June 9, 2006

Mexico conservative would counter Chavez influence

By Alistair Bell

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico (Reuters) - The conservative tied
for first place in Mexico's presidential race said on Thursday
he would counter the influence of U.S. foe Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez in Latin America if elected.

Felipe Calderon told Reuters he wanted Mexico, which has
close trade ties with the United States, to play a more active
role in the region.

"It is going to be a factor of deliberation, balance and
good sense compared to the leadership and active policies, to
give them their polite name, of Hugo Chavez," Calderon said.

Armed with wealth from high oil prices, Chavez has extended
his clout in Latin America in recent years as leftist allies
like Bolivian President Evo Morales have taken power.

Calderon, locked in a bitter rivalry with leftist Andres
Manuel Lopez Obrador for the July 2 election, said Mexico did
not want to clash with the firebrand Venezuelan leader but
would in no way take its cue from him.

"It wouldn't have to be a leadership in confrontation with
Chavez but of course we wouldn't have to ask permission from
Chavez or anyone else to carry out our foreign policy,"
Calderon said on his campaign bus on the way to the central
city of Aguascalientes.

Mexico and Venezuela withdrew their ambassadors from each
other's countries last year in a dispute after Chavez called
Mexican President Vicente Fox a "lap dog" of Washington.

Calderon, from Fox's National Action Party, said Chavez was
hoping for a Lopez Obrador victory in Mexico.

"The sympathies of Chavez are with Lopez Obrador but for me
it's the sympathies of the Mexicans, not Chavez's, that are the
most relevant," he said.