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Otto Reich: Chavez Needs to Go for Stability

By Henry J. Reske and Kathleen Walter   |   Friday, 30 Sep 2011 05:48 PM

The Americas would be a better place without Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chávez, a supporter of Marxist guerillas who pals around with the likes of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Venezuelan Ambassador Otto Reich told Newsmax.TV.

Reich, a former assistant Secretary of State for Latin American and an advisory board member of LIGNET, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both George H.W. and George W. Bush, made his comments as another round of stories about the state of the 57-year-old dictator’s health circulated. The latest report was that Chávez, who has been battling cancer since June, was rushed to a military hospital with possible kidney failure.

“There is no question that this hemisphere, this entire hemisphere, would be a better place were Chávez not in control of Venezuela,” Reich said. “And there are several reasons. First, Venezuela is one of the richest countries in the Western Hemisphere, potentially. Chávez is not a good manager fortunately for us, so he has not been able to monetize all of that wealth, but whatever money he has, he’s used an enormous amount of it to destabilize his neighbors.

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“It has been proven with the capture of documents and laptops from the Colombian guerillas that Chávez has been supporting, financing, training, providing a refuge for FARC, the guerilla movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which are Marxist guerillas and groups like this in other parts of the hemisphere. … Yes it would be better for the United States and also for the countries of the hemisphere not to have an anti-American, aggressive, militaristic leader like Chávez in power in Venezuela.”

Should Chávez, who personally denied the latest story, succumb to his illness or be forced to step down, the effects would be greatly felt in Venezuela because of his tight control of the country.

“In the case of Venezuela it has more importance I think than it would in another country because Chávez so completely dominates the political scene in Venezuela and because of his own style, his governing style, his own way of making all the decisions involving the government,” said Reich, a member of the board of Lignet.com, a global intelligence and forecasting website.

“The fact that he may be ill or gravely ill does affect the way that people look at the government of Venezuela and it does make it appear if these rumors are correct as though there is more instability than we have expected.”

The former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs also noted that Chávez’s friendship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes him more dangerous.

“As an American and former government official who had responsibility for the entire Western hemisphere I am very concerned about that very close relationship between Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” he said.

“These are not nice guys, these are not people who wish the United States well. In fact they wish the United States ill and they would do whatever they could get away with to harm our interests.

“Fortunately we are a strong country, we know how to defend ourselves and they know that if they were to try to do something hostile to the United States whether it be political, military, financial or any other way that we would retaliate.”

Reich also was critical of the Obama administration for what he called their “non-policy towards Chávez.”

“This is the first American administration that hasn’t had a cohesive, discreet initiative towards the Western Hemisphere designed to strengthen democracy, or to strengthen the economies or to reduce the social disparities or to strengthen security,” he said. “It is amazing. All of my colleagues, and I have quite a few -- from 40 years in and out of government and the private sector in Latin America -- are amazed at how much Obama administration has neglected Latin America.”

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