The United States does not have the most exemplary record when it comes to dealings with its neighbours to the south. Too often, under the guise of protecting democracy, they have interfered in democratically elected governments or popular revolutions to either co-ordinate insurgency or prop up despots.
In many of these incidences there has been direct correlation to the number of large American corporations doing business in the country. Thankfully, the days of the United Fruit Company dictating government policy seem to have ended. There have been no direct incursions into countries south and west since the days of Papa Bush and “Operation Just Cause”.
The 1989 invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Noriega should have been a warning to Saddam Hussein that the Americans would tolerate much from allies, save public embarrassment. Noriega’s obvious connections to money laundering for the drug trade were in too much contrast to the “Just Say No” war on drugs mentality prevalent in the U.S. at the time to be ignored.
Since then, aside from the continued embargo of Cuba, the American government has had bigger fish to fry. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iraq again have been their primary concern. Whatever threats the countries of South/Central America could potentially mount were small potatoes to the terrorists holed up in the Middle East.
Now, however, the spectre of American involvement in the affairs of a South American country has reared its head again. Pat Robertson, host of the “Christian Broadcast Network’s” 700 Club show, has publicly called on the United States government to assassinate President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Many will remember Robertson’s ill-fated attempt for the Oval Office in the 1988 election. His bid fell well short as he never made it out of the primaries. His failure on the national political front has not stopped him from trying to involve himself in directing America. His is the voice leading the call for denying rights to homosexuals, teaching creationism in schools, calling a woman’s right to choose murder, and re-instatement of the death penalty.
He is the typical example of what people think of when they imagine the religious right. Soft spoken and articulate, his reasonable demeanour makes him all the more dangerous. He sits on his couch spewing hatred in a quiet folksy manner that makes him sound like a friendly neighbour offering advice on your weed problem.
He is friends with the people who surround the Presidency and is a firm supporter of Bush junior’s vision of the world. He speaks for millions of conservative Christians around the United States, all of whom take his word as gospel.
His calling on the government to assassinate the leader of a foreign power is equivalent to any fatwa announced by the more radical Muslim clerics to their followers. It is an incitement to terror that must be answered by the Bush administration for them to retain any credibility in their supposed war on terrorism.
Simply calling his comments inappropriate is not enough. He must be publicly condemned in the same manner that all who advocate this type of action are condemned by the Bush administration. If not, than any pretence that this is not solely a war against people of the Muslim faith vanishes.
There are those who will claim that Robertson is a private individual entitled to his opinion. That is true, but how many private individuals own television stations that broadcast to 180 countries worldwide with millions of followers who hang on their every word? What do you think would happen if any private citizen would call for the assassination of George Bush? How long would they stay free, or at least free from investigation?
What would have been the media and public reaction if this had been a cleric of a different colour? Let’s say an American Muslim leader called for the assassination of Tony Blair. How long would he be free? The situation is no different, a religious leader calling for the death of the leader of a foreign power.
Hugo Chavez has already withstood one right wing backed coup, and a general strike that were supported by business concerns that didn’t like his nationalist policies. His accusations of America harbouring people attempting to overthrow his government and potential assassins may be farfetched, but Robertson’s rhetoric does nothing to ease a tense situation.
Instead of offering reassurances to ensure the continued supply of oil from Venezuela to the United States, all that America offers is an open call for his death delivered by one of their most influential religious leaders. This is not behaviour designed to make anyone feel secure.
There is always the distinct possibility that the Bush administration is using Robertson as a trial balloon. By having Pat trying out potential scenarios in public they can gauge public reaction while maintaining complete deniability. It wouldn’t be the first time that an administration has used an outsider to test the waters on a risky issue and it won’t be the last.
Lets hope that this not the case. South and Central America have finally achieved a modicum of stability within the last decade and are beginning the long slow climb out years if political unrest. Even the hint of American intrusion into domestic affairs is liable to upset delicate balances of power that have taken years to establish.
It is not the time for the United States to get back into the business of toppling every government they have disagreements with in the Western hemisphere. That game was old in the eighties, and played now would further darken their image with the world’s underdeveloped countries. Actions like that would only serve to further isolate them from the rest of the world.
While some may think that they can exist in a vacuum, the reality is that complete isolation means no trading partners and no economy. No politician in America could seriously think that their country can literally go it alone in this day and age, no matter how powerful they are militarily.
If, as can only be hoped, Pat Robertson is a loose cannon, then the United States needs to nail him to the ground. He must be treated like any other person who calls for the use of terrorist activity against a foreign leader. Sending him to Gitmo may not be possible, but he still has to be punished. Use the F.C.C. to suspend his licence to broadcast. Surely inciting to commit a capital offense is worse than a little nipple flash.
By letting Robertson get away with comments like these, the American government sends the worst kind of message – that it does matter what colour you are, and that your religion does make a difference when it comes to what you say and do. It’s everyone’s worst fears come true.