- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Liberty prize

The leader of a student movement that defied Venezuela’s autocratic president, Hugo Chavez, regularly receives death threats and moves about frequently to safe houses in Caracas.

However, he is unconcerned with Mr. Chavez’s reaction to a new development that is bringing him more attention abroad and more disdain from government supporters at home.

Yon Goicoechea is the winner of a $500,000 award from the Washington-based Cato Institute for his work to promote freedom in the South American nation.

“He is making an extraordinary contribution to liberty,” Cato President Edward Crane said yesterday in announcing that Mr. Goicoechea is the recipient of the 2008 Milton Friedman Liberty Prize.

“We hope the Friedman Prize will help further his nonviolent advocacy for basic freedoms in an increasingly militaristic and anti-democratic Venezuela.”

In Caracas, Mr. Goicoechea told the Associated Press that he will use the money to advance a pro-democracy youth movement throughout Latin America.

“I see it as a collective prize,” he said of the award. “The prize is being given to me, but it’s being given to me as a representative of something much bigger.”

The 23-year-old leader of the student movement helped to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans last year to defeat Mr. Chavez’s plans in expanding his presidential powers. Mr. Chavez denounced the students as “mama’s boys” and “fascists.”

Mr. Goicoechea said the Chavez government is “growing dangerously close to a totalitarian regime.”

The prize, named after the late free-market economist Milton Friedman, will be presented to Mr. Goicoechea at a banquet May 15 in New York.

“In his commitment to a modern Venezuela, Mr. Goicoechea emphasizes tolerance and human rights to seek prosperity,” the libertarian think tank said.

Cut more staff

The U.S. Embassy in Belarus yesterday said the government ordered a further cut in the staff at the American mission, which would leave only five U.S. diplomats and create “grave consequences.”

The Foreign Ministry summoned Jonathan Moore, the charge d’affaires, on Wednesday to present him with the latest demand for a reduction in embassy personnel. Belarus ordered the embassy to reduce its staff to 17 from 32 in March, when it also pressured Ambassador Karen Stewart into returning to Washington.

Belarus, protesting additional U.S. economic sanctions, also withdrew its ambassador, Mikhail Khvostov. The Bush administration said the new sanctions on the national oil monopoly, Belneftekhim, will remain until the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, allows free elections and releases political prisoners.

In his meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Moore “protested this news and noted that there would be grave consequences as a result of this unprecedented and unwarranted step by the Belarussian authorities,” the embassy said in a statement on its Web site (http://minsk.usembassy.gov).

Mr. Moore also protested the Belarus government’s continued refusal to allow the embassy access to Emanuel Zeltser, a Russian-born American citizen who was detained March 12. Belarus has given no reason for his arrest.

The embassy expressed concern over Mr. Zeltser’s “serious pre-existing health conditions” that require daily medication. Authorities recently transferred him to a state psychiatric hospital, the embassy said.

Mr. Zeltser, a lawyer who specializes in money-laundering cases, sued the former Bank of New York in the 1990s over its connection to a Russian organized-crime gang that used the bank to move cash into the United States and avoid Russian taxes.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.