- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Venezuela's Chavez hits critics in media

CARACAS, Venezuela Embattled President Hugo Chavez lashed out at critics during his weekly broadcast, saying the biggest problem the country faces is hostile foreign and domestic coverage of his populist government.

The former paratrooper, battling mounting internal opposition, denounced what he called a perverse strategy against him orchestrated by media critics.

In his Sunday radio and television show, "Hello President," Mr. Chavez condemned media coverage of Venezuela, which is the world's No. 4 oil exporter but still suffers the poverty and unemployment it did under the previous regime of wealth and cronyism.

As an example of untruthful coverage, Mr. Chavez cited a recent report by Colombia's Caracol TV saying a Venezuelan pilot caught flying arms to Colombian Marxist rebels had confessed the arms came from Venezuela's National Guard. Mr. Chavez said the Bogota government had sent a letter saying this was false.

New lawmakers face FARC kidnap threat

BOGOTA, Colombia Voters ignored threats of rebel violence to elect ex-guerrillas, party politicians and a former army general to a new Congress that will try to bring peace to the country.

The lawmakers elected Sunday face heavy responsibilities as the South American country braces for wider fighting following the recent collapse of talks to end a 38-year civil war.

The 268-member Congress could be asked to tackle political corruption and give the U.S.-backed military bigger budgets and a freer hand to combat leftist insurgents. It also could find itself a target in the war.

The main rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), kidnaps lawmakers, hoping to trade them for imprisoned rebels. It currently holds five lawmakers, several of whom were on Sunday's ballot.

Tijuana braces for drug-gang wars

TIJUANA, Mexico This California border city ravaged by drug violence is bracing for a turf war between gangs after the arrest of reputed kingpin Benjamin Arellano Felix and the confirmed death of his brother Ramon, both legends in the local underworld.

"The logical scenario is that the cartels from Sinaloa and the Gulf now try to break into Tijuana, and a bloody war erupts," said Jesus Blancornelas, editor of the magazine Zeta, who survived a 1997 assassination attempt blamed on the Arellano Felix brothers.

Mexican authorities arrested Benjamin Arellano Felix in a raid on a house in Puebla, south of Mexico City, early Saturday. He confirmed that his brother Ramon was killed in a Feb. 10 shootout with police in of Mazatlan.

U.S. officials said over the weekend they expect Benjamin Arellano Felix to be extradited to the United States to face drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges.

Weekly notes

Latin American finance ministers meeting in Brazil urged the international banking community Sunday to aid the Argentine government in its struggle to rebuild the region's third-largest economy. Flanked by colleagues from Mexico, Chile and Peru, Argentina's Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov told delegates at the 43rd annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank his country needs "time, prudent declarations and all the necessary support."

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