Venezuela opposition leader meets with U.S. govt

WASHINGTON Fri Oct 12, 2007 3:22pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Venezuela's main opposition politician on Friday met with the U.S. State Department's top diplomat for Latin America to express concern about President Hugo Chavez's constitutional reform campaign.

The leftist Chavez wants to drop the two-term limit on presidential election as part of a constitutional overhaul to create a socialist state for the OPEC nation, a move opposition leaders call an effort for him to stay in office indefinitely.

Manuel Rosales, who lost a presidential bid to Chavez last year, met with Thomas Shannon, the U.S. diplomat in charge of relations with Latin America, to warn of the dangers to democracy that such reform would pose, a spokesman for Rosales said.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Shannon "had a good discussion with (Rosales) about the general political situation in the country."

He said Shannon had met Venezuela's foreign minister last month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and told him that Washington wishes to have a good relationship with Caracas.

Chavez, a self-styled revolutionary who has boosted his global influence by lavishly spending the OPEC nation's oil wealth, is a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro and harshly critical of the United States.

He frequently calls the nation's opposition leaders lackeys of United States "imperialism" who receive marching orders from Washington.

State Department leaders often describe Chavez as an authoritarian menace and a danger to regional democracy.

Venezuela's fractured opposition has failed to build a serious challenge to his movement at the ballot box, and pollsters expected Chavez to win a referendum scheduled for December to approve the constitutional reform package.

(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington)

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