Venezuela furious at Obama's comments on ailing Chavez

Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:29pm EST
 
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By Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis

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 the 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 told Univision.

Those remarks were a red cloth to 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.

CASTRO'S HEIR

During his tumultuous 14-year rule, Chavez has taken former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's mantle as the U.S. government's main irritant in the region - though oil has continued to flow freely north to the benefit of both nations' economies.   Continued...

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