Chavez, enemy of Israel, friend of Iran, succumbs to cancer
During his reign of power, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez bedeviled the U.S. and severed ties with Israel while forging alliances with some of Israel's worst enemies • Ahmadinejad pays tribute, says Chavez fell "martyr" to a "suspect illness."
News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, upon his arrival to Caracas, Venezuela, in 2006.
Photo credit: AP
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a former paratroop commander and self-styled "subversive," bedeviled the United States and severed ties with Israel while forging alliances with some of Israel's worst enemies during his reign in power, while using his country's vast oil wealth to his political advantage.
Chavez led one coup attempt, defeated another against him and was re-elected three times. He died Tuesday in Caracas at age 58, two years after he was first diagnosed with cancer.
The son of schoolteachers, he rose from poverty in a dirt-floor, mud-walled house, a "humble soldier" in the battle for socialism. During more than 14 years in office, he became Washington's chief antagonist in the Western Hemisphere. Chavez decried U.S.-style capitalism while forming alliances throughout Latin America and with distant powers such as Russia, China and Iran.
In Jan. 2012, Chavez dismissed a U.S. warning to avoid close ties with Iran, and welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to his country while denouncing what he said was Washington's attempt to dominate the world.
"A spokesman or spokeswoman in Washington from the State Department or the White House said it was not convenient for any country to get close to Iran. Well, the truth is, it made you laugh," Chavez said in a televised speech at the time. "They're not going to be able to dominate this world. Forget about it, [President Barack] Obama, forget about it. It would be better to think about the problems in your country, which are many. We are free. The people of Latin America will never again kneel, dominated by the imperial Yankee. Never again."
Chavez repeatedly criticized international sanctions imposed on Iran, saying that Iran faces "obstacles imposed by imperialism, blockades, threats and unilateral sanctions," and had a right to develop nuclear energy.
In June 2012, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said there were increasing signs that Venezuela was involved in funding Iran's nuclear program and some of its military projects.
Iran can count on "all the support of the Venezuelan people, of the Venezuelan government," Chavez said at the time.
Ahmadinejad paid tribute to Chavez on Wednesday, saying he had fallen "martyr" to a "suspect illness," the Lebanese Daily Star reported.
"He finally died from a suspect illness and he gave his life ... to the elevation of his country and the freedom of his people," Ahmadinejad said in a message of condolences to Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
In June 2011, Chavez blasted Israel for its role in the Mavi Marmara incident in which nine Turkish nationals were killed when Israel enforced its naval blockade of Gaza.
"Damn you, State of Israel!" Chavez shouted.
In Nov. 2012, during Israel's week-long military offensive in the Gaza Strip, Operation Pillar of Defense, Chavez called Israel's actions "savage."
"Another attack on the Gaza Strip began. Savage. Savage. Israel again bombing the Gaza Strip. Reasons? What reasons? Because [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted once again he will ask for Palestine to be included as a member of the United Nations," Chavez said.
Chavez, who also aligned himself with the Syrian regime, said, "We are asking for peace in the world. We want peace in the world, a stop to the attacks against Syria, against Palestine, against the people of the world," he said.
In June 2010, Chavez met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, telling the Syrian leader that it was an honor to host him on his first visit to Latin America.
"Arab civilization and our civilization, the Latin American one, are being summoned in this new century to play the fundamental role of liberating the world, saving the world from the imperialism and capitalist hegemony that threaten the human species," Chavez said. "Syria and Venezuela are at the vanguard of this struggle."
In early 2013 JTA reported that Venezuela's secret service, SEBIN, "was spying on the country's Jewish community, according to leaked documents said to be from the spy agency."
In response to the report, the ADL said it was "deeply troubling and is a further sign of the government of Hugo Chavez's inveterate bias against Jews."
Chavez used his country's oil wealth to launch social programs that included state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. While poverty declined during his presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country's economy.
On several occasions Chavez threatened to stop selling oil to the U.S., but never followed through.
"I'm still a subversive," Chavez told The Associated Press in a 2007 interview, recalling his days as a rebel soldier. "I think the entire world has to be subverted."