Venezuela's Chavez criticizes US over Syria policy


The Miami Herald

In his first press conference since winning reelection Sunday, President Hugo Chávez said he was willing to work with the opposition even as he doubles down on his socialist reforms.

After a vitriolic campaign characterized by insults, Chávez, has been extending olive branches to his adversaries. On Tuesday, he invited them to contribute to his “Second Socialist Plan,” which will be the roadmap for his next six-year term, from 2013-2019. But he accused the opposition of acting in bad faith in the past and asked them to take a realistic look at the accomplishments of his administration, which include free healthcare and government housing.

“They [the opposition] have a catastrophic vision of the country. They deny everything the government does and every achievement the people make,” Chávez said. “This is the best Venezuela we’ve had in our 200-year history.”

Speaking at the Miraflores presidential palace, Chávez lamented that there are still people who think he’s a “tyrant” or don’t believe the nation’s democratic credentials.

Chávez won his fourth consecutive presidential bid Sunday with 55 percent of the vote, versus 44 percent for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The National Election Council said almost 15 million people voted — a record turnout for this nation of 30 million.

On Monday night, a few hundred opposition sympathizers closed down a main Caracas street to protest the results.

Capriles said his team had found no evidence of fraud. And the watchdog group Venezuelan Election Observer said it had audited 300 voting centers and found no problems.

Even so, Capriles said he was always at a disadvantage as the government handed out money and houses to win votes as state-run media pumped up the Chávez candidacy.

“What we had to deal with on Sunday was brutal,” he said.

Chávez will get to put his political prowess to the test again in December, when his hand-picked candidates will be running for governors posts.

Nodding to Vice President Elias Jaua, who sat in the front row of the conference, Chávez assured him he would win his race for Miranda — the country’s second-largest state, which includes part of greater Caracas.

But that could be a tough fight. Capriles on Tuesday said he had resumed being governor of the state and was considering running for reelection. If he does run, it could produce a dramatic opposition-government showdown.

Wearing a suit and tie and often sitting behind a desk, Chávez joked with reporters and doodled on sheets of paper as he provided his typical meandering answers.

Asked about the crisis in Syria, Chávez responded in halting English: “short question, long answer.”

Chávez condemned the United States and others for supporting Syrian rebels, whom he qualified as “terrorists,” as they try to topple President Bashar Assad.

“It’s a shame that the world has entered a new era of imperialism,” he said. “The government of the United States is one of the most responsible for this disaster. Hopefully, if Mr. Obama is reelected, he will reform and reflect.”

He likened the months of violence in Syria to the ouster and killing of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya in 2011.

“They killed thousands of innocents just to kill a president,” Chávez said.

Chávez, was a friend of Gadhafi, and said the man’s last message to him was that he was prepared to die a “martyr” like Cuban revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Chávez also said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been trying to congratulate him on his win but the phone call kept dropping.

Syria and Iran face U.N. and other sanctions, and the United States has often condemned Venezuela for cozying up to those regimes. Venezuela is also a supporter of Cuba, sending the island subsidized oil in exchange for Cuban doctors and other services.

Weighing in on the U.S. presidential race, Chávez repeated his claim that he would vote for President Barack Obama if he could, but lamented the country’s polarization. He said Obama had been called a “communist” just for shaking his hand.

But he said the U.S. leader he would have really liked to have worked with is former President Jimmy Carter, who he called a man of peace. A few weeks before the election, Carter had called Venezuela’s voting system “the best in the world.”

“We would have really accomplished things for this world,” Chávez mused, “and it wouldn’t involve dropping bombs.”

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