President Hugo Chavez’s election victory appears to mean that relations between Venezuela and the United States will remained strained. Chávez has been a fierce critic of the U.S. while nurturing friendships with U.S. adversaries like Cuba, Iran, and Syria, and his first news conference after his election seemed to reinforce some of those positions.
At his first news conference since winning re-election and after recovering from three cancer-related surgeries since 2011, President Chavez was in good spirits. The Venezuelan leader said he considers the 54 percent of the vote he garnered as a mandate to continue his socialist policies.
“The country voted for the continuation of a political agenda, an economic agenda, a social agenda, in short, a socialist agenda,” Chávez stated.
Chávez said he is open to dialogue with the opposition but that he would not compromise on his core principles.
On foreign affairs, Chavez has been one of the United States’ most vocal critics. He has allied Venezuela with autocratic leaders in Cuba, Iran and Syria.
Milos Alcalay is a former deputy foreign minister now aligned with the opposition. He says the opposition wants market-oriented reforms at home and a less confrontational foreign policy with the U.S. “Because our relations are not with Ahmadinejad or with Syria of Bashar al-Assad or with the sort of Libya’s Gadhafi but with the respect in hemispheric relations where all our basic treaties lie,” he said.
But at the news conference, President Chávez again spoke in support of Syria’s leaders and against what he calls a new era of western imperialism.
“Syria is a sovereign country for the love of God, just like Libya, just like Venezuela, just like the United States, just like any other country in the world. So if we don’t agree? But we have to agree with the thinking of who? If you say no, then bomb you and destabilize you? That is not right,” Chávez explained.
Separately, Chávez said he favors President Barack Obama in next month’s U.S. election. “By how much do you think Obama will win, who by the way is my candidate. He is my candidate,” he added. “If I was from North America I would vote for Obama.”
President Chávez says he will continue to be who he is and for many that is at times confounding, confrontational, and engaging.