VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson (search) has suggested that American agents assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) to stop his country from becoming "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."
An official of a theological watchdog group on Tuesday criticized Robertson's statement as "chilling."
"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Robertson said Monday on the Christian Broadcast Network's "The 700 Club."
"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."
On Tuesday, critics objected to Robertson's statements.
"It's absolutely chilling to hear a religious leader call for the murder of any political leader, no matter how much he disagrees with such a leader's policies or practices," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (search).
David Brock (search), president of Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group, said the remarks should discredit Robertson as a spokesman for the religious right.
Robertson, 75, founder of the Christian Coalition of America (search) and a former presidential candidate, accused the United States of failing to act when Chavez was briefly overthrown in 2002.
A Robertson spokeswoman, Angell Watts, said he would not do interviews Tuesday and had no statement elaborating on his remarks.
A call seeking comment from the U.S. State Department was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Chavez was believed to be in Cuba, but his whereabouts were unknown and no media access was announced.
In Caracas, pro-Chavez legislator Desire Santos Amaral accused Robertson of shedding his Christian values.
"This man cannot be a true Christian. He's a fascist," Santos said. "This is part of the policies of aggression from the right wing in the North against our revolution."
Santos said she thinks U.S.-Venezuelan relations could still improve but comments by "charlatans and fascists" like Robertson only get in the way.
Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter and a major supplier of oil to the United States. The CIA estimates that U.S. markets absorb almost 59 percent of Venezuela's total exports.
Venezuela's government has demanded in the past that the United States crack down on Cuban and Venezuelan "terrorists" in Florida who they say are conspiring against Chavez.
Robertson has made controversial statements in the past.
In October 2003, he suggested that the State Department be blown up with a nuclear device.
He has also said that feminism encourages women to "kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."