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Could an Obama win hurt Chávez?

Without Bush to rail against, Chávez will be left without a foil, say analysts.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 16, 2008

Tough words: President Chávez called President Bush 'the devil' at the UN General Assembly in New York in 2006.

Timothy Clary/AFP/Newscom


Caracas, Venezuela

At a recent summit in Argentina, Venezuela's leftist president Hugo Chávez said that if he were a United States citizen, he'd vote for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona.

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The comment was passed off as a joke – but many observers say Mr. Chávez might not be laughing at the prospect of victory by democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois.

Mr. Chávez has made an art out of insulting President Bush and his "imperialist" foreign policy. His anti-Bush diatribes resonate in Venezuela and have helped insulate him from growing criticism that he neglects domestic affairs. And every time he launches into his famous oratory, he impresses a slew of left-leaning international admirers who wonder at his defiance of the world's sole superpower – which they say has taken an arrogant and aggressive tack.

A McCain victory would allow him to sustain that message: Mr. McCain, after all, hails from the same party and shares many of the same policies as Bush. But Senator Obama is a different story. It remains to be seen how Obama, who has never visited Latin America, would actually shape his policies here, but many in the region identify with his mixed-race heritage, share more similar politics, and would welcome what they consider a newcomer to the Washington beltway.

"It's hard seeing Chávez calling Obama 'Satan' and the likes," says Ray Walser, a Latin America expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "He won't get as much traction."

Bush an easy target?

In Bush, Chávez has what analysts call an easy target.

Chávez doesn't have to look far to find allies in the region who also oppose the US war in Iraq and condemn what consider a US disregard for Latin America.

Each time controversial US policies make news – such as US military aid to Colombia or free trade deals – Chávez resumes his Bush-bashing.

"And every time the domestic situation worsens [in Venezuela], the more aggressive he gets," says Elsa Cardozo, a foreign affairs specialist at the Central University of Caracas.