- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2005

Venezuela’s demagogue-in-chief, Hugo Chavez, appears to have made a rare fumble Monday, when he refused to allow a U.S. delegation to disembark from its plane in Caracas.

Mr. Chavez had been riding high. He recently scored a propaganda coup in the United States by agreeing to supply poor residents of America’s Northeast with low-cost heating oil, under a deal brokered by Reps. Jose Serrano and William Delahunt, Democrats from New York and Massachussetts, respectively. Mr. Chavez has also been indulging in a favorite past-time, thumbing his nose at the Bush administration, by purchasing weaponry from Spain.

On Monday, Mr. Chavez misstepped. His government refused to allow a delegation of six lawmakers and 22 aides to disembark in the Caracas airport. After waiting for hours, the delegation — which included the chairman and ranking Democratic of the House International Relations Committee, Reps. Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos — decided to leave.

The delegation had intended to search for ways to ease tensions between the United States and Venezuela. In addition, the group had planned to meet with opposition groups and the Sumate nongovernmental group, which is in effect part of the opposition. That, apparently, was a problem for Mr. Chavez. Venezuelan officials wanted to know the meeting time for the Sumate meeting, information which U.S. officials declined to divulge.

Venezuelan authorities would not allow the aircraft that was carrying the delegation to park near the official VIP terminal. Airport security then blocked a U.S. embassy van from driving up to pick up the delegation. Eventually, an official airport bus made its way toward the delegation but then turned around and left.

The Chavez government said the delegation’s arrival was “delayed a few more minutes” because the airport’s VIP terminal was reserved for the Spanish defense minister, who was in Caracas to sign the arms deal. That statement does not explain why Venezuelan authorities would not let a vehicle collect the lawmakers.

Mr. Chavez has been adept at recasting his repressive moves using legalistic rhetoric. On Monday, on a Caracas airstrip, Mr. Chavez demonstrated once again his authoritarian leanings. Congress and the world should take note.

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