Tue 23 Aug 2005
Jackie Frank, Reuters, reports:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but top U.S. officials denied on Tuesday that any such illegal act was being contemplated.
Venezuelan officials said Robertson’s remarks were “a call to terrorism,” and demanded President George W. Bush condemn his political ally and fellow Christian conservative. But Chavez, who was winding up a three-day visit to communist ally Cuba, told reporters he didn’t care about Robertson. “I don’t even know who this person is.”
Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a presidential candidate in 1988, said Chavez, one of Bush’s most vocal critics, was a “terrific danger” to the United States and intended to become “the launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”
“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” Robertson said during Monday broadcast of his religious “The 700 Club” program.
“We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator,” he continued. “It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
SILENT WHITE HOUSE
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Robertson’s remarks, but the White House remained silent despite calls for repudiation from Venezuela and religious leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“Certainly it’s against the law. Our department doesn’t do that type of thing,” Rumsfeld told reporters.
Both he and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the remarks were from a private citizen and did not represent the U.S. government position. “Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time,” Rumsfeld added.
McCormack added, “Any accusations or any idea that we are planning to take hostile action against Venezuela or the Venezuelan government — any ideas in that regard are totally without fact and baseless.”
Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said Bush needs to guarantee Chavez’s safety at next month’s United Nations meeting in New York.
“Mr Robertson has been one of this president’s staunchest allies. His statement demands the strongest condemnation by the White House,” Alvarez said.
In Caracas, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said, “This is a huge hypocrisy to maintain an anti-terrorist line and at the same time have such terrorist statements as these made by Christian preacher Pat Robertson coming from the same country.”
The leftist Chavez has often accused the United States of plotting his overthrow or assassination. Alongside Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on Sunday, Chavez scoffed at the idea that he and Castro were destabilizing troublemakers.
Chavez survived a short-lived coup in 2002 that he says was backed by the United States. Washington denies involvement.
‘CHEAPER THAN STARTING A WAR’
Chavez was first elected in 1998 and won a referendum on his rule last year. Polls show he would be re-elected in 2006. Venezuela is the world’s fifth largest oil exporting country and a major supplier to the United States.
In his broadcast, Robertson said: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.
“It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war … and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”
The comments hearkened back to a long history of U.S. political and military interventions in Latin America including the invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Haiti in 1994, attempts to assassinate Castro and a CIA-backed coup in Chile in 1973.
Political assassination as U.S. policy has been prohibited since 1976.
Despite the attention by government officials, media and religious leaders, Robertson made no further comment.
Jackson called Robertson’s remarks “morally degenerate” and said Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “cannot be silent on such a suggestion by one who has had such a relationship with the White House.” He plans to meet with religious leaders in Venezuela next week.
This was only the most recent explosive Robertson remark. Criticizing the State Department in 2003, he said “maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up.”
Robertson’s “700 Club” reaches an average 1 million American viewers daily, according to his Web site.
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