- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

VENEZUELA

Chavez: Castro won’t return to public life

CARACAS | Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said it is unlikely that ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro will ever appear in public again.

“That Fidel in his uniform who walked the streets and towns late at night, hugging the people, won’t return,” Mr. Chavez said during his Sunday television and radio program. “That will remain in memories.”

He did not discuss the 82-year-old Mr. Castro’s current medical condition or say why he thought Mr. Castro would not return to the public stage.

Mr. Chavez has continued to meet occasionally with his friend Mr. Castro in private since the former Cuban leader underwent emergency intestinal surgery about 2 1/2 years ago. Mr. Castro was last seen in public July 26, 2006, at a celebration in eastern Cuba.

Mr. Castro has ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro, but continues to write essays published in official Cuban media.

CUBA

Ban lifted on private taxis

HAVANA | Cuban officials say they are ending a nearly decadelong ban on new licenses for private taxis - and they will even let cabbies set their own fares.

The rules newly published in the official gazette also will allow private jitneys in rural areas, though they will be under greater restrictions than city taxis.

Many car-owning Cubans already offer pirate taxi services, but run the risk of having their cars confiscated if they are caught.

The rules appear to add a dose of the free market to help the communist system’s struggling transportation system. Officials in earlier years cracked down on private taxis, accusing them of fomenting a black market in fuel.

ARGENTINA

Fourth climber dies on Aconcagua

BUENOS AIRES | An Argentine official has identified the fourth climber to die in a week on Aconcagua mountain as a 42-year-old Briton.

Aconcagua Park chief Pablo Perello says the man apparently suffered a heart attack just steps from the summit Friday.

An Italian climber and an Argentine guide died earlier last week on the Andean mountain after being caught in a blizzard.

Three other Italians in that party were rescued by helicopter and treated at a hospital for hypothermia and other maladies. A doctor told Clarin newspaper two may need amputations.

A German man also perished Jan. 3 while climbing the 22,841-foot mountain, the highest in the Americas.

HONDURAS

Gun goes off at aid ceremony

TEGUCIGALPA | A new U.S. drug aid package has been received with a bang in Honduras.

A police officer guarding the signing ceremony accidentally fired his gun before it began, frightening the growing crowd.

No one was injured. U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens was present when the gun went off, but President Manuel Zelaya had not yet arrived.

Friday’s ceremony marked Honduras’ formal acceptance of the Merida Initiative aid package, which sets aside more than $1 billion in training and equipment for Mexico, Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Smugglers move at least 100 tons of cocaine through Honduran territory each year. The drugs originate in Colombia but are headed for the U.S. market.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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