January 6, 2006

Chavez brushes off spat, hails Peruvian candidate

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez on Friday brushed aside a diplomatic spat with Peru
after Lima recalled its ambassador to protest a visit to
Caracas by Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala.

Peru said Chavez meddled in its domestic affairs when he
praised Humala, a nationalist former soldier who led a brief
rebellion in 2000 and who is now a leading candidate before
presidential elections in April.

"They have made a scandal in Peru ... because candidate
Ollanta Humala visited and the Peruvian government recalled its
ambassador," Chavez said. "If that was normal for a government,
then they would be recalling their ambassadors every year.

"We not going to fall for these provocations. We respect
our relations with the Peruvian government. And again we salute
Ollanta Humala from here," he said.

Chavez, a retired army officer allied with Cuba, has
antagonized Washington by promoting his socialist revolution as
a counterweight to U.S. influence in South America. U.S.
officials say he is a negative influence in the region.

The Venezuelan leader hailed Humala during a meeting in
Caracas this week with the Peruvian candidate and Bolivia's
president-elect, Evo Morales, the latest leftist to come to
power on the back of growing discontent with U.S.-backed free
market economic policies. Peru responded by recalling its
ambassador to Venezuela on Tuesday.

Chavez praised Humala's plans to renegotiate contracts with
foreign companies to benefit Peru's poor, which Chavez said
would bring a "second independence" for the Andean nation.

Humala's populist rhetoric and his gradual rise in the
polls to rival leading candidate Lourdes Flores of the
center-right have made investors and Peru's political elite

Venezuela's rift with Peru comes just months after Chavez
clashed with Mexico by calling Mexican President Vicente Fox a
"lap dog" of U.S. imperialism for backing Washington's campaign
for a regional free trade accord. Both countries recalled their
envoys and are still at odds.