CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said here Tuesday in his annual message to the nation that he is hopeful about better relations with the United States once Barack Obama is inaugurated next week in Washington.
"We hope that with the arrival of the new Obama government something changes in these aggressions and these interventions in internal affairs on the part of the United States government," the socialist head of state told the National Assembly.
Chavez, whose oil-rich nation is a key supplier of crude to the United States, accuses Washington of complicity with an abortive 2002 coup and views the millions of dollars Venezuelan opposition groups receive from U.S. public entities as interference.
By the same token, U.S. officials denounce Chavez as an autocrat who undermines "stability" in Latin America.
The expression of hope for improved relations with Washington comment came as Chavez reiterated his government's charges that diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas traveled to Puerto Rico last week for a secret meeting with leaders of the Venezuelan opposition.
Chavez said the diplomats instructed the opposition chiefs in how to oppose his campaign for a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits.
Should the amendment become a reality, Chavez, who first took office in 1999, could seek another six-year term in the 2012 election.
But the bulk of Chavez's lengthy, nationally broadcast speech was devoted to detailing the "advances" logged under his government.
Holding up graphs and reciting statistics, the president said that the proportion of Venezuelans living in "generalized poverty" declined from 75.5 percent in 2000 to 33.4 percent in 2007.
Venezuela has also climbed seven rungs on the U.N. Human Development Index to stand in 61th place among 176 countries, Chavez said, while citing substantial gains in per capita income, "year after year."
He said that 35.9 percent of Venezuelan adolescents and young adults are now attending high school or college, compared with 21 percent in 1999.
Chavez acknowledged that Venezuela's inflation rate, 30.9 percent, was high "in relation with the countries of the region," but he showed no sign of being ready to depart from his policy of putting economic growth first.
The head of state again complained that his government's "successes" are not reported by Venezuela's private media outlets - almost all of them strongly opposed to Chavez - or by the foreign press.
Chavez insisted that having won the 2006 election with more than 60 percent of the vote after running on an avowedly socialist platform, he has a mandate to press ahead with his "socialism of the 21st century."
"All the gains" achieved by his administration would be lost if the "counter-revolution" took power, he said.
"As long as I am president there will be more power for the people (and) social justice," Chavez said. President-Elect Obama Promises New Page in U.S. Relations with Latin America