Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Bishop, Slam Rice over Comments on Venezuela

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro yesterday rejected comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Wednesday, which accused Chavez of “destroying” Venezuela. Monsignor Lückert of Venezuela's Bishop's Conference said Rice's claim US officials met with Church offials was a "lie."

Caracas, February 9, 2007 (— Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro yesterday rejected comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Wednesday, which accused Chavez of “destroying” Venezuela “economically and politically.”

“I believe there is an assault on democracy in Venezuela and I believe that there are significant human rights issues in Venezuela,” Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee , adding, “I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really, really destroying his own country, economically, politically,” according to Reuters.

“I believe that [Venezuela] is in a negative transition,” Rice said, but warned that she did not want to get into a “rhetorical contest” with Chavez.

In response, Maduro, speaking from Ecuador said, “No U.S. official has the morality to qualify Venezuelan democracy or the democratic leadership of President Chavez and life in our society.”

Maduro said Rice’s comments form part of a new campaign aimed at undermining support for Venezuela’s democracy and Chavez’s leadership at the international level, and said that the new campaign was being promoted and financed by the U.S.

Maduro added that for years the U.S. has been busy killing the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan and that it was now turning its gaze to South America in order to destroy its regional unity. Maduro called on the peoples of the world to “put these representatives of the empire who want to be the government of the World, in their place.”

Venezuelan Bishop Calls Rice a “liar”

Other comments Rice made on Wednesday in relation to Venezuela also angered outspoken government critic Monsignor Roberto Lückert, Archbishop of Coro, Falcón state, and vice-president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference (CEV).

Rice claimed that the Venezuelan Catholic Church was “under fire” from the Venezuelan government and said that U.S. officials had met with Venezuelan Catholic authorities.

“This lady was way out of line when she said such things that are not true [sic]. This is a lie. I am the vice-president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference and I have never felt that we have been invited or asked for a hearing with the board of directors of the CEV to say what this lady claims,” said Monsignor Lückert, according to the Venezuelan daily, El Universal.

Monsignor Lückert told Union Radio, a private radio station, on Thursday, that the CEV’s board of directors had met recently but “it has not talked about the fact that the US Ambassador to Venezuela or any other US official is concerned about us. I think this lady was very clumsy” to speak otherwise, he added.

Rice’s comments are the latest in a series of recent verbal attacks against Venezuela by U.S. government officials. Late last month, the recently nominated U.S. deputy Secretary of State, J ohn Negroponte accused President Chavez of being “a threat to Latin American democracies.” The following day, U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his concern at the state of democracy in Venezuela.

Today , during a visit to Argentina , the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon, stated that the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela was “really poor,” and claimed that Chavez had not made moves “to try and improve the situation.”

Shannon added that the U.S. government had hopes that relations between the two countries would improve, and said the Bush administration was always open to dialogue. However, he pointed out that there were “differences and concerns” in relation to some of Chavez’s decisions, though he did not elaborate on what they were.