It was enough to make a pair of graying senators blush -- and inject some human drama into the congressional summer doldrums.

Screen actress Salma Hayek lavished impassioned praise on Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) at a hearing Tuesday for their valiant efforts to combat the scourge of violence against women.

"Your unwavering support for the Violence Against Women Act on behalf of the victims of these crimes has made an enormous difference, Senators Specter and Biden," Hayek said before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Your courageous efforts to take on these terrible crimes have put trained police officers in communities that need them."

Hayek said that although she had never been a victim of such abuse, she had witnessed the suffering of a friend who was beaten repeatedly by her husband but could not bring herself to leave him. She called her own inability to help that friend "a personal failure," but said she then decided to help others, after visiting domestic violence shelters and listening to the stories of many battered women.

"I saw the impact that domestic violence had on their children. I began to see why it was so hard for them to leave," she said, telling the story of a woman who was murdered on her wedding day in 1999 when a former boyfriend pushed his way through the wedding party and shot her.

"This is not love. It is a crime," Hayek said. "You can't look the other way just because you have not experienced domestic violence with your own flesh."

The Mexican-born actress lauded the two senators for a number of efforts, delivering her testimony with an actress's narrative flair.

"You have supported the work of prosecutors dedicated to holding the perpetrators of these crimes accountable," she said. "You have funded programs that bring committed judges to the bench, and you have helped communities in the poorest and sometimes the most remote places to create a sheltering environment for the victims of these crimes," Hayek told the committee members.

A Tight Race to the Finish

Speaking of drama in unlikely settings, a suspense-laden race to select a successor to the outgoing president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Enrique Iglesias, by July 27 has been in full throttle since Saturday, after Venezuela threw in a last-minute surprise candidate in another act of defiance against the United States over who gets to call the shots in the Western Hemisphere.

The tactic, just as the deadline for nominations was about to expire, appeared aimed at derailing the steamroller advance of Colombia's candidate. There has been no public endorsement by the Bush administration, but it is no secret that the White House and State Department favor Bogota's candidate, a newcomer to the multilateral world of finance but not to Washington diplomacy.

But now, what seemed like an almost certain victory for Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno has gotten murky fast. If some of his major backers blink or falter in the first round of voting next Wednesday, that could trigger further rounds and eventually lead to the naming of a consensus candidate.

This would be a repeat of what happened in the recent elections for the presidency of the Organization of American States, in which the United States was ultimately compelled to abandon a candidate it had backed openly from the beginning, former Salvadoran president Francisco Flores.

Moreno, who looks boyish but is determined and hardworking, has run an intensive campaign. He has traveled across Latin America and the Caribbean aboard a private jet offered by friends to meet heads of state and finance ministers -- including Venezuela's maverick president, Hugo Chavez. In a little over three weeks, Moreno covered 18 countries. He has also had the best campaign manager anyone could dream of -- Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Now, some of the five Caribbean countries who would have voted for Moreno may have to reconsider since Venezuela supplies them with free oil. The candidacy of Venezuela's former finance minister, Alejandro Rojas, has complicated the race among five contestants, with Brazil, Peru and Nicaragua vying for the post as well.

Brazil, another heavyweight in South America, has its own candidate, Joao Sayad, a banker and economist from Sao Paulo who is the vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank. Peru is pushing for its own Pablo Pedro Kuczinski, a conservative banker who has dual Peruvian and U.S. citizenship.

To win, a candidate will have to secure 15 votes among the 28 member states from the Americas, which include 26 Latin American countries, plus Canada and the United States. In addition, he will have to muster more than 50 percent of the shares from other members such as Japan, Germany, Israel and Sweden. If the United States sticks with Moreno, he will have more than 54 percent of that support and then can muster as many as 12 votes.

"As he gets closer to the majority, if he can turn it into a consensus, that would show extraordinary political skill," said Peter Hakim, director of the Inter-American Dialogue here. He praised Moreno as a "very competent and good manager." Iglesias will be a challenging leader to follow, he said, but if Moreno has any comparable quality, it is "his level of energy," Hakim said.

Actress Salma Hayek addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee on violence against women and lauded the efforts of Sens. Arlen Specter and Joseph R. Biden Jr.