US Reverend Jesse Jackson arrives to pay his respects to deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas, on March 8, 2013. Latin American leaders and US foes paid tribute to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez on Friday as he lay in state in a flag-draped coffin during a lavish state funeral before the nation swears-in an interim president. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who conducted a prayer at the funeral of Venezuela's former president Hugo Chavez, on Friday compared the notorious and controversial socialist leader to former U.S. presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. His point, he said, is that "democracies evolve."
"Well you know, democracies mature," Jackson told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, adding that "our first 15 presidents owned people, they owned slaves." The Chicago-based civil rights activist and father of disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) was speaking from Caracas, Venezuela.
A little surprised by the comparison, Blitzer asked Jackson to clarify his comments.
“I just want to be precise…Are you really comparing Hugo Chavez to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or James Madison? That’s what I was hearing. But I want you to explain," the host said.
"Well, democracies evolve," Jackson repeated. "My point is that our first 15 presidents owned slaves and called it democracy for [about 200] years. We’ve come a mighty long way."
He said the United States should engage with the new Venezuelan government to help it "evolve in the right direction." Jackson noted that there may be some additional trade incentives due to the country's vast oil wealth.
Watch the CNN segment via the Free Beacon below:
In his tribute-style prayer at Chavez's funeral on Friday, Jackson spoke very fondly of the late socialist leader.
"Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams," he said. "And, so, today we do mourn, because we’ve lost a lot. But we have a lot left – a stable government, an orderly transition."