CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez said he hopes the next U.S. president will be open to improving relations with Venezuela, but he warned that Republican contender John McCain seems to be a "man of war" like President George W. Bush.
Chavez, whose country is the United States' fourth-largest oil supplier, said Tuesday that McCain's remarks during the campaign don't bode well for easing tensions.
"McCain seems to be a man of war too. He said yesterday that Bush has been very tolerant with Chavez. He's gone to Iraq to offer more weapons and more dollars — and more war," Chavez said. "God save us — and beyond God, may the people of the United States save us from greater madness."
Chavez, who regularly calls Bush the devil, added: "Sometimes one says that worse than Bush is impossible, but we don't know."
"One always has the hope of improving relations with the U.S. government," Chavez said during a meeting with foreign correspondents. "We have the hope, and it's in our plans, to enter a phase of better relations."
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has emerged as Latin America's most outspoken critic of the United States while forging strong ties with Washington's foes such as Syria, Iran and Cuba.
Chavez said he hopes for a change even if McCain does win the November elections, saying "one might think he's going around looking for votes, hard votes from the right, votes in Florida."
U.S. officials argue Chavez is a destabilizing force in Latin America, but they say they are aiming for a pragmatic approach to diplomacy that would acknowledge political differences while allowing progress in areas like counter-drug cooperation.
Chavez once maintained cordial relations with former U.S. President Bill Clinton despite their differences. And without naming either of the Democratic contenders, Chavez said he hopes for a return to the openness of the Clinton years.
"One would at least hope for the kind of relations that we had with Clinton: there was dialogue, things were discussed, there was no lack of respect or attacks," he said.
Chavez said Venezuela must be on alert for any U.S. attempts to undermine his government during Bush's final year in office.
"The devil is dangerous while retreating defeated — a tiger wounded in the jungle," Chavez said.
Since surviving a failed coup in 2002, Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of trying to overthrow him. American officials deny it.
Chavez said his government has noticed U.S. troops visiting the nearby island of Curacao recently, arriving in Navy ships for port calls.