"Since everybody is going around saying Gadhafi is a murderer, is Chavez going to say it?" the president said in a speech to students in Caracas, according to Agence France-Presse. "Well, I do not know that to be the case. And from this distance, I am not going to condemn him. That would make me a coward, and he has been a friend for a long time."
The eccentric Latin American leader went on to claim that America was behind the push to remove Gadhafi, and criticized the U.S. for moving some of its naval and closer to Libya. America and the European Union want a no-fly zone established over the country, to prevent the Libyan leader from bombing and strafing the poorly armed opposition forces.
"The United States has already said it's ready to invade Libya, don't you see?" he said, according to The Associated Press. "And almost all the countries of Europe are condemning Libya. ... What do they want? They are rubbing their hands together. Oil is what's important to them."
Chavez proposed sending an international committee to try to negotiate a peaceful solution to the fighting. "Instead of sending marines and tanks and planes, why don't we send a goodwill commission to try to help so that they do not continue killing in Libya?" he asked, according to CNN. "They are our brothers."
Gadhafi and the Venezuelan president have become firm allies, united by their mutual loathing of the U.S. and Western "imperialism." During Gadhafi's first trip to Venezuela, in 2009, the two men called for an "anti-imperialist" front to be established across Africa and Latin America, and proposed setting up a joint investment bank.
On that visit, Chavez referred to Gadhafi as "one of the great leaders of this century" and presented him with a replica of a sword that once belonged to 19th-century South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Also, a coalition of opposition parties warned Monday that Chavez's trivialization of Gadhafi's "atrocities" and "criminal repression" was damaging Venezuela's reputation.
"By distancing himself from the numerous nations that condemn the criminal actions of the Libyan leader, Chavez makes our country out to be his defender and irresponsibly puts us alongside governments rejected by the international community," the group said in a statement, according to the Venevision TV network.