January 13, 2006

Chavez tells Peru leader: ‘You’re so like Bush’

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez on Friday branded his Peruvian counterpart a copycat of
U.S. President George W. Bush as the two South American leaders
traded barbs in a diplomatic spat.

Lima recalled its ambassador to Caracas last week to
protest Venezuelan meddling in its domestic affairs after
Chavez met with Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala
and said he supported his nationalist proposals.

This week, after Chavez criticized a second, more
conservative candidate in Peru's April elections, President
Alejandro Toledo blasted Chavez on local radio for trying to
destabilize the region, an echo of Washington's portrayal of
the socialist leader as a threat to stability.

"My friend Toledo reminded me of the song that goes 'You
are so like Bush, you can't trick me,"' Chavez said, briefly
breaking out in song as he addressed the National Assembly in a
state-of-the-nation speech.

"In any case Toledo doesn't have much time left. I wish him
luck. I would have liked to have worked with him," he said.

Flush with cash from soaring oil prices, Chavez has riled
Washington by pushing his socialist revolution and close ties
with Cuba to counter U.S. influence in South America.

The Venezuelan leader, who often calls Bush "Mr. Danger,"
took the political brawl onto U.S. soil this winter by
subsidizing costly home-heating oil for poor Americans in
Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

Washington portrays Chavez as a strongman who tramples over
Venezuela's democracy and threatens the region by using his
country's oil wealth to back subversive groups, a charge he
rejects as propaganda.

The diplomatic split with Peru came just months after
Venezuela and Mexico clashed when Chavez called Mexican
President Vicente Fox a "lapdog" of U.S. imperialism for
supporting U.S. free-trade proposals for the region.

Venezuela had said the spat with Peru was resolved, but
Chavez revived the row this week by criticizing conservative,
pro-market Peruvian candidate Lourdes Flores as a
representative of "Peru's oligarchy."

"Let it be clear, Hugo Chavez is not the president of Latin
America," Toledo said on Wednesday. "He can have all the
petrodollars he wants but that doesn't give him the right to
destabilize the region."