WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama has marked the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying the United States looks forward to improved relations with Venezuela.
Obama's statement on the passing of the Venezuelan leader was brief, one paragraph in all.
At this challenging time, Obama said, the U.S. reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with Venezuela's government.
As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, Obama continued, the U.S. remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.
President Obama met President Chavez only once. In 2009, they shook hands in a hotel meeting room on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Chavez's anti-American rhetoric, which reached a peak during the administration of former president George W. Bush, continued during the Obama administration.
After Obama voiced concern that Chavez's government had aided Colombia's FARC guerrillas, Chavez said Obama had "the same stench" as former president Bush.
In written responses last year to Venezuela's El Universal newspaper, Obama voiced concern about Chavez government actions he said "restricted universal rights, threatened basic democratic values and failed to contribute to security in the region."
At the same time, Obama said he hoped to eventually have a better relationship with Venezuela.
The Obama administration continued to criticize Chavez's close ties with Iran and Syria, as did critics of Chavez in the U.S. Congress.
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Ed Royce, issued a statement Tuesday calling President Chavez "a tyrant" and saying "his death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America."
In 2012, as both Presidents Chavez and Obama fought for re-election, Chavez said, "if I were from the United States, I [would] vote for Obama," adding if Obama were Venezuelan he would vote for Chavez.
During a Latin America trip in 2011, and at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia last year, President Obama urged respect for democracy, rule of law and human rights, but did not use speeches in the region to criticize President Chavez by name.
The Venezuelan leader did not attend the last Summit of the Americas because he was receiving medical treatment in Cuba.
By Dan Robinson
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