Feb 22nd, 2005
Bush Is Plotting to Kill Me, Says Chavez
By Toby Muse and Julian Borger
The Guardian U.K.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, accused George Bush of plotting to assassinate him yesterday, and warned that all Venezuelan oil exports to the US would stop in the event of his death.

"If I am assassinated, there is only one person responsible: the president of the United States," Mr Chavez said during his weekly radio and television show, Hello President.

He offered no proof of any conspiracy but said the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, had warned of a possible plot against him last week.

"If, by the hand of the devil, these perverse plans succeed ... forget about Venezuelan oil, Mr Bush," Mr Chavez said.

"I will not hide, I will walk in the streets with all of you ... but I know I am condemned to death," Mr Chavez told his listeners.

The White House said no one was available to comment on Mr Chavez's claim yesterday, a federal holiday.

Relations between Washington and the left-wing Venezuelan leader have been strained since Mr Chavez took office in 1999. His determination to raise the price of oil and his close friendship with Mr Castro have served as a constant irritant to Washington.

In recent years, relations have been strained further as Mr Chavez became a vocal critic of US policy both in Latin America and around the world. American officials have also expressed concern about Venezuela's decision to improve China's access to its oil fields.

Mr Chavez accuses the CIA of having a hand in the military coup that briefly deposed him in 2002, and says the US continues to back his political opponents.

The Bush administration has denied involvement in the attempted overthrow, but appeared to give its approval at the time. A prosecutor investigating the coup attempt died last year when his car was booby-trapped with explosives.

The Chavez government suggested the assassination had been carried out by former Venezuelan officers who were involved in the putsch, some of whom now live in exile in America.

The US has stepped up its rhetoric against the Venezuelan president lately, with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, calling the country a "negative force" in Latin America and accusing Mr Chavez of turning it into a totalitarian society.

Many in Washington suspect that Mr Chavez may be supporting Marxist rebels in neighbouring Colombia, a country that has received billions of dollars in military aid from the US.

Venezuela's recent purchase of 100,000 rifles and 40 helicopters caused concern in Washington and Colombia. Mr Chavez denies setting off a new regional arms race, saying the armaments are for defence alone.

Despite the feud between their governments, the two countries' economies remain entwined. Oil is Venezuela's largest export and the US buys about 1.5m barrels a day, making it the fourth-largest supplier of American oil.

This is Mr Chavez's second noisy diplomatic spat in as many months.

A war of words broke out earlier this year between Colombia and Venezuela, after the abduction of a leading member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Farc, in Caracas.

Mr Chavez said Colombia had violated Venezuela's sovereignty, while Colombia's right-wing government accused Mr Chavez of harbouring members of the Marxist organisation.

Mr Chavez threatened to end all bilateral agreements until the issue was finally resolved.

He has frequently caused controversy at home with his offhand remarks.

The country's Catholic clergy were appalled when he labelled the church a "tumour" on Venezuelan society and the opposition protested when he called the country's rich "the squalid ones".

Mr Chavez's claims of an assassination plot come as he is embarking on one of the most radical phases of his promised revolution.

The government has announced it will take over the running of land and businesses that are not being fully exploited by their owners. Explaining the move, Mr Chavez said: "There is a wise old saying, the owner of the warehouse should use it or sell it."