Televangelist Calls for Assassination of Chavez

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Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson this week started a firestorm after suggesting the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro and an outspoken foe of U.S. policies in South America and abroad. Eric Weiner looks at just who Chavez is, and why he excites such strong feelings among conservative politicians.


By now you've probably heard the comments made by conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson about the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. In case you haven't, here's what he said earlier this week on his program "The 700 Club."

(Soundbite of "The 700 Club")

Reverend PAT ROBERTSON (Host, "The 700 Club"): 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.

CHADWICK: The State Department promptly denounced Pat Robertson's comments, calling them `inappropriate.' A Venezuelan official called them criminal, and urged this country to take legal action against Pat Robertson. But just who is Hugo Chavez, this Venezuelan leader, and why would anyone want to assassinate him? Here's NPR's Eric Weiner.

ERIC WEINER reporting:

Venezuela's elected president, Hugo Chavez--former paratrooper, self-proclaimed man of the people--wields a lot of power in Latin America. He does it in at least two ways, oil and television. First, oil. Venezuela has lots of it, the largest reserves outside the Middle East. With oil prices near record highs, that means record amounts of revenue for the government of Hugo Chavez. In fact, some analysts see a direct correlation between rising oil prices and Hugo Chavez's rising ambitions. Michael Shifter is vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue.

Mr. MICHAEL SHIFTER (Vice President for Policy, Inter-American Dialogue): I think the price of oil has made Chavez supremely confident and self-assured, and I think we would not be seeing the kind of tit-for-tat and deterioration in relations if it weren't for oil.

WEINER: The oil revenue, says Shifter, has allowed Chavez to thumb his nose at the US in ways that the other Latin American leaders would never dare to do. Chavez has called President Bush a jerk and a threat to international peace. The Venezuelan leader, meanwhile, is shopping for new Russian-made weapons and has cozied up to Cuban leader Fidel Castro; the two men met in Havana this week. In fact, some commentators are calling Chavez the new Fidel, a perennial thorn in America's side. Again, Michael Shifter.

Mr. SHIFTER: I think he always has in the back of his mind how could he really stick it to the United States. `They stuck it to us for our history, and how we're in a position to really sort of assert our national pride and control.'

WEINER: Lately, Chavez has extended that national control from the oil fields to the airwaves.

(Soundbite of Telesur)

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of music)

WEINER: This is Telesur, a new Latin American TV network launched by Venezuela. It airs a mix of news, documentaries and movies and claims to be the true face of Latin America. Some have compared it to Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite network that many Arabs love and the Bush administration despises. Telesur has the backing of three other Latin American countries--Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba--but Rosental Alves, a professor of international journalism at the University of Texas, says it's clear in whose image the network was created.

Professor ROSENTAL ALVES (University of Texas): It reflects the policies of Hugo Chavez, it reflects the personality of Hugo Chavez, and that's why everybody in Latin America's calling it Tele-Chavez.

WEINER: Relations between the US and Venezuela seem to reach a new low every day. Into this geopolitical tinderbox steps Christian preacher Pat Robertson, with a suggestion that the US assassinate Hugo Chavez. US officials have roundly denounced Robertson's comments, but they have received big play in Venezuela and, some analysts say, play right into Hugo Chavez's hands.

Professor JERRY HAAR (Florida International University): I don't think Hugo Chavez and his supporters could have scripted anything better.

WEINER: Jerry Haar is a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

Prof. HAAR: This clearly plays into his delusion, his paranoia and his baseless claims that the United States is trying to assassinate him.

WEINER: Which brings us back to oil. About 15 percent of our oil imports come from Venezuela. Should Chavez follow through on his recent threat to cut off oil sales to the US, that could lead to higher gas prices. Most analysts say that's not likely to happen, at least not now. Hugo Chavez needs the oil money to stay in power, and power is one thing the Venezuelan leader is not likely to give up. Eric Weiner, NPR News.

CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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