June 5, 2006

US warns Latin America of “pied pipers of populism”

By Tom Brown

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) - The United
States, seeking to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and
rising anti-U.S. sentiment across Latin America, warned the
region on Monday not to be seduced by populists.

"The pied pipers of populism will only lead people
backwards, while globalization and the rest of the world looks
ahead," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

He was addressing foreign ministers and delegation heads
from 34 member countries of the Organization of American States
in the Dominican capital for its 36th annual general assembly.

"The divide we now face is not between left and right, but
between democrats and authoritarians, whether or not elected,"
said Zoellick.

He did not refer directly to Chavez, a close ally of Cuban
President Fidel Castro who regularly brands President George W.
Bush as imperialist and portrays his self-styled "Bolivarian"
revolution as the sole cure for many of Latin America's ills.

But Chavez has thrown his support behind Daniel Ortega, the
Sandinista and former U.S. nemesis, in Nicaragua's upcoming
presidential race. And Zoellick warned in his speech that "old
caudillos of corruption and communism" were seeking to stage a
comeback in Managua.

Zoellick also urged the OAS to stand firmly behind Peru in
a diplomatic spat with Venezuela.

Peru's Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua has used the meeting
to denounce what he called Chavez's meddling in Peru's internal
politics, and he implicitly called for OAS sanctions against
Chavez on Monday.

Chavez also supported Ollanta Humala, a populist former
army commander, in his bid for Peru's presidency, but a runoff
election was won by former President Alan Garcia, an outspoken
Chavez critic.

Highlighting U.S. pleasure over outcome of the Peruvian
election, Zoellick told reporters, "Chavez has overplayed his
hand and people in the region are recognizing it."

However, he acknowledged that Chavez, who the Bush
administration accuses of ruling in an increasingly autocratic
fashion, was a formidable opponent.

"He (Chavez) still has a lot of oil money and a lot of
influence," Zoellick said.

He did not elaborate. But the Venezuelan leader has an
agenda that has clashed with the Bush administration on many
issues, including free trade and hemispheric security.

Reflecting some of the challenges for Washington, Brazil's
Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stressed his country's "excellent
relations" with Venezuela in comments on the sidelines of the
OAS assembly.

He said Brazil backed Venezuela in its campaign to secure a
seat on the U.N. Security Council starting in January.

Venezuela's bid is opposed by the Bush administration,
which is backing Guatemala for the Council spot representing
Latin America and the Caribbean.