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Chavez a threat to democracy, US intelligence chief says

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday January 30, 2007

Washington- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez exports a form of "radical populism" throughout Latin America that poses a threat to democracy, the top US intelligence official said Tuesday. John Negroponte, during hearings on his nomination to become deputy secretary of state, warned that frustration in Latin America about the lack of prosperity under democratic governments could further fuel the populism advocated by Chavez.

US-Venezuelan relations have suffered during Chavez's presidency. Chavez has travelled the world lambasting what he considers American imperialism and in September called US President George W Bush "the devil."

Washington has objected to Chavez's crackdown on free media and civil rights groups, and says democratic institutions under his rule have been marginalized. Chavez is expected to be granted powers this week to issue decrees without parliamentary approval - a move that has been criticized by Venezuelan opposition parties as a step towards totalitarianism.

"His behaviour is threatening to democracies in the region," Negroponte told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Chavez's populist style has caught on in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, which have elected presidents that have bypassed trade negotiations with Washington in favour of working out deals with US rivals like China.

"One of the trends that we need to be concerned about is a kind of a frustration among some of the populations of Latin America that democracy is not necessarily delivering the kinds of results that people had hoped for," Negroponte said.

"I think countries like Bolivia, among others, have been under the influence of Mr Chavez, who's been trying to export his kind of radical populism."

A career diplomat, Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras and Mexico as well as to the United Nations and Iraq. He has been serving as Bush's intelligence czar. His nomination to return to the State Department under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to be approved by the Senate.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency