Obama voices US concern over Venezuela democracy

Barack Obama at the White House, 17 December 2011 Mr Obama says people are tired of re-fighting "old ideological battles"

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US President Barack Obama has accused the government of Venezuela of threatening "basic democratic values" ahead of elections next year.

Mr Obama also said Venezuela's close relations with Iran and Cuba did not serve the interests of its people.

But he said he looked forward to the day when the US and Venezuela could work together more closely.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a staunch critic of US "imperialism" in Latin America and around the world.

Press freedom

President Obama made his comments in an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper, El Universal.

He said the US was closely watching the build-up to Venezuela's general elections, due in October 2012, when President Chavez is seeking re-election.

"We have felt great concern at actions taken to restrict the freedom of the press and to erode the separation of powers that are so necessary for a democracy to flourish," he said.

"We are concerned about government actions that have restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values, and failed to contribute to the security of the region."

Mr Obama said the US did not "pretend to dictate" foreign policy to sovereign nations but said Venezuela had not benefited from its close ties with Cuba and Iran.

"It is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the rest of the world," he said.

War of words

Since taking office in 1999, President Chavez has forged a close alliance with communist Cuba and cultivated political and business ties with Iran.

He has also been a relentless critic of US policy around the world, and accused Washington of being behind an attempted coup against him in 2002.

Mr Obama's election in 2008 led to a brief warming of ties, but Mr Chavez soon expressed disappointment that there had been little change in US foreign policy.

Last year the US revoked the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington after Mr Chavez rejected Mr Obama's choice of a new envoy to Caracas.

But despite the diplomatic tension and rhetoric on both sides, trade links remain strong, with the US importing about a million barrels of oil a day from Venezuela.

In his interview, Mr Obama said he thought people in the region had had enough of the war of words.

"I think most Latin Americans are tired of re-fighting old ideological battles that contribute absolutely nothing towards improving their lives," he said.

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