U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND
HEADLINE NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2009
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SOUTHCOM RELATED ARTICLES
1. US-EUROPE: Few Welcome Mats For Guantanamo Detainees
Source: Inter Press Service 01/28/2009
By Marina Litvinsky
WASHINGTON (IPS) - International human rights groups have expressed mixed reactions to the
European Union's lukewarm pledge to accept some detainees from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay once
the facility closes.
After some prodding, European leaders said they are willing to accept detainees released from the
Guantanamo Bay prison as long as the U.S. shows that they pose no risk, but made no specific promises
as to where and when they would take the inmates.
U.S President Barack Obama said in an executive order issued last week that he would close the
controversial U.S. prison on a naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"It's a shame that the EU couldn't send a stronger signal to the U.S. and its own citizens," said
Joanna Gomez Cardoso of Amnesty International, adding that very few countries actually said they were
willing to accept detainees.
"The fact that European countries are speaking about this issue is an important step," said Emi
MacLean, staff attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR). "But those who have been
imprisoned for over seven years are in need of urgent action. Guantanamo will not be closed without the
commitment of countries to take in those stranded there for lack of a safe country to return to."
Other rights groups, however, were more hopeful that the EU would take a more solid stance
towards helping the U.S. permanently close the prison.
"We acknowledge that there remains a great deal of details to work out, but the political and
logistical circumstances could not be better for making things happen," said Julia Hall, senior
counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.
This follows a campaign by a coalition of human rights groups here and in Europe to urge the
European ministers to offer humanitarian protection to some detainees. Those detainees are ones who
would be slated for release, but face a credible risk of torture or other maltreatment if returned to their
Days before the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on Monday, the
coalition issued a letter to the ministers stating that Obama would need European help to carry out his
plan of closing the prison camp.
"There is a real opportunity for the new U.S. administration to turn a new leaf, close down
Guantanamo Bay and end, once and for all, the appalling era of illegal detentions and human rights
abuses. This can only be achieved if EU countries step up and offer protection for those men who still
languish in Guantanamo simply because there is nowhere safe for them to return," said MacLean.
In early December, Portugal's foreign minister, Luis Amado, said Portugal was willing to shelter
and resettle some detainees and called on the rest of Europe to do the same.
"The time has come for the European Union to step forward," he said in a letter to European
Ireland and Switzerland are also strong advocates. Italy and Spain said they would consider
accepting detainees, but only under a plan endorsed by the EU.
Of the 245 detainees at Guantanamo, 60 are deemed "hard cases", meaning they have been cleared
for release by the U.S. but cannot go home out of a concern that they will not be safe. The detainees are
from countries including Algeria, China, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia,
Tunisia, and Uzbekistan.
The State Department has been working for five years to persuade other countries to take in some
of the detainees. According to John Bellinger, III, the State Department's legal adviser, Albania has
accepted five detainees belonging to the ethnic Uighur minority group of western China.
In mid-December three Algerians were released and flown to their adopted country of Bosnia-
Herzegovina under a federal judge's order. The men, all naturalised Bosnian citizens, were suspected of
participating in a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy there in 2001. Authorities later dropped the allegations.
Two others who were also supposed to be released under the judge's order remain at Guantanamo.
About 100 of the detainees are Yemenis. U.S. officials have been working separately with Yemen
to ensure that they can return home safely.
Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have rejected the idea of accepting detainees,
arguing that they are the sole responsibility of the U.S.
"None of these prisoners have anything whatsoever to do with Denmark," Danish foreign minister
Per Stig Moller told the Washington Post.
The willingness of some European countries to accept prisoners marks a major shift in attitude.
According to U.S. diplomats and human rights groups, late last year European countries rejected
the George W. Bush administration's request to take in 16 Uighurs, four Uzbeks, an Egyptian, a
Palestinian and a Somali, citing potential security risks as well as internal political oppositions.
"The Bush administration produced the problem," Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-U.S.
cooperation at the German Foreign Ministry, said in a phone interview with the Washington Post in late
December. "With Obama, the difference is that he tries to solve it."
The seven-year-old prison facility has long been the subject of international criticism. Allegations
of inhumane interrogation techniques, torture and mistreatment of prisoners have plagued the Bush
Obama's signing of the order to close Guantanamo Bay within the year was met with praise and
applause by the international community. However, according to Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution, the order does not require any detainees' release or transfer. Any detainee still in
U.S. custody after a year will reside is some other facility.
The order reads, "Any remaining detainees still in custody shall be returned to their home country,
released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a
manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States."
2. Taliban Say Guantanamo Closure "Positive Step"
Source: Reuters 01/28/2009
LONDON (Reuters) - The Taliban told U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday that his plan to
close Guantanamo Bay prison camp was a "positive step" but peace was only possible if he withdraws
U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Taliban, toppled in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, also told the new president that
sending more troops to Afghanistan "and the use of force against the independent peoples of the world,
has lost its effectiveness."
A day after being sworn in last week, Obama ordered the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay
in Cuba, where prisoners have been detained for years without charge, some subjected to interrogation
that human rights groups say amounted to torture.
Obama has ordered a full review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where he has pledged to boost
troop levels and take the initiative against the growing Taliban insurgency.
Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the remote, mountainous border region of Pakistan
"Obama's move to close Guantanamo detention center is a positive step for peace and stability in
the region and the world...," the Taliban said in a message posted on Islamist websites, monitored by the
U.S.-based terrorism monitor, the SITE Intelligence Group.
The message said Obama had to reverse the policies of former President George W. Bush in
Afghanistan and the Islamic world.
"If Obama is right and, according to his words, wants to open a new page based on peaceful
interaction built on mutual respect with the Islamic world, the first thing he has to do is to stop and annul
all these procedures, which were created according to Bush's criminal policy," it said.
"He must completely withdraw all his forces from the two occupied Islamic countries
(Afghanistan and Iraq), and to stop defending Israel against Islamic interests in the Middle East and the
entire world," the Taliban message said.
Obama has named former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke the first U.S. envoy for
Afghanistan and Pakistan, a region Obama called "the central front" in the battle against terrorism.
3. Puerto Rico Also Says "No" To Guantanamo Prisoners
Source: Associated Press 01/28/2009
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico is joining a growing list of places in the U.S. opposed to
becoming the future home of any Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
President Barack Obama said last week that he would close the prison on a U.S. base in Cuba
within a year. The U.S. is scouting out locations to put prisoners who won't be immediately released.
