Adamant: Hardest metal

Venezuelan ambassadors meet to analysis effects of FTAA on Latin American interests

Venezuela's Electronic News
Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003
By: David Coleman

Heads of Venezuelan diplomatic missions from North and Latin America as well as the Caribbean region are gathering in Caracas for a 2-day meeting to analyzing the effects of globalization and the negotiations initiated by Venezuela with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA).

Deputy Foreign Minister (MRE) Arevalo Mendez Romero has told reporters that the seminar, organized by the MRE, will facilitate the design of a consolidated agenda for the National Executive on trade negotiations, including the participation of the Foreign Minister, the Ministry of Production & Commerce (MPC) and the President of the Republic ... we are assuming this as an important responsibility of State.”

“We must thoroughly examine the hidden agenda behind the FTAA with respect to geopolitical factors that are surfacing and which we cannot disregard,” Mendez Romero emphasized, referring to what is seen as obtrusive neo-colonialism on the part of the United States of America.

"The seminar will include the Minister Ramon Rosales from Production & Commerce (MPC) with the Deputy Minister of Industry and the president of Bancoex. Central University of Venezuela Department of Latin American Studies Professor Dr. Gilberto Veneres and Attorney General’s Office representative Judith Valencia will also attend along with Venezuelan ambassadors to Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela's permanent representatives at the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations.

Venezuelan Lawmakers Condemn U.S. Envoy

Posted on Tue, May. 20, 2003
Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela - Ruling party lawmakers passed a resolution Tuesday criticizing Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro for what they said was interference in Venezuelan affairs.

In a vote boycotted by opposition lawmakers, Congress passed a motion rejecting Shapiro's remarks on press freedom as "defamatory."

Members of President Hugo Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement also slammed a skit by a Venezuelan comic that made fun of Chavez. The skit was performed during a May 14 reception at Shapiro's residence. Tuesday's resolution claimed the "lack of respect" shown Chavez occurred with Shapiro's consent.

U.S. Embassy officials couldn't immediately be reached by telephone for comment. But in May 15 statement on the issue, the embassy distanced intself from the comic's presentation.

The statement said that although the skit "seemed to us in bad taste ... the embassy does not know in advance nor does it censure what its guests are going to say, whether it's an invited speaker or humorist."

At the reception, Shapiro expressed concern about "deteriorating press freedoms" in Venezuela, citing unpunished attacks on dozens of journalists.

The controversy is the latest in a string of differences that created often tense relations between the United States and Venezuela during Chavez's four-year government.

Chavez has irked Washington by strengthening ties with Cuba and Libya. And ties also suffered after the United States initially blamed Chavez for his own downfall during an April 2002 coup that briefly ousted the Venezuelan president from office. The two nations have also differed over U.S. anti-drug efforts, and the Chavez has been critical of U.S.-led efforts to establish a hemispheric free trade zone.

Venezuela taking the high ground to defuse potentially explosive undiplomatic impasse

Venezuela's Electronic News
Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2003
By: David Coleman

Venezuela is taking the high ground after a senior diplomat rushed from Washington D.C. to defuse a potentially explosive impasse as the result of US Caracas ambassador Charles Shapiro's last-week faux-pas by giving prior approval to a silly comedy sketch which was been used by political opposition propagandists to insult the Venezuelan Head of State.

While privately, President Hugo Chavez Frias has been treating the brouhaha with due levity, diplomatic clown prince Shapiro's subsequent cover-up has only served to accentuate growing dissent between Washington and Caracas with the US State Department itself stepping in to declare that the comedy sketch was ''inappropriate'' and hastening to add that it did "not represent the official US view."

Nevertheless, following abject apologies from within the Beltway, Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera flew home to Caracas to pour oil on troubled waters, telling reporters in Caracas that Venezuela wants to preserve and extend its economic relations with the United States despite the ill-willed US lack of diplomacy. Following a meeting with Executive Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, Alvarez Herrera says ''we're not looking for any kind of confrontation!''

