Harare – Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis had “passed the point of no return” for recovery without basic internal reforms and substantial international help, the U.S. ambassador said in an interview published Sunday. Calls by President Robert Mugabe for improved relations and “bridge building” with foreign nations so far had made no progress, Christopher Dell was quoted as saying in the independent Standard newspaper. “It is our hope that in the face of the massive crisis that it has brought on itself, the government here will recognize that it needs to do more than talk about bridge building,” Dell was quoted as saying. In November, Dell was summoned to the foreign ministry in Harare after voicing similar criticisms of Zimbabwe’s policies that he said plunged the nation into poverty. The envoy was warned he could be expelled from Harare. In the interview published Sunday, Dell said the abuse of property rights by seizures of land and other private assets scared off investors and vital foreign financial assistance, though the United States remained the largest humanitarian aid donor – $74 million last year.
Dell said in his 18 months in Zimbabwe, not a single U.S. investor had approached his office for information on Zimbabwe’s business prospects and just 25 American firms were still doing business in the country. “Zimbabwe has already passed the point of no return in its ability to recover from its crisis without substantial outside help,” Dell said. There was no immediate response from the government on Dell’s remarks. In the past, Mugabe has frequently accused Western ambassadors of meddling in the nation’s internal affairs and said the country can manage its own homegrown recovery programs. Zimbabwe’s economy has been in a free fall since Mugabe’s government began seizing thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks in 2000. Inflation has soared to 782 percent in the past year. More than 3,000 people a week die of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses, while U.N. agencies estimate that about 4 million people are in need of food. Last year, some 700,000 people lost their homes or livelihoods in a government demolition campaign aimed at street vendors, market stall holders and allegedly illegal housing.