November 19, 2005

Chavez sings mariachis in anti-Fox protest

By Patrick Markey

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

Wearing a broad-rimmed sombrero, the Venezuelan leader
joined a mariachi trumpet and guitar band playing traditional
songs at the end of the march just days after Venezuela and
Mexico withdrew their ambassadors in the diplomatic standoff.

"How great the people of Mexico even though they are
alongside the most powerful empire," Chavez roared from a stage
outside his presidential palace. "That's why we say, 'Long live
the people of Mexico, we are with you."'

The dispute broke out after Mexican President Vicente Fox
criticized Chavez, and the Venezuelan leader retorted by
calling his Mexican counterpart 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."

Caracas says Mexico must now take the initiative in
resolving the dispute, but Mexico insists on an apology.

Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary, has
become Washington's fiercest critic in contrast to Fox, a
former Coca-Cola executive who backs the U.S. administration.
Chavez says his fight is with Washington and Fox's policies,
not with the Mexican people.


"Long live Mexico, we say from Caracas, from Venezuela,"
Chavez roared to the crowd after singing Mexican classics such
as "El Rey" and "Jalisco."

Protesters marched through the capital carrying banners
reading: "Against Yankee imperialism and its lackey Fox" and
"Respect Venezuela" alongside posters of revolutionary heroes
Mexican Emiliano Zapata and Argentine Che Guevara.

"Fox, you and your ideas can go to hell," Venezuelan
Congress President Nicolas Maduro said at the march.

The diplomatic dispute 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 fifth-biggest 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.