Jackson Jumps Into U.S.-Venezuelan Relations
CARACAS, Venezuela – Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (search) was in Caracas this week to smooth ruffled feathers after televangelist Pat Robertson (search) sparked an international incident by suggesting the United States kill Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search).
Click in the video box to the right of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Steve Centanni.
After a four-hour, closed-door meeting on Tuesday, those feathers appeared to be smoothed. Chavez even offered to help low-income Americans heat their homes this winter. The deal would be offered through the Texas-based Citgo petroleum company, which is Venezuelan-owned.
"We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to poor communities in the United States," the Venezuelan president said.
Details of the plan still need to be worked out, but Chavez said the Citgo refinery would offer 66,000 barrels — 10 percent — of petroleum products it pumps each day to schools, hospitals, churches and others.
The products would be sold directly from the refinery, cutting out the middleman and reducing costs to poor families.
Venezuela is the world's No. 5 oil producer and provides about 15 percent of all U.S. energy imports, the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the United States.
Aside from negotiating deals, Jackson's visit to Venezuela was aimed at defusing a growing war of words between the United States and Venezuela. Tensions mounted following an inflammatory comment by Robertson last week, in which he suggested the United States should remove Chavez by any means necessary.
"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Robertson said.
The United States quickly distanced itself from the comments, calling Robertson a private citizen who does not speak for the administration. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) added that assassination is illegal and not a policy of the United States.
Jackson quickly scolded Robertson for his comments and the evangelist apologized the next day. On Tuesday, Jackson continued to express his dismay at Robertson.
"Robertson later said he meant a regime change, not an assassination," Jackson said. "It's fair to say, however, that most Americans disagree with what Rev. Robertson said."
At the time, Chavez appeared not to be convinced. He called on Robertson to be extradited to Venezuela. The State Department says Chavez doesn't have the legal right to demand extradition. In addition, U.S. officials call Chavez a destabilizing force in Latin America, and point to his close ties to Cuban President Fidel Castro (search) and former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.
In recent days, however, Chavez made two gestures to ease the growing tensions — offering to sell the oil to low-income households and pledging to renew cooperation with the United States in the war on drugs, a turnaround from his recent move to suspend Drug Enforcement Agency activity in Venezuela after he accused U.S. drug agents of spying.
The State Department called the turnaround good news.
"Certainly, we would welcome the resumption of our once strong cooperative efforts in the fight against illegal narcotics," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Jackson added that it's in U.S. interests to have a good relationship with Venezuela, which is vital to U.S. energy and fighting the war on drugs.
"We are neighbors and I would hope that there would be a détente on hostile rhetoric," Jackson said.
"Unless they are our allies in stopping the drug flow, we cannot win it," he told FOX News.
As for Jackson's interjecting himself in U.S.-Latin American affairs, McCormack said that's no problem since he's a private citizen who is free to travel.
"We have many private citizens that travel, who travel abroad, and certainly, that only helps to increase mutual understanding," he said.
It remains to be seen whether Jackson's visit to Venezuela will serve to ease the growing tensions or simply to bring sharp relief in the deep divide between the Bush and Chavez administrations.