Tegucigalpa (Honduras): The soldiers, politicians and businessmen who ousted Left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya are taking their battle from Honduras into the US political arena, waging a lobbying campaign to paint themselves as a bulwark against "dictatorship" and "communism."
Appealing to free trade supporters, they hope to nudge the Obama administration away from its threat to impose sanctions on the impoverished country, where export-assembly factories are dominated by US firms and investors.
"I imagine there would be some reaction from them" to trade sanctions, Amilcar Bulnes, head of the Honduran Council of Private Business, said on Monday.
The de facto government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti took pains to put together a lobbying effort that is diverse and representative. The team sent to Washington on Monday includes a Christian Democrat labour leader and a university law professor who is in an opposition party.
Zelaya's foes appear to hope President Barack Obama doesn't have the time or energy for this battle when he has weightier problems like his push to reform the US health care system and turn around the economy.
"Honduras is a small, poor country," Bulnes said. "The world would look very bad if it takes out its wrath on this country."
The lobbying team left for the US as Washington was turning up pressure on the Micheletti government by warning that Honduras could face severe economic sanctions if Zelaya is not restored to the presidency.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Micheletti on Sunday to say there would be serious consequences if his government keeps ignoring international calls for Zelaya's return — the key point that led to a stalemate in US-supported negotiations over the weekend mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
Business executives say US Ambassador Hugo Llorens has called them into meetings to warn that Honduras — heavily dependent on exports to the United States — could face tough sanctions if leaders continue to refuse Arias' compromise proposal for Zelaya to return as head of a coalition government. The US Embassy said it would not comment on the meetings.
The European Union added to the pressure on Monday by announcing it was suspending USD 93.1 million (65.5 million euros) in aid to Honduras. The EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, called the standoff over Zelaya "a crisis which Honduras can ill afford."
No government has recognized the Micheletti administration, and the United Nations and Organization of American States have called for the return of Zelaya, who was arrested and hustled out of the country by the Army on June 28.
First Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 12:50