Sunday, January 30, 2005

Nelson Feeling The Political Heat

Here's an interesting twist - today Senator Bill Nelson's come out with a defense of his embarassing political tour to Venezuela. Nelson's a Democrat who represents politically sensitive Florida, and could easily lose his seat over his coddling of the Venezuelan dictator. Given the negative news about Chavez in the US since his trip, he's bound to be worried. Chavez has confiscated farmlands, destroyed freedom of speech, screwed American oil companies, jailed opponents, stiffed bondholders and harbored Colombian terrorists. With news like that getting out, no wonder Nelson's decided to try a little spin control with the newspapers to reach voters.

Nelson is the most politically moderate of the three senators who went to see Chavez - Senator Christopher Dodd and Senator Lincoln Chaffee are far more to the left politically. But, like Dodd, defending his Chavez junket through the newspapers - local ones, a sign he's thinking of voters. He wrote one today to a local Vero Beach newspaper which apparently had criticized his trip.

In his letter, Nelson used the same dreary unconvincing arguments about Chavez's 'democratically elected' government as Dodd.

But Nelson's language is harsher, and this is probably a function of his being on a much hotter seat politically, as a political consultant friend detailed here, in 'Shilling for the New Castro.'

It may be a wasted effort. Look how desperate Nelson is to sound like tough on communism. Somehow I don't think it will wash with the Florida voters as easily as Dodd's item in the Washington Post will go over with the Beltway and Connecticut crowds. But here is what he writes (I highlighted his noticeably 'tough' language in bold italicized typeface, along with some notes of my own speculating on his thoughts in bold parentheses) See what you think:

Bill Nelson: Senator tries to bring Venezuela dictator to 'political center'

January 29, 2005

As a nation that values freedom, what should we do when a democratically elected leader, like Chavez, starts to dismantle his country's democratic institutions and threatens our economic security?

Your Jan. 22 editorial [first 'Thumbs Down' item] pointed out that in Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, there has been an erosion of democracy and constant America-bashing. And while the editorial correctly noted that I have been highly critical of Chavez's ties to Colombian guerrillas and Fidel Castro, the author very wrongly concluded I am "unfazed" or "turning a blind eye" to his more recent political excesses.

Let me set the record straight: There can be no tolerance of his dictatorial behavior. And what's in the best interest of the United States is to try to bring Chavez back toward the political center. Otherwise, we'll have a terrible mess on our hands with our country's fourth largest oil supplier.

So serious is the potential for such an economic mess that the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, recently asked the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress to examine our preparedness to deal with the very real possibility of a disruption in our oil supply from Venezuela.

Because I share the Republican senator's concern, I traveled to Venezuela with a bipartisan (read: there was a Republican among us, we weren't all the usual leftist sandalistas who drive away voters here!) delegation of lawmakers to assess firsthand the troubling political excesses by Chavez there, as well as the chances of improving our relationship.

And just one day after my return, during the confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state, I urged that the administration make it a priority to develop an energy policy that reduces our dependence on unstable foreign suppliers — a fact your editorial ignores.
Dr. Rice agreed with me (See? I'm not such a sandalista! Condi agreed with me on something!) and added that she hopes Chavez will not undertake actions that do further harm to the mutually beneficial energy relationship that the United States and Venezuela share. No one can deny that Chavez has been repressive toward his political opponents and irresponsible in his international conduct. (I heard the Alo Presidente tape and saw the cartoon.)

Unfortunately, he was democratically elected which you also ignore. The Venezuelan people, by solid majorities, have chosen him on separate occasions, including the recent recall referendum, which the Organization of the American States and the Carter Center judged to be legitimate.
As a nation that values freedom, what should we do when a democratically elected leader, like Chavez, starts to dismantle his country's democratic institutions and threatens our economic security?

Be assured that I, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, will continue to work with President Bush and the new secretary of state (See? I'm with Bush and popular Condi, not damn Dodd!) to have the U.S. vigorously stand up for democratic principles and American interests in Venezuela.

That's why, during my face-to-face meeting with Chavez, I told him we find some of his policies and actions unacceptable (I'll bet), and our relationship cannot help but be harmed if he continues down his current path.

Nelson is Florida's senior U.S. senator. The Democrat serves on the Senate's Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Commerce and Budget committees.,2546,TCP_1127_3505648,00.html


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