Venezuela furious at Obama's comments on ailing Chavez

CARACAS Fri Dec 14, 2012 7:29pm EST

Military personnel attend a mass to pray for Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Military personnel attend a mass to pray for Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, December 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's government reacted with fury on Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama's criticism of ailing Hugo Chavez's "authoritarian" government at a time of national anxiety over his battle to recover from cancer surgery.

In an interview with U.S. network Univision, Obama declined to speculate on the 58-year-old socialist president's health in Cuba, where he is in a delicate state after his fourth operation since mid-2011 for cancer in his pelvic region.

But he did say U.S. policy was aimed at ensuring "freedom" in Venezuela. "The most important thing is to remember that the future of Venezuela should be in the hands of the Venezuelan people. We've seen from Chavez in the past authoritarian policies, suppression of dissent," Obama said.

Those remarks went down badly with officials in Caracas where emotions are running high over the future of Chavez and his self-styled revolution in the South American OPEC nation.

In power since 1999, Chavez is due to start a new six-year term on January 10 after winning re-election just weeks before Obama did. His health crisis has thrown that into doubt, and Chavez has named a successor in case he is incapacitated.

"With these despicable comments at such a delicate moment for Venezuela, the U.S. president is responsible for a major deterioration in bilateral relations, proving the continuity of his policy of aggression and disrespect towards our country," the Venezuelan government said in a statement.


During his tumultuous rule, Chavez has gleefully assumed former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's mantle as Washington's main irritant in the region - though oil has continued to flow freely north to the benefit of both nations' economies.

Adored by poor supporters for his charismatic style and channeling of oil revenue into a wide array of welfare projects, Chavez is regarded as a dictator by opponents who point to his often harsh treatment of political foes.

Officials said doctors had to use "corrective measures" on Chavez to stop unexpected bleeding caused during Tuesday's six-hour operation, but that his condition had since improved.

"The patient is fulfilling his post-operation protocol satisfactorily, given the complexity of the surgery," the latest Venezuelan government statement on his condition said. "Recovery has been slow but progressive," it added, saying Chavez had communicated with relatives and sent greetings to Venezuelans.

Amid rumors Chavez had been unconscious since his operation, presidential press officer Teresa Maniglia indicated he had spoken for the first time on Friday. "'How are my people?' was the first thing Chavez said today when he spoke with his family for the first time," she said via Twitter.

Chavez's situation is being closely tracked around the region, especially among fellow leftist-run nations from Cuba to Bolivia which depend on his generous oil subsidies and other aid for their fragile economies.

"The president is battling hard - this time for his life, before it was for the Latin American fatherland," said President Evo Morales of Bolivia, a Chavez friend and ally who announced he was flying to Havana overnight for an "emergency" visit.

"This is very painful for us."


Venezuela's leader has not divulged details of the cancer that was first diagnosed in June 2011, sparking endless speculation among the country's 29 million people and criticism from opposition leaders for lack of transparency.

"They're hiding something, I think," said 57-year-old housewife Alicia Marquina. "I'm not convinced by the announcements they're making. I'm not a 'chavista', but neither am I cruel. I hope he does not suffer much and finds peace."

If Chavez has to leave office, new elections must be held within 30 days. Chavez has named his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, as his heir apparent.

Opposition flagbearer Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential race against Chavez in October, is the favorite to face Maduro should a new vote be held, though first the governor of Miranda state must retain his post in local elections on Sunday.

"The regime change is already occurring," Jefferies' & Co. managing director Siobhan Morden said in one of numerous Wall Street analyses of events in Venezuela. "The question is whether the alternative is Chavista-light or the opposition."

Even if he dies, Chavez is likely to cast a long shadow over Venezuela's political landscape for years - not unlike Argentine leader Juan Peron, whose 1950s populism is still the ideological foundation of the country's dominant political party.

There are parallels with the situation in Cuba too, where Chavez's close friend and mentor, Fidel Castro, suffered a health downturn, underwent various operations in secret, then eventually handed over power to his brother Raul Castro.

(Additional reporting by Mario Naranjo and Eyanir Chinea in Caracas, Carlos Quiroga in La Paz; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Comments (4)
MarkDonners wrote:
Obama give it up. All of Latin America with its populist revolution has thrown off the chains of American slavery and terrorism in one vocie, their decades long ordeal of US installing and supporting vicious dictators with death squads, in the name of some US nightmare “democracy”. If you still think you can spout that garbage about a fake democracy and bring South America back to its forme US instigated poverty, civil war and tyranny state, you should think again. All of South America is solidly against you, and there’s NOTHING you can do about it, including sending your child killing terror drones.

Dec 14, 2012 9:41pm EST  --  Report as abuse
It’s worth mentioning that Venezuela has a more effective and vibrant democracy than America, hands down!

The parties are not run with billions in corporate donations to both sides of the two party system, hedging their bets like the US.

The last election had a higher turnout than the US election per capita.

Chavez was voted in by a larger percentage of the Venezuelan population than Obama was…

Lastly it is appalling how we are not taught in the west that privatization is anti-democratic!

Venezuelas Chavez has seized many industries back for the public to own and benefit from, that in itself is extremely democratic policy!!

America just sells off all it’s democratic public infrastructure, making it one of the least democratic states in the world.

If your government doesn’t control anything what’s the point in electing them!!!??? Pretty soon the US is going to be a totally corporate (private) state, and you will have no say in anything unless your a board member!

Dec 14, 2012 9:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
President Obama said: “….U.S. policy was aimed at ensuring “freedom” in Venezuela. “The most important thing is to remember that the future of Venezuela should be in the hands of the Venezuelan people. We’ve seen from Chavez in the past authoritarian policies, suppression of dissent…”

I voted for Obama believing the GOP alternative would pose a far more definite threat to the well being of the 99% of American’s not in the top 1%.

That said I regret very much, the remarks made about the nation of Venezuela and its President, Hugo Chavez who is presently being treated for cancer and battling for his life There is, after all such things as simple civility and diplomatic “savoire faire”.

Perhaps Obama needs to get out of the Oval Office a little more frequently and mingle with the citizens of the dozens and dozens of other nations where people are far less free and far worse off than the average Venezuelan man, woman or child.

I would hate to live in many nations that are considered true and dependable American allies. Many Gulf states, for example, are ruled with an Iron Fist. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, it is a crime for a woman to even attempt to get behind the steering wheel of a car, for which act she can be arrested and sent to jail. So much for “Civil Rights” and “Freedom” in a nation where the word “vote” does not even exist. It never has and likely never will, at least in our lifetime.

And in dozens of countries in this world, not only is life an unimaginable unending Hell, but the governments of those nations consider it a crime if you simply attempt to leave that living Hell. The choice of Love it or Leave it is not available.

I believe Obama has achieved some good things for Americans and may achieve many more quality of life successes for the “little people” in his second term.

But he definitely would be well advised to shut out the “noise” of many of the people immediately around him and just think more for himself.

He is surely smart enough to realize that if one uses the term “Authoritarian” for a nation like Venezuela then what term/s will he reserve for nations in which the people are virtually enslaved from the cradle to the grave, and must revere their “Leader for Life” as a virtual God, such as North Korea, where the rulers pour countless millions into the military establishment to build long range rockets while the masses are literally starving.

There is a reason a visitor to North Korea never notices any pets, such as dogs and cats. I am informed they have all been eaten.

Dec 15, 2012 4:11am EST  --  Report as abuse
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