By Julian Pecquet - 07/05/12 08:13 PM EDT
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stepped back into the foreign-policy arena Thursday with a broadside against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In marking Venezuela National Day, Romney opted to call out the country's leftist strongman by name. The move comes after the presumptive GOP nominee had been largely silent on foreign policy issues for several months, preferring to focus almost solely on President Obama's economic record.
After expressing his “best wishes” to the people of Venezuela on the 201st anniversary of their independence from Spain, Romney went on to say, “Venezuela's current leader dishonors the ideals of liberty upon which Venezuela was founded.
“Hugo Chavez is leading a movement in Venezuela and throughout Latin America that seeks to undermine freedom, diminish prosperity and expand tyranny,” Romney said in a statement. “Today is a day to reaffirm our commitment to defending democracy and to stand with those in Venezuela and elsewhere who bravely speak out for the rights of their countrymen.”
Romney is expected to make major foreign-policy news shortly, however, when he travels to Israel — possibly as part of his trip to the London Olympics later this month — in a visit designed to draw a clear contrast with Obama, who has a strained relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hasn't visited the country in his three and a half years as president.
The Obama administration, for its part, released a standard statement regarding Venezuela that doesn't mention Chavez by name.
“On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement, “I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Venezuela as you celebrate 201 years of independence this July 5.
"This year, the people of both our countries will be going to the polls to elect their political leaders," Clinton said. "Holding free and fair elections is the best way to pay tribute to our founders, and reinforce the ideals of individual liberty and equality that our countries were founded upon. I wish Venezuelan citizens everywhere health, happiness and prosperity on this special day. And I hope the friendship between our peoples will continue to flourish in the years ahead.”