CARACAS, Venezuela – Hugo Chavez has defended the alleged terrorist mastermind Carlos the Jackal, saying the Venezuelan imprisoned in France was an important "revolutionary fighter" who supported the cause of the Palestinians.
The Venezuelan president praised Carlos — whose real name is Ilich Sanchez Ramirez — during a speech Friday night saying: "I defend him. It doesn't matter to me what they say tomorrow in Europe."
Ramirez gained international notoriety during the 1970s and 80s as the alleged mastermind of a series of bombings, killings and hostage dramas. He is serving a life sentence in France for the 1975 murders of two French secret agents and an alleged informant.
"They accuse him of being a terrorist, but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter," Chavez said during a televised speech to socialist politicians from various countries, who applauded.
In his speech, Chavez also sought to defend other leaders he said are wrongly labeled "bad guys" internationally, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez called both of them brothers and said he now wonders whether Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was truly as brutal as he was reputed to be.
"We thought he was a cannibal," Chavez said, referring to Amin, whose regime was notorious for torturing and killing suspected opponents in the 1970s. "I have doubts. ... I don't know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot."
Chavez has previously called Ramirez a friend, and a controversy erupted in 1999 after the leftist leader confirmed he had written a letter to him in prison, in response to a note from Ramirez.
Chavez's remarks on Friday were among his most strident in support of Ramirez. He said he believes Ramirez was unfairly convicted, and called him "one of the great fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organization" at the time.
Ramirez was captured in Sudan in 1994, and whisked in a sack to Paris by French agents. He was convicted three years later.
He is also accused of having a role in two 1982 bombings — on a Paris-Toulouse train and outside the Paris office of an Arab-language newspaper — and is suspected in two other train bombings on Dec. 31, 1983.
Chavez didn't refer to any of the accusations against Ramirez, but suggested the Venezuelan is paying a price for backing the Palestinians' cause — which Chavez also supports.
Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in January to protest its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, and since then Chavez has often traded verbal barbs with Israeli officials.
On Friday, he protested remarks by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who predicted during a visit to Argentina that the people of Venezuela and Iran will make their leaders disappear before too long.
"Talking about Chavez, among other things he said he will soon disappear — just like that, which has different connotations," Chavez said. "Imagine if one of us said something similar talking about him or them — any of them, the 'good guys."'