- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

Victim Venezuela

Venezuelan Ambassador Alfred Toro Hardy painted a bleak picture of his country three months after the raging floods and mudslides that swept across Venezuela's densely populated coastal areas in December.
"Some have described the event as the worst disaster of the century in Latin America. It was certainly the most damaging natural cataclysm that has struck Venezuela in its entire history," Mr. Hardy told a conference on reconstructing Venezuela last week.
During the first two weeks of December, Venezuela was deluged with twice the rain that usually falls in a year, he said.
The rains created floods and mudslides that buried entire villages.
"We will never know how many died buried under the mud, but their number is certainly greater than 10,000 maybe double or triple that," he told the conference organized by Equity International.
The disaster left 130,000 people homeless.
Rebuilding is a monumental challenge.
"Roads need to be built. Water, sewage disposal, electricity and communications systems need to be restored," he said.
"Riverbeds must be cleared of debris to avoid further rainfalls from causing additional damage. Assessments on the feasibility and viability of constructing on particular locations [away from the coast] must be carried out within a framework of urban and land-use planning that guarantees an appropriate and coherent distribution of human habitation and activities.
"The economy of the affected regions needs to be reactivated in ways that are environmentally sustainable and that provide new sources of employment. Displaced families must be provided with legal, social and even psychological assistance.
"Investments must be made in the fields of monitoring, prevention and management of environmental risks and damages so that the impact of any future environmental threat may be minimized."
The massive task falls to President Hugo Chavez, who acquired vast new powers in a constitutional referendum approved on the day of the floods.
"The elements have chosen to strike Venezuela at a moment in which the country is undergoing a momentous and historical transformation," Mr. Hardy said.
The election of Mr. Chavez in 1998 signaled a populist swing from the past when "all sorts of vices flourished," he said.
"The terrible desolation that has fallen on the Venezuelan coastline in spite of the indelible scars that the tragedy has provoked and the irreplaceable loss of life it has left in its wake offers the chance of a new beginning, of constructing an urban design next to the sea that is safer, more responsive to human needs and more conducive to economic development."

Celebrating Masaryk

Czech Ambassador Alexandr Vondra is looking for a site in Washington to erect a statue to the founder of Czechoslovakia.
Tomas Masaryk, born 150 years ago this month, was inspired by U.S. political philosophy when he was laying the foundation for a democratic Czechoslovakia in 1918. (The country divided into the Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.)
"At the birth of Czechoslovakia, America was the midwife," Mr. Vondra writes in the latest Czech Embassy newsletter.
He recalled that Mr. Masaryk spent much time in Washington, where he persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to support the Czech cause for nationhood after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I.
Mr. Masaryk drafted the Czech declaration of independence in what is today the Envoy Hotel on 16th Street NW. He also enjoyed horseback riding in Rock Creek Park. Mr. Masaryk also married an American, Charlotte Garrigue.
Mr. Vondra said he is looking for suggestions for an appropriate site for a statue.

Pearson to Turkey

President Clinton has selected Robert Pearson, a career diplomat, to be the new U.S. ambassador to Turkey.
Mr. Pearson, whose appointment needs to be confirmed by the Senate, is now deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
He has also served as deputy permanent representative to NATO.

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