- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

Tribute to Bolivar
The democratic gains in Latin America since Simon Bolivar defeated the Spanish more than 180 years ago are threatened today by the crushing poverty across the region, Guyanese Ambassador Odeen Ishmael said in a tribute to the "liberator" of South America.
"The times of Bolivar were much different from today, but what remains common from those days to this is the underlying problem of poverty," Mr. Ishmael told the Organization of American States last week.
"Countries of the Americas won political independence in different ways, but winning economic independence still poses a challenge," he said.
Mr. Ishmael also noted several democratic crises in the region, from Haiti to Venezuela, and the threat of narco-rebels in Colombia.
"Despite the onward march of democracy in this hemisphere, it is still seriously challenged by forces that do not respect free elections and others who promote violent crime and terrorism," he said.
Mr. Ishmael, ambassador to both the OAS and the United States, blamed the International Monetary Fund and other multinational lenders for the crippling debt many democratic countries inherited from dictators who borrowed the money.
"Many poor countries became heavily indebted because the multilateral financial institutions granted large loans years ago to despotic regimes that had no interest in promoting democracy," he said.
"In reality, these [institutions] propped up these nondemocratic regimes that, after periods of long struggle by democratic forces, were replaced by democratic governments. Today, these democratic governments are being pressured to repay the heavy debt."
Mr. Ishmael fears the poor in many nations, who are no better off than they were under dictatorships, will grow tired of waiting for their lives to improve under democracies.
"How long can the poor people of our hemisphere continue to listen to our political leaders and international policy-makers debating countless suggested proposals to ease poverty?" he asked.
"We must be reminded that when people have a perception that action is slow, they will want to carry out their own actions, which can lead to destabilization and changes in the pattern of democratic development."
He quoted a character from Shakespeare's "Henry IV," who said, "I am as poor as Job, [my Lord], but not as patient."

Kuwaiti bids adieu
Shafeeq Ghabra spent four years here promoting his country as director of the Kuwait Information Office. Most of the time was spent talking to journalists and academics, arranging forums and planning for visitors.
However, he made news himself earlier this year when Islamic extremists threatened him for appearing on a panel with Israeli officials to defend Arab views on the Middle East.
Instead of ducking, Mr. Ghabra struck back by criticizing his critics and challenging his government to replace him if it did not defend him. Kuwaiti politicians and journalists rushed to support him. The government quickly urged him to stay on in his Washington position, giving centrist Muslims a rare public relations victory over the fundamentalists.
Now Mr. Ghabra is returning to Kuwait to serve as director of the Center for Strategic and Future Studies.
"I leave with mixed emotions, as I have excitement for this next step but loathe the thought of leaving so many wonderful acquaintances here in the United States," he said in a message to his American friends.
"The work accomplished here at the Information Office is a victory not only for Kuwait or for me but also for you and America.
"Your help and encouragement has sustained me over the last four years when the stress or situation was difficult, especially since September 11.
"My gratitude to you is immeasurable."

Diplomatic traffic
Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:
Amal Mudallali, press secretary to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who is on a private visit.
Health workers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Mongolia and Taiwan, who attend the annual conference of the American International Health Alliance.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, who meets President Bush.

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