June 4, 2006

US welcomes anti-Chavez backlash at meeting

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) - The United
States welcomed friction between Venezuela and some of its
regional neighbors on Sunday, the opening day of a meeting of
the Western Hemisphere's top diplomatic body.

"It is encouraging that democracies in Latin American feel
that Venezuela has been infringing on their own democratic
process are speaking up on their own," U.S. Deputy Secretary of
State Robert Zoellick told reporters.

"This is not only Peru but Nicaragua and others," he said.

Zoellick's comments were his first to the media since he
arrived in the Dominican capital for a three-day annual meeting
of the Organization of American States.

He spoke after Peruvian Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua told
a news conference he had vigorously denounced alleged
Venezuelan meddling in Peru's electoral process during a
meeting of OAS foreign ministers, and heads of delegations with
OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza.

Maurtua said he had voiced Peru's "formal and categorical
rejection of interventionist acts by President Hugo Chavez in
Peru's internal politics."

Peruvian ex-army commander Ollanta Humala won vocal support
from Chavez in the run-up to Sunday's elections.

But former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who Chavez has
openly derided as "corrupt," appeared headed toward an easy
victory late on Sunday based on unofficial counts.

Maurtua, referring to what some are calling a growing
anti-Chavez backlash across Latin America, suggested that
Garcia had benefited handsomely from Chavez's support of
Humala. It flew in the face of a jealously-guarded Latin
American tradition of nonintervention, he said.

Garcia openly used Chavez's support for his opponent on the
campaign trial, saying Peru threatened to become a virtual
colony of Venezuela if Humala won power.

Chavez said in April that Venezuela would sever ties with
Peru if Garcia won and the two countries have already withdrawn
their respective ambassadors.

Nicaragua is also expected to complain about Chavez
interfering in its upcoming presidential elections.

In defense of Chavez, meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign
Minister Ali Rodriguez said he had only "responded to a
personal attack" in heaping scorn on Garcia during Peru's
electoral contest.

Saying there was no clear evidence that Chavez had actually
intervened in Peruvian politics, he added: "The people of Peru
are a sovereign people."