Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Wednesday that he has little hope of better relations with Washington under US President Barack Obama, saying the US was still acting like an “empire” in his eyes.
Chavez made the comments after arriving in Tehran on a two-day visit to Iran. In recent years, Chavez and hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — both well-known for their anti-US rhetoric — have boosted economic and political ties.
The socialist leader congratulated Iran on its recent 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which ousted the US-backed shah and installed rule by hardline Islamic clerics.
“Arriving in Tehran for us is like arriving at one’s own home,” Chavez told reporters in remarks carried on Venezuelan state-run TV.
When asked about Obama’s recent overtures to Iran for improved relations, Chavez said he would wait and see how the new administration takes shape but that he wasn’t optimistic.
“I don’t have much hope, because behind him is an empire. He’s the president of an empire ... Now, I think it’s fair to give him some time ... Seeing is believing,” Chavez said. “I hope President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire, and the first president of a truly democratic republic, the United States.”
The US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after the 1979 revolution and the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran by hardline students. Ties deteriorated under former US president George W. Bush, but Obama has struck a different tone since taking office, saying he would like to have engagement with Tehran. Iran has so far been cooler to the idea of making immediate contacts.
Chavez’s relations with Washington also grew increasingly strained under Bush, including expelling the US ambassador and withdrawing his envoy from Washington in September.
Before Iran, Chavez had been in Qatar as part of Latin American and Arab summit held in Doha. While there, Chavez condemned the US government’s stances in the Middle East and in support of Israel.
“It’s a policy of permanent aggression, of war, of terrorism by the US empire. That’s the great guilty one, the great Satan, as they call it here,” Chavez said.
He also has been critical of Obama, including calling him “ignorant” last month after the US president accused Chavez of “exporting terrorism” and being an obstacle to progress in Latin American. But the Venezuelan president has also expressed hope at times for a better relationship with the US under Obama.
Chavez, who courted a proposal for a new, oil-backed currency to challenge the dollar while in Qatar, said a joint Venezuelan-Iranian bank would be inaugurated yesterday during his visit. He said the two countries each put US$100 million into the joint development bank, for a total of US$200 million in startup capital.
“The big banks of the world have sunk, but here a new bank is being born,” Chavez said.
Chavez’s government has also founded the Bank of the South along with allied governments in South America in an effort to create a homegrown alternative to the World Bank and IMF. Chavez has called such moves part of an effort to move away from Washington’s influence and set up a new, independent financial structure.