Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that Democrats made strong gains in U.S. congressional elections thanks to a "reprisal vote" against U.S. President George W. Bush.

"Of course, the citizens of the United States are humans with a conscience. It's a reprisal vote against the war in Iraq, against the corruption" within the Bush administration, Chavez told a news conference. "All this fills us with optimism."

In midterm elections on Tuesday, U.S. voters returned the Democratic Party to control of the House of Representatives after 12 years in the minority, and the balance in the Senate was hanging on the outcome of two cliffhanger races.

"We see this with optimism for the people in Iraq," said Chavez, accusing officials close to Bush of filling their pockets with profits from government contracts to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure. "It's a mafia that destroys cities and then rebuilds them as a business."

The results were seen by many observers as a rejection of the war in Iraq and a clear call for change aimed at Bush and a Republican Congress.

Chavez said the majority of American voters had cast ballots against the Republican agenda, including initiatives like the U.S. Patriot Act and plans to expand fencing along the country's border with Mexico.

He referred to Bush and the Patriot Act as "terrorism against his own people."

A close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Chavez has repeatedly clashed with Washington since he was first elected in 1998. He accuses U.S. officials of conspiring against his government, but he has reached out to Americans by boosting sales of discounted heating oil to needy U.S. families.

U.S. officials deny plotting against left-leaning Chavez, but have called him a threat to stability in Latin America and questioned his democratic credentials.

Chavez warned that officials in Washington, along with Venezuelan opposition groups, would try to discredit results of Dec. 3 presidential elections, which he has vowed to win in a landslide.

He urged the opposition's leading challenger, Manuel Rosales, to respect election results, saying that Rosales could be arrested if he were to refuse to accept a defeat, accuse the government of vote rigging and lead violent street demonstrations to protest alleged fraud.

"If he lends himself to the plan for violence he could end up in prison," Chavez said.