Scant hope for change whoever wins U.S. vote: Venezuela's Chavez

CARACAS Tue Nov 6, 2012 8:59am EST

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez salutes Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota as he leaves in a car after their meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas November 1, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez salutes Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota as he leaves in a car after their meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas November 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, one of the U.S. government's leading critics, said there was little hope for change in American foreign policy regardless of the winner of Tuesday's vote for the White House.

The recently re-elected Chavez wants Barack Obama to beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the tight vote but he has also been blunt about his disappointment with the Democratic incumbent's first term.

"No matter who wins, we don't hold out much hope of changes in U.S. relations with the world," Chavez said late on Monday in a televised meeting with some ministers. "I hope the next government takes a good look at its role."

The 58-year-old socialist firebrand is friends with many of Washington's least-favored global leaders, from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko.

Chavez says Obama has continued the same aggressive "imperialist" foreign policy as his predecessors. But nevertheless Chavez endorsed him for re-election - a fact Romney seized on in a campaign video.

Despite his close interest in the U.S. race, Chavez is stressing domestic priorities after winning another six-year term last month in the South American OPEC member.

Although Chavez beat challenger Henrique Capriles by 11 percentage points, the opposition drew more votes than in any other election during his 14-year rule. The campaign exposed widespread frustration with domestic problems like electricity blackouts, rampant violent crime and soaring prices.

"I promise you an iron fist, from ministers down," Chavez said, vowing a new efficiency drive in government and singling out for criticism the failure to start a new ice-cream factory.

After two bouts of cancer since mid-2011, Chavez has declared himself cured but he was a shadow of his old self during the election campaign and has only been popping up in public once or twice a week since his October 7 win.

That has fueled speculation among foes that he may be having new checks or treatment but officials say he is fine.

"Fortunately, the comandante's health is improving and, God-willing, we will have him, not just until 2018 but much longer," Congress head Diosdado Cabello told reporters.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott)

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