On August 22, well-known US televangelist Pat Robertson made headlines around the world when he called for the assassination of left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Speaking to an estimated 1 million viewers on his nationally televised show on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Robertson said: "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another 200 billion dollar war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
With the US government's much-vaunted claims to be waging an uncompromising "war on terror" in defence of "democratic values", you could be forgiven for expecting a strong response from US officials, such as an uncompromising condemnation of Robertson's statements and the filing of criminal charges against him. Under Federal Communications Commission regulations, it is a crime to broadcast incitements to violence, and under US law it is illegal not just to assassinate foreign leaders, but also to threaten to carry such acts.
Instead, the US officials either mildly admonished Robertson or gave him backhanded support. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters Robertson's call to assassinate Chavez was "inappropriate" and "unhelpful". US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters: "He's a private citizen. Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."
It isn't hard to imagine what the response from the US officials if a prominent Muslim cleric in Iran, for example, had publicly called on his government to assassinate US President George Bush.
The response by US officials to Robertson's call can only be understood when it is recalled the Robertson, a prominent Bush supporter who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992, is the leader of the right-wing Christian Coalition of America, which, with millions of members, is a crucial voter base for the Bush administration.
Chavez, on the other hand. is hated by Washington for leading a popular revolution in Venezuela that is redistributing wealth to the country's poor majority, as well as advocating Latin American unity to challenge US political and economic domination of the continent.
Alongside socialist Cuba, Chavez's revolutionary government is actively promoting a concrete alternative to US=enforced neoliberal "free market" policies through the proposal for an economic bloc known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). This economic alliance, based on principles of solidarity and cooperation instead of competition, is beginning to be made a reality by a series of economic agreements through which Cuba and Venezuela are providing Latin America's poor with education and health care programs. Venezuela offers discounted oil to ensure poor nations in the Caribbean region are guaranteed access to low-cost energy.
Chavez, a popular hero among working people in Latin America, has come out strongly in favour of constructing a "socialism of the 21st century". His vision is not limited to Venezuela. He recently told 20,000 young revolutionaries at the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Caracas in early August, that the world had to chose between "socialism or barbarism".
The US has already backed a military coup against Chavez in April 2002, and, according to declassified documents that can be read at <http://www.venezuelafoia.info>, has funnelled millions of dollars to right-wing opposition groups backed by big business. These groups attempted to overthrow Chavez through economic destabilisation, company lockouts of workers and a presidential recall referendum, all of which have failed.
Robertson explicitly raised the threat posed by Chavez to US big business interests on his program as a key reason to kill Chavez. Robertson invoked the infamous 19th century Monroe Doctrine, which states that the US should control Latin America, and commented "without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly".
Since the start of the year, Chavez and other representatives of the Venezuelan government have made repeated accusations that the US government, which has been engaged in a ceaseless war of words with Venezuela, is plotting to assassinate him. Venezuela has claimed that its intelligence services have details of a plot to kill Chavez involving the CIA.
Despite a formal order banning the assassination of foreign leaders passed during the administration of Gerald Ford three decades ago, there are a number of reasons to believe these allegations. Washington has repeatedly intervened in Latin America to protect the interests of US corporations, including organising assassination attempts on government leaders it feels threaten those interests. There are at least 600 documented CIA-backed attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, for example.
At a press conference held in Caracas the day after Robertson's assassination call, Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vincent Rangel said Venezuela was exploring legal avenues to see whether it could take up Robertson's "criminal comments" under international law. According the August 23 Chicago Tribune, "Rangel said the US war on terror would be measured by how the White House responded to the call of a prominent American citizen to kill a democratically elected leader overseas".
The Chicago Tribune also reported that Bernado Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador to the US, told reporters that "the pronouncement by Mr Robertson needs and demands the firmest and strongest condemnation from the White House".
From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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