Late last week the Vice President had called for lackluster Shapiro to be declared 'persona non grata' and sent home to Washington for "an act of 'irresponsible provocation.'' Rangel had questioned what would happen if Alvarez Herrera had thrown a party at the Venezuelan legation in Washington to poke ridicule at George W. Bush with whom the Venezuelan government has maintained a decided difference of opinion over the unilateral US-British invasion of Iraq outside the legal framework of the United Nations.

In actual fact, the comedy sketch was innocent enough and scarcely warranted attention against the background of opposition abuse to which President Chavez Frias is subjected on a day-to-day basis by the rabid anti-government private media. However, film footage of the "event" was broadcast on opposition TV channels with the inevitable surfacing of the US ambassador's complicity allowing the heavily partisan political sketch to go ahead at what was clearly a heavily-politicized opposition get-together at the USA La Florida residence.

Alvarez says "there may be political differences ... but what you see is an historic relationship and there is no reason for it to be affected.'' Venezuela remains the world's 5th-largest oil exporter and supplies 14% of USA oil imports as well as being the USA's 3rd-largest trading partner in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico.

Taking the high ground above what US diplomats are attempting to contain as a purely Venezuelan "domestic" mele, Alvarez Herrera says he will lobby the US Export-Import Bank to reconsider a last-month decision to suspend US exports guarantees to Venezuela. The bank had claimed that "the absence of reasonable guarantees of payment" and the introduction of foreign exchange controls had been decisive factors in its decision.

US sorry about Chavez skit, 20/05/2003 10:11 - (SA)

Washington - The United States on Monday again apologised for a skit lampooning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez performed at the US ambassador to Venezuela's residence last week, saying it was inappropriate and not representative of US policy.

State department spokesperson Richard Boucher said the skit at ambassador Charles Shapiro's home as part of an event marking International Press Freedom Day had "caught everyone by surprise" and was an abuse of the envoy's hospitality.

"It was inappropriate," he said in a written answer to a question posed at Monday's state department news briefing. "All should understand that this Venezuelan comedian does not represent the US government.

"He abused Ambassador Shapiro's hospitality," Boucher said.

During the routing, the comedian poked fun at the controversial Chavez, including presenting a uniformed puppet of the former coup leader turned president.

Portions of the skit were videotaped and aired on Venezuelan television, causing an uproar and an accusation from vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel that Shapiro had violated the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations.

The US embassy in Caracas apologised for the incident on Friday, saying "part of the presentation's political content was in bad taste" and regretting that some were offended.

Venezuelans, however, appear to have not entirely accepted the apology and on Sunday the parliament denounced the skit as an "unfriendly act" by the envoy.

The parliamentary leadership said in a statement that it "fervently and categorically condemned the regrettable promotion of unfriendly Ambassador Shapiro". - Sapa-AFP

Chavez puppet sparks protests

Grace Livingstone in Caracas
Monday May 19, 2003
The Guardian

A puppet show at the US ambassador's residence in Caracas has strained Venezuela's already tense relationship with Washington.

A comedian brandishing a rubber-lipped effigy of Venezuela's leftwing president, Hugo Chavez, entertained an audience of Venezuelan newspaper proprietors and television moguls at an event hosted by the American ambassador, Charles Shapiro, last week.

Venezuela's vice-president, Jose Vicente Rangel, said the "grotesque" performance contravened the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations.

He said he did not know whether it was a "calculated provocation" or an example of Mr Shapiro's "personal irresponsibility".

The government is considering what diplomatic action to take, while the Venezuelan parliament has announced it is sending a delegation to make a formal complaint to the US Senate and the Organisation of American States.

The leader of parliament, Francisco Ameliach, described the performance as "a total lack of respect for the Venezuelan Republic".

The US embassy admitted in a statement that the act was "in bad taste, because of its political content. We regret that some people were offended. The embassy does not know in advance nor does it censor what its guests are going to say."

Bilateral relations have been cool since Washington gave official recognition to a short-lived government which replaced Mr Chavez for 48 hours during a bungled coup attempt in April 2002.

Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of oil to America and the US state department is uneasy about Mr Chavez's nationalist rhetoric and overt friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro.

A journalist who was a guest at the embassy function, Laura Weffer, said the performance, which featured "fart jokes" and impersonations of Mr Chavez, did not go down well with the Venezuelan audience.

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