Evangelical wants to meet with Chávez
MEXICO CITY – The leader of a major U.S. evangelical association said Friday that he may be close to apologizing to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez personally for religious broadcaster Pat Robertson‘s call for the United States to assassinate him.
The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Evangelicals, told the Associated Press that a friend of Chávez’s had agreed to request the encounter after a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Haggard on Friday morning in Mexico City.
Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., said he expected to have an answer in a couple of days. He said Chávez’s friend, who lives in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, requested that her identity not be revealed.
He already has issued public apologies in the United States for Robertson’s remarks, as has Robertson himself. The State Department said Robertson’s call to kill Chávez did not reflect U.S. policy.
But Haggard said it was important to send the message directly to Chávez himself. He said that if the meeting comes through, “The first thing I would do is apologize and represent the Christian view, then I would listen, then I would talk about economic policy and political affiliations and do everything I can to lessen the tensions between the United States and Venezuela. . . . And so it could be that the Pat Robertson mistake might result in some good for everybody.”
Haggard said he would like to be “a bridge of peace and reconciliation between evangelicals and this president — and maybe as a result of that, between the White House and the president.”
The Bush administration accuses Venezuela, along with communist Cuba, of fomenting regional instability.
Friday, Chávez declared that “if something happens to me, the responsible one will be George W. Bush,” adding that Bush “has expressed the desire of the elite that governs the United States.”
Chávez and his close friend Cuban President Fidel Castro have spoken of launching a regional revolution in which Latin American nations stand united against U.S. hegemony — an attractive vision for regional groups who complain of U.S. meddling.
Haggard, who described himself as “a friend of the White House” and the Bush administration, implied that he would discuss with Chávez the United States’ concerns about the Venezuelan’s leftist policies.
Chávez’s political affiliations “are very important, because it tends to be that if a government tends to dictatorship then they don’t embrace freedom of religion, and if a government tends toward dictatorship, it doesn’t embrace representative government.”
Haggard did not say, however, whether he considered Chávez to be a dictator. Chávez was elected in 1998, briefly overthrown in 2002 and returned to power in a popular backlash against the coup plotters. He then defeated a recall attempt.
The religious leader said he has not discussed his plans with the White House, but said that if Chávez agrees to see him, he will.