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Argentines May Cast Protest Vote in Elections

THE WASHINGTON POST -- BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Argentines vote Sunday in key legislative elections, and opinion polls show the country’s 25 million registered voters are harboring their deepest sense of disgust with politicians since democracy was restored in 1983. Angry over what many call the governing coalition’s ineptitude in dealing with Argentina’s economic crisis and petty bickering and corruption among all parties, one in four Buenos Aires voters said they will cast a blank or spoiled ballot. Nationwide, polls suggest the protest vote could reach 15 percent -- more than double the average in past elections.

All 72 seats in the opposition Peronist-controlled Senate are being contested Sunday. Half the seats in the lower house, now dominated by the governing center-left coalition, are up for grabs. The Peronists are expected to post moderate gains. But one big winner, according to opinion polls, may be a write-in candidate, Clemente, a popular Argentine cartoon character who has no arms so that he cannot rob from the people.

The sentiment here represents what analysts call a growing frustration among Latin Americans with their elected leaders. In countries as diverse as Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Colombia, opinion polls show a sharp drop in public support for elected leaders. Analysts say the polls reflect not a rejection of democracy, but a profound disappointment with individual politicians at a time when the region seems locked in a pattern of economic downturns.

“No one wants a return to the (military governments) of the past,” said Marita Carballo, president of the polling firm Gallup Argentina. “This is not a rejection of democracy; this is a sign of displeasure with the politicians who have emerged thus far.”

Nowhere is that more true than in Argentina, where a deepening political crisis is partly to blame for a worsening three-year recession that analysts said has increased the risk of a currency devaluation and debt default. Many Argentines object to some provisions in Cavallo's ``zero deficit'' budget plan, which was essential to obtaining the loans.

It imposed deep cuts in pensions and government salaries to avoid a default on Argentina's $132 billion debt. Critics say that Cavallo, a Harvard-trained economist who devised Argentina's opening to a free market economy in the 1990s under former President Carlos Menem, has yet to come up with a viable plan to jump-start the economy.

Puerto Rico Governor Gets Support on Vieques Stance

THE WASHINGTON POST

Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderon met with Vieques protest leaders earlier this week and won at least grudging support for her efforts to end the Navy’s use of the island of Vieques for bombing exercises. She’s in a particularly difficult situation now with lawmakers and defense officials arguing that Vieques is needed more than ever for training as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Calderon supports the Bush administration’s proposal to scrap the November referendum on stopping the exercises and to impose a May 3, 2003, exit date for the Navy. But if Congress doesn’t include a firm date in the defense authorization legislation, she would oppose killing the referendum.

According to the San Juan Star, Robert Rabin, one of the protest leaders, said they were now satisfied with Calderon’s explanation of her efforts to press the Bush administration.

“Without being more specific,” the newspaper reported, “the governor explained that Republican lobbyists working for the Puerto Rican government had (been) actively advancing the government’s position in the White House,” said Rabin.

Some protesters have faulted Calderon’s lobbyists. One is Jose Paralitici, who wrote that he didn’t want “to take away their merits,” but he was critical of “lobbyists Charlie Black and others.” He proposed hiring Republicans Carlos Rodriguez of California, who Paralitici said is a close friend of Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Black’s lobby shop helped organize Calderon’s meetings in Washington earlier this year, including one with Josh Bolton, Bush’s deputy chief of staff. Black hasn’t lost his client, although he said Vieques “hasn’t been a major lobbying assignment of mine.”

Investor Schnabel Sworn in As U.S. Ambassador to EU

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Rockwell “Rock” Schnabel, founder and co-chairman of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Trident Capital, was sworn in this week as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, serving as the nation’s chief liaison with one of the nation’s key trading partners.

Schnabel, 64, who was based in Los Angeles, said his first mission when he arrives at his new office in Brussels, Belgium, will be to assist in the multinational fight against terrorism. Beyond that, he said that he will coordinate between the United States and the EU on matters ranging from trade to the international response to AIDS.

A native of The Netherlands, Schnabel served as deputy Commerce secretary for former President George H.W. Bush. He was recently considered for ambassador to Italy.

Between 1986 and 1989, Schnabel served as the U.S. ambassador to Finland. The White House cited his background as both an international financier and a diplomat in nominating him to the post.

Schnabel, who was confirmed in September and sworn in by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, served on the Los Angeles fire and police pension board from 1993 to 1996. He also was a member of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Games.

Founded in 1993, Trident Capital invests heavily in information technology and Internet-related companies and was an early investor in MapQuest and CSG Systems. The company has more than $1.4 billion under management.