- - Monday, November 21, 2011

VENEZUELA

Official: U.S. relations unlikely to improve soon

CARACAS — Strained ties between Venezuela and the United States are unlikely to improve for now, the South American nation’s top diplomat said Sunday.

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro suggested conservatives in the U.S. Congress were largely to blame.

“On instructions from President Hugo Chavez, we have been ready to move toward a process of respectful communication and normalization of ties, [but] then [the U.S.] reactionary right wing makes itself heard and there would seem to be no likelihood in the short term for things to be otherwise,” Mr. Maduro told local Televen television.

Mr. Chavez is a leftist former paratrooper, a harsh critic of the U.S. and the key ally of communist Cuba. Caracas and Washington have diplomatic relations, but have not had ambassadors in place since 2010.

Mr. Maduro said Venezuela demands “absolute respect” and “noninterference in Venezuelan affairs.”

“It would seem impossible” for the United States to agree to those terms, he stressed.

The last U.S. ambassador, Patrick Duddy, left Caracas last year, and Washington withdrew the diplomatic visa of Venezuelan envoy Bernardo Alvarez, so that he could not return to his post from a visit home.

HAITI

President: Plan for new army needs study

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti’s president says his government is putting off a controversial plan to restore the country’s disbanded military until a commission can be formed to study if this is the best alternative to the current U.N. peacekeeping force.

President Michel Martelly said he was appointing a civilian commission that over the course of 40 days will identify the goals of a new military force.

The restoration of the military was one of Mr. Martelly’s campaign promises but drew immediate opposition from foreign diplomats and other critics, who said the country would be better off strengthening its underfunded and undermanned national police force.

“We will work to modernize the police but we need the army to protect the whole nation,” Mr. Martelly said during a speech Friday in the capital’s central plaza to mark a battle that led to independence from France in 1804. “I’m telling you today that the dignity of the Haitian people is coming with the creation of the armed forces.”

Mr. Martelly told his audience of diplomats, government officials and supporters that the new military force would combat smuggling and patrol parts of Haiti where “terrorists” are a constant threat.

He did not elaborate on what he meant by terrorists, who have not been known to pose a threat in Haiti.

A government official had said earlier that Mr. Martelly would use the national speech to issue a decree creating the new military.

Besides the issue of cost, some critics have expressed alarm at restoring a military that had been notorious for abuses before it was disbanded in 1995 under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They have said money for the army would be better spent on the national police force.

But many in Haiti welcome the military’s restoration as a source of potential jobs amid deep poverty - and as a point of national pride.

The idea resonates in a country where Mr. Martelly and other politicians have denounced the U.N. peacekeeping force that has helped keep order since Mr. Aristide’s ouster in 2004.

COLOMBIA

New rebel chief denounces president

BOGOTA — The new leader of Colombia’s main rebel army says the combat death of his predecessor won’t intimidate the guerrillas.

Timoleon Jimenez has issued a message calling President Juan Manuel Santos “threatening and brutal” and reproaching him for acting boastful over the death of Alfonso Cano, who had led the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) until he was killed on Nov. 4.

The message appeared Sunday on the Internet site of the Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa, which often carries guerrilla statements.

Most analysts estimate the rebels have about 8,000 fighters. Mr. Santos says they should lay down their arms or face a choice of “prison or the tomb.”

JAMAICA

Premier hints elections may occur next month

KINGSTON — Jamaica’s prime minister hinted Sunday that parliamentary elections could come as early as next month, whipping tens of thousands of governing party supporters into campaign mode.

Speaking at a Jamaica Labor Party conference in the capital, Andrew Holness told participants he will call elections “in just a short time.”

Then he added that the Caribbean nation can’t wait until next year to resolve uncertainty about his recently named government.

Elections must be held by December 2012, but Mr. Holness said the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international partners must know soon if voters will give him a mandate to govern debt-wracked Jamaica for the next five years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports