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by Thor Halvorssen | New York POst Online

September 15, 2005 -- AS Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hit town for this week's special U.N. session, Chavez's flunkies were renting buses and offering to reimburse activists willing to create a "spontaneous" welcome crowd for the populist anti-American.

Tomorrow, Chavez will be the guest of Columbia University's president, Lee Bollinger. And he'll speak Saturday at St. Paul and St. Andrew Methodist Church on 86th Street; Jesse Jackson is set to appear alongside.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan Ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, has been busy calling on the U.S. government to protect Chavez during his visit and to forbid remarks like those made by Pat Robertson on how the United States should neutralize the Chavez threat.

Full disclosure: Robertson's remarks came in conversation with me as a guest on his TV show, while discussing the deplorable human-rights situation in Venezuela.

And I'm still trying to figure out why Robertson caused a firestormm yet we hear no U.S. outrage over Chavez's own involvement in advocating violence against President Bush — let alone the Venezualan's past attempts to assassinate a president.

On Feb. 4, 1992, then-Lt.-Col. Chavez tried to assassinate Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. Members of the years-long conspiracy had formally vowed to "kill the commander, if necessary" and to "wash the country's blemished honor with blood." Early that February morning, Chavez's rebel forces stormed the presidential palace, indiscriminately firing on loyalist soldiers and killing several dozen people.

Though the first family was in residence, the coup failed, and Chavez was court-martialed. Several months later, the imprisoned Chavez again plotted to murder Perez and to overthrow the government.

At his command, rebel aircraft ruthlessly pounded the president's residence while other insurgents took over a television station and broadcast a tape of Hugo Chavez announcing that the government had fallen. Chavez then invited the people to take the streets. They didn't, and his coup failed once again.

In more than one public speech since becoming president, Chavez has boasted that his intentions back then were not just to topple the government, but also to execute President Perez. In 2002, as the families of his victims mourned the 10th anniversary of their loss, Chavez memorialized his unsuccessful assassination attempt by decreeing that henceforth, Feb. 4 would mark a day of "national celebration."

Just last month, calls for President George Bush's death emanated from a Venezuelan government-funded conference —the 16th World Youth and Students Festival, Aug. 7-15, in which Chavez and His cabinet took an active part. (The "festival" is a communist gathering that in past decades had been hosted in Moscow, East Berlin, Havana and Pyonyang.)

Participants' political sympathies were obvious as the international delegates, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Josef Stalin, networked in Caracas and discussed their respective struggles for communist revolution. Enormous portraits of Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Lenin, Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh adorned the general meeting hall.

The multimillion-dollar extravaganza included an international tribunal, broadcast in Venezuela and Cuba. The presiding judge: Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel. Star witness for the prosecution: President Chavez. The accused: George W. Bush, charged with (among much else) being the cause of the world's terrorism. Delegates are on film chanting "Death to America" and holding signs that read, "Death to Bush."

Eliecer Otaiza, the Chavez government's minister for land reform, recently went on TV to lament the Venezuelan people's fondness for America, declaring that the government must prepare for war and invest in "sowing hatred toward the United States." He concluded: "Evidently. the ties that bind us with the United States, even political and historic, are too strong but we must prepare to see, and start seeing the 'gringos' as enemies and that is the first step for combat."

How can the Venezuelan government justify condemning Robertson when it spends millions of dollars hosting a conference that promotes violence, hate and assassination? And why does the U.S. media, which blitzed Robertson, give Chavez a free pass?

Thor Halvorssen is president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

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