Washington (CNN) - Republican Florida Rep. Connie Mack called Venezuela President Hugo Chavez a "thugocrat" during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday where the three-term congressman also called for a "full-scale economic embargo" on the country.
CPAC is the largest annual gathering of conservative-minded activists, which this year is extra-important because it's the first cattle-call of potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates.
"My assignment will be to spend time on a clear and present danger rising on the horizon, a danger that this administration has not previously understood: I'm talking about Hugo Chavez," he began. "For too long administrations, former administrations and the current administration have thought of Chavez as the crown king of Caracas, entertaining throngs so he can rob them."
Mack sounded off on the United States' cordial treatment of Chavez at meetings of the United Nations after Chavez "declared the U.S. to be his enemy." Citing Chavez's "suppression of broadcasters and the press," "throwing DEA agents out of the country," "double-digit inflation," in Venezuela, "aiding and abetting the transit of terrorists, and "making Venezuela an accomplice in the drug trade," Mack compared the Venezuelan leader to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"We ought to treat Chavez the way we treat Ahmadinejad... no ignoring the menace of what Chavez has called the Iranian-Venezuelan axis of unity," he said.
And the congressman had few kind words for Joe Kennedy, who he criticized for working with Citgo, the Venezuelan government-owned and U.S. incorporated oil company. Referring to him as a "low man with a great name," he stated "It is a disgrace that this man is the front man of Chavez's oil campaign here in the United States."
The only action to meet the "clear and rising danger," Mack said, is to cease "financing Chavez's war against us" and put Venezuela on the state-sponsored terrorist list. Instead, he called for domestic drilling "across the United States and in our waters" and an increase in Canadian supply of oil.
"Our story is a story Americans want to hear, not Hugo Chavez's story. It's time to be a defender of freedom," he said.