A spokeswoman for Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, Michelle Cuevas, said Tuesday that he
would oppose any proposal to hold them in the U.S. island territory.
His comment came a day after the island's nonvoting member of Congress also voiced his
opposition, echoing statements by officials in several U.S. states, including California and Kansas.
4. E.U. Willing To Help U.S. On Guantanamo
But Many Nations Are Wary About Taking Inmates
Source: Washington Post 01/27/2009
By Craig Whitlock
BERLIN -- European diplomats said Monday that they are willing to help the Obama
administration empty the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but stopped short of making specific promises to
give inmates new homes in Europe.
Foreign ministers from the 27 members of the European Union met in Brussels to discuss possible
ways to resettle Guantanamo prisoners, following President Obama's pledge last week to close the
detention center within a year. The session marked an about-face for the European Union, which had long
refused requests from the Bush administration to give asylum or refugee status to prisoners who had been
cleared for release.
"This is an American problem that they have to solve, but we'll be ready to help if necessary,"
Javier Solana, the European Union's commissioner for foreign and security affairs, told reporters.
"Whenever they ask for help, I think the European answer will be 'Yes.' "
European officials warned, however, that their countries are divided over how to proceed, or even
whether they should help at all. While most European governments have praised Obama for his
commitment to shutter Guantanamo, few have been eager to take prisoners off the Pentagon's hands.
There is growing pressure in Europe to help out in some fashion. For years, European countries
sharply criticized the Bush administration for holding hundreds of terror suspects in Guantanamo without
At the same time, many European intelligence agencies visited the prison to interrogate suspects.
European officials also allowed airplanes chartered by the CIA to make refueling stops in their countries
as they covertly transferred suspects to Guantanamo from around the world.
"The European security agencies cooperated quite closely with the U.S. on this, much more
closely than they were willing to admit early on," said Thomas Hammarberg, human rights commissioner
for the Council of Europe, a 47-nation organization that serves as the continent's leading watchdog on
human rights issues. "I think there is a recognition that this might be one way to undo a policy of which
we aren't very proud."
The Pentagon says that about 60 of the 245 prisoners in Guantanamo have been cleared for release
but legally cannot be returned to their home countries -- nations such as Syria, Somalia and Libya --
because of risks that they could be tortured or abused there. For years, members of the European Union
rejected requests from the Bush administration to resettle some of those inmates, citing potential security
risks as well as internal political opposition.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, warned his counterparts in Brussels on
Monday that they risked losing face with Obama -- who is vastly more popular in Europe than Bush -- if
they didn't help out. "It is also a question of our credibility, of whether we support the dismantling of this
American camp or not," he told reporters.
Germany is nonetheless divided. "I do not understand why we give the impression that Germany
needs to accept prisoners," said Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy parliamentary leader for the Christian
Democrats, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Guantanamo was established by the U.S. We did not
run it. We did not use it."
Merkel, who strongly urged Bush to close Guantanamo, has kept quiet on the issue. Her
spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, said Friday that it would be "premature" to say how Germany would respond
until the Obama administration makes a specific request for assistance. Other European countries have
echoed that line.
Former Bush administration officials said they repeatedly asked Germany and other European
countries for help, but got nowhere.
"We always thought that if we could get one country in the E.U. to take a few of them, that it
would cascade and other countries would follow suit," said Vijay Padmanabhan, a former State
Department lawyer involved in the negotiations. "But we could never get that breakthrough."
Since Obama's election, a handful of European countries have changed their minds. Portugal,
Ireland and Switzerland have been among the strongest advocates. But U.S. officials don't expect them to
accept more than a few inmates each.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that his country would take prisoners
"under extreme, precise conditions only." Italy and Spain have said they would consider participating, but
only under a plan endorsed by the European Union.
Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have rejected the idea, saying that it is the United
States' responsibility alone to handle the problem.
But even lawmakers in those countries said they should try to find other ways to help, given
Europe's loud opposition to the existence of Guantanamo. "We should not be in the least bit churlish, or
just let the Americans stew in their own juice," said Andrew Tyrie, a member of the British Parliament
from the Conservative Party. "We've got to help Obama and not get on our high horse and sound very
European Union officials are also examining whether they can help the United States find a
solution to another Guantanamo problem: what to do with the estimated 100 Yemeni nationals who
remain in the prison.
The Pentagon has been reluctant to send the Yemenis home because of concerns that they will be
promptly released without monitoring. At least one Yemeni rejoined al-Qaeda after he was released from
Guantanamo. Yemen has also released other al-Qaeda operatives from prison, including two people
convicted in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
A senior E.U. official involved in the Guantanamo negotiations said some European countries are
considering whether to help pay to construct a new prison in Yemen to house inmates after they are
released from U.S. custody.
Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, said Saturday that his country had agreed to build a
"rehabilitation center" to accommodate Yemeni nationals still detained in Guantanamo. But officials in
his government have made clear that they would need outside aid for the project.
5. Prisoner Plan Poses Political Hot Potato
Critics say terrorism detainees pose threat
Source: Washington Times 01/27/2009
By Valerie Richardson
DENVER -- Nuclear waste has nothing on terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay. With
President Obama's vow to shutter the military prison in Cuba, the race to block the detainees from a
facility near you has erupted, and Republicans are quickly trying to score political points by seizing on the
new adminstration's developing plan for the 245 terrorism suspects.
Colorado Republicans attacked the state's Democratic governor, Bill Ritter Jr., for statements in
support of bringing terrorist detainees to a "supermax" (facility in Florence, Colo., which, by the way,
already is home to Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted as a Sept. 11 attack conspirator; Ramzi Yousef, who
plotted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and Richard Reid, who attempted to use a shoe bomb to
blow up a jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean.
But despite the rogue's list of inmates there, Republican lawmakers pounced on Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.
"It's clearly irresponsible of Governor Ritter to roll out the welcome mat for enemy combatants to come to
Colorado," said Republican state Rep. Cory Gardner, a leader of the petition drive. "His decision, without
consulting the state legislature or local governments, to import terrorists into the state, is obviously a
Mr. Ritter told KUSA-TV, the local NBC affiliate, that he wouldn't object to seeing the
Guantanamo prisoners moved to supermax, saying the prison was ideally suited to the task.
