June 23, 2006

Chavez rules out ties with Peru’s ‘lapdog’ Garcia

By Patrick Markey

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on
Friday called Peruvian President-elect Alan Garcia a U.S.
"lapdog" and ruled out any ties with Lima's new government in
the latest exchange of barbs between the two leaders.

Relations between Caracas and Lima spiraled into crisis
earlier this year after left-winger Chavez and Garcia clashed
over free-trade ties with the United States and Chavez's
support for a rival candidate in Peru's recent election.

The two governments have already withdrawn their respective
ambassadors. Chavez said he was considering whether to
completely break off ties with Peru after accusing Garcia of
seeking to drive a wedge between Venezuela and its South
American neighbors.

The spat has underscored divisions in Latin America over
trade relations with the United States. Chavez, an ally of
Cuba, says his socialist revolution for the poor offers an
alternative to U.S.-backed "imperialist" deals. Washington says
the former soldier threatens stability in the region.

"When he talks, it's not him it's (U.S. President George
W.) Bush," Chavez said of Garcia at the end of a two-day visit
to Panama. "He's an instrument of the empire. His owner is in
Washington; he's just a lapdog."

Earlier this year, Garcia called Chavez a hypocrite for
attacking a trade accord signed by Peru and Washington while
still selling Venezuelan oil to U.S. markets. Chavez responded
by branding Garcia, a former president whose previous rule left
Peru in economic ruin, a corrupt thief.

Chavez said he believed rival candidate Ollanta Humala, a
nationalist who opposed U.S. free-trade talks, had won the
election and questioned why so many ballots had been annulled
in the vote.

"While Alan Garcia is Peru's president and I am the
president of Venezuela, quite honestly, we cannot have
relations with such an irresponsible government, with such an
irresponsible president, no way," Chavez said late on Thursday
after addressing Panama's Congress.

U.S. officials often say Chavez, who was elected in 1998
promising to fight poverty, has eroded Venezuela's institutions
and used his oil wealth to meddle in the affairs of other
countries. They say he is a negative force in the region.

Venezuela on Thursday offered Panama energy cooperation,
including a possible 150,000 barrel per day refinery, as part
of Chavez's broader initiative to counter U.S. influence.

The world's No. 5 oil exporter, Venezuela is a key supplier
to the U.S. market, but Chavez has signed numerous energy deals
with Latin American neighbors as he seeks to move his country
away from its traditional economic alliance with Washington.