Chavez and his supporters do not care about America’s poor, they are using them to advance their anti-American agenda. The folks at Casa de Maryland should return that money. I doubt that they will.
If a U.S. non-profit organization was accepting money from a terrorist, a terrorist organization, a state sponsor of terrorism or a terrorist haven, we would expect law enforcement officials to take a close look at the organization and take appropriate steps to ensure that such activity ceased and, if necessary, punished to the fullest extent of the law. When discovered, law enforcement will respond and take the appropriate steps to block the flow and hold law breakers accountable. In the times we live, most people would expect this money to originate in the Middle East. Yet, there are pockets of trouble right here in our own Hemisphere.
Despite its support of terrorist organizations and close ties to Iran, Venezuela has yet to be designated a state sponsor of terrorism or, in the alternative, a terrorist haven. From a practical standpoint, U.S. dependence on foreign oil makes it difficult to make this policy finding. Listing Venezuela, as we should, with the likes of other terrorism sponsors such as Cuba and Iran, risks a confrontation with a major oil exporter to the U.S. (Venezuela is one of five top importers of petroleum products to the United States). Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, like Iran, knows he is in a good position and will exploit his unique political position and high oil prices as long as he can. This is but another example why we should have expedited domestic oil drilling years ago.
Venezuela’s Chavez has not been content to make money off U.S. taxpayers alone, rather, he has also launched a major publicity campaign in the U.S. to bolster Venezuela’s image among our nation’s poor. This public relations effort includes giving away free gasoline and heating oil in targeted Congressional “blue” districts. Venezuela calls the program, “Venezuelan Hearts to U.S. Hearths” and it is run by the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company, Citgo. It is socialism, pure and simple. At its core, Chavez is meddling in American politics and we have done nothing about it. Since we did nothing about it when it was first announced, it stands to reason that he would seek spend his oil money in other ways. And he has.
A recent example of questionable money flows from Latin America to the United States stems from a donation by Citgo, to Casa de Maryland, a non-profit group based in Maryland. Casa de Maryland is a left-leaning organization that supports many liberal causes in suburban Maryland including amnesty for illegal aliens. The group has filed lawsuits supporting an illegal alien’s right to hold a drivers license. It is a de facto lobbying arm of the Democratic Party of Maryland. It also receives donations from George Soro’s Open Society Institute and the Soros Foundation Network.
Groups such as Casa de Maryland have distorted the American immigration experience and radicalized it for political and ideological aims. Casa’s agenda plays right into Hugo Chavez’s anti-American rhetoric. The $1.5 million Citgo grant will be put to good use by Casa lawyers and activists. And since Venezuela has yet to be designated a state sponsor of terrorism or terrorist haven, donations such as these are probably legal. State and local officials should ask Casa to return that money, but we doubt that they will. At this juncture, the best outcome we could hope for is a community response similar to the one that led Seven Eleven to stop selling Citgo oil.
Since we have failed to effectively contain Hugo Chavez, he has found a way, albeit in a minimal fashion, to meddle in U.S. political and civil society to advance his unique brand of socialism and anti-Americanism. That said it is highly unlikely that “Citgo Diplomacy” will ever reach a critical mass or become major political problem. For now, it is more of nuisance. This does not mean we should ignore Venezuelan meddling in U.S. matters and allow it to grow.
For example, if the U.S. Air Force still purchases Citgo products, it should be required to drop Citgo and purchase from U.S. producers. The Treasury Department should also investigate the Citgo money flows and ensure the funds are “terror free”. And while it may not be politically popular, the State Department and other federal agencies should begin to take a closer look at Venezuela’s role in spreading and supporting terrorism in the Americas and beyond. Venezuela’s links to Iran are cause for concern, as are Chavez’s support of the Colombian FARC. U.S. oil companies should step up and compete for Citgo business in the United States and decrease its market share.
Finally, Venezuela’s $1.5 million donation should serve as a reminder that bad people seek to do bad things in the U.S. As that old saying goes, the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As this case clearly illustrates, it is not just the Middle East money flows that we need to keep an eye on. Chavez and his supporters do not care about America’s poor, they are using them to advance their anti-American agenda. The folks at Casa de Maryland should return that money. I doubt that they will.