"I don't think it's appropriate for somebody like me, first of all, who has supported the president's
decision here, to say now, 'Not in my backyard, find other places for those individuals to go.' Particularly
when we have a facility that's so well-suited," Mr. Ritter said.
It could take up to six months for the Obama administration to figure out what to do with the
detainees, yet critics and supporters already agree on one thing: the "not in my back yard" mentality will
be in full swing.
"You think Yucca Mountain is a NIMBY problem? Wait till you see this one," Sen. John McCain
said on "Fox News Sunday," comparing the prison with the would-be nuclear-waste repository in Nevada,
which has been held up by intense local opposition.
In Colorado, Republican lawmakers cried foul, saying the governor should have consulted with
state legislators and others before making a decision on the terrorism suspects.
Leading the charge was state Sen. Ken Kester, whose district includes the Colorado State
Penitentiary supermax facility, which is 90 miles south of Denver. The petition was signed by most
Republican members of the state Legislature and even three Democrats.
The petition states that the signees "strongly oppose the relocation of any Guantanamo Bay
detainee to any facility inside the state of Colorado," calling them "dangerous" and saying they "pose a
serious threat to our national security, as well as the safety and security of the state in which they will
ultimately be housed."
Republican members of Colorado's congressional delegation also jumped into the fray. Rep. Doug
Lamborn worried that the detainees would spread anti-American propaganda and recruit other prisoners to
"They want nothing more than to kill Americans," Mr. Lamborn said. "They pose an unacceptable
and unprecedented threat to the men and women who would guard them and to the communities in which
they would be placed."
Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, criticized the governor for encouraging Mr. Obama to
"go forward with his campaign promise to close the Guantanamo facility by welcoming the detainees to
be incarcerated in Colorado."
"There is no doubt the president has the right to review all of the practices used at Guantanamo to
determine which ones are acceptable and which ones are not, but he should not close the facility," said
Mr. Coffman, who served two tours of duty in Iraq.
Indeed, organizers of the petition said they hoped the drive would lead to a national discussion on
whether the Cuba-based facility should be closed.
"This is really a first step," Mr. Gardner said. "Across the nation, Democrats and Republicans
alike are saying 'no' to terrorists in their state. I'm receiving e-mails from people saying we need to
circulate a public petition that would send a strong message to President Obama on keeping the base
6. Officials Toured Pendleton Brig
Rep. Hunter opposes holding Guantanamo detainees in county
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune 01/27/2009
By Rick Rogers
Pentagon officials have toured the brig at Camp Pendleton as they consider moving Guantanamo
Bay detainees there, to the prison at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and to other facilities, a local
congressman said yesterday.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Lakeside, said Marine commanders told him about the Dec. 11
inspection. The freshman congressman, who served combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving
the Marine Corps in December 2007, has introduced a bill to bar the transfer of terrorism suspects from
Guantanamo to San Diego County.
He criticized President Barack Obama's administration for what he called a lack of transparency in
“To find out about the visit (to Camp Pendleton) from the Marine Corps and not the Department
of Defense tells me they are being secretive,” said Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services
Hunter opposes moving Guantanamo detainees to San Diego County on the grounds that it would
make the region a bigger target for terrorists crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
He also said having local military bases hold suspected terrorists would distract service members
from their wartime missions. It would be “an insult to the families living on Camp Pendleton and
Miramar,” Hunter said.
A Pentagon spokesman said no decision has been made on where to send the detainees.
“Some site surveys were done, but we don't comment on where they were,” said Navy Cmdr.
The U.S. government is looking at potential relocation spots because Obama has signed an
executive order to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. He also set up a
review board, led by the Pentagon and Justice Department, to scrutinize the evidence in each detainee's
News reports, such as a Saturday article in Time magazine, have included the brigs at Camp
Pendleton and Miramar among the half-dozen or so U.S. prisons being eyed as alternative detention
Other sites under consideration, Time said, include Fort Leavenworth in Kansas; the U.S. Naval
Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C.; the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City; and the
U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo.
The United States also hopes to send about 60 of the estimated 245 Guantanamo detainees to other
countries, including Switzerland, Ireland, Portugal, Britain and France.
It's likely that just a fraction of the terrorism suspects – and not high-level ones – will land in
military prisons, said Ken Gude, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress in
Washington, D.C. The think tank supports closing the Guantanamo facility.
Only “low-level foot soldiers” would be held in places such as Camp Pendleton's brig, Gude said,
while the most dangerous suspects would go to federal prisons.
“No one is talking about picking 245 prisoners and moving them en masse to a military prison,”
he said. “There's a chance that a small number will go to military brigs, maybe two dozen max.”
Gude also expects the military to try Guantanamo detainees held in its prisons because the
Uniform Code of Military Justice allows it to put foreign combatants on trial.
The Camp Pendleton brig opened in 1972 and can accommodate up to 347 prisoners, according to
the Web site for the base. It has a staff of about 180 people.
Camp Pendleton's brig can handle minimum-to maximum-security prisoners, but it typically
doesn't take those with sentences beyond seven years.
The Miramar brig, commissioned in 1989, is a 208,000-square-foot facility that can house up to
400 prisoners. It is the Department of Defense's only prison for women.
More than 200 staff members run the Miramar brig.
7. Guantánamo Release Plan Unlikely To Be Altered
Source: Associated Press 01/27/2009
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The re-emergence of two former Guantánamo Bay prisoners as al-
Qaeda terrorists won't likely change U.S. policy on transfers to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said Monday.
More than 100 Saudis have been repatriated from the U.S. military's prison at Guantánamo Bay,
Cuba, to Saudi Arabia, where the government puts them through a rehabilitation program designed to
encourage them to abandon Islamic extremism and reintegrate into civilian life.
The online boasts last week by two Guantánamo detainees that they have joined al-Qaeda in
Yemen underscore that the Saudi system isn't fail-safe, the Pentagon said.
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. sees the Saudi program as
"The best you can do is work with partner nations in the international community to ensure that
they take the steps to mitigate the threat," he said. "There are never any absolute guarantees."
The deprogramming – built on reason, enticements and lengthy talks with psychiatrists, Muslim
clerics and sociologists – is part of a concerted Saudi government effort to counter the ideology that
nurtured the 9/11 hijackers and that has lured hundreds of Saudis to join the Iraq insurgency.
Hundreds of Saudis have participated in the reintegration program, and very few have been
arrested thereafter for extremist activities, according to Saudi officials.
