- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

VISAS REVOKED

The State Department on Tuesday stripped four members of the interim Honduran government of their U.S. diplomatic visas in a move a spokesman compared to a “turning of the screw” against what he called the “de facto regime” in the Central American nation.

The move comes a month after the Honduran Supreme Court ordered the arrest of President Manuel Zelaya on charges of violating the nation’s constitution. The army apprehended Mr. Zelaya and flew him to neighboring Costa Rica, sparking tensions with his leftist allies in the region and threats of military intervention by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Earlier this month, the State Department revoked the diplomatic credentials of Ambassador Roberto Flores, who supported the removal of Mr. Zelaya, whom he called a “crook.”

From his exile in Costa Rica, Mr. Zelaya sent Eduardo Enrique Reina, a career diplomat, to Washington two weeks ago to serve as his ambassador. However, the State Department has not yet recognized him as the new Honduran ambassador.

Spokesman Ian Kelly said the four officials stripped of their diplomatic visas were in Honduras, but he would not identify them. He added that the State Department is considering revoking the visas of other members of the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, whom the Honduran Congress appointed to serve out Mr. Zelaya’s term as president.

“We don’t recognize Roberto Micheletti as the president of Honduras. We recognize Manuel Zelaya,” Mr. Kelly said. “And so in keeping with that policy of nonrecognition, we have decided to revoke official diplomatic visas … of four individuals who are members of that regime, the regime of Micheletti.”

He added that the Obama administration is “trying to do everything we can to support” mediation efforts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Mr. Kelly said Washington is also considering suspending bilateral programs with Honduras unless Mr. Zelaya is reinstated as president.

Mr. Kelly, in the daily press briefing, first said he was reluctant to describe the State Department’s move as a “turning of the screw, necessarily.” Later, he agreed with a reporter and said it would be “fair enough” to describe the move as such.

LIBERIANS LOBBYING

Liberian Ambassador Milton Nathaniel Barnes is urging Congress to give permanent asylum to Liberians who fled to the United States during the civil wars in the 1990s that claimed more than 250,000 lives and displaced more than 1 million people.

Mr. Barnes, speaking at an independence day ceremony over the weekend, noted that President Obama, like his predecessors, renewed annual immigrant status for thousands of Liberian refugees. However, he fears that any change in U.S. policy could affect the temporary protection status of the refugees.

Canada, for example, plans to resettle Librarian refugees because of improved conditions in the West African nation, founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

“We are certainly concerned, and we have tried to communicate to the diaspora and those that are affected by the [temporary protection status] program to move quickly to get regularized,” he said, referring to those who could get U.S. residency status through existing immigration programs. “And we are working with various groups in the diaspora to lobby Congress to make sure that we get some sort of permanent solution to this problem.”

Mr. Barnes told Voice of America that he was “thrilled” by the crowds of Liberians and U.S. supporters who attended the celebration at the Liberian Embassy.

“We have representation from all 15 counties of Liberia, showing the rich diversity of our country but, at the same time, under the theme of unity,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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