Mon, 20 Apr 2009 19:26:27 +0000 – By Doug SchoenCo-author, "The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against America"/Democratic Pollster/FOX News Contributor
This past weekend, President Obama made a mistake when he gave a hearty embrace to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In his first meeting with Chavez, Obama was all smiles in front of the cameras as he gripped Chavez's hand and later accepted a book as a gift from Chavez during a photo-op. Although many may not see these exchanges as a big deal, they are, especially if you consider Chavez's consistently anti-American stance and the political practices that have led to such public comments as declarations that the United States "is the devil that represents capitalism."
Chavez is very charismatic, to be sure, but he is also very dangerous. Chavez has not only openly spoken of a hatred of the United States and capitalism, but he has also supported terrorism throughout his presidency. He has facilitated the growth of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah and has been an ally to Iran -- backing Iran both economically as well as supporting their nuclear ambitions. Even more frightening, earlier this year Turkey intercepted an Iranian shipment headed to Venezuela with 22 containers labeled "tractor parts." According to the Associated Press, a customs official stated, "the equipment was enough to set up an explosives lab."
Additionally, two Venezuelans have been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as Hezbollah terrorists. A Chavez diplomat in Lebanon, Ghazi Nasr al Din, a Venezuelan of Lebanese extraction, is charged with using Venezuela's embassies in the Middle East for Hezbollah money-laundering. The other is Fawzi Kanan, who runs a travel agency in Caracas that books trips for Chavez's government and is charged with providing Hezbollah agents with Venezuelan identity cards and with planning kidnapping and terrorist attacks against America.
Although Chavez denies any connection to Hezbollah, the terrorist group has been operating with impunity in Venezuela for years and this fact must not be overlooked by the United States. At a time when the United States is asking Cuba to change in order to reopen diplomatic relations, it makes no sense to publicly appear chummy with a leader who is a known state sponsor of terror and has a penchant for anti-American sentiment. Especially in a state where the media is oppressed, a picture can be worth a thousand words and Chavez now has plenty.
Douglas Schoen is a political strategist, FOX News Contributor, and author of "The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against America."