- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

Powell vetoes amnesty

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sees no chance for a general amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States but insists that Washington is working hard to find a solution to the problem.

“We are trying to find the right answers,” he told the Spanish-language television network, Univision, last week. “It is not practical to think that an amnesty of some kind could be granted for all those who are not here with proper documentation.

“That would not be reasonable to assume, and I would not wish to mislead anyone.”

In the interview, Mr. Powell also called on Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to resign and defended the Bush administration policies in Latin America.

On relations with Mexico, Mr. Powell said illegal immigration became a more serious concern after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The threat is an insecure border, not Mexicans slipping into the United States to seek work.

“We have to make sure that we are securing our borders and that we are doing it in a way that protects our society,” he said. “But, you know, terrorism is not a real threat from Mexico.”

Mr. Powell explained, “Mexicans come here in order to earn a living, in order to raise families. Mexicans make an important contribution to the United States economy and to the United States society and culture, and they also make an important contribution to Mexico by the money they are able to send back and the skills they are able to send back and take back to Mexico.”

He conceded that talks with Mexico have failed so far to find a solution to the problem of illegal immigration.

“We have found it very difficult to find the right answers to the many issues that are out there [such as] … the ease of transit across the border [or] the use of consulate documents,” he said.

Mexico has persuaded several state governments to accept identification cards issued by Mexican consulates. Critics say the cards are just another way for illegal immigrants to gain access to a bank account and driver’s license.

Regarding Mr. Castro, Mr. Powell noted that the Cuban leader recently celebrated his 77th birthday.

“I was hoping, but I knew better, that perhaps he would announce his retirement,” Mr. Powell said. “Yes, it’s time for him to retire. He should have retired long ago.”

Mr. Powell denounced Mr. Castro’s recent arrests of activists for democracy .

“Why does he have to crack down on his people? Why won’t he allow open speech? … If his revolution is so wonderful, … what is he afraid of?” Mr. Powell asked.

Answering his own questions, he added, “What [Mr. Castro] is afraid of is that his people might say, ‘Listen, there is a better world waiting out there for us if we had a democratic form of government.’”

Pledge to Colombia

William Wood, the new U.S. ambassador to Colombia, pledged the Bush administration’s “continuous commitment” to the stability of the South American nation gripped by narco-terrorism.

Mr. Wood last week presented his diplomatic credentials to President Alvaro Uribe, who has battled rebels appeased under his predecessor.

The ambassador praised Mr. Uribe for his dedication to “democratic values” and for his dedication to the war on drugs.

Mr. Wood, a career diplomat, is a former principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

Warning Azerbaijan

The top U.S. diplomat in Azerbaijan has cautioned the Caucasus nation to hold valid presidential elections in October or risk taking a “debilitating step backward” on the road to democracy.

Nancy McEldowney, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Baku, issued the warning last week as opposition groups raised complaints that ailing President Geidar Aliev would rig the Oct. 15 election to ensure the victory of his son, Ilham.

The election is “an opportunity for Azerbaijan to take a major step on the path to democracy,” she said.

“However, the challenges and pitfalls are many,” she added. “If the campaign is … marred by fraud and manipulation and if the results … are deemed illegitimate or inaccurate, it will be a debilitating step backward.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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