CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez dared the U.S. on Friday to put Venezuela on a list of countries accused of supporting terrorism, calling it one more attempt by Washington to undermine him for political reasons.
Chavez said the “threat to include us on the terrorist list” is Washington’s response to his own successes in the region.
U.S. lawmakers — including Reps. Connie Mack and Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, both Florida Republicans — have called for the State Department to add Venezuela to its list of terror sponsors, which currently includes North Korea, Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba. They have expressed concerns about what they call Chavez’s close ties to Colombia’s leftist rebels.
“Let them make that list and shove it in their pocket,” Chavez said in a televised speech. “We shouldn’t forget for an instant that we’re in a battle against North American imperialism and that they have classified us as enemies — at least in this continent they have us as enemy No.1.”
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday during a visit to Brazil that all U.N. nations, including Venezuela, have an obligation to go after terrorists and keep them from operating within their borders.
The comment was largely a warning for Chavez, whom U.S. officials suspect has lent support to Colombian rebels. In recent days, Rice and President Bush have sharpened their rhetoric against Chavez while at the same time praising Colombia and other Latin American allies in a bid to isolate the Venezuelan leader.
Asked whether Washington was seriously considering designating Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism, Rice said the U.S. was ready to respond if necessary.
“There is, after all, a U.N. obligation that all states have undertaken to do everything that they can to prevent terrorists from actively using their territory, from being engaged in terrorist financing,” Rice told reporters after a meeting with Brazilian leaders Thursday.
Chavez said Rice’s visit to Brazil and Chile this week is aimed at mounting “pressures” against “our government and against me in particular.”
Chavez also responded to earlier critical comments by Bush, saying “you’ve seen the imperial chief himself attack us again.”
“The chief of the empire is going around desperate,” Chavez said.
“The imperial plan is to overthrow this government and knock down the Bolivarian Revolution,” he said, referring to his socialist movement. “They’re afraid of the impact of this revolution in the rest of the countries… of Latin America. That permanent aggression is because of that.”
Bush on Wednesday accused the Venezuelan government of destabilizing, provocative behavior, saying “it has squandered its oil wealth in an effort to promote its hostile, anti-American vision.”