European diplomats said Monday that they are willing to help the Obama administration empty
the prison at Guantánamo, but stopped short of making specific promises to give inmates new homes in
Foreign ministers from the 27 members of the European Union met in Belgium to discuss possible
ways to resettle Guantánamo prisoners, following President Barack Obama's pledge to close the detention
center within a year.
The European Union had long refused requests from the Bush administration to give asylum or
refugee status to prisoners who had been cleared for release.
8. Richmonder Sentenced In Fort Benning Protest
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch 01/27/2009
By Peter Bacqué
A Richmond man has been convicted of trespassing at Fort Benning, Ga., and sentenced in federal
court to two months in prison.
Albert L. Simmons, 64, was one of five people protesting U.S. military training of Latin American
military and civilian officials who were arrested Nov. 23.
"We did it to make a point and to bring publicity to eventually cut off funding and close the
School of the Americas," said Simmons, a retired preschool teacher and Vietnam veteran.
Those arrested were taking part in a protest organized by the Washington-based School of the
Americas Watch, which blames the school for human rights abuses in Latin America.
The Army's School of the Americas closed in 2000, and was succeeded by the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
The Western Hemisphere Institute trains 900-1,400 military, civilian and law enforcement
personnel from countries in the western hemisphere. The institute offers 24 courses, most taught in
The institute says it has "a democracy, ethics and human rights training program that is the most
thorough offered by any military educational institution in this hemisphere."
Sentenced Monday, Simmons has not yet been ordered to report to prison.
OTHER AOF RELATED ARTICLES
9. Bolivia Sets New Global High Mark For Indigenous Rights
Source: Christian Science Monitor 01/27/2009
By Sara Miller Llana
La Paz, Bolivia -- Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, easily won his campaign for a
new constitution Sunday – promising vast new powers to the country's indigenous majority and bolstering
his political clout.
Critics say Mr. Morales is dangerously dividing the nation and merely following in the footsteps
of populist leftist allies Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who have also
rewritten their constitutions to invest the executive branch with more power.
True or not, something more is happening: This is a victory for Latin American indigenous groups
marginalized since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, say analysts, and some see it as a global human
rights and racial-equity landmark.
"Bolivia's successful referendum process is precedent-setting with respect to indigenous
empowerment worldwide," says Robert Albro, an expert on social and indigenous movements in Latin
America at American University in Washington.
Exit polls show that almost 60 percent of Bolivians voted in favor of a new magna carta that
recognizes 36 different indigenous groups and secures a place for them in Congress.
"It is really an unbelievable moment in Bolivian history," says Mr. Albro.
He attributes Morales's success in Bolivia, starting with his election in 2005 and capped by this
referendum, to the urbanization of Bolivian society and the growing political clout of the indigenous,
which has created an indigenous elite.
The obligatory vote on Sunday was peaceful, free of the sometimes deadly confrontation that has
marked other moments leading up to constitutional reform in Bolivia – with Morales and his opposition,
mainly based in the mineral-rich, tropical lowlands, locked in battles over regional autonomy and control
over gas reserves.
The new constitution contains over 400 articles but its centerpiece is the effort to "decolonize"
The indigenous comprise the majority of the poor, in the poorest nation in South America, and
were only granted the right to vote less than 60 years ago.
The new constitution reserves seats in Congress and in the Constitutional Court for smaller
indigenous groups, and grants all of them autonomy that will, among other things, allow them to practice
community justice, according to their own customs.
In one of the more controversial articles, Bolivia now guarantees freedom of religion, extending
the same recognition to the Andean god Pachamama, the Earth god of the Andes, as it does to the
The current Constitution "recognizes and supports" the Roman Catholic church.
Sunday's vote included another referendum that asked Bolivians if they wanted limit the size of
land holdings to no more than 5,000 or 10,000 hectares – in a government effort to more equitably
distribute land. Official polling results aren't expected until Feb. 4.
Still, Morales supporters expressed jubilation at the outcome. "We are getting back everything we
lost: money and culture," says Paulina Quiñonez, an Aymaran street vendor in La Paz. "They have robbed
so much from us."
This vote comes as other nations in Latin America have moved, since the 1990s, toward
constitutional revisions that recognize "plurinational" states, beginning with Colombia in 1991, says
The Zapatista movement in Mexico, which emerged in 1994, gave rise to a transnational
movement, and presidential candidates Ollanta Humala in Peru and Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala have
also given the movement a boost.
Around the globe, countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have also gone a long
way toward recognizing the "cultural rights" of native peoples. But Albro says that Bolivia's new
constitution sets a precedent because of its degree of detail to guarantee the political, cultural, and
economic rights of the majority indigenous population by a president of indigenous descent. "Usually
such constitutional reforms have been carried out to better 'recognize' indigenous peoples but by largely
nonindigenous governments," he says.
It was a goal that teetered on the brink of failure.
At one point, Bolivian opposition groups boycotted the process and protests turned deadly. In the
end, a final draft constitution was only made possible via a series of negotiations and concessions made
on the part of Morales and his political party (MAS). Of more than 400 articles, more than a quarter of
them were modified.
Morales remain widely popular despite a strong opposition. He won 67 percent of support in a
recall referendum in August, higher than the passage of the constitution. But the new constitution allows
him to run for another consecutive term, which would end in 2014.
Some worry that the changes are simply a tool to hold onto power. Critics compare Morales to Mr.
Chávez in Venezuela, who is holding a referendum next month to allow indefinite reelection for heads of
state. "This is a clear victory for the poor," says Hugo Campos, a retired businessman in El Paz. "But this
is too much like Chávez. They are just trying to dominate, and create divisions between [Bolivian] society
and even with the US so they can dominate more."
Opposition forces say that the new constitution is further dividing Bolivian society. "This creates
two types of citizens, one that is of [indigenous] origin and one that is not," says Luis Eduardo Siles, a
former congressman and fierce Morales critic. "There was not this hatred in our society before."
And he says battles are bound to continue. For starters, it is unclear how the constitution, which
leaves vast space for more protest and wrangling, will be implemented. "This doesn't solve any of the real
problems. It will just create more fights," says Mr. Siles.
Indeed, to implement the reforms outlined by the new constitution will require the passage of
dozens of new laws. To get those through Congress, Morales will have to work with the oppostion.
Miguel Centellas, an assistant political science professor at Mount St. Mary's University in
Maryland who writes a blog on Bolivian politics, says that not only will the sides dig in their heels, but
new factions have arisen out of the process.
