White House praises ‘Venezuelan people’ after Chavez victory

The White House on Monday congratulated the “Venezuelan people” for the peaceful, democratic election that gave President Hugo Chavez win his third six-year term.

According to pool reports, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration offered its support to Venezuelan voters, “while noting the U.S. has its differences with Chavez.”

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Chavez defeated challenger Henrique Capriles by nearly 10 percentage points, the closest margin of victory for the incumbent yet.

Chavez has been battling stomach cancer, though details about his condition are scarce. Under his “21st century socialism,” Venezuela has been plagued by government corruption, food shortages, crime, high unemployment, power blackouts and double-digit inflation.

Many believed that Capriles, a telegenic young former state governor, was the ideal opposition candidate to unseat the controversial president. But Chavez had at his disposal state-run media and the resources of the government to help bankroll his reelection efforts.

Venezuela’s ties with the U.S. have been strained under Chavez, a sharp critic of American policy.

Earlier this year, Obama said “free and fair” elections in Venezuela were his primary concern for the South American country.

“My sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us," Obama told a Spanish-language reporter in Miami. "We have to vigilant. My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don't always see."

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked those comments and said the White House was undermining the threat from Chavez's government, noting the nation’s ties with Iran. 

“Hugo Chavez has provided safe haven to drug kingpins, encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia, has strengthened military ties with Iran and helped it evade sanctions, and has allowed a Hezbollah presence within his country's borders,” Romney said.