- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Latin American leaders should work together to fight social economic problems in the region and not get dragged into an ideological war against the United States, Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, Panama’s first lady, said this week.

Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, who called President Bush “the devil” during a U.N. General Assembly address last week, has been leading an anti-U.S. campaign in the region, supported by the leaders of Cuba and Bolivia.

Mr. Chavez has also been campaigning for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, effectively forcing the countries of the region to choose between Caracas and Washington.

“We are in different times,” Mrs. Fernandez de Torrijos said in an interview Monday. “We are in a time where all the countries must have relationships — political, economic and foreign relationships — with other countries, especially when we are in the same continent.”

Mrs. Fernandez de Torrijos, 40, has been Panama’s first lady since her husband, Martin Torrijos Espino, was elected president in 2004. She was in Washington this week to attend the annual meeting of the Pan American Health Organization.

Mrs. Fernandez de Torrijos, who studied business management at Florida State University and served as a professional publicist for U.S. firms, works for the welfare of disabled people, women and children.

In her address to the Pan American Health Organization on Monday, she urged Latin American health officials to make improving the conditions of the disabled a social, rather than an individual responsibility — “a part of their agenda in terms of human rights, not only in terms of sickness or wellness.”

She said the United States and Panama share common views and policies on social and developmental issues, including disability, the issue closest to her heart.

“The Bush administration and the Torrijos administration … have the best relationship — politically and personally,” she said.

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