July 13, 2012 / 7:57 PM / 5 years ago

Chavez says Venezuela is no threat to anyone

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez denied on Friday that Venezuela was a threat to anyone, after U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for playing down the risk posed by the socialist leader.

Obama told a Spanish-language television station in an interview screened this week that Chavez’s actions over recent years had not had a serious national security impact on the United States.

Romney said Obama’s comments were “stunning and shocking” and showed a pattern of weakness in the Democratic president’s foreign policy.

In an interview with a local Venezuelan television station on Friday, Chavez dismissed the allegations he posed any danger.

“The Venezuela of today is no threat to anyone,” he said.

Whenever there were efforts to improve relations between Washington and Caracas, Chavez added, they were criticized by powerful “snipers” who issued threats in the U.S. media.

Chavez also cited his friendship with Juan Manuel Santos, the conservative leader of neighboring Colombia.

“The president of Colombia has said it, twice: Chavez is a factor of stability for the region.”

Obama’s campaign team has accused Romney, the likely Republican nominee in the November 6 election, of playing into Chavez’s hands by giving him the international attention that he wanted.

Chavez frequently lauds Fidel Castro’s communist-led revolution in Cuba, and Romney’s comments could cheer Cuban-American voters in Florida, where many oppose Castro and Chavez.

There was a window to improve ties between Caracas and Washington after Obama took office in 2009 and promised more engagement with foes. Chavez toned down his tirades against the “Yankee empire” and shook hands with Obama at a summit.

But within months, Chavez said the U.S. leader was disillusioning the world by following his predecessor George W. Bush’s foreign policies, and he cranked up his rhetoric again.

Additional reporting by Diego Ore; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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