US activist meets Chavez to repair rift

The Reverend Jesse Jackson has met President Hugo Chavez, hoping to reduce tensions between the US and Venezuela after a religious broadcaster called for the president’s assassination.

Jackson (L) urged both sides to tone down 'hostile rhetoric'
Jackson (L) urged both sides to tone down 'hostile rhetoric'

The US civil rights leader on Monday urged both sides to tone down their “hostile rhetoric” and said US President George Bush should strongly condemn recent remarks by conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson calling for Chavez’s assassination.

Jackson said good relations are in both countries’ interests since Venezuela is a top supplier of US oil.

“I hope that we’ve done something to facilitate a detente on threatening rhetoric,” Jackson said.

“We’re not going to have an oil war.”

Cheap oil

Chavez offered the US cheap heating oil for poor communities and said he was willing to cooperate with Washington in anti-drug efforts, a programme he recently suspended saying US drug agents were involved in spying.

Chavez (L), close ally of Castro,often clashes with Washington

Chavez (L), close ally of Castro,
often clashes with Washington

“In spite of the differences and the tense relations that exist, we’re always willing to continue working together with Mr Bush’s government in the fight against drugs,” Chavez said, adding that it “cannot be a mask to carry out spying or violate a country’s sovereignty”.

Chavez, a close ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro who has clashed repeatedly with Washington, said his government would tap into its Citgo Petroleum Corporation refineries in the US to sell heating oil directly to poor communities, avoiding middle men to bring down costs.

Details of the plan have yet to be worked out, but Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said officials hope to begin supplying heating oil this winter.

Jackson praised the plan.

Extradition call

Chavez also said Venezuela would “exercise its rights” in response to Robertson’s remarks calling for his assassination. He has said his government could ask the US to extradite Robertson.

“We must make it clear that talk of isolating Venezuela, talk of assassinating its leader, this is unacceptable, and it must be denounced roundly by our president”
Jesse Jackson,
civil rights activist

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Monday that Venezuela does not appear to have a sound legal basis for seeking Robertson’s extradition.

Robertson called for Chavez’s assassination on his TV show The 700 Club a week ago, saying the United States should “take him out” because Chavez was a threat.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a supporter of Bush’s re-election bid, later apologised.

“We must make it clear that talk of isolating Venezuela, talk of assassinating its leader, this is unacceptable, and it must be denounced roundly by our president,” Jackson said shortly before meeting Chavez.

Chavez has regularly accused the US government of plotting to overthrow him and has said it backed a 2002 coup which briefly deposed him.

US relations

US officials have strongly denied the charge, even as they have expressed concern about Chavez’s ties with Castro and what opponents call his authoritarian tendencies.

Despite tensions, the US remainsthe top buyer of Venezuelan oil

Despite tensions, the US remains
the top buyer of Venezuelan oil

“We never lose hope that we’ll regain a good tone with Mr Bush’s government,” said Chavez, who offered Venezuelan aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Despite the tensions, the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil.

Jackson said Robertson’s “friendship” with the Bush’s administration is apparent, and that his comments came in response to repeated US suggestions that Chavez posed a threat to the region.

McCormack said there are “certainly difficulties” but that the two countries continue diplomatic talks.

Visas suspension

Jackson, who said it was his first visit to Venezuela, said he expressed concern to Chavez about a move to temporarily suspend visas for foreign missionaries in Venezuela.

The Interior Ministry said on Monday that one-year visas for missionaries seeking to enter the country had been suspended for at least 15 days.

It said the measure was aimed at “achieving improved control” and was not specifically aimed at Americans.

Chavez did not comment on the measure but said some of his enemies have directed calls for his assassination at “religious fanatics”.

During his visit, Jackson said he also held talks with religious and opposition leaders.

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