May 6, 2013— -- President Barack Obama avoided recognizing the government of Venezuela during a recent interview with Univision, explaining that he was concerned about recent "crackdowns" against members of the Venezuelan opposition. He also said that recent news reports suggest that basic principles of democracy and human rights are not being fully observed by Venezuela's government.
Obama's statements on Venezuela came about during an interview with Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas, who met up with the U.S. President during his recent trip to Mexico. (see video above)
Salinas, asked Obama if the U.S. recognized Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked heir, as the "legitimate" president of Venezuela, but Obama skirted the question.
Instead Obama said that Maduro´s legitimacy was not the only issue that the U.S. and other countries in the hemisphere are concerned about.
"I think that the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition," Obama said. "Our approach to the entire hemisphere…(is) based on the notion of our basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly. Are those being observed? There are reports that they have not been fully observed post-election."
These declarations provoked a feisty response from Maduro who is fighting accusations that he stole a recent presidential election from opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
"This is not just another declaration," Maduro said in response on Saturday in a speech that all TV channels in Venezuela had to broadcast. "He (Obama) is giving the fascist right a green light to attack the people of Venezuela."
Maduro argues that recent efforts by the Venezuelan opposition to ask for a full recount of votes of the April 14 election are part of a U.S. led plot to destabilize his government. He also blames the opposition and the U.S. for being behind a spate of murders that occurred in Venezuela during the days following the election.
On Saturday, Maduro used Obama's declarations as a way to unify his political base, urging his supporters to organize a march in which they would reject US. plans to "interfere" in Venezuela. He also told military commanders in Venezuela to hold "assemblies" with their soldiers to discuss U.S. policy towards the country.
For the moment, however, it's not looking like this feisty exchange of declarations will have any broader repercussions on U.S.-Venezuela relations. Much of the income of the Venezuelan government comes from selling oil to U.S. companies. And several U.S. refineries would find it difficult to replace Venezuelan oil shipments with oil coming in from other nations so commerce between both countries is likely to continue undeterred.
The U.S. State Department has said on several occasions that it agrees with the opposition´s call for a thorough recount of votes in Venezuela. Beyond that however, it has not announced any plans to interfere in Venezuela's crisis.