The opposition parties have splintered over negotiations over the constitution.
Some Morales supporters are angered by the concessions.
"I see this as yet another crisis in a series of crises," Mr. Centellas says. "I don't think the
referendum will solve anything. ... The country will remain just as polarized."
10. Obama, Lula Da Silva Discuss Biofuels And U.S.-Brazil Ties
Source: Associated Press 01/28/2009
By Marco Sibaja
President Barack Obama and Brazil's president had their first leader-to-leader conversation
Monday, spending 25 minutes discussing issues ranging from biofuels to the global financial crisis.
The spokesman for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Obama called Silva to stress that he wants to
create partnerships to ``strengthen economic relations between the countries.''
Obama has asked his economic team to coordinate joint measures with Brazil before the countries
meet at the Group of Twenty nations summit in April in London to address the meltdown, said spokesman
The conversation touched on biofuels, a key issue for Brazil because Latin America's largest
nation is the world's largest exporter of ethanol and wants the U.S. to lift a 53 cents per gallon import
tariff on the alternative to gasoline.
Baumbach did not say whether the tariff was discussed, but said Obama acknowledged that Brazil
has been a pioneer on the biofuels front with its ethanol made from sugarcane much more cheaply than
the same fuel produced from corn in the U.S.
Obama told Silva that the U.S. and Brazil must continue ethanol cooperation efforts. But he has
not issued a clear position on Brazilian ethanol import tariffs. In the past, he has suggested that he
opposes eliminating them.
''As it relates to our country's drive toward energy independence, it does not serve our national and
economic security to replace imported oil with Brazilian ethanol,'' Obama said on the Senate floor in 2007
when then-President George W. Bush was striking a biofuels cooperation agreement with Silva.
Baumbach said Silva told Obama the two countries also should work together on promoting world
peace and preserving environment.
Obama invited Silva to visit Washington following a trip the Brazilian president is scheduled to
make to New York in March to meet with investors. And Silva extended an invite for Obama to visit
Brazil later this year. No plans were finalized, Baumbach said.
The Bush administration tried to reach out to Silva's center-left government, which is seen as a
South American counterweight to strident leftist leaders in Bolivia and Venezuela.
Associated Press Writer Alan Clendenning contributed from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
11. Obama, Colombian President Talk By Phone
Source: Associated Press 01/28/2009
BOGOTA, Colombia – President Barack Obama and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe spoke by telephone
for 10 minutes Tuesday, discussing relations between Washington and the largest recipient of U.S. aid in
the region, Uribe's spokesman said.
The conversation was "constructive and cordial" and dealt with common issues shared by the
allies, said presidential spokesman Cesar Mauricio Velasquez. He declined to provide details of the
On Monday, Obama spoke by phone with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Earlier Tuesday, Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez spoke with Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton about topics including the war on drugs, the U.S. aid program called Plan
Colombia and trade.
Both Clinton and Obama, as Democratic senators, opposed ratification of a free trade agreement
with Colombia, expressing concerns over continuing slayings of labor leaders in the Andean nation, the
world's most dangerous for union organizing.
"We had a chance to go over the multiple issues we have in common as nations, obviously
including the war on drugs and the Plan Colombia, but also trade issues like energy and the Summit of the
Americas," Bermudez said.
Obama has said he would attend the April meeting of Western Hemisphere leaders in Trinidad and
Colombia has received about $6 billion in mostly military aid from Washington since 2000 and is
girding for an expected reduction in assistance due mainly to the global economic crisis.
12. Costa Rica Quake Could Inflict Economic Aftershock
Source: Miami Herald 01/28/2009
By Leland Baxter-Neal
More than 1,500 Costa Ricans are still huddled in tent camps and temporary shelters after a 6.2-
magnitude earthquake struck this small Central American nation earlier this month, killing at least 23
people and destroying more than 400 homes.
Cold winds, rain and continuing tremors -- some measuring higher than four on the Richter scale -
- have hampered search efforts and increased the instability of the ground and the risk of landslides in
areas where as many as seven more people are believed to have died.
While Costa Rica scrambles to move the displaced into replacement housing, it worries about an
economic aftershock -- the potential loss of thousands of visitors in the December-May tourist season.
Tourism is vital to the economy, and Costa Rica's stunning natural beauty and stable politics make it a
magnet for U.S. visitors.
The quake, which struck at 1:21 p.m. Jan. 8, was the deadliest to hit this tremor-prone nation since
1991, and one of the three most devastating of the last century. Four hundred twenty-three homes were
destroyed and 664 others damaged.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, already bracing for a tough year ahead, has estimated damage
at $100 million. Repairing and rebuilding infrastructure and getting agricultural crops and dairy farms
back to producing could take anywhere from a few months to almost a year, some officials have said.
`A LOT OF MONEY'
Despite international donations totaling more than $600,000, and a recently approved World Bank
loan for $65 million for general natural-disaster aid, Arias warned that the country needs more.
''Rebuilding what has been damaged will cost a lot of money,'' Arias said.
In the mountainous region, landslides blocked highways, and some sections were simply sloughed
away in a rumble of earth. With rescue crews slow to reach the remote communities where the damage
was the worst, the magnitude of the disaster has unfolded gradually.
With each passing day, the intimate details of the human losses have emerged.
Rafael Herrera, whose body was retrieved by the Costa Rican Red Cross in a dramatic and
dangerous rescue attempt after his car was crumpled in a landslide, loved to drive the stretch of highway
where he was killed. Two sisters, 4 and 7, who sold coconut fudge called cajeta to tourists, were buried
together in a landslide. At least 10 people were killed when a hillside collapsed onto the small restaurant
where they were eating lunch.
Nearly 350 people had to be rescued by helicopters contracted by the government and lent by the
United States and Colombia. The first flights, however, didn't get off the ground until 16 hours after the
earthquake, said Reinaldo Carballo, a spokesman for Costa Rica's National Emergency Commission.
The tremor's epicenter lay about six miles east of the Poás Volcano, Costa Rica's most visited
national park and an active volcano. Seismologists, however, dismissed any direct relation to volcanic
activity and said the quake was caused by plate movement at a nearby fault line.
In the capital of San José, about 20 miles southeast of the epicenter, structural damage was
minimal, but nearly 20 seconds of intense shaking made the disaster very real to the economic and
political heart of this nation. The rumble of heavy trucks and city buses passing close to an office or
restaurant still triggers gasps and startled looks.
