Berzins blasts "interfering" U.S. embassy

  • 2007-10-19
  • From wire reports
RIGA -- Latvia's former health minister Gundars Berzins who left active politics more than six month ago openly claims US Ambassador to Latvia Catherine Todd Bailey has exerted and exerts pressure on Latvian officials.

The ex-minister made his allegation in an interview with Latvia's Neatkariga Riga Avize (NRA) newspaper.

Berzins cites several examples of what he believes is U.S. interference, including the ban on the sale of unhealthy snacks in schools, the appointment of Latvia's ombudsman, and as a bill on compensation for certain social groups and public organizations.

Berzins notes in the interview that there are many more "examples of exaggerated advising".

"In fact, there are a lot more of such examples, especially, when it comes to appointing officials. This interfering has escalated to such an extent because I, for instance, did not yield to this pressure, but in other instances there was not such a reaction. It encourages [them] to interfere even more," the ex-minister said.

In his interview with NRA, Berzins also mentions an example directly involving him during his time as health minister.

"I, too, have received such friendly recommendations, and I can tell how I felt when I was health minister. It was the story about a proposal to ban in schools products containing substances that can be harmful to children's health. The opinion emerged in discussions involving dieticians and other specialists, as well as parents. The specialists proposed to the government to set stricter regulations on the sale of food products in schools. When these discussions started, the U.S. ambassador suddenly decided to invite the minister to her office," Berzins said.

He perceived this move as an unmistakable wish to receive explanations based on the fact that many of the snacks and foodstuffs on the proposed blacklist were manufactured by U.S. companies.

"I declined the invitation and delegated specialists in this field to take part in the conversation. Then, a real saga began - strong pressure from lobbyists who were patiently heard, but who did not want to understand our position at all. After lengthy discussions we finally came to making a final decision in government. It was then that I received unequivocal information that pressure had been exerted on top state officials to torpedo this decision," Berzins said.

Nevertheless, the decision to ban unhealthy snacks in schools did go ahead. However, during the formation of the new cabinet it was indicated that there is a minister who "communicates poorly and does not want to heed valuable recommendations."

In Berzins' words, this is not the only issue on which the U.S. ambassador has pressured Latvian officials.

"A honorable man who unfortunately had worked for religious organizations in the past was initially nominated for the office of ombudsman... He was pressured regarding certain religious organizations that were not registered at that time. But when his candidacy for ombudsman appeared, a reaction from the ambassador appeared as well - she had defined six reasons why this man was not the 'good one'," Berzins said.