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OAS  Endorses Venezuelan President Chavez - 2002-06-05

The Organization of American States has reaffirmed its commitment to democratic rule in Venezuela in the wake of the country's failed coup attempt in April. During a general assembly meeting in Barbados, the OAS also gave its backing to a probe of violence committed during the episode that briefly drove President Hugo Chavez from office.

The OAS declaration, adopted Tuesday, constitutes a hemispheric endorsement of President Chavez' continued rule in Venezuela. For its part, Venezuelan officials pledged to work to resolve lingering political upheaval and instability in the country, and left open the possibility of a role for the OAS in pursuing that goal.

The populist Mr. Chavez' leftist policies had alienated his country's business sector, and his outreach to Cuba and Libya rankled the United States. But several OAS members stated that the region must stand united in defense of democratic rule, regardless of who the ruler may be.

Belize's foreign minister, Assad Shoman, stressed the OAS's Democratic Charter must be applied consistently throughout the hemisphere.

"Whether we like the regime or not, that is not our business," he said. "As they say about freedom of expression, we should fight for the right of people to speak freely, especially when we do not like what they say. And so it is, especially when we do not like a regime, that we must apply the principles of the Charter."

The Democratic Charter, adopted last year, states that the people of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.

Venezuela's ambassador to the OAS, Jorge Valero, said his government appreciates the international backing it has received. Mr. Valero also said he wishes to express the gratitude of Venezuela's democratic government to the hemispheric community, where so many countries without hesitation have expressed their solidarity with a legal and legitimate government.

The OAS General Assembly also examined Haiti's protracted political impasse, where the failure to seat an internationally-recognized legislature has led to a cut-off of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of foreign aid. OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said he hopes an agreement between the Haitian government and the opposition for new elections will be forthcoming.

"Haiti desperately needs an agreement, and we hope all sides of political life and civil society will help to finalize this agreement and solve this critical problem," he went on to say. "It will not solve all the problems of Haiti. But it will help create a better environment for the elections, politically and economically - and also an environment of good security for the elections."

Mr. Gaviria added, if all goes well, Haiti could hold the legislative contests by the end of the year.

Monday, 30 of 34 OAS member states signed a hemispheric convention against terrorism. The treaty aims to interrupt the financing of terrorist activities, strengthen border controls, boost cooperation among law enforcement officials and facilitate the extradition of terrorist suspects.

The OAS' assistant secretary-general, Luigi Einaudi, a former U.S. ambassador to the body, said the convention is more than just diplomatic talk.

"The focus of the convention is on practical cooperation and on getting agencies that can exchange information and work together in the money laundering and financial aspects that are so much a part of building up a terrorist network," explained.

The treaty comes less than nine months after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.