November 18, 2005

Chavez taunts a ploy for support: U.S.

By Saul Hudson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday
accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of making new enemies
abroad to fire up supporters at home with demagoguery such as
saying Washington plans to invade his country.

In a new charge, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America,
Thomas Shannon, said Chavez relied on confrontation to fuel the
nationalist passions of his key support base, the majority

Chavez's strategy is "based on confrontation and conflict,
and in order to sustain it over time it requires an ever-
increasing search for enemies," the assistant secretary of
state for Western Hemisphere affairs told lawmakers.

"And I believe that the anti-American rhetoric by the
president is part of a larger effort to get his constituency
mobilized," he added.

The charge was the latest from a Bush administration that
has sought to stigmatize Chavez but has failed to enlist Latin
American governments in opposing a leader popular with many in
the region for rejecting U.S. free-trade policies.

Speaking to Venezuelan and Brazilian businessmen, Chavez
read out news reports of Shannon's comments and branded U.S.
President George W. Bush an "assassin" and a "crazy man."

"The worst threat, not only to democracy, but to the world
right now is the U.S. government," Chavez said. "The people of
the United States are governed by an assassin, a mass murderer,
a crazy man."

The two governments constantly engage in tit-for-tat
sniping, but Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, remains
a top supplier of petroleum and fuel to the United States.

Chavez has typically saved his verbal assaults for Bush,
whom he calls "Mr. Danger," but he provoked a diplomatic
dispute with Mexico this month by insulting its leader as a
U.S. lap dog.

"There's a political dynamic developing in Venezuela in
favor of confrontation and that is reflected in Venezuela's
diplomacy toward traditionally friendly countries," Shannon
later told reporters.

The United States says Chavez uses his country's oil wealth
to fund anti-democratic groups in the region, erodes human
rights in Venezuela and is building up his military

Chavez denies the accusations. He taps into anti-American
sentiment in the region by complaining Bush is a warmonger who
is pushing free-trade economics so U.S. companies can dominate
Latin American markets.

Republicans on the House International Relations Committee
backed Shannon and expressed concern Chavez went out of his way
to embrace U.S. foes by supporting Iran's nuclear ambitions and
threatening to sell U.S. fighter jets to Cuba.

Democrats said the Bush administration was making excuses
for its free-trade policies in Latin America that had failed to
help the poor and driven them to populist politicians such as

They also said the Bush administration fueled anti-American
sentiment in Venezuela by appearing to welcome a coup against
Chavez in 2002 when Latin America condemned the short-lived

(Additional reporting by Patrick Markey in Caracas)