Venezuela Slams Robertson Over Remarks
By CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 23, 2005; 1:24 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's vice president accused religious broadcaster Pat Robertson on Tuesday of making "terrorist statements" by suggesting that American agents assassinate President Hugo Chavez.
Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said Venezuela was studying its legal options, adding that how Washington responds to Robertson's comments would put its anti-terrorism policy to the test.
"The ball is in the U.S. court, after this criminal statement by a citizen of that country," Rangel told reporters. "It's huge hypocrisy to maintain this discourse against terrorism and at the same time, in the heart of that country, there are entirely terrorist statements like those."
The State Department distanced itself from Robertson's comments.
"We do not share his view, and his comments are inappropriate," spokesman Sean McCormack said.
There was no immediate comment from Chavez, who was winding up an official visit to Cuba on Tuesday. Scores of journalists awaited Chavez at the airport, where he was to board a plane for a trip to Jamaica to discuss a Venezuela initiative to supply petroleum to Caribbean countries under favorable financial terms.
On Monday, Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network's "The 700 Club": "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 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."
Chavez has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of President Bush, accusing the United States of conspiring to topple his government and possibly backing plots to assassinate him. U.S. officials have called the accusations ridiculous.
"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," Robertson said. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
Rangel called Robertson "a man who seems to have quite a bit of influence in that country," adding sarcastically that his words were "very Christian."
The comments "reveal that religious fundamentalism is one of the great problems facing humanity in these times," Rangel said.
Robertson's remarks appear likely to further stoke tensions between Washington and Caracas. Chavez has repeatedly claimed that American officials are plotting to oust or kill him _ charges U.S. officials have denied.
The United States is the top buyer of Venezuelan crude, but Chavez has made it clear he wants to decrease the country's dependence on the U.S. market by finding other buyers.
Chavez has survived a brief 2002 coup, a devastating two-month strike that ended in early 2003 and recall referendum in 2004. The former army paratroop commander, a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is up for re-election next year, and polls suggest he is the favorite.