- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

CHAVEZ SAYS NO

Venezuela’s boorish, brutish president,Hugo Chavez, has long showed he has no tolerance for criticism at home, jailing political opponents or shutting down independent media. Now he has demonstrated he will tolerate no back talk from the United States, even from a mild-mannered diplomat.

Mr. Chavez’s man in Washington, Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, delivered a letter to the State Department on Friday rejecting Larry Leon Palmer, a career Foreign Service officer, as the next U.S. ambassador to the South American nation.

Mr. Palmer’s offense was stating the obvious in his Senate confirmation hearing about Mr. Chavez’s politicization of the military and his support for communist rebels in neighboring Colombia.

“It is impossible to accept Mr. Palmer as ambassador, due to the conditions of what has occurred,” Mr. Alvarez told reporters after delivering the letter to the State Department, which is still standing by President Obama’s choice of an envoy to Caracas.

“We believe [Mr. Palmer] is especially qualified to serve as ambassador to Venezuela,” said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.

Mr. Chavez has been threatening to reject Mr. Palmer since August, but the letter to the State Department apparently makes the decision official.

The diplomatic standoff followed Mr. Palmer’s remarks at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July and in written replies to questions from committee member Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican.

Mr. Palmer said he is “keenly aware of the clear ties” between Mr. Chavez’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

“The Venezuelan government has been unwilling to prevent Colombia guerrillas from entering and establishing camps in Venezuelan territory,” he said.

Mr. Palmer also commented on the low morale in the military, especially after Mr. Chavez promoted Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, whom the United States suspects of aiding the Colombian rebels in smuggling drugs. Gen. Silva was named chief of operations for the armed forces.

At his hearing, Mr. Palmer promised to promote better relations with Venezuela, but also to champion democracy and human rights.

“If confirmed, a key component of my work will include support for democracy, human rights and fundamental democratic freedoms,” he said.

Mr. Palmer is a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras and also has served in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Paraguay.

STILL NO. 1

When Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, many observers feared the communist power brokers in Beijing would interfere with the free-market system in the tiny enclave that was under British rule for more than 150 years.

However, those fears proved unfounded, as Hong Kong remained the world’s freest economy in 2010 for the 14th year in a row, according to an annual study by the Washington-based Cato Institute released this week.

“I am delighted that the Cato Institute, in conjunction with other prominent research institutions, once again recognizes Hong Kong’s staunch commitment to free trade and the rule of law,” said Donald Tang, Hong Kong’s commissioner to the United States.

“Our adherence to the free-market philosophy has enabled us to weather the global economic crisis and better position the city as an international financial, business and logistics center.”

The report, “Economic Freedom of the World: 2010,” ranks the United States as the sixth-freest economy.

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

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