The PJ Tatler

Bush Admin Official: 'I Wish Hugo Chavez Had Passed Earlier'

A former assistant secretary of State in the Bush administration said in an Al Jazeera forum that things would be better today if late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez died earlier.

Chavez came to power in 1999 and set about trying to create his socialist Bolivarian Republic until his March 2013 death.

In an episode of Head to Head airing Friday on Al Jazeera, former Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, a Cuban-American with vast experience in Latin American affairs, was asked by a member of the Oxford Union audience if he regretted how relations between the U.S. and Venezuela are today.

“Yes, I feel regret. I wish that Hugo Chávez had passed earlier,” Reich replied, adding, “I don’t want to put myself in the position of the person who made that decision… he died of cancer, as you know.”

Reich noted that the regime accused him of injecting Chavez with cancer. “This shows you the ridiculousness of the allegations.”

The Al Jazeera host suggested that their paranoia wasn’t unfounded since the U.S. tried to kill Fidel Castro.

“The U.S. did, and, and I’m sorry that it failed. Just like, if we had been able to kill Hitler in 1938, we should have with no regrets,” Reich said.

He stressed that he had nothing to do with the 2002 coup against Chavez, “and what I used to joke at that time is if I had something to do with the coup it would probably have turned out differently.”

Branding the Venezuelan government an “authoritarian regime,” Reich argued with the host on the legitimacy of elections that kept Chavez in power.

Reich also said the Cuba embargo should be “kept as it is” as long as the Castro regime is in power. President Obama is considering using executive actions to dial it back despite continuing human rights violations and the five-year imprisonment of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross.