Congressman Targets Venezuela's Chavez for Anti-Democratic Moves

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s anti-American actions and statements have prompted a Florida congressman to introduce a resolution calling on Congress to officially condemn him.

Rep. Connie Mack (R.-Fla.), a member of the House International Relations Committee, said his resolution would define and condemn Chavez for what Mack called his “ever-growing anti-democratic actions.” Mack’s resolution would also express “the sense of Congress that the United States should strongly support the aspirations of the democratic forces of Venezuela.”

"Every day, Hugo Chavez escalates his anti-freedom, anti-democratic and anti-American actions,” Mack said in a statement released by his office. “His quest for absolute authoritarian power has led him to crush the hopes, dreams and rights of the Venezuelan people. His dangerous ties to Fidel Castro and anti-American leaders in Latin America such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales threaten the stability and security of the Western Hemisphere.”  

"The United States and all those who seek and promote freedom must support policies that will keep Hugo Chavez in check. This resolution should serve as the starting point of that debate in Congress," Mack said.

A resolution expresses the sense of Congress on a particular issue. It does not carry the weight of a law.

The United States is the third largest importer of Venezuelan oil. In the past, Chavez has called President Bush a “Nazi” and American allies “lapdogs.” He is also a close ally of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. He has even condemned America’s invasion of Iraq.

Earlier this year, he announced that an evangelical missionary organization active in Venezuela for 59 years would be expelled, calling Sanford, Fla.-based New Tribes Mission staffers "agents of imperialist penetration."

A Heritage Foundation study on Venezuela released in November said Chavez was a factor in higher oil prices for America.

“Today, oil prices are higher than they would be otherwise because of Chavez, according to Heritage. “ His talk of suspending exports to some countries creates a climate of speculation, artificially raising prices as refiners scramble to secure suppliers. His deferrals of investment in field equipment have lowered production capacity, also contributing to hikes.”

The Heritage study went on to say, “Despite accusations at home that he is squandering public patrimony, Chavez still supplies Cuba’s Castro regime with 50,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil and oil derivatives per day, all at below-market prices and on easy credit, reportedly financed over 15 years at 2 percent interest. Cuba allegedly owes Venezuela more than $1 billion in arrears.”

“Mr. Chavez also promised below-market petroleum to Caribbean nations in return for friendship. This past June, he signed a pact with 13 countries to supply them with oil at 60 percent of the market price, with the other 40 percent converted to a 25-year loan. The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, a hydrocarbons producer, is now losing sales because it can’t arbitrarily cut prices for special customers like Ch???? ¡vez does,” the Heritage study said.

“In the larger scheme of things, Chavez’s coercive diplomacy has done little to win him friends. Caribbean and Latin American consumer nations haven’t voted with his government in international forums because they know he helped to raise prices and keep them high while Venezuelans sip gas at about 12 cents a gallon,” the Heritage study concluded.

Chavez resumed oil shipments to Cuba in 2002 even though the deal had not been approved by Venezuela’s parliament. The shipments had been suspended several months earlier because of the Castro government’s failure to keep up its payments.

The deal called for Cuba to receive about 53,000 barrels of oil a day and is allowed to pay 25 percent of its oil bill over several years.

Many of Chavez’s opponents accused him of giving away oil because of his friendship with Castro.  Some threatened a legal challenge.

Responding to his opponents’ legal challenge, Chavez said, "If they want to indict me, then I’m waiting here for them to put on the handcuffs."

Chavez, who was jailed for a failed coup in the early 1990s, was elected president in 1998. He faces re-election in 2006.