November 19, 2005

Thousands march to back Chavez in scrap with Fox

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez marched in Caracas on Saturday
to support the leftist leader in his dispute with Mexico's
president over U.S. free trade proposals.

State workers, unionists and students, many wearing red
T-shirts, waved flags and anti-U.S. placards as they marched
through the capital accompanied by trucks blaring revolutionary
songs, Venezuelan folk ballads and Mexican mariachi music.

Venezuela and Mexico withdrew their ambassadors on Monday
after Chavez called his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, a
"lap dog" of U.S. imperialism for his close ties to Washington
and told him, "Don't mess with me, mister or you'll get stung."

A self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary allied with Cuba,
Chavez has become one of Washington's fiercest critics in the
region in contrast to Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who
backs the U.S. administration on most political and trade

"I'm an anti-imperialist and Mexico's government shouldn't
take the position they have, they are a poor people just like
us," said real estate broker Zaida Gutierrez, carrying a "Bush:
Assassin, terrorist" placard.

Banners reading "Against Yankee imperialism and its lackey
Fox" and "Respect Venezuela" fluttered alongside posters of
Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata and Che Guevara.

"Long live Mexico, long live Chavez ... but Fox, you and
your ideas can go to hell," Venezuelan Congress President
Nicolas Maduro said at the march.

The diplomatic spat between Venezuela and Mexico
underscored divisions in Latin America over U.S. proposals for
a region-wide free trade zone and the growing gulf between the
United States and Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

In the latest clash between Washington and Caracas, U.S.
officials this week branded Chavez a threat to democracy and
the former soldier responded by blasting U.S. President George
W. Bush as an "assassin, a mass murderer and a madman."

Since Chavez was elected in 1998, ties between the United
States and Venezuela have steadily deteriorated though
Venezuela still supplies about 15 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Chavez says his self-styled revolution for the poor is an
alternative to U.S. capitalist policies in Latin America, but
U.S. officials say he has become a menace to the region who
uses confrontation overseas to shore up his support at home.

The spat between Mexico and Venezuela broke out after the
leaders met at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina to
discuss the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area for the Americas.

Fox accused Argentina's left-leaning President Nestor
Kirchner of bowing to opinion polls rather than pressing for a
trade deal and criticized Chavez's ideology.

Chavez blasted Fox as a "lap dog of the empire" and the two
governments hardened their stances and withdrew their
ambassadors. Caracas says Mexico must now take the initiative
in resolving the dispute, but Mexico insists on an apology.