- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Hemisphere review

The United States yesterday said the “very personal agenda” of leftist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela will not distract Washington from promoting democratic reform in the oil-rich South American nation.

Mr. Chavez is forging close relations with Cuba’s Fidel Castro as he accuses the United States of trying to overthrow him and as his domestic opponents complain of restrictions on civil liberties.

“We have no quarrel with the Venezuelan people,” said Roger F. Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

He told the Council of the Americas that the United States tried to maintain “constructive bilateral ties” with Mr. Chavez when he was first elected in 1998.

“We are still open to a normal working relationship with his government, but we will not and must not let any solitary leader’s very personal agenda distract us from pursuing our positive program in the region through the productive partnership we have forged with many willing partners,” he said.

Mr. Noriega reviewed the status of democracy and economic reform throughout the hemisphere, warning of the threats posed by narco-terrorists and by the failure of many governments to combat poverty.

“Here in the Americas, we are not merely concerned that governments be elected democratically, but that they govern democratically,” he said.

“Our democracies face profound economic challenges, as well. While the statistics tell us that economies in the region grew at a healthy rate last year, most of these same economies are not growing fast enough to generate enough jobs to keep pace with population growth, let alone address chronic poverty.”

Mr. Noriega said the Bush administration strongly supports free-trade agreements throughout the hemisphere, but “anti-globalization charlatans and false prophets of populism are trying — and in some cases, succeeding — to undermine responsible policies and discredit responsible political leaders.”

He praised reforms in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador and called for continued support for Colombia’s battle against terrorism.

Mr. Noriega said he is worried about the political conditions in Nicaragua, where “two political dinosaurs … regard politics as a license to steal.” Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and former President Arnoldo Aleman have combined forces to undermine President Enrique Bolanos, who has “made significant efforts to combat corruption,” Mr. Noriega said.

In Cuba, the Bush administration strongly supports the “democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile,” Mr. Noriega said.

He also noted Haiti’s “slow ascent from decades of exploitation by a series of predatory governments.”

Overall, Mr. Noriega said, “We recognize that we have come far, but we have a lot of ground to cover in order to consolidate our gains and secure our progress.”

Franklin’s spirit

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer proudly declared the U.S. Pavilion at Japan’s 2005 World Exposition a “showplace” to promote bilateral relations.

Mr. Schieffer noted that the U.S. display, called “the Franklin Spirit,” honors Benjamin Franklin, who represented the American virtues of freedom and innovation.

“It’s a showplace for the future and an indication of just what we can do together to make a better world,” he said of the exposition in Nagoya. “It’s a great message of home, a message of the future.

“Sometimes we get caught up in past difficulties and forget to understand how much hope and optimism can play in the future.”

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