- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Progress in Peru
The new ambassador from Peru is working to rebuild the image of his country as he pursues landmark trade pacts with the United States.
Few diplomats could be in a better position to achieve those goals.
"The greatest challenge we have is to help build the country's self-esteem. We have seen so much corruption," Ambassador Robert Danino told editors and reporters at The Washington Times this week.
Mr. Danino presented his diplomatic credentials to President Bush last month, but he is no stranger to Washington. He learned Washington's ways as a member of the prominent law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering in charge of Latin American accounts. He was most recently prime minister under President Alejandro Toledo, who sent him to Washington last month. Mr. Danino has also served as secretary-general of the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Trade.
Mr. Danino will need all of his expertise to convince Washington that Peru is returning to democracy after 10 years of autocratic rule by former President Alberto Fujimori, who fled Peru in 2000 to seek refuge in his ancestral homeland of Japan.
Mr. Fujimori ran the "most corrupt regime in Latin America," Mr. Danino said, noting that Peruvian authorities suspect Mr. Fujimori embezzled as much as $1 billion and had links to the Mafia.
However, Mr. Fujimori is credited with revitalizing the economy and crushing the Maoist Shinning Path rebels during his administration. But the economy soon collapsed, and Peruvian courts have thrown out many of Mr. Fujimori's anti-terrorist laws as unconstitutional.
"Many of the rebels may have to be retried," Mr. Danino said.
Mr. Danino said the Toledo administration, which took office in July 2001, has rebuilt the economy to the point where the gross domestic product grew 4.8 percent last year and inflation dropped to 2 percent.
"We now have the most stable currency in the region," he said. A U.S. dollar approximately equals 3.5 Peruvian nuevo sols.
When Mr. Danino met Mr. Bush, he told the president his main goal is to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the United States.
"We believe that this proposal constitutes a vital step on the road toward the formation of our common objective, a Free Trade Area of the Americas,"he said. "During my tenure this shall be my top priority."
Despite the progress on some fronts, Peru still faces extreme poverty with most Peruvians living on less than $2 a day, Mr. Danino told Mr. Bush.
In his meeting at The Times, Mr. Danino made no attempt to sugar-coat Peru's problems. He said that after 10 years of the Fujimori regime, Peruvians got a fresh taste of democracy and demanded immediate change.
"The expectations were so high that people expected everything overnight. It was like taking the top off a pressure cooker."

South Florida happy
Three congressional Cuban Americans yesterday praised President Bush for his appointments of two other Cuban Americans to key administrative positions.
Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his brother, Mario, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all Florida Republicans congratulated Mr. Bush for naming Otto Reich as a special presidential envoy for Latin-American issues and Roger Noriega as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The White House announced the appointments yesterday.
"With the selection of these qualified individuals, the president has sent a strong message about the critical role that democracy promotion and freedom play in U.S.-Latin American policy," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.
Mr. Diaz-Balart called them "public servants of extraordinary talent and experience." His brother added that the two are the right appointees to "deal with several crises" in Latin America.
Cuban-American groups had expected Mr. Bush to renominate Mr. Reich for the State Department position, which he held last year on a temporary-appointment basis. However, the advisory position requires no congressional approval and avoids confrontation with liberals opposed to Mr. Reich's strong anti-Castro positions. Mr. Noriega, now ambassador to the Organization of American States, must be confirmed by the Senate.

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