CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday praised his opponents for accepting defeat and said his overwhelming re-election victory shows Venezuela supports a radical turn toward socialism.
Chavez spoke after a full vote count was released showing he defeated Manuel Rosales with nearly 63 percent of the vote Sunday.
"Those who voted for me didn't vote for me. They voted for the socialist plan, to build a profoundly different Venezuela," Chavez said. "I want to salute the responsible opposition ... It was time they assumed the attitude of true democrats."
The results showed Chavez won some 7.2 million votes out of about 12 million cast. He had said before the vote he aimed to achieve 10 million votes.
U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield on Tuesday congratulated Venezuelans on a peaceful vote that saw a high turnout and expressed Washington's willingness to seek a less conflictive relationship with Chavez.
"The president was re-elected by the decision of the Venezuelan people," Brownfield told Union Radio. "We recognize that and we're ready, willing and eager to explore and see if we can make progress on bilateral issues."
Brownfield said the United States and Venezuela share an interest in cooperating on various issues including combatting drug trafficking, international crime, terrorism as well as trade and energy issues.
"Venezuela is a partner of the United States, for geographical reasons, for historical reasons," he said.
While the United States remains the No. 1 buyer of Venezuelan oil, tensions have often precluded dialogue between U.S. and Venezuelan officials.
Chavez accuses Washington of backing a 2002 coup against him and refers to U.S. President George W. Bush as "Mr. Danger" and "the devil." Chavez celebrated his victory in Sunday's vote by calling his re-election "another defeat for the devil, who tries to dominate the world."
American officials have expressed concerns about the health of democracy in a government dominated by Chavez and his allies -- a worry echoed by Chavez's domestic opponents.
On Tuesday, Cuba's Communist newspaper published a message reportedly from ailing leader Fidel Castro congratulating Chavez, his close friend and protege, on his win.
"The victory was resounding, crushing and without parallel in the history of our America," read the brief message published in the online edition of the Communist Party daily Granma. The message said "the Cuban people are happy" and sent a "very strong" hug.
Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday congratulated Chavez on what was the latest in a string of elections won by leftists in Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Chavez's re-election means he may now pursue what he calls a new, more radical phase in what he calls a transition to socialism, although it is unclear what his first steps may be.
Chavez has said he plans to seek constitutional reforms to end presidential term limits, enabling him to run again in 2012. He also has said he plans to deepen programs to reduce poverty, and has hinted he may nationalize Venezuela's largest telecommunications company.
His promises to use the country's oil wealth to eventually eradicate poverty have raised high expectations, and his core constituency is apt to pressure him to deliver on them.
Opponents view Chavez as power-hungry, but many Venezuelans say they see benefits from his oil-funded social programs, called "missions."
Chavez's multibillion-dollar social programs provide the poor with subsidized food, free university education and cash benefits for single mothers, among other aid.