Rev. Jackson and Chavez Meet to Improve US-Venezuela Relations

Rev. Jesse Jackson and President Chavez met for a two-hour private meeting to discuss U.S.-Venezuela relations. Jackson urged a lowering of hostile rhetoric and a reexamination of the suspension of cooperation with the DEA and praised Venezuela's offer to provide discounted heating oil to low-income communities in the US.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 30, 2005—U.S. civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez met yesterday for three hours, to discuss US-Venezuela relations and human rights issues.

During a press conference after their meeting, Jackson said that he is in Venezuela on a three-day visit to see if he can help improve relations between the two countries.

“U.S. and Venezuela must be good neighbors,” said Jackson, pointing out how important commercial relations are for the two countries and how geographically close they are to each other. “I hope there would be a détente on hostile rhetoric. We need each other,” added Jackson.

“I would hope the talk of isolation, name-calling, hostile rhetoric, threats of assassination and kidnapping give way to aggressive diplomacy.” “I hope that we’ve done something to facilitate a detente on threatening rhetoric,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to have an oil war.”

The civil rights leader said he urged Chavez to reexamine Venezuela’s cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to see if Venezuela would continue its cooperation with the DEA. Jackson also expressed concern about the suspension of permits for foreign preachers and missionaries in Venezuela. Venezuela’s Interior Ministry had announced last week that it would temporarily suspend the granting of visas to foreign preachers for missionary work, while it reviews its policy on missionaries.

Chavez emphasized that his government was interested in having good relations with the U.S. and pointed out that during the Clinton administration relations were “very cordial, normal, and constructive,” even though many of the same differences existed between the two countries. “We never lose hope that we’ll regain a good tone with Mr. Bush’s government,” said Chavez.

With regard to the suspension of cooperation with the U.S. on combating drug trafficking, Chavez said, “The fight against drug-trafficking is a priority for our government… But the fight against drugs cannot serve as a mask for violating our sovereignty or for spying,” he added.

Jackson also spoke about Chavez’s offer to provide discounted oil and perhaps gasoline to low-income communities in the U.S. Jackson called the proposal a “good idea,” whose details still needed to be fleshed-out. Jackson also pointed out that there is a program in the U.S. to provide assistance to low-income families for heating oil, known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Chavez said that not only is his government interested in initiating this program for low-income heating oil, but would also be willing to help provide aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which is devastating the coast of Louisiana these days. Chavez mentioned that the Venezuelan military has a special humanitarian assistance unit that could carry out rescue operations.

Chavez concluded the press conference saying that it would be great if the U.S. had a president like Jesse Jackson. “How many things we could do for the world, for America? How many programs of health and education? We could put an end to illiteracy in no more than two years,” said Chavez, listing a long list of programs that his government has already initiated in Venezuela that could be expanded to the rest of the hemisphere.