November 05, 2008
CARACAS -- Venezuela expressed hope on Wednesday that relations with the United States will improve under Barack Obama while opponents of Hugo Chávez called on the U.S. president-elect to take a tough stance against the socialist leader.
''We are convinced the time has arrived to establish new relations between our countries'' that are based on ''respect for sovereignty, equality and true cooperation,'' Venezuela announced in a statement released by the foreign ministry.
Diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense for years, but they reached a new low on Sept. 12, when Chávez ordered U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy to leave Venezuela and withdrew his own ambassador from Washington.
Chávez accused Duddy of aiding a conspiracy against his government -- an allegation that U.S. officials deny -- and suggested that diplomatic relations would not be fully restored until President Bush leaves the White House.
Olga Rodríguez, a 47-year-old middle-class housewife, urged Obama to demand that her president respect democratic principles before agreeing to talks aimed at improving relations. She accuses Chávez of cracking down on dissent ahead of Nov. 23 gubernatorial and municipal elections,
''Chávez does everything he can to intimidate the opposition and he's becoming more authoritarian. That's not democratic and it must stop,'' Rodríguez said. ``Obama should not allow himself to be duped by Chávez; he's a snake charmer.''
Chávez extended an olive branch to Obama the day before Tuesday's election, saying for the first time that he would be willing to hold talks with Obama aimed at establishing mutually respectful ties.
Obama campaign spokesman Alejandro Miyar responded that Washington's relationship with Venezuela will not improve unless Chávez ``respects democracy and the rule of law.''
Chávez is one of Latin America's most outspoken critics of the Bush administration. He warned on Tuesday that relations would probably deteriorate further if John McCain were to be elected. A McCain win ''would mean more battles,'' he said.