Chavez Denounces Effort to Give Venezuelans Political Refugee Status in the U.S.

Five Representatives of the U.S. Congress asked President Bush to give temporary legal status to Venezuelan immigrants in the U.S., claiming that "there exists a dictatorship in Venezuela." President Hugo Chávez responded yesterday, accusing the United States of developing an international campaign against him.

By Chris Carlson -
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Mérida, March 28, 2007 (— On Monday, five Representatives of the U.S. Congress made a formal request to U.S. President George W. Bush to give temporary legal status to Venezuelan immigrants in the country, claiming that "there exists a dictatorship in Venezuela." Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez responded yesterday, accusing the United States of developing an international campaign against him.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Connie Mack, Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Mario Díaz-Balart, all Republicans from the state of Florida, and Jerry Weller, Republican from Illinois, sent a letter to the U.S. President to ask him to order the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily stop the deporting of Venezuelans.

"We strongly believe that the Chávez government in Venezuela at this time is persecuting its citizens for their political views," said the representatives in the letter released on Monday, March 26th at a press conference in Miami.

"Time has come to admit formally that Chávez has established a dictatorship in Venezuela," said the Cuban-U.S. Republican Lincoln Díaz-Balart.

"What dictatorship?" responded Hugo Chávez yesterday on his TV and radio program, Aló Presidente. "We are installing an anti-dictatorship… The United States is the one who is a dictatorship. They threaten, coerce, invade and destroy countries," he said.

The representatives have requested that Venezuelans be given an immigration status similar to that given to Nicaraguans and Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and to Salvadorans following a 2001 earthquake. Or, as an alternative, the legislators asked that Bush grant asylum to Venezuelans, as was done for Nicaraguans who left their country in the 1980's after the Sandinista government came to power.

The temporary protection for Venezuelans could be implemented under a program called "Deferred Enforced Departure" (DED), which defers deportation of immigrants who could be endangered if sent back to their home countries, for reasons of political instability or other reasons. According to the U.S. lawmakers, the DED they are asking for is for political reasons or where there is a disaster in a country. "As a matter of fact, the freedom and lives of Venezuelans who return are endangered," said Lincoln Díaz-Balart.

The Venezuelan President denounced this as a campaign by the U.S. against Venezuela. "This goes around the world, in every language, and its repeated a million times. Millions and millions of people hear this and see this. It's a world-wide campaign, an ideological war."

Chávez read segments of the letter on his TV and radio show yesterday, using it as an example of what he called a larger information war against him and against Venezuela. "It has gotten worse, as we expected, the attack against Venezuela, and particularly against me, against the revolution in Venezuela," he said.

When questioned about the proposal, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield declined to give his opinion, but said it was a "complicated" topic that does not only involve the United States but other countries as well.

Brownfield pointed out that "there are a growing number of Venezuelan citizens trying to get residency outside of Venezuela and we have to confront that reality in a way that complies with our laws, rules, and humanitarian principles."

According to the latest U.S. Census numbers, between 2000 and 2005 the number of Venezuelans living in the U.S. doubled to about 160,000, almost half of which live in Florida.

In 2004-2005 around 2,000 Venezuelans were granted political asylum in the United States. In 2005 alone, over 30,000 Venezuelans were issued green cards, compared to 17,000 in 1999 when Hugo Chávez took office.

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