(CNN) — After two days of criticism, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson apologized for his controversial suggestion that the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement,” Robertson said. “I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him.”
But he compared Chavez to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler and quoted German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “[That if a madman were] driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”
Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis for his involvement in a 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.
Robertson’s rationale for his statement remained unchanged.
“I said before the war in Iraq began that the wisest course would be to wage war against Saddam Hussein, not the whole nation of Iraq,” Robertson said. “When faced with the threat of a comparable dictator in our own hemisphere, would it not be wiser to wage war against one person rather than finding ourselves down the road locked in a bitter struggle with a whole nation?”
So far there has been no reaction from Venezuela to Robertson’s apology.
Earlier Wednesday, on his “The 700 Club” program, Robertson said the media had taken his remarks out of context.
“I didn’t say ‘assassination.’ I said our special forces should ‘take him out.’ And ‘take him out’ can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time,” Robertson said on “The 700 Club.” (Watch video)
The controversy began Monday when Robertson called Chavez “a terrific danger” bent on exporting Communism and Islamic extremism across the Americas. (Full story)
“If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it,” said Robertson Monday. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.” (Watch Robertson’s comments)
“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” he said. “We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
Chavez, a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro, has said in the past he believes the United States is trying to kill him and vowed that Venezuela, which accounts for more than 10 percent of U.S. oil imports, would shut off the flow of oil if that happened.
Tuesday, the Venezuelan leader shrugged off Robertson’s comments during a trip to Cuba.
“I don’t know who that person is,” he said. “I don’t know him, and as far as his opinion of me goes, I couldn’t care less.”
. . . . .
His opponents, largely drawn from the country’s middle and upper classes, accuse him of undermining democratic institutions.
Chavez was re-elected under a new constitution in 2000. In 2004, he won a recall referendum with the support of 58 percent of voters.
He has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the United States, which he accuses of having been behind a 2002 coup attempt that forced him from office for two days.
The Bush administration denied involvement but refused to condemn the attempted coup.
. . . . .
Controversial statements are not new to the 75-year-old Robertson.
He has suggested in the past that a meteor could strike Florida because of unofficial “Gay Days” at Disney World and that feminism caused women to kill their children, practice witchcraft and become lesbians.