In the foothills of the Cordillera Volcánica Central Mountain Range, only a few miles from the
epicenter, the quake destroyed the small village of Cinchona, population 500. Roads were reduced to
strings of rubble, and homes were flattened. The few houses still standing are too dangerous to return to,
and the ground is too unstable to build on, authorities have said.
More than 2,800 people were forced into tent camps and temporary shelters set up in churches and
schools, although that number has decreased as many found shelter with relatives. At a tent camp set up in
the soccer field of Poasito, a small village of about 200 residents on the outskirts of the hardest-hit region,
more than 150 people depend on donations of food and clothing. As in the other refugee areas, water and
electricity services here have been restored, and teams of medics and psychologists with the Costa Rican
Health Ministry check up on the evacuees' mental and physical well-being.
Entire families sleep on thin foam mattresses, lining up in groups of 20 for meals cooked in an
open-air kitchen by the women who are sheltered there. The food comes mostly from donations.
Costa Ricans, who pride themselves on their solidarity with the less fortunate, have churned out an
overwhelming amount of food, clothing, supplies and volunteers, forcing the government to form a
special commission to coordinate and organize the aid.
At Poasito, the mood is tranquil, and the immediate needs are being met, said Manuel Román, 27,
a volunteer coordinator.
''There is a lot of clothing, and more blankets, sleeping bags, jackets, gloves and scarves are being
delivered,'' Román said. `
Stefani Paniagua, 24, lived in a house only a few minutes' walk from the camp, but now wonders
where her family will go.
When the earthquake struck, she was with friends at a nearby river. Rocks tumbled from the
hillside, she recounted, and the river's current stopped.
''I thought I was facing death,'' she said as she walked from the tent camp to her cracked and
sagging home. The path smelled overwhelmingly of raw earth from the recent landslides, and above her
neighborhood loomed a grassy bluff, which officials told her was now filled with faults and fissures and
could come sliding down with another serious quake.
A crack wide enough to see through ran from top to bottom on one concrete wall, and continued
across the tile floor to the other side of the house. Broken dishes, picture frames, house plants and other
debris littered the floor, cleared off the walls and tables by the quake.
Paniagua's home is perched on a hillside that could also give way, officials told her, while a
neighbor's home, a few hundred feet down the road, was half buried by the red earth of another landslide.
While Paniagua sleeps only a few minutes away, hundreds of others had to hike out of the disaster
area, sometimes walking for hours along fractured and unstable mountain highways. A group of 14 Dutch
tourists, trapped at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a popular tourist destination near the epicenter, spent
nine hours hitchhiking and walking to reach a van sent by their travel agency.
They were among an estimated 300 tourists who spent the night along the highway and in the
parking lot of the hotel adjacent to the waterfall, waiting for help to arrive. Privately chartered helicopters
were the first to reach the group, and began to airlift the injured as well as tourists, who paid between
$300 and $700 each for a ride out.
''People were paying cash,'' said Laura Muijsers, one of the Dutch tourists. ``The only ones that
weren't paying were the injured.''
With the exception of the La Paz waterfall, no major tourism attraction was seriously damaged by
the earthquake. But as news of the disaster spread, some concerned Americans posted comments online
that they were canceling their trips.
13. Disenchanted With Castro's Revolution
Source: Wall Street Journal 01/28/2009
By A Wall Street Journal Staff Reporter
On Jan. 8, 1959, 50 years ago this month, Fidel Castro rode into Havana on a column on tanks to
mark the triumph of the Cuban revolution, cheered on by throngs of flag-waving Cubans and heralding
what many hoped would be a new dawn for the island, the hemisphere and the world. It was a day that
would forever mark Carmen Vallejo's life.
The story of Carmen Vallejo and her family is, in many ways, the story of the revolution itself and
its legacy over the past half century. Like many other Cubans, the Vallejo family strongly supported the
revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and brought Mr. Castro to power. But the ensuing years
brought disillusionment, disappointment and despair.
Today, Ms. Vallejo, 56, feels trapped by the events of 1959. She can't travel outside Cuba or hold
a prominent job, the result of a failed attempt to defect in 1981. Desperate to find meaning in their lives
outside of politics, she and her husband, Rey, have dedicated the past 19 years to helping Cuban children
with cancer. But even that mission is met with hostility from a government that never forgives those who
"Having a totalitarian system means total control. They don't like it when someone else tries to
resolve problems for people," she says.
Such talk is rare in Cuba, where most people are afraid of getting jailed for speaking out against
the government. But Ms. Vallejo has spent her life coming to terms with her country, her family's role in
helping the revolution, and her fate. Her favorite poet is Anna Akhmatova, a Russian who lived under
Stalin and wrote about the despair of totalitarianism. Ms. Vallejo has underlined the following lines from
one of the poems: "I am not one of those who leave my country. I am, unfortunately, where my people are
doomed to be."
Ms. Vallejo's family had an unusually distinguished revolutionary pedigree. Her father was a
prominent Cuban physician named Rene Vallejo, who served with the Third U.S. Army in postwar
Germany, running a hospital that cared for the sick and war wounded. There, he met a Ukrainian nurse
who had been in a Nazi forced labor camp and passed herself off as Polish to avoid being sent to the
USSR. The couple married before returning to Cuba.
After about a decade in Cuba, Mr. Vallejo left a successful medical practice and took his two
brothers to join Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains to topple the Batista regime. Later, he rose
to the rank of commander and became Mr. Castro's personal doctor, aide de camp and close friend. Mr.
Vallejo's wife, Maria Witowska, also helped the cause, using her home to hide rebels and send supplies to
Mr. Castro during the revolution. After the revolution, she became his personal secretary. A picture of her
taken by Alberto Korda, the photographer who took the iconic portrait of Che Guevara, still hangs in
Carmen Vallejo's Havana apartment.
View Full Image Carmen Vallejo for The Wall Street Journal
Children with cancer celebrated a patient's birthday at the library of Havana's main oncology
hospital. Ms. Vallejo and her husband, Rey, visit a couple times a week to organize parties and cheer up
During the first few years after the revolution, Mr. Castro remained so close to Rene Vallejo that
the comandante often spent the night at Mr. Vallejo's home, staying up for hours discussing politics. "I
never liked Fidel because every time he would come to our house, I was rushed by my father into a
bedroom and told to be quiet," says Carmen.
