Chavez to Obama: I'd vote for you, and you for me
By Helen Murphy
CARACAS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - With both presidents facing
tight re-election fights, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez gave a
surprise endorsement to Barack Obama on Sunday - and said the
U.S. leader no doubt felt the same.
"I hope this doesn't harm Obama, but if I was from the
United States, I'd vote for Obama," the socialist Chavez said of
a man he first reached out to in 2009 but to whom he has since
generally been insulting.
Chavez is running for a new six-year term against opposition
challenger Henrique Capriles, while Obama seeks re-election in
November against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Venezuela's
election is next weekend.
"Obama is a good guy ... I think that if Obama was from
Barlovento or some Caracas neighborhood, he'd vote for Chavez,"
the president told state TV, referring to a poor coastal town
known for the African roots of its population.
Chavez is one of the world's most strident critics of
Washington and his 14 years in office have been characterized by
diplomatic spats and insults at the White House.
He called former U.S. President George W. Bush a "drunk" and
the "devil." After an initial overture to Obama came to nothing,
he said the new president had disappointed progressives the
world over and was the "shame" of Africans.
But Chavez was back in a conciliatory mood in a TV interview
with friend and former vice president Jose Vicente Rangel.
"After our triumph and the supposed, probable triumph of
President Obama, with the extreme right defeated here and there,
I hope we could start a new period of normal relations with the
United States," he said.
"Obama recently said something very rational and fair ... that Venezuela is no threat to the interests of the United States," he added.
coming to office, Chavez has projected himself as the head of a global
"anti-imperialist" movement inspired by his friend and ideological
mentor Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Relations with Washington improved briefly after Obama took
office in January 2009 and promised more engagement with Latin
America. Chavez toned down his tirades against the "Yankee
empire" and shook hands with the new U.S. leader at a summit.
But months later, he accused Obama of sticking to Bush's
foreign policies and capitalist agenda, and the tirade against
the United Sates began again.
Despite the ideological gulf between Washington and Caracas,
both sides take a pragmatic approach when it comes to business,
with OPEC member Venezuela remaining the United States' fourth
biggest crude supplier.