- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Tough duty

A typical day for Venezuelan Ambassador Alfredo Toro Hardy includes trying to project a new image for President Hugo Chavez, invariably described by the media as a leftist who once tried to overthrow a previous government and is pals with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

Even the liberal New York Times calls Mr. Chavez a radical.

"The news is editorializing," Mr. Toro Hardy told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday. See story, A15.

The ambassador said Mr. Chavez, re-elected to a second term on Sunday, has visited Cuba and plans to visit the Libyan dictator but is a dedicated democrat and a supporter of free markets. He just happens to scare the country's business elite with talk of revolution.

Mr. Toro Hardy complained that American reporters do not write about Mr. Chavez's trips to places like the Dominican Republic or Brazil. Reporters care nothing about what those countries think of Mr. Chavez when they can write about Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma, praising his election as a "triumph of the revolution."

The ambassador said the American business community is taking a "very positive" view of developments under Mr. Chavez, especially his support for a law protecting foreign investment.

Mr. Toro Hardy noted the recent creation of a U.S.-Venezuelan Business Council and a congressional caucus to promote relations.

"We have no problem with the State Department. They are pragmatic. They deal with his actions, not his words," he said.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker congratulated Mr. Chavez, as well as members of the National Assembly who were also elected.

"The United States would like to congratulate the Venezuelan people for once again upholding the tradition of free and fair elections in that country, and we would like to congratulate President Hugo Chavez and the other victors of [Sunday's] elections," he said.

"They will be critically important in terms of leading Venezuela through its ongoing political and economic reforms."

Mr. Toro Hardy said Mr. Chavez's critics include some members of Congress, but he declined to identify them. He said he preferred to deal with them quietly.

"That's why we have diplomacy, thank God," he said. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be needed."

No talks with rebels

The U.S. ambassador to Colombia says the Clinton administration will have no contacts with Colombian rebels but encourages other Latin American countries to help with any peace efforts.

Ambassador Kurtis Kamman said the United States refuses to meet with representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia until they turn over those suspected of killing three Americans last year.

"We don't have contacts with this group," the ambassador told the state-run Ancol news agency on Sunday. "But we favor discussions conducted by other countries and international organizations."

Mr. Kamman also said U.S. helicopters that will be supplied as part of a foreign aid package can be used "to defend military and police units that have come under attack in areas where anti-drug operations are under way."

Accord with Bahrain

U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Johnny Young has signed an accord to supply advanced military equipment to Bahrain.

Bahrain's defense minister, Sheik Khalifa bin Ahmad Khalifa, signed on behalf of the Persian Gulf state Sunday, saying the accord will "enable [us] to defend the nation and preserve its security and stability."

The accord includes a squadron of F-16 fighters.

Correction

Embassy Row yesterday incorrectly identified Leo G.B. Welt as a naturalized Jewish immigrant. Mr. Welt, who has organized a diplomatic trip to the Republican National Convention, is a Roman Catholic who was born in Berlin.

Mr. Welt, a war orphan, came to the United States in 1950 under the sponsorship of Catholic Charities.

He is president of Potomac Exchange, a nonprofit group of business executives that hosts breakfast meetings for new ambassadors to the United States.

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