- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

John D. Negroponte said yesterday that one of his priorities if confirmed as deputy secretary of state will be countering the rise of “radical populism” and anti-Americanism in Latin America championed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Bush administration officials said that Mr. Negroponte, a former ambassador to Mexico and Honduras, is expected to re-energize Washington’s policies in the Western Hemisphere, to which the administration has been accused of not paying enough attention.

“Latin America has been a mixed picture in the last couple of years,” said Mr. Negroponte, who is still serving as the nation’s first director of national intelligence, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his new post as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s deputy.

“One of the trends we need to be concerned about is a kind of a frustration among some of the populations in Latin America that democracy is not necessarily delivering the kinds of results that people had hoped for, and that has in turn given rise to a certain amount of populism,” he said. “That is most clearly symbolized by Mr. Hugo Chavez.”

Mr. Negroponte’s remarks, as well as comments by other officials, suggest a more active approach to dealing with Mr. Chavez’s influence in the region than the administration has had so far.

Thomas A. Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told The Washington Times last year that Washington had decided to “ignore” the Venezuelan leader.

“It would be a mistake for U.S. foreign policy in the region to overly concentrate on the guy,” Mr. Shannon said. “If we allow ourselves to get trapped in the kind of confrontation that he wants to have with us, it lessens our influence with others in the region.”

Last week, Mr. Shannon said he had spoken briefly with Mr. Chavez at the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega earlier this month. Mr. Ortega joined the small but growing circle of Latin American leaders who are allies of Mr. Chavez — Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and the ailing Fidel Castro in Cuba.

“President Chavez indicated a desire to improve relations and a belief that we could find areas where we could have a positive, constructive conversation,” Mr. Shannon said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield in Caracas “has held several conversations with the foreign minister and with others in the Foreign Ministry about what such an agenda would look like, and I think we are fairly close to a moment in which we might be able to sit down and talk,” Mr. Shannon said.

Mr. Negroponte, a career diplomat since 1960, served as ambassador to the United Nations and Iraq before becoming the top U.S. intelligence official in 2005.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and Foreign Relations Committee chairman, promised a speedy vote on the nomination and predicted an overwhelmingly positive outcome.

Mr. Negroponte said that in addition to Iraq and Latin America, he will focus on Asia in his new position. His portfolio will be similar to that of his predecessor, Robert B. Zoellick, who resigned in July, although it is not clear if Mr. Negroponte will devote as much time to Sudan’s Darfur region as Mr. Zoellick did.

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