- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Facing poverty

Leaders of 20 Latin American and Caribbean nations turned their attention away from global issues to concentrate on combating widespread poverty in their region during a summit of the Rio Group, said a former senior ambassador to the United States.

Odeen Ishmael, who served 10 years in Washington as ambassador from Guyana, said the Rio Group leaders agreed to focus on providing health care and public education and promoting the rights of women and children during their meeting earlier this month.

President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, who hosted the summit, called on his fellow members to concentrate on the alleviation of poverty to “ensure our region’s long-term viability and competitiveness in relation to other regions of the world.”

Mr. Ishmael, Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela since 2003, said in a report on the summit that the leaders decided to face the “realities of the region’s problems, particularly the stark poverty stifling a very significant proportion of the population.” In past summits, they have focused on trade, drug trafficking, international crime and other global issues.

“[The leaders] also expressed concern over the social inequalities which have persisted over the past two decades and which are now becoming worse, according to the latest statistics,” he said.

“For instance, 41 million children below the age of 12 years are living in extreme poverty, while 100 million of the region’s people lack access to basic health services.”

The summit leaders “unanimously agreed that governments must increase efforts in providing universal education and basic health care, while safeguarding the welfare of children and women and pushing programs for gender equality and for the empowerment of women and young persons of both sexes,” Mr. Ishmael wrote.

They also decided to work to make the group more politically effective in both Latin America and the Caribbean and in international forums.

The Rio Group, founded in Brazil in 1986, is composed of Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Russians woo D.C.

Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov knows that music can soothe the increasingly prickly relations between Moscow and Washington, especially when played on violins, violas, cellos and horns.

The renowned Moscow Chamber Orchestra played at the State Department on Monday evening in a performance that was part of the celebration of 200 years of Russian-U.S. diplomatic relations.

“It is culture that has always brought Russia and the United States closer together, contributed to a better mutual understanding, reinforced and promoted our bilateral contacts, even at the most difficult times and despite all the ups and downs in our shared history,” Mr. Ushakov said.

The orchestra itself symbolizes the best in U.S.-Russian relations because the artistic director, Constantine Orbelian, is an American and the first U.S. citizen to lead the ensemble. His parents were Russian and Armenian immigrants.

He “personifies the closest cultural ties between our countries,” Mr. Ushakov said.

“It is imperative that all the activities we undertake to mark the bicentennial of our diplomatic ties do not pass as mere ceremonies but make a tangible contribution to mutual understanding between our nations,” he added.

The United States and Russia opened the process of establishing diplomatic relations in August 1807, when James Monroe, then ambassador to Britain, discussed the issue with Maksim Alopeus, the Russian special envoy in London.

Negotiations and Senate confirmation hearings took more than two years to complete. On Nov. 5, 1809, John Quincy Adams presented his diplomatic credentials to Emperor Alexander I. Russia’s first envoy, Andrei Iakovlevich Dashkov, arrived in the United States about the same time.

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

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