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Joe Kennedy, Hugo Chavez and That Free Heating Oil

By Mona Charen

You've probably seen the TV commercials -- former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II beckons you to enjoy reduced-price heating oil if you are struggling to keep your house warm, thanks to "our good friends in Venezuela." He then offers a few heartwarming examples of poor people who have taken advantage of the program and offers the toll free number: 1-877-JOE-4-OIL (1-877-563-4645).

So what if Joe Kennedy and Hugo Chavez get a propaganda bonanza, you may say, so long as poor people are benefiting? Kennedy himself has defended the program as "righteous."

So let's see, the poor should accept charity from a would-be dictator who has formed an alliance with Iran and Cuba, who has denounced the United States as the greatest threat to peace and security in the world and called the U.S. president "the devil" and "a genocidal murderer." They should permit themselves to be used by a man who attempted to subvert his country's constitution, proclaimed his goal as "socialism or death," and launched the most comprehensive assault on freedom of the press in Latin America this side of Castro?

"Our good [friend] in Venezuela" just last month suffered a key rebuke from his own people when he attempted to amend the constitution. Chavez's proposed "reforms" would have permitted him to serve for life, ended the autonomy of the central bank, permitted the president to rule by decree, and given him broad powers to suspend civil liberties and seize private property under indefinite states of emergency. A broad spectrum of Venezuelan society united to oppose this "constitutional coup" and narrowly defeated the measure. With his characteristic good grace, Chavez called it a "s---t victory."

How can Mr. Kennedy reconcile the fact that Chavez has in the past pushed OPEC to reduce output to increase prices - which affects all Americans, but the poor most of all -- with his pose as Mr. Bountiful? Gosh, is that the act of someone who truly cares about the world's poor?

It isn't as if Chavez has improved life so much in Venezuela that he can now look abroad for charitable opportunities. According to the Associated Press, Venezuela's inflation rate has now topped 22 percent, Latin America's highest. The government has imposed price controls in a bid to control inflation, which has led to shortages of basic items like milk, eggs and sugar. Consumers are also having trouble finding chickens, cooking oil and black beans in supermarkets.

One can understand Mr. Kennedy's desire to help the poor heat their homes in the winter. But to shill for a figure like Chavez? There are other options, including federal programs. Doesn't Kennedy cringe when he reads accounts like this from CNN last May?

"Venezuela's most-watched television station -- and outlet for the political opposition -- went off the air after the government refused to renew its broadcast license . . . Police on Sunday used water cannons and what appeared to be tear gas to break up thousands of demonstrators protesting the government's decision to close the country's most-watched television station . . . Inside the studios of Radio Caracas Television, employees cried and chanted 'Freedom!' on camera."

Does it not cause Kennedy to question his association when he reads accounts like this mid-2007 report from the State Department and the Organization of American States?

"Regarding Venezuela, the State Department report said the human rights situation for 2006 was characterized by 'politicization of the judiciary and harassment of the media and of the political opposition.'

"The report said the human rights violations in Venezuela included unlawful killings, disappearances reportedly involving security forces, torture and abuse of detainees, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and detentions and attacks on the independent media.

"The OAS report on Venezuela said it was concerned about the administration of justice in that country, the problem of sicariato (paid killings) and the 'impunity that surrounds reports of extrajudicial executions at the hands of agents' of the Venezuelan government.

"Extrajudicial killings are a particular concern in Venezuela. More than 6,370 people were victims of homicides committed between 2000 and 2005 by the 'agents' of Venezuelan state security forces . . ."

But what are a few homicides when you can claim to be helping the poor?

Copyright 2008, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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