VENEZUELA: Chavez to help poor in South and North America

September 7, 2005

Stuart Munckton

The furore continues to grow over the call to assassinate left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made on US national television on August 22 by Pat Robertson, a right-wing Christian televangalist and well-known supporter of US President George Bush.

Fuelling anger over Robertson's assassination call has been the failure of the Bush administration to either clearly condemn Robertson's remarks or initiate legal action against him.

Robertson stated on the August 22 edition of his 700 Club television show that if Chavez "thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it." Under US law, it is a crime to advocate terrorist acts.

Robertson issued a partial apology for his comments on August 24, saying that calls for Chavez's assassination were wrong, but that when he urged Washington to "take [Chavez] out" he didn't mean murder him. The August 25 British Guardian reported that Robertson attempted to "clarify" his August 22 comments with the explanation that "take him out could be a number of things, including kidnapping".

The Venezuelan government has found strong support inside the US from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. reported on August 30 that the previous day Jackson had met with Chavez in Caracas for more than three hours.

Jackson had already strongly condemned Robertson's comments and called for legal action to be taken against him. At a press conference after his meeting with Chavez, Jackson said: "I would hope the talk of isolation, name-calling, hostile rhetoric, threats of assassination and kidnapping give way to aggressive diplomacy."

Venezuela has long expressed its willingness to hold discussions with the US to develop better relations based on the principle of respect for national sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.

Reuters reported on August 28 that Chavez publicly stated the previous day that his government would take legal action against Robertson and, if necessary, push for his extradition to Venezuela under international treaties. If Washington would not act, Venezuela will take its case to the United Nations, Chavez was reported to have said.

Chavez insisted that Robertson's comments were not isolated, but part of the policy of the Bush administration. "He was expressing the wishes of the US elite", Chavez told Venezuelan television viewers. "If anything happens to me then the man responsible will be George W. Bush. He will be the assassin."

Far from being intimidated by Washington from pursuing policies that challenge the interests of US corporations in Latin America, Chavez's government has announced a new offensive to tackle poverty in both South and North America.

During a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS), held in Caracas on August 27, Chavez announced his government's plan to cooperate with socialist Cuba to offer eye treatment, principally cataract operations, at no cost for needy citizens of any country in the Western Hemisphere, including US citizens. The program, which already operates in Venezuela and Cuba, plans to save the sight of 600,000 people per year for the next decade, with up to 150,000 places reserved for US citizens.

Chavez also announced that Venezuela and Cuba would collaborate to spread the literacy program that eradicated illiteracy in Venezuela in two years across the South American continent.

Chavez used the meeting to push Venezuela's proposal that the OAS adopt a social charter, alongside the existing Democratic Charter, to commit OAS member-countries to guarantee social rights such as access to health-care and education.

Even more significant was Chavez's repeat of an offer by Venezuela to help poor people in the US by selling them Venezuelan heating oil at cheap prices. The offer, which would involve selling the oil via community groups inside the US to assist the poor, would see the oil sold at up to 40% cheaper than standard commercial prices.

Explaining the plan on August 29, Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez said that the Venezuelan-owned distribution company inside the US, CITGO, would set aside up to 10% of its refined oil products to be sold directly to organised poor communities in the US. The plan would involve selling Venezuelan heating oil to hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

The Venezuelan embassy in Washington has already received at more than 140 enquires about the plan, according to an August 29 report.

"There is a lot of poverty in the US", Chavez said. "Many people die of cold in the winter. Many die of heat in the summer. We could have an impact on seven to eight million persons."

Venezuela's plan to use its oil wealth to assist poor citizens in the US came as statistics have emerged showing that in 2004 the number of US residents living in poverty had grown by 1.1 million.

According the August 31 Los Angeles Times, the US Census Bureau announced the previous day that nearly 37 million US residents, or 12.7%, lived below the official poverty line in 2004, the fourth straight year in which the bureau had found an increase in the US poverty rate.

That same day, Chavez announced that Venezuela will send oil and humanitarian aid to the US to help alleviate the affects of Hurricane Katrina.

Sources at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, told, that apart from a US$1 million donation, Venezuela is offering two mobile hospital units, each capable of assisting 150 people, 120 specialists in rescue operations, 10 water purifying plants, 18 electricity generators of 850 kilowatt each, 20 tonnes of bottled water, and 50 tonnes of canned food.

From Green Left Weekly, September 7, 2005.
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