- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Venezuela hits bill

The ambassador of Venezuela is imploring the Senate to kill a section of a House-passed foreign affairs bill that would penalize his country for its suspected links to Marxist rebels in neighboring Colombia.

Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, in a letter to each senator, denied that his government, headed by leftist President Hugo Chavez, has any connections to any guerrilla group or terrorist organization. He said his government has deported captured rebels to Colombia.

“We emphatically condemn terrorist actions carried out by FARC,” he wrote, referring to the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Mr. Alvarez asked the Senate to remove Section 687 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. That section would cut off aid to Venezuela “if the secretary of state certifies … that the central government of Venezuela is assisting, harboring or providing sanctuary for Colombian terrorist organizations.”

The bill would affect funding for military training, anti-drug operations and other nonhumanitarian programs — but not for programs promoting democracy and the rule of law.

The bill is the latest example of the tension developing between the United States and Venezuela, where Mr. Chavez has accused U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro of trying to interfere in domestic disputes.

Mr. Shapiro has raised questions about the possible presence of Colombian rebel bases in Venezuela, and the White House is suspicious of Mr. Chavez, who has increased contacts with Cuba and Libya.

In his letter, Mr. Alvarez blamed a “media campaign” in Colombia and the opposition press in Venezuela for reports connecting Mr. Chavez to the Colombian rebels.

He said this campaign has “manipulated and misrepresented facts and has created false impressions and negative opinions about Venezuela.”

The ambassador offered to share the results of a Venezuelan government investigation into the charges with any senator who wants “fact rather than innuendo.”

Mr. Alvarez noted that protecting the 1,200-mile-long border with Colombia is in Venezuela’s “very best interest.”

“Our government is committed to keeping out of Venezuela drugs and armed irregulars of all persuasion that might come in through border encroachment,” he wrote.

“We are committed to distancing ourselves from terrorist operations. Venezuela has worked in good faith to try to assist in the resolution of the conflict in Colombia. Nevertheless, our country has been subjected to a campaign that has purposefully sought to malign the reputation of the Venezuelan government. …

“Venezuela is emphatic in our denial that there is a guerrilla presence in Venezuelan territory. In fact, of the bordering nations, Venezuela historically has been the most adversely affected by the internal conflict in Colombia in terms of injuries and deaths sustained by Venezuelan soldiers in border conflicts at the hands of Colombia guerrillas and related kidnapping and injuries to Venezuelan citizenry.”

Uzbek partner

A top U.S. diplomat called the hard-line Uzbek government a “good partner” with the United States in the war on terrorism but promised that Washington will continue to press for human rights reforms.

“There are still a number of threats in the region, but we have a good partner in Uzbekistan,” said Elizabeth Jones, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, on a visit to the former Soviet republic this week.

She also thanked Uzbekistan for allowing U.S. forces to operate out of an air base to support the operation in Afghanistan.

“Much as we appreciate our military base, we will continue to work on improving reforms and the human rights situation in the country,” she said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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