“I am coming back from Trinidad and Tobago, from the Americas Summit where, without a doubt, the position that Venezuela and its government has always defended, especially starting 10 years ago, of resistance, dignity, sovereignty and independence has obtained in Port of Spain, one of the biggest victories of our history,” Chavez said.
“It would seem that the changes that started in Venezuela in the last decade of the 20th century have begun to reach North America,” he added.
Chavez made the comments Sunday to a crowd gathered for the 199th Commemoration of the Independence Declaration of Venezuela.
“In one year we will be celebrating 200 years of ‘April 19,’ the day that ... initiated this revolution that is underway 200 years later at the forefront of the people of our America, at the forefront of change, at the forefront of a new world, at the forefront of a new century that will construct Bolivarian socialism,” said Chavez.
“Bolivarian socialism” is the term Chavez uses to refer to his 21st century Latin American form of socialism, which he claims originates from the revolution launched by Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan and Latin American revolutionary leader of the 19th century.
“We have assumed the commitment to direct the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism and to contribute to the socialist path, with a new socialism; a socialism of the 21st century which is based in solidarity, in fraternity, in love, in justice, in liberty and in equality,” Chavez said in a speech in mid-2006, according to the Venezuelan government’s official Web site.
Last Friday, during the Americas Summit, Obama greeted Chavez before the first plenary summit, the first time the two presidents had met.
“I want to be your friend,” Chavez said to Obama as both of them shook hands. After the encounter, Chavez told reporters, “It was a good moment.”
At the United Nations in September 2006, Chavez referred to then-President Bush as “the devil."
The Venezuelan president has also suggested that he would “use oil” to fight U.S. influence, which he often refers to as “the imperialist power.” Venezuela is one of the world’s major oil producers.
Prior to the Americas Summit, Chavez had even attacked the Obama administration.
In January, Chavez accused the not-yet-inaugurated president of "throwing the first stone," after Obama called Chavez a "disruptive force in the region."
Chavez responded by calling Obama "ignorant" and inviting him to look over the realities of Latin America.
At their meeting last week, Chavez gave Obama a copy of the book, “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent,” written by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. The book is about alleged U.S. and European exploitation of the region.
“I think it was a nice gesture to give me a book. I’m a reader,” Obama told reporters. Obama and Chavez spoke once again--in private--during the final day of the summit. Chavez told reporters that they talked about a new era in U.S.-Venezuela relations.
“I told Obama that we have decided to appoint a new ambassador (to the U.S.),” said Chavez.
President Obama, defending himself against criticism coming from those in the U.S. who disapprove of talks with Chavez, said, “Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably one six-hundredths of the United States. They own Citgo [oil refinery and retailer].
“It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having polite conversation with Mr. Chavez, we are endangering the strategic interest of the United States,” Obama told reporters.
“You would be would be hard pressed to paint a scenario in which the U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela,” he added.
Venezuelan opposition to the Chavez administration criticized President Obama on Sunday for warming up to Chavez before demonstrating concern about Venezuela’s democracy, apporrea.org, a Venezuelan news outlet reported.
“The president’s (Chavez) authoritarianism, which grows by the day, has to be discussed,” Milos Alcalay, former Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N., who resigned in 2004 due to differences with Chavez, told aporrea.org.
The U.S. needs to talk to “the opposition, church representatives and others, who are really concerned about the democracy in Venezuela,” added Alcalay.
According to the U.S. State Department and other official government sources, the Venezuelan government has been guilty of numerous human rights violations under Chavez's rule.
“Politicization of the judiciary and official harassment of the political opposition and the media characterized the human rights situation during the year,” said the State Department's Country Report on Human Rights in Venezuela for 2008 that was released last month.
The report credits the Chavez regime with unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, discrimination based on political grounds, widespread corruption at all levels of government, official intimidation and attacks on the independent media.
“According to HRW [Human Rights Watch], ‘Government officials have removed scores of detractors from the career civil service, purged dissidents employees from the national oil company, denied citizens access to social programs based on their political opinions, and denounced critics as subversives deserving of discriminatory treatment," says the State Department report.
A recent report by the Congressional Research Service also outlined human rights concerns in Chavez's Venezuela.
“Under the populist rule of President Hugo Chavez … Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” states a Feb. 5, 2009 CRS report.
“U.S. officials and human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions,” the report adds, “and threats to freedom of expression under President Chavez, who has survived several attempts to remove him from power.”
Last February, Venuzuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment that eliminates presidential term limits, thus allowing Chavez to run the country for an unlimited succession of 6-year terms as long as he can win a majority of the vote in a Venezuelan election.