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Clinton Urges Reform of OAS, Return of Honduras to Regional Grouping

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday appealed for the urgent financial and political restructuring of the Organization of American States.  She made the appeal in debate at the 40th OAS General Assembly meeting in Lima, marked by sharp differences over the status of Honduras after its coup last year.  

Clinton said the United States continues to support the Washington-based OAS as the foremost multi-lateral organization of the hemisphere.

But in a sharply-worded appeal to fellow OAS foreign ministers, she said the organization founded in 1948 is in urgent need of streamlining because of a "proliferation of mandates."

She said without a reform plan, hopefully in place by key budget meetings in September, the fiscal path of the OAS is "unsustainable."

The Secretary of State spoke in a general debate otherwise dominated by regional political issues, including lingering bitterness over last year's coup in Honduras.

A number of key Latin American states including Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are not recognizing the results of elections last November won by new President Porfirio Lobo, because the interim government that preceded him refused to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

But Clinton appealed for the return of Honduras, expelled from the OAS last July, saying the new government has met its reconciliation commitments.

"We saw the free and fair election of President Lobo," said Hillary Clinton. "And we have watched President Lobo fulfill his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose accord, including forming a government of national reconciliation, and a truth commission.  This has demonstrated a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order.

Clinton drew support from among others, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Haroldo Rodas, who urged the prompt return of Honduras to the OAS along with creation of a high-level commission to verify its renewed democratic system.

But several other foreign ministers disagreed, among them Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who said his government condemns the mistreatment of Mr. Zelaya, whom he termed the "legitimate" president of Honduras.  

"My government cannot recognize the new government in Honduras while there are violations committed against human rights," said Ricardo Patino. "And Zelaya has to be recognized in his true capacity, with guarantees in his country.  And those who are responsible for the coup, those who broke human rights and democratic guarantees - they have to be punished for this."

A controversial new law pending in the U.S. state of Arizona aimed against undocumented aliens in the United States also figured in the OAS debate and bilateral meetings here.

The law, to take affect at the end of next month, requires Arizona police conducting traffic stops and other routine duties to question people about their immigration status, if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Rodas, also heard through an interpreter, said respect for the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual should be a condition for any migratory legislation.

"Guatemala condemns any law that criminalizes the migrant and his family, is a violation of his human rights and distorts the good neighborhood that should prevail between partners and nations," said Haroldo Rodas.

The Obama administration opposes the state law, but its defenders in Arizona and elsewhere say it only aims to enforce immigration laws already on the books.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza has called the law "an issue of concern to all citizens of the Americas, beginning with citizens of the United States."   

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