US President Barack Obama said Monday that Venezuela’s government threatened “basic democratic values” and expressed concerns about its ties to countries like Iran and Cuba.
“We’re concerned about the government’s actions, which have restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values, and failed to contribute to the security in the region,” Obama said in an interview with the Venezuelan daily El Universal.
“Moreover, it’s unfortunate that the Venezuelan government is often more interested in revisiting the ideological battles of the past than looking forward to the future that we could build for our citizens.”
Obama said that most Latin American countries “have gone from living under dictatorships to living in democracies” but that in Venezuela, “we have been deeply concerned to see action taken to restrict the freedom of the press and to erode the separation of powers that is necessary for democracy to thrive.”
The comments by Obama are the latest in a war of words between Washington and Venezuela’s left-wing President Hugo Chavez, who has been sharply critical of what he has called American “imperialism.”
Obama said Washington “does not pretend to dictate” foreign policy to sovereign nations, but said “the Venezuelan government’s ties to Iran and Cuba have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people.”
On Iran, Obama said, “it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world.”
He maintained that “we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely.”
Obama said Cuba’s future “must be freely determined by the Cuban people. Sadly, that has not been the case for decades, and it is not the case today.”
“The people of Cuba deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as anyone else,” Obama added.
“The United States is going to continue supporting the basic rights of the Cuban people. At the same time, we’ll continue to work with others across the region to defend the shared values that are enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that belong to all people.”