Re: Robertson endorses assassinating Chavez
US campaign to ring Chavez alarm fails to resonate
Sun Aug 28, 2005 1:33 PM BST
By Saul Hudson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "Since when did Venezuela become a threat?" asked U.S. radio sports talk show host Tony Kornheiser.
"Since gas went over $3," his co-host joked, referring to soaring U.S. prices and the fact Venezuela holds the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East.
The Bush administration has accused leftist President Hugo Chavez of seeking to destabilise Latin American governments and doing too little to combat drug traffickers and Marxist rebels operating around its border with U.S. ally Colombia.
But Washington's campaign to raise the alarm over a major U.S. oil supplier has failed to resonate among members of congress, editorial writers, think-tank analysts and the public.
In the void, Pat Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and key supporter of President George W. Bush, called last week for Chavez to be assassinated for exporting communism and Muslim extremism.
As wild as his charges appeared, the attack came against the backdrop of largely unsubstantiated Bush administration accusations and Chavez said they represented the view of the right-wing U.S. elite.
"The Bush administration has tried to make Venezuela seem like a spooky, murky place," said Larry Birns of the Washington based think-tank the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "But they have cried wolf too often. Without serious evidence, you can't take their accusations seriously."
The Bush administration distanced itself from Robertson and the evangelist leader grudgingly apologised but by the end of the week even sports talk radio was ridiculing the idea Venezuela posed a threat.
ACTIONS LOUDER THAN LOUD WORDS
Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said U.S. complaints were baseless and driven by American right-wingers, who fear Chavez's ideology of spreading oil wealth to the majority poor resonates in a region rejecting American-prescribed free-market models.
Chavez, who routinely insults Bush and claims Washington plots to oust him, can match Robertson's rhetoric.
But this month he let his actions undercut U.S. charges that he funds groups trying to oust Ecuador's government
With Ecuador facing a political crisis where protesters halted oil production, Chavez helped rescue the fragile government by lending its poor neighbour crude so that it would meet its export commitments.
The Bush administration is under pressure to hold off on its accusations.
Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, complained that U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's repeated criticism of Venezuela during a Latin American tour could undermine efforts to improve cooperation on such issues as drug trafficking.
"It may well be helpful to at least have a moratorium on adverse comments on Venezuela," the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Rumsfeld last week.
But that advice seems to go against the administration's instincts.
A congressional official, who asked not to be named because he was relating a private conversation, said a bipartisan delegation of U.S. legislators met Condoleezza Rice before she became secretary of state to urge her to reach out to Chavez.
According to the official, Rice cut the lawmakers off and said, "We just don't like him."