TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Obama administration has backed away from its call to restore ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power and instead put the onus on him for taking “provocative actions” that polarized his country and led to his overthrow on June 28.
The new position was contained in a letter this week to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that also rejected calls by some of Zelaya’s backers to impose harsh economic sanctions against Honduras.
While condemning the coup, the letter pointedly failed to call for Zelaya’s return. “Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual,” said the letter to Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The new U.S. position is likely to undercut diplomatic efforts to bring about Zelaya’s return, analysts said.
Some 1,000 pro-Zelaya demonstrators protested outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, Thursday after the State Department letter was made public in the Honduran media.
While condemning the overthrow of Zelaya and his pre-dawn expulsion, the Tuesday letter said that Zelaya, who’s allied with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, was largely to blame for his plight.
“We also recognize that President Zelaya’s insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal,” said the letter, signed by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma.
The letter to Lugar also said that U.S. officials “have rejected calls for crippling economic sanctions,” it said.