Don't Meet with Hugo Chavez

Dear Mr. President:

In your inauguration speech you stated, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

I am an expatriate Venezuelan who has lived in America for the past five years. My name is on Hugo Chavez’s enemies list because I have spoken out against his metastasizing dictatorial powers that are strangling my native land. In order to make good on your words and be faithful to the charter that has protected the rule of law and the rights of man in this country, you, the President of the United States, should not meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as some political sectors of the hemisphere are urging you to do in occasion of the Summit of the Americas being held next April 17-19 in Trinidad-Tobago.

You have not evidenced knowledge of our reality in Central and South America, which may explain your apparent comfort with the Cuban dictatorship of the Castro brothers. But you must know more about Chavez before you agree to meet with him, because your doing so will give him a legitimacy he does not deserve and will greatly discourage those Venezuelans who yearn for the return of their freedom.

Who is Hugo Chavez? This man stands for the very opposite of what the U.S. Constitution represents. In 1992, he led a bloody military coup against a democratic president, deceiving the soldiers under his command by telling them they were going to a military parade. More than 100 innocent Venezuelans died during these events. Years later, he arrived to the presidency on the basis of promises he has not kept.

From the start, helped along by a significant oil income, he has tried to become a regional socialist leader and to convert Venezuela into another Cuba, under the passive, almost indifferent eyes of the Organization of American States. Today, he controls all political institutions in our country, including the National Electoral Council, which makes it practically impossible for him to lose a presidential election.

He violated both the letter and the spirit of the Venezuelan Constitution, introducing changes that allow him to run indefinitely for the presidency, He has systematically harassed and persecuted political dissidents and has imprisoned or invalidated the rightful political action of the main leaders of the opposition.

He is changing the laws, with the help of a compliant National Assembly, in order to make it impossible for the opposition Governors and Mayors, who control almost half of the country, to do their job under fair and proper conditions, in an action that can only be defined as a silent coup d’etat.

He has aligned his regime with the Colombian FARC, with the Hamas and Hizballah, with Iran’s fanatical President Ahmadinejad, with Cuba’s Castro brothers and, in general, with all the rogue leaders and organizations of the planet. He has embarked in an arms race, buying up to $6 billion in weapons from Russia, China and other countries. He is explicitly leading an anti-U.S. coalition in Latin America that has the clear objective of progressively excluding the U.S. from Latin American and Caribbean affairs.

In the domestic scene Hugo Chavez has received and grossly mismanaged some $750 billion during the ten years he has been in almost total political power. The Venezuelan population has gained very little from this huge income in terms of stable and orderly progress. Chavez’s domestic policies have been based on handouts that give the poor a temporary feeling of well being but which do not solve the deep seated problems of poverty, poor health and ignorance of millions of Venezuelans.

Some might argue that these are Venezuela’s problems and do not concern the United States, but what is taking place in Venezuela is having a profound effect across the Americas and will ultimately affect the national interest of the United States. It is extremely important, therefore, that the United States reaffirms its credo, as contained in the charter mentioned in your inaugural speech. As you expressed in that speech the ideals contained in the charter should not sacrificed to expedience or to short-term political objectives.

Meeting with this despot — posing for the inevitable photos of the two of you shaking hands — will put America on record as giving its blessing to everything I have recounted here. Do you really want to do that? Wouldn’t you — meaning America and all its friends in the hemisphere — be much better off if you placed stringent preconditions on any meeting with Chavez?

This summit will be as much a test of your presidency as the North Korean missile launch or the Somali pirates’ holding an American captive. It is not only the friends of liberty who will be watching you closely: its enemies will be watching, too.