- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2008

OUTRAGE IN CONGRESS

Forty-one members of Congress sent an angry letter to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, expressing their outrage over his expulsion of two top human rights activists who released a report accusing him of undermining democracy and intimidating critics.

“We would like to express in the strongest terms our outrage over the decision by your government to expel from Venezuela two Human Rights Watch staff,” said the letter, who signatories included Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and chairman of the committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee.

On Sept. 18, Venezuela detained Jose Miguel Vivanco of Chile, director of the Americas bureau of Human Rights Watch, and his deputy director, Daniel Wilkinson, an American citizen.

Authorities approached them at their hotel in the capital, Caracas, and handed them a letter, accusing them of anti-Venezuelan activities. Their request to contact the U.S. Embassy was denied, as police confiscated their cell phones, forced them into cars and dumped them on a plane to Brazil.

“The ostensible basis for this expulsion is the release of a report that same day by Human Rights Watch, describing how actions taken by your government have weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela,” the members of Congress said in their Sept. 26 letter, which they released this week.

“Ironically, by expelling the Human Rights staff from your country, you have underscored and reinforced the concerns, criticism and conclusion detailed in the report.”

In Caracas last month, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro accused the two human rights activists of violating Venezuela’s Constitution, telling state television, “We aren’t going to tolerate any foreigner coming here to sully the dignity of Venezuela.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said, “Chavez may have kicked out the messengers, but he has only re-enforced the message [that] civil liberties in Venezuela are under attack.”

DIPLOMACY TO ISLAM

U.S. ambassadors in Muslim nations from Bangladesh to Nigeria hosted Iftar receptions to mark the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims break their daily fast with a light dinner.

Ambassador Robin Sanders in Nigeria told her guests that Americans value tolerance and diversity.

“It is in this spirit that we come together this evening during Ramadan as family to celebrate the Muslim faith and to learn more about each other,” she said at her Iftar dinner on Sept. 17.

Muslims around the world ended the Ramadan fast with Eid-al Fitr celebrations on Tuesday.

In Bangladesh, Ambassador James Moriarty invited alumni of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, who included government officials, university professors, journalists and business executives on Sept. 16.

Ambassador Tina Kaidanow in Kosovo, where 90 percent of the 2 million citizens are Muslims, welcomed Grand Mufti Naim Ternava on Sept. 19. Ambassador Deborah K. Jones in Kuwait hosted an Iftar dinner Sept. 24 with Yousef al-Ebraheem, a board member of the American-Kuwaiti Alliance.

Ambassador Donald Yamamoto in Ethiopia called the African nation a “crossroads for all religions and … a model for the entire world for harmony between religious groups” at his Sept. 26 dinner. Muslims make up about 50 percent of Ethiopia’s 68 million people, while Ethiopian Orthodox adherents comprise about 40 percent. Followers of animist religions make up the rest of the religious population.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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