- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

Threat in Venezuela

The Organization of American States must help Venezuela avoid another constitutional crisis and not act as a refuge of "last resort," U.S. Ambassador Roger F. Noriega said this week.

Mr. Noriega, the U.S. representative to the OAS, said the "deep polarization" of Venezuelan society had only increased since President Hugo Chavez was overthrown in a brief coup on April 11 and then restored to power.

The coup followed labor strikes, opposition protests and violence, as a sizable portion of Venezuelans vented frustration with Mr. Chavez's policies.

Recent reports by OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted "key areas of concern regarding Venezuelan democracy," Mr. Noriega said.

The reports noted an "atmosphere of growing intolerance" and "fear of violence," he said. The reports also expressed concern about Mr. Chavez's power over other branches of government and the influence of the military on politics.

"These reports portray a political system whose institutions and practices are under much strain," he said. "These challenges to Venezuelan democracy were apparent well before April 11, but the OAS only reacted after the tragic events that ensued that day."

The OAS condemned the coup and dispatched a delegation led by Mr. Gaviria. Mr. Noriega urged the OAS to continue to promote reconciliation between Mr. Chavez and his opponents.

"Now that the OAS has engaged, it would be irresponsible to leave the Venezuelan people to fend for themselves until another crisis develops," he said.

"Credible national dialogue is needed to get Venezuela's democracy back on track," he said. "Without reconciliation and the establishment of a basic consensus by which to govern the nation, Venezuela runs the risk of another crisis."

Mr. Noriega said the Bush administration fears that the situation is deteriorating.

"Little, if any, progress is being made to bring about a much-needed national reconciliation," he said. "A lack of confidence that runs deep on both sides inhibits the potential for dialogue."

OAS agenda

The democratic crisis in Venezuela is one of the issues on the agenda for the annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the region's other foreign ministers are due to attend the meeting, which begins Sunday in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Mr. Powell will sign the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, which commits OAS nations to fighting terrorists by sharing intelligence, denying safe havens and blocking financial transactions of individuals and groups suspected of terrorism.

Soccer diplomacy

The ambassadors from Japan and South Korea will deliver 250 soccer balls to the D.C. public school system today to mark the opening of the World Cup soccer tournament in the Korean capital, Seoul.

Ambassadors Ryozo Kato of Japan and Sung Chul Yang of South Korea will present the balls with the official World Cup logo at a ceremony at 11 a.m. at Powell Elementary School, the Japanese Embassy said yesterday.

The World Cup opens today in Seoul, and the championship game will be played June 30 in Yokohama, Japan.

New envoy to Pakistan

President Bush has appointed Ambassador Nancy Powell to replace the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, who is leaving to spend more time with her family. Miss Powell is ambassador to the West African nation of Ghana.

Embassy Row reported Wednesday that Miss Powell's appointment was expected. Mr. Bush announced Wednesday afternoon that she would replace Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, who sent her two teen-age daughters home because of the increasing threat of war between India and Pakistan.

Death of a diplomat

Gunnar Jarring, a former Swedish ambassador to the United States, died this week at his home in Helsingborg. He was 94.

Mr. Jarring served in Washington from 1958 to 1964, when he was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union. He served in Moscow until 1973.

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