President Barack Obama said within hours of the death of American foe President Hugo Chavez Tuesday that the United States was interested in a “constructive” future relationship with Venezuela.
Antipathy in the US Congress towards the leftist champion Chavez, who died after a long battle with cancer, meanwhile bubbled up quickly, with lawmakers branding him a tyrant and one top Republican bluntly saying “good riddance.”
“At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” Obama said.
“As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights,” he said in a short written statement.
While Obama’s statement was measured, as would be expected of a head of state, reactions to Chavez’s death in Congress were more vituperative.
“For over a decade Chavez had used corruption, intimidation, manipulation, and brutal tactics to rule over the Venezuelan people,” said veteran Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“Chavez misruled Venezuela with an iron grip on the government, economy, and the courts as he routinely bullied the media and the opposition to deny the people of Venezuela their basic freedoms.
“Today, his death marks the end of this tyrannical rule but the road to democracy for the Venezuelan people is still very much uncertain.”
Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Chavez had ruled with an “iron hand” and left a “political void.”
“With free and fair elections, Venezuela can begin to restore its once robust democracy and ensure respect for the human, political and civil rights of its people,” he said.
Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, branded Chavez a “tyrant” who forced his people to live in fear.
“His death dents the alliance of anti-US leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator,” Royce said in a statement.
“Venezuela once had a strong democratic tradition and was close to the United States.
“Chavez’s death sets the stage for fresh elections. While not guaranteed, closer US relations with his key country in our hemisphere are now possible.”
Earlier, Washington rejected Venezuela’s allegations that it was involved in a conspiracy over Chavez, saying claims in Caracas that the United States was somehow behind his cancer were “absurd.”
The Pentagon confirmed the expulsion of two Air Force officers from the US embassy in Caracas while the State Department condemned allegations of a plot to undermine Venezuela.
The expulsions were announced after Vice President Nicolas Maduro had accused the country’s “historic enemies” of causing Chavez’s cancer.
Maduro alleged the expelled US military officers had been seeking out active Venezuelan military officials to obtain information about the armed forces and propose “destabilization projects.”