May 4, 2006

Chavez withdraws Peru envoy amid Andean spat

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez withdrew his country's ambassador to Peru after Lima
recalled its envoy as a fierce dispute over U.S. free trade
agreements rattled the Andean region.

Chavez, a left-winger locked in a stand-off with
Washington, made his announcement after Peruvian President
Alejandro Toledo appealed to the Organization of American
States to prevent Chavez interfering in Peru's election.

The spat between Caracas and Lima underscores sharp
differences in Latin America over U.S. trade deals as Chavez
contrasts with moderate voices in a regional left-wing
resurgence such as Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.

Venezuela's diplomatic rift with Peru erupted after an
exchange between Chavez and Peruvian presidential candidate
Alan Garcia who called the Venezuelan leader "shameless" for
attacking U.S. free trade deals signed with Peru and Colombia.

"We had no choice but to withdraw our ambassador," Chavez
told reporters in Bolivia after meeting with ally President Evo
Morales. "It should not have come to this as it was a
gratuitous attack against me by a candidate from over there."

Chavez had branded Garcia a "thief" and threatened to break
ties with Lima if he won the Peru presidency in a runoff with
nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala, whom the Venezuelan
president has openly backed to win.

Peru then withdrew its envoy to protest his meddling.

An ally of Cuba, Chavez presents his socialist revolution
in the world's No. 5 oil exporter and his proposals for a
regional leftist alliance as alternatives to U.S. trade deals
for Latin America.

Chavez has signed scores of energy pacts with neighbors,
but the United States, a key client for Venezuela's oil,
portrays the former soldier as an authoritarian bully who has
used his country's petroleum to destabilize the region.

The Venezuelan president has promoted leftist, anti-U.S.
free trade candidates such as Peru's Humala against Garcia and
former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Polls show Garcia, a center-left former president whose
1985-1990 government drove Peru's economy into ruin, is
expected to beat Humala when they face off in June in the final
round of the election.

Lambasting Peru and Colombia for joining in U.S. trade
accords, Chavez recently withdrew from the Andean Community
trade bloc in protest. Bolivia joined Chavez in threatening to
leave the bloc if its neighbors continued U.S. trade talks.