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29. He said Zelaya, whose term ends Jan. 27, may lose relevance as campaigning begins.
Juan Ramon Cruz, a 45-year-old teacher who walked for 12 hours through the Honduran mountains to avoid military roadblocks on his way to Ocotal, vowed to stick out the protest, but hoped foreign governments would increase the pressure for a quick solution.
"He is the only president who has given to the poor. This is the crime that Manuel Zelaya has committed," Cruz said.
Associated Press writers Juan Carlos Llorca in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this report.