- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Back-pay protest

A Hispanic-rights group organized a demonstration outside the Venezuelan Embassy yesterday to press claims from two immigrant workers for back pay from a top Venezuelan diplomat.

Luis Colorado and Ruth Vargas say they are owed $12,500 for work they did for Jorge Valero, Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States.

Venezuela's OAS mission, however, says their paychecks have been waiting for them at the Venezuelan Embassy since November, when they quit working for Mr. Valero.

"We had assumed they left the country," Enrique Vegas, an aide to the ambassador, said yesterday. "Their checks are here for them."

Mr. Vegas also said the ambassador, who is on a home visit, treated the employees fairly and provided them a "clean environment" in which to live while they stayed at his residence. He said the ambassador had brought them from Venezuela, where they had been unemployed.

Mr. Colorado, who described himself as a chauffeur and gardener, and Miss Vargas, the ambassador's maid, said they were forced to work more than 80 hours a week at minimum wage. Mr. Colorado contends he is owed nearly $7,000 in back pay, while Miss Vargas says she is owed more than $5,500.

"I want people to realize that here, the law protects you. No one has the right to exploit another person," Miss Vargas said in a statement.

They are represented by CASA of Maryland, an advocacy group for poor Hispanics.

U.S. welcomes Ople

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines ignored labor union objections yesterday and welcomed the appointment of Blas Ople as the new foreign minister of the Philippines.

Mr. Ople, a 75-year-old member of the Philippine Senate, drew fierce opposition from labor activists who accused him of creating the "modern Filipino slave" while he was labor minister for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the late 1970s.

Mr. Ople promoted an overseas-employment program that attracted about 3 million Filipino maids, laborers and other low-wage workers to foreign jobs. The Migrante International, a Philippines lobby group for overseas workers, said the program led to the widespread abuse of Filipinos.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Washington is comfortable with Mr. Ople.

"We look forward to working with Senator Blas Ople," said spokeswoman Karen Kelly. "He is not a new name in [Philippines-U.S. relations]. There's been a number of good working activities with the senator in his capacity as head of the foreign-relations committee."

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed Mr. Ople on Wednesday to replace Teofisto Guingona, who resigned to protest the presence of U.S. troops providing anti-terrorism training.

Musharraf's motives

Two leading members of the House International Relations Committee are urging Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to press Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for a stronger commitment to fight terrorism and restore democracy when he visits Pakistan this week.

Gen. Musharraf, who took power in a military coup, has made recent statements that appear to contradict his promise to stop the infiltration of terrorists into the Indian-controlled sector of Kashmir, Reps. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, and Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat, said in a letter to Mr. Powell.

"We are confident you will deliver the right message, but are greatly concerned that the man on the receiving end doesn't want to hear it," they said.

They noted that Gen. Musharraf recently referred to the Kashmir militants as "freedom fighters."

They also criticized Gen. Musharraf for the "sham referendum" that extended his term in office, and questioned whether the parliamentary elections scheduled for October would be free and fair.

Mr. Gilman, chairman of the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, and Mr. Ackerman, the senior Democrat on the panel, are members of the congressional India caucus.

Mr. Powell will be in India and Pakistan tomorrow and Sunday, when he leaves for Thailand. He will travel to Malaysia on Monday and visit Singapore on Tuesday. Mr. Powell will be in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday, when he travels to Indonesia. He ends his tour Aug. 2 in the Philippines.

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