- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Venezuela in transition
Venezuelan authorities were perplexed and angry when they first learned that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas planned to open an Office of Transition Initiatives.
That bland sounding word, "transition," carries a political punch in a country still recovering from a brief coup in April and still suspicious of the U.S. role in the upheaval. Opponents of leftist President Hugo Chavez use "transition" as a code for replacing the government through violent or political means, a Venezuelan diplomat said yesterday.
When newspapers in Venezuela over the weekend attached sinister motives to the embassy's plan, U.S. Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro rushed to control the damage and insist that the United States has no intention of trying to replace Mr. Chavez.
Mr. Shapiro quickly wrote an article in the country's El Nacional newspaper on Monday to explain that the office is designed only to promote democracy and help Venezuela get through its political crisis.
"I know, I know, the name of this office has generated controversy," Mr. Shapiro wrote. "Forget the bureaucratic name used in Washington and, in its place, concentrate on what our efforts mean."
He explained that the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) is a program administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It will provide $7 million for a two-year effort to promote stability in one of United States' top oil suppliers.
"Moderate leaders in the [Venezuelan] government, the opposition and sectors of civil society are working to strengthen democracy, promote dialogue and create a national reconciliation," Mr. Shapiro wrote. "I believe that the United States can contribute to those efforts."
The OTI promotes "peace and democracy in priority conflict-prone countries," according to the USAID, which has opened similar programs in more than 20 countries.
Mr. Shapiro wrote, "The goal is to support neither the opposition nor the government but the democratic process. The office here will not be an office for the transition of anything."
He also met with Mr. Chavez, who later said he was satisfied with the ambassador's explanation. However, Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton complained that "transition is a code word" for toppling the government.
"There must be more effective and less controversial ways for our American friends and partners to support democracy in Venezuela," he told reporters in Caracas.
Supporters of Mr. Chavez remain suspicious of U.S. motives because Bush administration officials blamed him for creating the political instability that led to the April 12-14 coup. Mr. Chavez's supporters toppled the coup leaders and reinstalled the president within 48 hours. The United States has denied any connection to the coup.
Mr. Chavez has angered Washington because of his contacts with Iraq, Libya and Cuba and for his criticism of the U.S. war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Culture center closed
The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan yesterday closed the American cultural center in Islamabad for security reasons.
Embassy spokeswoman Linda Cheatham declined to discuss any specific threat to the embassy-sponsored library, which provides computers for research services.
"At this moment, I can only confirm that the American Center is closed," she told the Associated Press.
The American Center's Information Resource Center "aims to build bridges of understanding between Pakistan and the United States, bridges that will increase each nation's perception of the heritage, customs and culture of the other," according to the embassy's Web site (https://usembassy.state.gov/islamabad/).
The closure came the day before Pakistan celebrates its independence day and two days before India's. Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir have waged attacks on India's national day.
The State Department on Monday reissued a July 19 warning to Americans to avoid traveling to Pakistan and urging U.S. citizens in the country to leave.
It cited recent attacks on Christian facilities in Pakistan that indicate they are the target of terrorism. The U.S. Consulate in Karachi remains closed, the warning said. A car bombing outside the consulate building on June 14 killed 12 Pakistanis.


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