Robertson Apologizes for Chavez Remark

Published August 24, 2005

| FoxNews.com

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson (search) has issued an apology for calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search).

"Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him," Robertson's statement said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson told FOX News that an apology is not enough.

"The fact is that his impact is substantially great," said Jackson. "He supports the government, he is a former Republican presidential candidate. ... His statement carries weight."

Robertson's statement acknowledged the controversy that has surrounded his remarks, but said the situation has shed light on an important topic.

"There are many who disagree with my comments, and I respect their opinions. There are others who think that stopping a dictator is the appropriate course of action," he said. "In any event, the incredible publicity surrounding my remarks has focused our government's attention on a growing problem which has been largely ignored."

Robertson explains in the statement the context of the comment and the reasons why he believes Chavez is a dangerous leader saying that he seeks to overthrow democracies, "found common cause with terrorists," and calls Fidel Castro (search) and Saddam Hussein "comrades."

Jackson, who plans to travel to Venezuela, stressed the danger of Robertson's comments especially in light of the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

"It was illegal for us to go into Iraq on the basis of false information, so we have a credibility problem there," he said. "Our government must be very clear that we are against the desire to overthrow another government."

Jackson told FOX News his trip to Venezuela has been in the works for more than two months, and coincides with the anniversary of the March on Washington. He said he will be there to talk to religious leaders about human rights and pro-democracy concepts, "not assassination and coups."

When asked if he's going to Venezuela this weekend to apologize to Chavez, Jackson said, "Oh no, that's not my role."

The televangelist had previously said Wednesday that his comments were "misinterpreted."

"I didn't say 'assassination,'" Robertson clarified during a broadcast of his "The 700 Club" Wednesday morning. "I said our special forces should go 'take him out,' and 'take him out' could be a number of things, including kidnapping."

He blamed The Associated Press for making him seem to advocate the assassination of a foreign leader.

"There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him," Robertson said. "I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time."

However, during the original "700 Club" broadcast Monday night, Robertson clearly mentioned assassination.

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we are trying to assassinate him, we should go ahead and do it," Robertson said Monday. "It's a whole lot easier than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Unless American agents acted decisively, the evangelist argued Monday, Venezuela would become "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."

"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."

But Jackson disagrees that pre-emptive measures are a good course of action. "We made a big mistake [in Iraq], we should not make that mistake again," he told FOX News. "Chavez was elected democratically. Here's a chance to build some bridges. We should not drive them into isolation."

Robertson's comments, picked up by the AP, quickly became Tuesday's major news story and drew reactions from liberal groups, the government of Venezuela, Jackson, and even the State Department and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (search).

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Tuesday called Robertson's remarks "inappropriate."

"This is not the policy of the United States government. We do not share his views," McCormack said.

Rumsfeld said he knew of no consideration ever being given to the idea of assassinating Chavez.

"Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law," he said.

Political assassination was made off-limits by former President Ford in an executive order in the mid-1970s.

Jackson issued a statement denouncing Robertson's remarks as "morally reprehensible and dangerously suggestive."

In Caracas, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said Venezuela was considering legal action against Robertson.

"There is a legal measure in the United States that condemns and punishes statements of this nature," Rangel said, referring to laws dealing with television broadcasts.

"The 700 Club" is syndicated to local television stations across the United States, which makes it subject to Federal Communications Commission rules. It is also carried by the cable ABC Family Channel and satellite television, neither of which fall under FCC jurisdiction.

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, the only member of OPEC in the Western Hemisphere and the supplier of an estimated 8 percent of the petroleum the United States consumes.

Chavez, elected president of Venezuela in 1998, has irritated U.S. officials with his fiery rhetoric against American "imperialism" and his increasingly close ties to U.S. enemies such as Cuba and Iran. He says he is leading Venezuela toward socialism.

In 1999, his first year in office, Chavez reorganized the judiciary, bypassed the established Congress and wrote a new constitution that made sweeping changes to the national government, including increasing the presidential term to six years. The constitution was ratified by popular referendum later that year.

In 2000, elections solidified his control over the new national legislature and he was re-elected president. Later that year, he passed a law enabling him to rule by decree for a period of one year, which allowed him to basically write his own laws.

Venezuela's middle and upper classes, as well as its business community and large labor unions, largely oppose Chavez and have accused him of trying to create a Cuban-style Communist dictatorship. But he enjoys overwhelming support among the country's poor.

Chavez has accused Washington of backing a short-lived 2002 coup against him, a charge U.S. officials have denied.

In 2004, a popular referendum over whether to recall Chavez — a provision he wrote into his new constitution — resulted in nearly 60 percent of voters urging him to stay in office.

Chavez has made anti-Americanism a central part of his foreign policy, going so far as to call George W. Bush a "pendejo" (a--hole). Earlier this year, he said the United States had plans to assassinate him.

He is a strong supporter of Castro, whom he considers a close friend, visited Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2000 and has reached out to Iran and China.

Neighboring Colombia has accused Venezuela of giving shelter to left-wing Colombian guerrilla groups, and there have been allegations of Venezuelan influence in unrest in Bolivia earlier this year.

However, Chavez's relations with most other South American countries have remained good, especially with the moderate leftist governments of Brazil and Argentina.

Despite threats to do so if the United States tries to overthrow him, Chavez has done nothing to impede the flow of oil to the United States — PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, owns the American oil company Citgo — and some foreign-policy experts regard him as little more than a blowhard.

The former paratrooper is up for re-election next year, and polls suggest he is the favorite.

FOX News' Paul Wagenseil and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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