Chávez hot and cold on Obama
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Jan. 23 praised US President Barack Obama only days after accusing him of "throwing stones" at Venezuela. "He is a man with good intentions; he has immediately eliminated Guantanamo prison, and that should be applauded," Chávez said in a televised speech. "I am very happy and the world is happy that this young president has arrived... [We] welcome the new government and we are filled with hope."
Chávez days earlier said his socialist revolution would remain in conflict with Washington "whether the chief of the empire is Black or white." He also criticized Obama for repeating Bush administration accusations that he was spreading terrorism, adding that he carried "the stench" of his predecessor. His about-face appeared to have been influenced by Cuban elder statesman Fidel Castro, who earlier this week wrote that Obama maintained "noble intentions."
"We cannot say that everything that comes from the United States is bad per se, because we would be acting irrationally," Chávez said in his new statement. Chávez last year expelled the US ambassador to Venezuela and has repeatedly threatened to cut oil supplies to the US—which depends on Venezuela for around 12% of its crude imports. (Reuters, Jan. 23)
The police used tear gas, plastic bullets and a water cannon in Caracas Jan. 20 to break up a protest by university students against Chávez's attempt to eliminate term limits. More than 2,000 students marched against a proposed constitutional amendment that would lift term limits for all elected officials, including Chávez. The National Assembly, dominated by Chávez supporters, approved the proposed amendment last week. It next goes to voters in a Feb. 15 referendum. In December 2007, voters narrowly rejected a package of measures that would have eliminated presidential term limits. (Latin American Herald Tribune, Jan. 22; AP, Jan. 20)
The Chávez government meanwhile denied involvement in tear-gas canister attacks on the offices of the Globovision opposition TV network and the Vatican's diplomatic headquarters in Caracas. A pro-Chávez group called "La Piedrita" has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which prompted the evacuation of the TV station. (CNN, Jan. 19; AP, Jan. 15)
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