- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

OAS hits corruption

Corruption will top the agenda when leaders of the Western Hemisphere meet next week in Ecuador, where a former president fled the country because of bribery charges.

Ecuador determined that the primary topic will be the “impact of corruption on the social development of democracy,” according to John Maisto, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.

The OAS summit in the capital, Quito, June 6 through 8, will also consider the political crises in Haiti and Venezuela, as well as terrorism and trade, Mr. Maisto said Friday, after the United States signed a free-trade agreement with Central American nations.

“We know that corruption and the effects of corruption … cause immense harm to democracies in the Americas,” Mr. Maisto said. “Corruption, of course, distorts the administration of justice. It fuels criminality, bribery, influence-peddling and narcotics trafficking.”

The United States is relying on new tools to combat corruption by imposing sections of the Patriot Act that allow Washington to revoke the visas of corrupt foreign officials and use intelligence information to freeze foreign assets.

One well-publicized case involves an investigation into Byron Jerez, an aide to former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman. Both are accused of embezzling up to $100 million in public money and laundering some of it through Miami. Aleman is serving a 20-year sentence for corruption in Nicaragua.

The United States has also revoked the visas of former Presidents Alfonso Portillo of Guatemala, Ernesto Samper of Colombia and Ernesto Pervez Balladares of Panama.

In Ecuador, former President Gustavo Noboa fled the country after officials began investigating his finances.

Mr. Maisto cited a study by the U.S. Commerce Department that estimated more than $80 billion is spent annually bribing officials worldwide.

He said the United States is also working with other nations to return money that had been hidden in American banks. Peru, for example, is due to receive about $20 million discovered in the investigation into funds linked to former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos and former President Alberto Fujimori.

Mr. Maisto said the summit will also select a new secretary-general to replace Cesar Gaviria, who is stepping down in September after 10 years in office.

He praised Mr. Gaviria, a former president of Colombia, for helping make the OAS a strong proponent of democracy in the region.

“The position of the secretary-general has become even more important with a stronger OAS,” Mr. Maisto said.

Clark joins Wilson

Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark will join the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for a three-month stint Oct. 1.

Mr. Clark, a conservative, defeated the flamboyant Pierre Trudeau in 1979, but lost his office nine months later after a no-confidence vote. He served as foreign minister and minister for constitutional affairs under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s.

Speaker, speaker

The National Press Club may never again see such a distinguished list of guests after tomorrow, when the speakers or deputy speakers of eight European parliaments discuss relations with the United States.

They include Speakers Ene Ergma of Estonia, Paavo Lipponen of Finland, Halldor Blondal of Iceland, Ingrida Udre of Latvia and Bjorn von Sydow of Sweden; Deputy Speakers Svend Auken of Denmark and Inge Lonning of Norway; and Ceslovas Jursenas, interim chairman of the Lithuanian parliament.

They are to participate in a panel discussion beginning at 12:15 p.m.

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

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