CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday President Bush would be to blame if anything happened to him after an American evangelist said Washington should assassinate the leftist leader.
Chavez, a former soldier who often accuses the United States of plotting to kill him, was reacting to conservative evangelist Pat Robertson who said on Monday that U.S. officials should execute the Venezuelan president.
Robertson later apologized, but his comments have illustrated the deep political gulf that has opened up between the United States and one of its biggest oil suppliers since Chavez was elected in 1998 promising populist reforms.
"He was expressing the wishes of the U.S. elite … If anything happens to me then the man responsible will be George W. Bush. He will be the assassin," Chavez said at a public event. "This is pure terrorism."
Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a leader of the Christian right that has backed Bush, said that if Chavez "thinks we”re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it."
He retracted his comments on Wednesday, saying he spoke in frustration over Chavez”s constant accusations that Washington was plotting against him. U.S. officials have repeatedly dismissed those charges as wild rhetoric.
The White House has kept quiet despite calls by Venezuela and religious leaders for Bush to repudiate Robertson”s remarks. U.S. officials called the comments inappropriate, but Venezuela said it was studying possible legal action.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have soured since Chavez survived a brief 2002 coup he says was planned and funded by U.S. authorities. U.S. and Venezuelan officials have since frequently traded accusations.
A close ally of communist Cuba, Chavez presents his self-proclaimed revolution as an alternative to U.S. foreign and trade policies in the region. His tough anti-capitalist talk often rattles investors.
Washington counters that Chavez is a negative influence who is using his country”s oil wealth to fund anti-democratic groups while becoming more authoritarian at home.
In a sign of deteriorating ties, Chavez recently suspended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing its agents of spying. Washington revoked the U.S. visas of three top Venezuelan military officers who it said were suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.