U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has compared Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, saying both were elected legally and then "consolidated power." Secretary Rumsfeld made the comment as part of an answer to a reporter's question about the election of left-wing leaders in Latin America.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Secretary Rumsfeld told the questioner that the rise of corruption in democratic governments in Latin America caused voters to look for what he called more "populist" leaders.
"We've seen some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries and elections, like Evo Morales in Bolivia, take place that clearly are worrisome," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld said he would not characterize the situation as "a new wave of left-wing anti-American regimes," as the questioner did. But he went on to criticize the leftist Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, who has become a sharp critic of the United States and a close friend of Cuba's communist leader, Fidel Castro.
"We've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money," he noted. "He's a person who was elected legally, just as Adolph Hitler was elected legally, and then consolidated power, and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others. It concerns me."
As Secretary Rumsfeld spoke, President Chavez was preparing to travel to Cuba late Wednesday to visit President Castro and accept an award from the United Nations for promoting Latin American culture.
Secretary Rumsfeld did not comment on, and at that time may not have known about, Venezuela's expulsion of a U.S. military attaché. The official, a U.S. Navy captain, was accused of spying. Several Venezuelan military officers have been accused of passing information to the U.S. military through the embassy in Caracas. There was no immediate response from the U.S. government.