- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

Venezuelan warning

The Venezuelan ambassador is warning the White House to condemn political violence in his country or risk being accused of encouraging the overthrow of leftist President Hugo Chavez, even though senior U.S. officials have called for a peaceful end to the conflict.

Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, in an open letter, drew a comparison to Haiti, where rebels last week forced the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“As events in Haiti have shown, mere neutrality or nonparticipation is not enough. The United States must condemn violence if it is to avoid the implication of complicity in it,” he said.

Mr. Chavez over the weekend underscored his ambassador’s warning by threatening to freeze oil exports to the United States, if he believes Washington is trying to remove him. Venezuela provides about 15 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Two years ago, he accused the United States of supporting a failed coup against him. The Bush administration strongly denied the charges.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan and Roger Noriega, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, have issued statements over the past two weeks calling for a peaceful end to the conflict between Mr. Chavez and opponents who have organized demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of protesters. At least eight persons have been killed in clashes with Venezuelan troops.

The political tension has increased since the government’s National Electoral Council challenged a voter-referendum drive that aims to remove Mr. Chavez.

Opponents, who accuse Mr. Chavez of governing like a dictator, said they collected more than 3 million signatures, but election officials ruled only 1.8 million were valid, according to news reports. They rejected 140,000 signatures and ordered more than 1 million voters to confirm they signed the petition.

Mr. Alvarez cited different figures in his letter. He said the council rejected more than 377,000 names outright because “they are the signatures of dead persons, foreigners, minors or other nonvoters.” Election officials requested the further validation of 876,000 signatures, the ambassador said.

Mr. McClellan last week called on all “Venezuelan parties to refrain from the use of violence and the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that may encourage it.” Mr. Noriega on Feb. 27 urged “all sides” to reach a non-violent agreement. He also criticized Mr. Chavez for “belligerent rhetoric” that added to a “climate of tension.”

Mr. Alvarez, in his letter to reporters and foreign policy anayysts in Washington, said, “I would like for your government to assure me that it will condemn violence from every source and that it will in no way support or condone what has become a violent effort to overthrow a democratic and duly constituted government. …

“It must support elected government if it is not, by implication, to be thought to support those who would tear them down.”

Greek envoy safe

The new Greek government is likely to dismiss thousands of political appointees in dozens of ministries, but the diplomats at the Greek Embassy will keep their jobs.

“We are all career diplomats here,” embassy spokesman Achilles Paparsenos said yesterday.

Greek Ambassador Georges Savvaides, who has been here for two years, has been a professional diplomat since 1972. He served as Greece’s ambassador to NATO and as secretary-general of the Foreign Ministry before coming to Washington.

Mr. Paparsenos said the mood at the embassy was one of “excitement” for “a new government [and] a new beginning.”

In Athens, however, the conservatives who won Sunday’s election are preparing to dismiss about 10,000 political appointees of the old socialist government, London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported yesterday.

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

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