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Ever since a devastating fire 10 years ago, the Liberian Embassy has languished, abandoned and charred, on the corner of 16th and Colorado Streets NW. With a civil war raging in their homeland, though, the diplomats had a pretty good excuse for neglecting the property. “The Liberians continually cite the fact that they have no money,” explains Ron Mlotek, the State Department’s legal counsel in the Office of Foreign Missions. But the excuses have worn thin for State, city officials, and neighbors who have long complained about the eyesore. Steve Hershey, who lives five doors down from the property, has grown tired of the civil-strife line. Judging from the chauffeur-driven Lincoln that escorts the diplomats, and semiannual picnics held on the grounds of the dilapidated site, the Liberians “appear to be quite prosperous,” Hershey says. Mlotek has visited the property himself and remembers syringes scattered on the lawn. Last year, with State’s approval, the District ordered the embassy to pay nearly $60,000 in back taxes. And last month the city began the process of condemning the building. The embassy’s charge d’affaires declined to comment on the decade-old debacle, explaining that he simply doesn’t have the time.
Although Washington-area Latinos have plenty of newspapers and TV stations to choose from, old-fashioned radio entertainment is pretty scarcethe only two options are Radio Borinquen, WILC (900 AM), or Radio Mundo, WMDO (1540 AM). And these days, the rivalry between them is getting personal. For years, Borinquen was the undisputed favorite, thanks in large part to the colorful Alejandro Carrasco, Latino Washington’s longtime top radio personality. Then last September, Borinquen bumped Carrasco in favor of local newspaperman Rhadames Avila. Last week, Carrasco resurfaced as chief at crosstown rival Mundo. Carrasco, who is leasing the station’s entire programming block, says he has re-created the dream team that once made Radio Borinquen tops in Latino Washington. “It’s not to brag, but the fact that [we] left got many people to turn off WILC,” says Carrasco. “You can go to any restaurant or any corner and they will tell you they are waiting for [us] to get back on the air.” Avila soft-pedals Carrasco’s return, saying Mundo can’t match Borinquen’s 24-hour programming, clearer signal, and community presence. And Borinquen station manager Janet Lugo throws in a parting shot by suggesting Carrasco’s 1996 departure was under less than pleasant circumstances. “People in the Hispanic community see an image of him, but that’s not what’s underlying,” she says.
Foreshadowing Mayor Marion Barry’s demise, local pundits have declared the populace weary of Barry’s failure to improve District crime stats, municipal services, and schools. But the mayor’s support base is eroding closer to its core, as well. After years of devotion, former loyalist Kenneth Baker has sworn off the Barry camp for good. In 1994, Baker belonged to the Fighting 54, a group of volunteers who worked on Barry’s mayoral campaign. Last year, at Barry’s request, he worked for Eydie Whittington, whom Barry groomed to succeed himself as Ward 8 councilmember. But last week, Baker filed suit against Whittington for allegedly failing to pay him $390 for the van he rented to shuttle her around town. “I don’t do anything with any of the people connected to Mr. Barry anymore,” Baker says. “The only thing they’ve done for me is mess up my credit.”