Skip to comments.Op-Ed - Will the real(Jack)Kemp please stand up?
Posted on 03/16/2005 6:23:25 PM PST by Conservative Firster
Jack Kemp, the politician and former New York congressman, is a champion of free enterprise and democracy. As chairman of the D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, he oversees a group with "Core Beliefs" that are powerful and direct: "Regimes that finance, host or otherwise aid and abet terrorism are in a state of hostility with all free and democratic nations, and with all civilized peoples."
Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, describes American foreign policy this way: "It is not a war on terrorism, it is terrorism itself." He has close business and strategic relationships with the dictators of Cuba, Iran, Libya and, until recently, Iraq. He publicly refers to the tyrants and terror-sponsors who rule these countries as his "partners," "brothers" and "friends." Who are his enemies? Chavez visited Tehran last month and declared "jihad" on "American imperialism." Just last week in Calcutta, India, he declared himself a Marxist-Leninist while railing about "the enemy," the United States of America.
Jack Kemp, the businessman, was recently negotiating a highly questionable billion-dollar oil deal with Venezuela's Chavez. Kemp stood to make up to $50 million in commissions. Kemp is currently under considerable media scrutiny for another association: Samir A. Vincent, a secret agent of Saddam Hussein recently convicted in the U.N. oil-for-food scam.
Jack Kemp meet Jack Kemp
Kemp made high-profile "courtesy" visits and wined and dined with Hugo Chavez and his ministers in 2002. Weeks later, a contract dated Jan. 17, 2003, was circulated between Free Market Petroleum, where Kemp is chairman, and the Chavez government. That Kemp, the GOP's 1996 vice presidential nominee, even would consider doing business with the Chavez government raises troubling ethical and political questions.
Kemp cannot plead ignorance of the deeply autocratic nature of the Venezuelan state. Chavez's assault on the basic values and institutions of a liberal democracy are well documented and known. Amnesty International has issued blistering reports on the lack of political and civil liberty in Venezuela. Human Rights Watch has gone so far as naming Chavez a clear danger to Venezuelan democracy.
There is considerable evidence that Chavez has financed, hosted, and aided the FARC, Colombia's narco-terrorist group (currently on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations). In January, Venezuela was rocked by the scandal of FARC terrorist Ricardo Granda, who had been living in baronial splendor in Caracas under Chavez's protection.
The president of El Salvador recently called a press conference and announced that his government will begin investigating the ties between Chavez and the FMLN terrorist organization. Why would Kemp, a reputed conservative stalwart, sacrifice the credibility of his fledgling foundation by associating with an autocratic thug like Chavez?
Kemp has used his political capital to open doors for Chavez. In May of 2003, he tried to charm the staff of The Wall Street Journal editorial page into abandoning its opposition to Chavez's undemocratic behavior. Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez accompanied Kemp on his visit to Journal headquarters.
Alvarez was once the No. 2 man in Venezuela's Energy Ministry -the very agency that discussed business with Kemp - and yet the former Buffalo, congressman conveniently failed to disclose to the Journal his personal stake in the proposed contract between himself and the Chavez government.
That relationship only emerged when Mary Anastasia O'Grady's chronicle of Kemp's visit to the Journal aroused the suspicions of Venezuelan journalists. They eventually obtained a leaked copy of the contract and publicized the connection that Kemp concealed.
Kemp's sweetheart oil deal, buying oil from Chavez at a fixed, discounted price, was an instant scandal in Venezuela where it was widely covered in the media. Analysts first raised questions about the transparency of the deal. For one thing, it revealed that Kemp's company was unsuited to the deal. With no history and no track record, Kemp's FMP was to buy 50,000 discounted barrels of oil per day from Venezuela's Energy Ministry and resell them to the American taxpayer, at a markup, through the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The proposed deal was the first time in decades that Venezuela was to sell oil through an external intermediary, thus giving away lucrative middle-man profits. But these conditions are not just exceptional - they are illegal under Venezuelan law. John H. Lichtblau, CEO of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, concluded at the time that the transaction did not appear to operate in either nation's interest.
Kemp said by phone on June 12, 2003 that he is a democratic capitalist, that this was a "straight business deal," and that he considered the deal a "very high priority" for the United States. He told me he first consulted people "high up in the U.S. government" before becoming involved with Chavez. The deal with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve fell through but it is unclear whether Kemp took possession of the Venezuelan oil.
Kemp is now chairman of a company with a similar name, "Free Market Global," based in the tax shelter of Bermuda with the same principals as FMP. In an e-mail in January of this year, Kemp said he would not discuss "real or rumored" business in Venezuela but admits to having "cross-border transactions in natural resources, energy and real estate in several parts of the world including the Middle East, Africa as well as Venezuela."
When asked what he thought about the Chavez government and its sponsorship of terrorism, Kemp (who writes weekly columns about politics and terrorism) responded that he "leaves politics to the U.S. State Department."
In our telephone conversation, Kemp told me that "unfortunately, the business side of it got mixed up with the political side of it." In light of his poor judgment involving himself with Samir Vincent - ties that Kemp has tried to whitewash by eliminating any mention of Saddam's agent from his Web site - it is important that Kemp address whether or not he has enriched himself in a Venezuelan oil deal. More specifically, what services did he provide Hugo Chavez - a declared enemy of the United States?
Last week The Examiner provided Jack Kemp a draft of this article, offering space for him to answer Thor Halvorssen. Kemp did not respond. A spokesman for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies pointed out that the organization has published criticism of Venezuela's ties to terrorism.
Thor Halvorssen, a lifelong human rights and civil liberties advocate, is the First Amendment Scholar at the Commonwealth Foundation. He lives in New York.
Kemp knows the truth. Losing VP candidates don't get a second look. Someone tell Edwards & Liebermann.
I used to live in Western New York, voted several times to re-elect him to Congress. And I even voted for him as Vice-President, despite what I felt was a rather poor campaign performance.