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La Liga de Las Americas

Latin American leaders observe free elections—Ohio style


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


COLUMBUS: Jon Stewart of TV’s Daily Show was absolutely right about all eyes being upon Ohio in last week’s election. But his crews of observers weren’t the only out-of-town visitors to show up in Columbus on election night.


Usually, we hear about someone like former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter heading a delegation to Latin America to observe their polling procedures.

Ohio Governor-elect Ted Strickland with running mate Lee Fisher on election night in Columbus. Photo by NC Abrams.


So how’s this for a twist? A 12-member delegation of Latino parliamentarians from Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Honduras, El Salvadór, Bolivia, Panamá,  and México; accompanied by two Latina journalists from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela; were spotted among the throbbing crowd of party loyalists savoring the near-complete Ohio Democratic Party sweep last Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006.


The group was totally under the radar of the Anglo media who understandably were preoccupied with covering the crowd at the Hyatt Hotel on Capital Square—that is with the exception of this reporter.


But here’s the really big story. According to the U.S. State Department translator who accompanied the group (along with two Latino translators), the visitors closely scrutinizing the night’s activities included a young professor described by the State Department as the “number one opposition leader to President Hugo Chávez.”


Although camera shy (the State Department translator hinted he was used to having concerns about his safety), we did get a photograph of Alejandro Silva Rodríguez, Director de Relaciones Interinstitucionales at Universidad Rafael Belloso Chacín in Maracaibo.
According to Fabiola Soto Pérez, the Political Affairs Reporter for Diario La Verdad of Maracaibo, Rodríguez is the leader of the Primero Justicia party.


Several of the members of the Latino delegation serve on their respective Board of Elections, and one is the president of a renowned federation. Another is the Dean of Colombia Rojas, the League of Women Voters in Colombia.

Among the participants in the tour were Javier Ledezma Velasco of the Corte Departamental Electoral in Cochabamba, Bolivia; T.D.M. Carlos H. Romero, Dirección Electoral of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Manuel A. Cruz Martínez, the Assistant Attorney General for Election Issues in the state of Hidalgo, México; and Leonardo Mena, Presidente, Fundación Ciudadana Para El Desarrollo Humano, in San Salvadór, El Salvadór.


The delegation was here through the sponsorship of the International Visitors Program of the U.S. Department of State and Cultural Division in Washington, D.C.


Renee Wenzel, a contract interpreter with the US Department of State in Washington told La Prensa that the group had been in the United States since Oct. 28. They came to Columbus from Sacramento and were flying to Miami the next morning where their visit ended on Nov. 11.

Alejandro Silva Rodríguez


“They are here under our umbrella,” explained Wenzel. “Contacts are made through our embassies in different countries. They choose and pick one or two participants to observe and learn about electoral procedures in the U.S.  Our guests this year were mostly younger people active in the political arena.”


Transportation to destinations outside of Washington, D.C. was organized by Palmer McNeill, said Wenzel.


The group was fascinated as the partisan crowd cheered every CNN projected winner nationally and erupted when Sherrod Brown was declared the next U.S. Senator from Ohio.


Somewhat surprisingly, there was not a large contingent of Ohio Latinos participating in the celebration. However, we did spot Josué Vicente of LULAC and the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, who hosts a local radio show on 1550 AM in Columbus.


This reporter also thanks periodista Esperanza Céballos of the Dominican Republic for her help.





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