- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2010

SAD SPECTACLE?

The ambassador of Venezuela, whose government is widely criticized for civil rights abuses, denounced a House subcommittee for holding a hearing into press censorship under socialist President Hugo Chavez, calling it a “sad spectacle” and vilifying a Latin American human rights official for appearing before the U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez also complained that Republicans dominated the hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, although the Democratic chairman was equally critical of Venezuela’s press censorship.

“Should freedom of the press be an instrument for owners of media outlets to actively conspire against the democratically elected government?” Mr. Alvarez said in a statement responding to the hearing last week.

He dismissed congressional concerns over an arrest warrant issued against Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of Globovision, a television network critical of Mr. Chavez’s authoritarian regime. He also complained about remarks on the arrest warrant from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Mr. Alvarez said the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry rejected “the interventionist statements of the government of the United States. …”

He railed against Catalina Botero of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. She complained about the “increasing harassment” of Venezuela’s independent media.

The ambassador called her appearance before Congress “intolerable” and noted that freedom of the press is guaranteed in the Venezuelan constitution.

However, independent human rights organizations and the U.S. State Department repeatedly have documented the decline in civil rights since Mr. Chavez was first elected in 1999.

At the subcommittee hearing, Marcel Granier, president of Radio Caracas Television International (RCTV), said Mr. Chavez controls the opposition media through “censorship and fear” and uses state-owned television and radio to “criminalize everybody who dares to have an opinion different from the government.” Mr. Chavez shut down RCTV in January.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and subcommittee chairman, complained that Mr. Chavez has “intimidated journalists,” while the senior Republican on the panel, Rep. Connie Mack of Florida, added that Mr. Granier stands accused of “trumped-up charges.”

“The government of Venezuela does not stop at arresting individuals who express contrary opinions,” Mr. Mack said, “it works tirelessly to eliminate those opinions entirely.”

AFGHANS’ NEXT CRISIS

The ambassador of Afghanistan is worried that his country may be running out of water, as it continues to battle forces bent on turning the nation back into an extremist Islamic state.

Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad cited a new report from the United States Geological Survey that found at least 60 percent of shallow ground-water wells in the vicinity of the capital, Kabul, could run dry within 50 years. The study also predicted that the demand for fresh drinking water could increase by 600 percent over the same period.

Mr. Jawad praised the USGS for its work, in cooperation with the Afghanistan Geological Survey.

“The USGS has been an invaluable asset for bringing advanced technology into Afghanistan and transferring their professional skills to build the capacity of our institution,” he said.

The ambassador also congratulated the USGS for discovering vast new deposits of valuable minerals that could transform the impoverished nation.

“We are also excited about the news of an estimated mineral wealth of $1 trillion in Afghanistan, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold and coal,” he said.

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

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