Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chavez says US, Brazil free to discuss Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has given Brazil's president the green light to talk about Venezuela with President Barack Obama.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva plans to meet Obama on March 14 in Washington, and Chavez said the Brazilian leader told him by phone that "he would like to talk with the president of the United States about the case of Venezuela."

U.S.-Venezuelan relations remain prickly despite the change of administrations in Washington, while Brazil's left-leaning president has maintained friendly relations both with the U.S. and the socialist Chavez.

"We don't need any intermediary to speak with any government on the planet, but since it's Lula and in good faith, I told him yes, that I gave him the green light," Chavez said Thursday in a televised speech, addressing troops.

Chavez added, however, that "I've told him I don't have much hope of that government changing."

Silva's office confirmed the two spoke by phone Wednesday and agreed the Brazilian leader could bring up Venezuela with Obama.

Chavez has condemned recent U.S. State Department reports alleging human rights problems in Venezuela and a lack of cooperation in counter-drug efforts.

Chavez said Washington will have to show more respect if relations are to improve. "We aren't asking for anything. We just demand respect," he said.

Under President George W. Bush, U.S. officials often expressed concern about the health of democracy in Venezuela. Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador in September.

Chavez said he told Silva "that I'm willing for us to talk with respect, and for us to put on the table the most relevant issues."

He said that includes "one issue that worries us all" _ the global economic crisis.

Associated Press Writer Stan Lehman contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.