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Commentary on AP's "Venezuela's Chavez Offers Hurricane Aid"

By Pedro Mario Burelli

02.09.05 | PMBComment: In times of tragedy it is fair to help your enemies, but what is not acceptable is to callously take political advantage of human tragedy. In a country in which the media, and obviously their audiences, love the odd or sensationalist story, Hugo Chavez's offer to help the US has captured the attention of many ill informed talking heads in the US. This AP report is one of the first that starts questioning Chavez' motivation and provide a little bit of very relevant background. In December of 1999, after days of non-stop rains, Venezuela suffered its worse natural disaster in history. Simultaneous mudslides wiped out large sector of Vargas State, the destruction was hard to comprehend and the death toll topped 15,000. Venezuelans of all walks of life rushed to help as did many nations in the world, including of course the US. Let's examine what Hugo Chavez did during those days:

1. He was out of the country - unbeknownst to anyone... He was receiving "mental healing" in La Havana after one of his frequent breakdowns.

2. No evacuation orders were given despite the evidence that rock slides had been detected in the mountains and the fact that it had long been known that great swaths of shoreline were at risk of mudslides (it had already occurred on a smaller scale in the 50's).

3. He did not return to Venezuela. An F16 from the Venezuelan Air Force was sent to bring back a crudely taped message to the nation which the government tried to pass as a live message from the Presidential Palace.

4. The President returned to the country almost 48 hours after the crisis began.

5. At the request of the government and coordinated by the Venezuelan Army, the US rushed to send two navy vessels with hundreds of members of the Army's Corp of Engineers with military bridges, tents, and water treatment and desalinization plants. With one of the ships at sea and the other about to sail, Chavez was advised by Fidel Castro not to accept the US offer... Two reasons were apparently given: the contingent would include a number of CIA spies and there was the risk of the US earning goodwill among Venezuelans. This incident created a major diplomatic incident. It would be interesting to hear Ambassador Maisto shedding some light to the US press and public about this precedent of Chavez playing with human misery.

6. The political police - DISIP - was accused of having executed a number of people in their untimely and sloppy effort to control looting.

7. Tens of millions of dollars contributed by the international community disappeared... Many Caracas-based Ambassadors tell stories of graft and incompetence associated with their donations.

8. Six years after the tragedy the reconstruction of Vargas has gone nowhere. I invite anyone to tour Vargas and reach their own conclusion about the state of that state.

So, we have another case of Hugo Chavez being advised by Ricardo Alarcon (President of Cuba's national Assembly and the Castro's regime top "americanologist") and their accomplices among the US lobbyist/apologist community, on how to put the Bush Administration on the defensive. While Bush and his team have a great deal to respond for what looks like a series of serious gaffes, Hugo Chavez has no moral authority to accuse anyone of lack of preparation and he should not be allowed a free ride with his blatant attempt to sell snake oil to the American people. Patton Boggs must know - and therefore advice their client - about what happens to people who live in glass houses when they opt to throw stones. PMB



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