- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

LATIN CHALLENGE

The new president of the United States must restore U.S. credibility in Latin America, where Washington’s allies are frustrated and its enemies are defiant, according to a former ambassador from Costa Rica.

“The failure of Congress to approve a free-trade deal with Colombia, the closest and most important U.S. ally in South America, has had a profoundly negative effect on U.S. credibility,” Ambassador Jaime Daremblum wrote in an analysis on political developments south of the border.

“Meanwhile, … the recent U.S.-Mexican wrangling over a bilateral aid package left Mexican President Felipe Calderon feeling embarrassed.”

Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama will face a major challenge in Central and South America when one of them enters the White House next year, Mr. Daremblum added.

“The next U.S. president must unequivocally affirm America’s commitment to supporting and protecting its democratic partners in Latin America,” he wrote.

Mr. Daremblum, now director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, noted that the biggest challenge remains the anti-American leader of Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, especially with his close relations to Iran and Russia.

“Chavez often speaks and acts like a buffoon; his rhetoric and antics can be utterly risible,” Mr. Daremblum said. “Yet due to … the recent boom in oil prices, the Venezuelan strongman cannot be ignored.”

He cited Venezuela’s recent military alliance with Russia as the latest example of Mr. Chavez’s efforts to undermine U.S. influence in Latin America. Mr. Daremblum, ambassador here from 1998 to 2004, speculated that Mr. Chavez’s decision to host joint military exercises with Russia might have been a response to Washington’s decision to reactivate the U.S. Fourth Fleet to cruise the waters of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“By planning sophisticated military maneuvers with Russian warships, Chavez is making a bold show of anti-Yankee defiance,” Mr. Daremblum said. “His pockets bulging with oil wealth, Chavez has spent billions on Russian weapons.”

Mr. Chavez created a diplomatic dispute with the United States by expelling U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy earlier this month in a show of support for Bolivian President Evo Morales, who kicked out U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg after accusing him of plotting with political opponents. Mr. Chavez recalled his ambassador, Bernado Alvarez, from Washington, and the State Department expelled Bolivian Ambassador Gustavo Guzman.

CHRISTIANS ATTACKED

A key U.S. religious rights agency is urging President Bush to press the prime minister of India to stop Hindu extremist attacks on Christians when the two leaders meet Thursday at the White House.

Thousands of Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissa are “in hiding in jungles and refugees camps as mobs associated with Hindu nationalist organizations continue a three-week-long series of acts of violence and arson directed against Christian-owned properties, including churches,” Felice D. Gaer, chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in a letter to Mr. Bush.

The violence escalated after a Hindu nationalist leader was killed last month. Although a Maoist group claimed responsibility, Hindu mobs in Orissa took their vengeance against Christians, she said in her letter.

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