- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Fragile democracies
Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez is worried about the stability of democracy in Latin America.
Mr. Rodriguez told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday that democracy is weakest in countries that had no tradition of elected-civilian rule.
"When countries that did not have democracies reached that goal, they had a delusion that by getting democracy their problems would be solved — poverty, ignorance, disease, illiteracy," he said.
"That is not the case. You just have the mechanism to help you achieve those things."
Mr. Rodriguez did not name any specific country where he considers democracy under siege but said he is concerned "in general about the status of democracy."
Many observers consider constitutional rule most threatened in countries such as Peru and Venezuela.
"Democracy is a system to achieve goals to change governments peacefully, " he said.
But democracies succeed if they have free markets, an educated public and social programs, he added.
"Democracy is fragile. We have to strengthen it," he said.
Costa Rica has been a democracy since 1848, with only one military government, from 1870 to 1882.
Mr. Rodriguez, who held meetings with members of Congress yesterday, is due to meet President Bush today.

Aggressive Vietnamese
Douglas Peterson is ending his tour as the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in a dispute with communist authorities over human rights abuses in the country's Central Highlands.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry yesterday dismissed Mr. Peterson's complaints that some local authorities obstructed efforts by his fact-finding delegation investigating reports of a crackdown on tribal people who assisted the United States in the Vietnam War.
"As far as we know, the localities have tried to create the most favorable conditions for Ambassador Peterson," said spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh.
Mr. Peterson, earlier this week, discussed his July 5-9 visit to the provinces of Lam Dong, Daklak and Gia Lai.
He said authorities in the first two provinces were cooperative but Gia Lai officials "aggressively" obstructed his investigation.
"We found that the officials there were not prepared to provide us with free access either to officials or to ordinary people in the province," he said in a statement.
"No official spoke with us about government plans and activities, nor were we permitted to speak freely with anyone else. In fact, officials there aggressively sought to control our time and our movements.
"Public security personnel directly prevented us from talking to people as we visited small businesses and village markets."
Officials of Lam Dong and Daklak were "clearly focused" on trying to solve problems between the ethnic groups.
The United States has warned Vietnam that failure to correct human rights abuses in the Central Highlands could cause problems in the U.S. Congress, which is preparing to vote on a U.S.-Vietnamese trade pact.
Mr. Peterson, who has otherwise praised U.S.-Vietnamese relations, ends his tour of duty there on Sunday.

Wiring Romania
The Romanian government has set out to bridge the digital divide in technology and communications that numerous nations across the globe are trying to battle, the country's top communications official said yesterday.
"We are offering tax exemptions for software producers and tax deductions for computer owners, in an effort to encourage more people to get computer-literate and connected to the Internet," Dan Nica, minister for communications and information technology, told our correspondent Nicholas Kralev at a breakfast with reporters.
Mr. Nica is visiting the United States for talks with Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and other officials, as well as business executives in Florida and California.
Some of the topics on his agenda are restructuring and privatizing the Romanian Communications Co., reforming the country's telecommunications market and mobile telephone sector and establishing a regulatory framework for a competitive market.

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