But the Vallejo family slowly fell out of favor with the revolution. Her father, having spent time
with the Americans in World War II, encouraged Mr. Castro to make amends with Washington. He was
heavily involved in a then-secret attempt to re-establish U.S.-Cuban ties in 1963, according to Peter
Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the Washington-based National Security Archive, a nongovernmental
research institution. That effort, which had President Kennedy's blessing, ended with the president's
Ms. Vallejo thinks her father simply ended up being too much of a free spirit for Mr. Castro to
fully trust. "He had respect for every person, for every individual, and the regime does not care about
individuals," she says. Whatever the cause, after Mr. Vallejo's death in 1969, he was largely airbrushed
out of Cuban history, and today few Cubans know of his role in the revolution.
Ms. Vallejo's mother, Maria, meanwhile, became suspect for her Catholic beliefs. She gave her
daughter a first communion ceremony in 1960, raising eyebrows among Communist Party officials. Soon,
she was demoted from Mr. Castro's personal secretary to translator. She grew increasingly disillusioned
about having survived Stalin and the Nazis only to end up with another totalitarian regime.
Before her death in 1990, Maria Vallejo wrote a letter to her dead mother: "My life is wrecked. I
ask myself: What am I doing in this land? .... What sentence do I have to pay and why? Why do I have to
suffer like this? …. Must I always, always have to suffer? Will they keep humiliating me? Why? What did
I do that was so wrong? …. Mother, come, don't leave me alone. Why didn't you tell me the world and its
men were so cruel?"
Carmen Vallejo suffered the privations of ordinary Cubans, despite her family's prominence in the
revolution. A lack of vitamins during her college years left her with damage to her left eye.
In 1981, with the blessing of her husband, Ms. Vallejo used an opportunity of a trip to Finland to
get eye treatment to take a ferry to Sweden to try to defect. But Sweden's then-socialist government of
Olaf Palme handed her back to the Cubans, who swiftly exacted revenge. Her husband and mother both
lost their jobs, and they began to be constantly harassed by party officials. On the door of their family
home, someone spray-painted "Gusanos," or "Worms," the Cuban words for counterrevolutionaries.
When Ms. Vallejo would run across teachers at the university, they would spit in her path.
Ms. Vallejo and her husband sank into a depression that lasted until 1988, when Mother Teresa
visited Cuba to open up one of her charity's missions. Because Ms. Vallejo was active in the Catholic
church, she served as Mother Teresa's interpreter. During the visit, the late sister befriended Ms. Vallejo
and told her God had a mission for her: To care for Cuban children with cancer. "After our first visit to
the children's ward (in Havana's main oncology hospital), I cried and prayed to God that I wouldn't have
to do this," says Ms. Vallejo. "But, somehow, Mother Teresa knew exactly what we needed."
For the next 15 years, Ms. Vallejo and her husband visited the children in the cancer ward several
times a week, organizing parties, bringing presents and trying to cheer them up.
Children with cancer in Cuba get free treatment courtesy of the state, but they also face additional
horrors in addition to their disease, including a lack of the latest treatments, clean sheets, air conditioning
and even basic food. Aimee Linares's son Nelson, 7, had a malignant tumor in his intestines. During bouts
of chemotherapy, the only food the boy seemed able to digest was apples, which the hospital couldn't
provide. His mother would walk the streets until her feet blistered looking for a single apple for sale.
Ms. Vallejo and her husband's group began attracting attention from foreign diplomats stationed in
Havana, and soon got donations from abroad, mostly from Europe and the U.S. A hospital in Grand
Rapids, Mich., began a program to send chemotherapy medications that were unavailable in Cuba, and
bringing Cuban cancer specialists for monthlong stays to learn the latest treatments.
But in 2003, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Cuba arrested scores of dissidents and threw them in
jail. The European Union broke diplomatic relations. The following week, the children's ward ended
visiting hours, making it impossible for Ms. Vallejo to carry on her work. Ms. Vallejo says she learned
from the hospital staff that party officials were punishing the group for their contact with foreign enemies.
The couple convinced a local priest to let them organize a cancer support group at the church held
every Saturday. Parents with children at the oncology hospital come and meet with former patients who
survived or children who still have cancer but are living at home. During a recent Saturday, the children
were busy drawing with crayons (a luxury in Cuba) while the adults talked with Sergio Davila about his
four-year-old son Brian, who has leukemia.
"I feel like crying when I see him, but I know the thing he needs most is for me to be strong, and
smile," said Mr. Davila, 47, who is from another city and has been living in Havana since his son entered
the hospital. He sleeps in the hospital corridors.
Despite the altruistic nature of the group's work, the Cuban state still interferes, throwing up
bureaucratic obstacles and harassing the children's mothers. Recently, some Western diplomats were
going to throw a Christmas party for the kids, many of whom had never seen a Santa Claus. Secret police
turned up at the homes of several parents and told them not to send their kids to the party because it was
being held by the enemy. "I told them that I didn't care what country someone was from as long as they
could put a smile on my little boy's face," says Ms. Linares.
Ms. Vallejo says the group has given her life meaning again after she lost all hope of ever leaving
Cuba and building a normal life. Looking back on 50 years of the revolution and her family's role in it,
she has only one thing to say: "No more revolutions, please. My life has taught me that change should be
gradual. No more revolution. Never again."
14. IAPA Warns Press Freedoms Threatened In Nicaragua
Source: Associated Press 01/28/2009
By Filadelfo Aleman
MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The Nicaraguan government's aggressive actions against journalists are
threatening press freedoms in the country, the president of the Inter American Press Association warned.
Enrique Santos was in Nicaragua on Tuesday to study rising tensions between local reporters and
President Daniel Ortega's leftist government.
Ortega's opponents accuse him of trying to silence dissent through trumped-up criminal charges
against journalists, but the president insists his government respects press freedoms and says none of the
cases are politically motivated.
"We are very worried that press liberties will not be guaranteed in the future if the government
continues with its aggressive strategy against the media," Santos said in a television interview late
Monday with Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a journalist who has criticized the government.
In October, police raided Chamorro's Center of Media Investigations, seizing computers as part of
an investigation into allegations the organization misused foreign contributions. Chamorro, the son of
former President Violeta Chamorro, has denied the allegations and accused the government of trying to
Local media advocates also complained that more than 20 reporters were injured in
demonstrations ahead of November's municipal elections. They also denounced the destruction of three
opposition radio stations.
