By Justin Sink - 03/06/13 01:33 PM EST
"We hope that as Venezuelans mourn the passing of President Chávez and recall his positive legacies — especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable — the political leaders will move the country forward by building a new consensus that ensures equal opportunities for all Venezuelans to participate in every aspect of national life," the former president said.
The comments are likely to draw criticism from conservatives, who have argued that Democrats treated the Venezuelan leader too sympathetically. On Tuesday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) pounced on a tweet by Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who praised Chávez as "committed to empowering the powerless."
“It’s simply insulting that a Democrat Congressman would praise the authoritarian ruler Hugo Chavez. Chavez systematically cracked down on the basic freedom and liberties of Venezuelans, nationalized private industries, and befriended anti-American dictators like Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Assad," said RNC spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi in a statement. "Americans should stand together with the freedom loving people of Venezuela as they hope for a peaceful transition to a democracy, instead of praising the former dictator.”
Serrano represents the nation's poorest congressional district, and had accepted millions in heating oil aid from the Chávez regime to benefit his district. In 2005, Serrano invited Chávez to speak with constituents in his neighborhood while the Venezuelan leader was visiting a United Nations general assembly meeting.