by J Michael Waller, Insight magazine, October 29, 2002.
Warning of the formation of a potential “Axis of Evil” in the Americas, an influential lawmaker has called on President George W. Bush to support the ouster of left-wing Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Just days before Brazilians elected radical populist Lula da Silva as their president on Oct. 27, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) sent President Bush a powerfully phrased letter warning that a triumvirate of political extremists leading economic powerhouse Brazil, oil giant Venezuela and the terrorist-sponsoring regime of Cuba constitute an emerging “Axis of Evil” that the United States must stop.Insight obtained a copy of the two-page letter, dated Oct. 24.
Hyde is concerned that da Silva’s professed desire to renew Brazil’s nuclear-weapons program and his hints at building the country’s economy and global stature through proliferation of advanced weapons, is particularly alarming — especially in light of the Brazilian leader’s open support for hemispheric terrorist organizations. Combined with the State Department’s continued listing of Cuba as a sponsor of international terrorism and the Venezuelan paratrooper-turned-president’s open embrace of Havana and fellow terrorist regimes in Iran and Iraq, Hyde has become alarmed at the administration’s apparent inaction.
Hyde recounts the Chavez regime’s record, which, according to the letter, includes “fundamental” violation of the Venezuelan constitution and usurpation of powers of the legislative and judicial branches; “public alliances with state sponsors of terrorism including Cuba, Iraq and Iran” and subsidizing the Fidel Castro regime with oil; and support for “terrorist organizations attacking nearby fragile democracies including the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] in Colombia and radical antidemocratic groups seeking to destabilize Bolivia and Ecuador.”
“The Clinton administration remained unconscionably silent about the antidemocratic actions of President Chavez,” according to Hyde, who urged Bush to stop continuing the Clinton policies and to start telling the truth about Venezuela. “This is the time for the Bush administration to set the factual and historical record straight: The current regime of President Chavez is illegitimate because it is based upon the systematic violation of the Venezuelan constitution in force in 1999,” Hyde wrote. “The Bush administration should also declare itself in sympathy with the pro-democratic civil-military coalition in Venezuela which seeks to restore democracy and should do so at once.”
According to Hyde, “all the pro-democracy elements of the society, including the genuinely democratic political parties, the labor unions, business associations and religious institutions, have been gathered for two days in coalition with a group of active duty military officers of flag rank demanding that President Hugo Chavez resign and that new, free and open elections be held.”
Such action might moderate the incoming da Silva government in Brazil. Hyde is especially concerned that da Silva would make good on his statements to build and proliferate nuclear weapons.
Other lawmakers share Hyde’s concern. The International Relations Committee chairman told Bush, “Recently, many of my colleagues in the Congress wrote you a letter in which they expressed their concerns about the ten-year-long association of Mr. Lula da Silva with Latin American, European and Middle Eastern terrorist organizations in a forum which he convened and organized in silent partnership with Castro. ”
They also expressed their concern about Mr. Lula da Silva’s recent statements indicating an interest in reviving Brazil’s nuclear-weapons program, which from 1965-1994 not only wasted enormous resources that could have helped the poor, but also succeeded in designing a 30 kiloton nuclear bomb which could be quickly tested if the program were revived. “There is a real prospect that Castro, Chavez and Lula da Silva could constitute an axis of evil in the Americas which might soon have nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. … This is the time to support the pro-democratic coalition in Venezuela and to help the people of Brazil understand the truth about Chavez so that they do not make a similar mistake and elect another pro-Castro radical who will neither help the poor, nor help their economy, nor live at peace with democratic neighbors.”