The Inter American Press Association, known as IAPA, has also expressed concern about the
prosecution of Jaime Chamorro, publisher of the newspaper La Prensa and brother-in-law of a former
president. Chamorro was convicted in April of libeling five members of pro-government neighborhood
Ortega's Marxist-leaning government of the 1980s forced the closure of La Prensa from 1986 to
1987, prompting international protests.
Santos, co-publisher of Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper, told The Associated Press that Ortega has
not responded to his requests for a meeting.
Nicaraguan human rights prosecutor Omar Cabezas said he doubted Ortega would agree to the
meeting and accused IAPA of representing "the international media mafia aligned with the empire," a
reference to the United States.
"I have no respect for them," Cabezas told local Channel 63.
Ortega, whose first government fought U.S.-backed rebels in the 1980s, has had tense relations
with Washington since returning to power in 2006 elections. The United States froze millions of dollars in
development aid following November local elections that Nicaragua's opposition claimed were
15. Peru Court Frees 2 Accused Death Squad Members
Source: Associated Press 01/28/2009
By Andrew Whalen
LIMA, Peru (AP) — A Peruvian court freed two men accused of belonging to a military death
squad linked to several massacres in the early 1990s, after the suspects completed six years in prison
without a conviction, a court official said Tuesday.
The former military officers are on trial on charges of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy
in the 1991 massacre of 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, at Lima's Barrios Altos tenement, court
clerk Daniel Luna told The Associated Press.
Under Peruvian law, prisoners must be freed after 32 months in prison if the have not been
convicted. Luna said the court extended the term to six years for the two men because of the violent
nature of the alleged crimes.
The Barrios Altos case went to trial in 2005 and a verdict is expected this year, Luna said.
The freed officers — Douglas Arteaga Pascual and Angel Pino Diaz — were charged in 2001 and
are accused of belonging to a death squad known as the "Colina group." They deny the charges against
Barrios Altos is one of two massacres that ex-President Alberto Fujimori is charged with
Fujimori, 70, is on trial and faces up to 30 years in prison for ordering the "Colina group" death
squad to carry out a ruthless campaign against Maoist Shining Path rebels and suspected sympathizers. He
denies having any knowledge of death squad activities or of ordering the dirty-war tactics. A verdict in
that case is expected in March.
The Barrios Altos raid was an intended strike at suspected sympathizers of the Shining Path
insurgency, which nearly crippled the government in the 1980s and early 1990s. Nearly 70,000 people
were killed in the conflict.
Gloria Cano, a lawyer for Peru's human rights group Aprodeh, says Pino Diaz formed part of the
nucleus of the Colina group and has not cooperated during the trial, causing delays. She criticized Peru's
human rights prosecutors for failing to bring charges against Pino Diaz in 1992 massacres at the coastal
towns of Pativilca and Huacho.
Arteaga Pascual was charged with providing faulty intelligence that led to the deadly raid on the
wrong barbecue in Barrios Altos.
16. Venezuela: Diplomacy With US On Hold Despite Obama
Source: Associated Press 01/28/2009
By Fabiola Sanchez
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela is not yet ready to let the U.S. ambassador return to Caracas
despite the change of administration in Washington, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday.
Venezuela's relations with the U.S. have deteriorated in recent years as leftist President Hugo
Chavez has crusaded against what he calls the U.S. "empire" and has hurled epithets such as "the devil" at
former President George W. Bush.
In September, Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy and recalled his envoy to
"Any step toward re-establishing the U.S. ambassador in Venezuela will probably take some
time," Maduro said at a news conference.
But he added that Venezuela hopes to develop relations with the new U.S. government "in the best
and most correct manner."
Chavez has expressed a desire for improved relations under President Barack Obama, whom he
praised for ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and banning torture.
But the socialist leader also bristled when Obama called him a "destructive force" in the region
during a television interview. He accused Obama of meddling in Venezuela's Feb. 15 vote on term limits,
and of following orders from the Pentagon.
Maduro said Venezuela would respect Obama's policies toward energy independence, which are
aimed at slowing U.S. dependence on oil imported from countries such as Venezuela.
Venezuela is the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the U.S. — which imports an average 1.2 million
barrels of Venezuelan oil and oil products per day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Obama vowed on Monday to "seize the promise of energy independence," saying that "America
will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes and a warming planet."
"We respect internal decisions," Maduro said.
17. Iran Playing "Subversive" Latin America Role-Gates
Source: Reuters 01/28/2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates accused Iran on Tuesday of
"subversive activity" in Latin America but played down the threat posed by Russia's efforts to increase its
influence in the region.
Gates said Russian initiatives such as a joint naval exercise with Venezuela in November posed
little threat to the United States and he made light of Moscow's ageing military capabilities.
"I'm more concerned about Iranian meddling in the region than I am the Russians," Gates told the
U.S. Senate's armed services committee.
"I'm concerned about the level of frankly subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a
number of places in Latin America," Gates said in response to a question from Sen. Mel Martinez, a
"They're opening a lot of offices and a lot of fronts behind which they interfere in what is going on
in some of these countries," Gates said, without elaborating.
Left-wing governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia have all become
allies of Iran in recent years, and other Latin American countries have diplomatic ties with the Islamic
The United States is at loggerheads with Iran on a range of issues, above all Tehran's nuclear
Iran says it only wants to generate power while the Washington and its allies accuse Tehran of
trying to build a nuclear bomb, and former President George W. Bush branded Iran part of an "axis of
President Barack Obama has promised dialogue with Tehran but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
suggested on Tuesday it may be up to the Iranians to make the first move.
Gates, who served as Pentagon chief for the last two years of the Bush administration and has
stayed on under Obama, said he felt the best attitude to the visit of Russian warships to Venezuela was
He said that if tensions with Moscow had not been high following the August war in Georgia, he
would probably have tried to persuade Bush to invite the Russian ships to a port visit in Miami.
"I think they'd have had a lot better time than they did in Caracas," he said.
He also joked that pilots of Soviet-era Tu-160 "Blackjack" bombers should have been glad to have
U.S. aircraft flying nearby as they made their way to Venezuela.
"When they complained about our escorting their Blackjack bombers to Venezuela, I wanted to
say that we just wanted to be along there for search and rescue if they needed it," he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Kieran Murray)