Friday, September 02, 2005

Sep 2/05 - On a fraudulent offer to help: Chavez on Katrina

PMBComment: In times of tragedy it is fair to help your enemies, but what is not acceptable is to callously take political advantage of human tragedy. In a country in which the media, and obviously their audiences, love the odd or sensationalist story, Hugo Chavez's offer to help the US has captured the attention of many ill informed talking heads in the US. This AP report is one of the first that starts questioning Chavez' motivation and provide a little bit of very relevant background.

In December of 1999, after days of non-stop rains, Venezuela suffered its worsed natural disaster in history. Simultaneous mudslides wiped out large sector of Vargas State, the destruction was hard to comprehend and the death toll topped 15,000. Venezuelans of all walks of life rushed to help as did many nations in the world, including of course the US. Let's examine what Hugo Chavez did during those days:

1. He was out of the country - unbeknownst to anyone...he was receiving "mental healing" in La Havana after one of his frequent breakdowns.

2. No evacuation orders were given despite the evidence that rock slides had been detected in the mountains and the fact that it had long been know that great swaths of shoreline were at risk of mudslides (it had already occurred on a smaller scale in the 50's)

3. He did not return to Venezuela. An F!6 from the Venezuelan Air Force was sent to bring back a crudely taped message to the nation which the government tried to pass as a live message from the Presidential Palace.

4. The President returned to the country almost 48 hours after the crisis began.

5. At the request of the government and coordinated by the Venezuelan Army, the US rushed to send two navy vessels with hundreds of members of the Army's Corp of Engineers with military bridges, tents, and water treatment and desalinization plants. With one of the ships at sea and the other about to sail, Chavez was advised by Fidel Castro not to accept the US offer...two reasons were apparently given: the contingent would include a number of CIA spies and there was the risk of the US earning goodwill among Venezuelans. This incident created a major diplomatic incident and, according to a Clinton Administration official, cost the US taxpayer's $25 million. It would be interesting to hear Ambassador Maisto shedding some light to the US press and public about this precedent of Chavez playing with human misery.

6. The political police - DISIP - was accused of having executed a number of people in their untimely and sloppy effort to control looting.

7. Tens of millions of dollars contributed by the international community disappeared...many Caracas based Ambassadors tell stories of graft and incompetence associated with their donations.

8. Six years after the tragedy the reconstruction of Vargas has gone nowhere. I invite anyone to tour Vargas and reach their own conclusion about the state of that state.

So, we have another case of Hugo Chavez being advised by Ricardo Alarcon (President of Cuba's National Assembly and the Castro's regime top "americanologist") and their accomplices among the US lobbyist/apologist community, on how to put the Bush Administration on the defensive. While Bush and his team have a great deal to respond for what looks like a series of serious gaffes, Hugo Chavez has no moral authority to accuse anyone of lack of preparation and he should not be allowed a free ride with his blatant attempt to sell snake oil to the American people. Patton Boggs must know - and therefore advice their client - about what happens to people who live in glass houses when they begin to throw stones at the neighbors. PMB

Venezuela's Chavez Offers Hurricane Aid

By IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writer

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is offering planeloads of soldiers and aid workers to help American victims of Hurricane Katrina, while at the same time taking aim at the U.S. government for its handling of the crisis.

Some critics on Thursday said Chavez, a leading voice for the Latin American left, seemed to be using the disaster to try to make the Bush administration look bad.

While confusion reigned in New Orleans, Chavez said the looting was to be expected under such circumstances.

"As more information comes out now, a terrible truth is becoming evident: That government doesn't have evacuation plans," Chavez said Wednesday night during a speech.

He called Bush "the king of vacations" and noted he had been at his Texas ranch and when the storm hit and didn't provide leadership. "There were many innocent people who left in the direction of the hurricane. No one told them where they should go."

A controversy erupted in another disaster situation in 1999 when Chavez turned down an offer for U.S. military engineers to come help reopen a main coastal highway following catastrophic floods and mudslides. He said Venezuela didn't need the Americans' help.

The U.S. government has yet to respond to Chavez's offer to send planeloads of aid, including 2,000 soldiers, firefighters, volunteers and other disaster specialists. Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, also pledged $1 million in aid through its Citgo Petroleum Corp., plus fuel to help in hard-hit areas.

But Venezuelan commentator Ibsen Martinez, a frequent government critic, said the aid offer by Chavez seems to serve other intentions as well.

"He's trying to win a political game," Martinez said. "It's very astute."

Just as Chavez has been offering preferential oil deals to allies across the Americas, the aid offer and simultaneous criticism appear aimed at influencing international opinion and reinforcing support among the U.S. and Latin American left, Martinez said.

"I think he's speaking for the gallery. He's bragging," Martinez said, adding that sending aid to wealthier Americans could irritate some poor Venezuelans but that in general Chavez's remarks seemed aimed at putting forward a sympathetic face.

Venezuela is a leading supplier of fuel to the United States, though relations have been tense between Washington and Chavez, who says he is leading a "socialist" revolution and blames U.S. "imperialism" for many of the world's problems, from poverty to global warming.

Chavez's criticisms of the U.S. response to the disaster came two days after he met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he hoped their talks would help both sides cut down on "hostile rhetoric."

His government, meanwhile, has demanded U.S. authorities take legal action against conservative commentator Pat Robertson for suggesting on his TV program last week that Chavez should be assassinated because he poses a danger to the region. Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a prominent Bush supporter, later apologized for his remarks.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.