Peru-Venezuela tensions as Chavez hails Humala

The lines are drawn ever more sharply in Latin America. Peru could be the next to join the growing anti-imperialist bloc if the indigenist/populist candidate Ollanta Humala takes the presidency in this year’s election. And Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has wasted no time in showing whose side he is on. From Reuters, Jan. 13:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday branded his Peruvian counterpart a copycat of U.S. President George W. Bush as the two South American leaders traded barbs in a diplomatic spat.

Lima recalled its ambassador to Caracas last week to protest Venezuelan meddling in its domestic affairs after Chavez met with Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala and said he supported his nationalist proposals.

This week, after Chavez criticized a second, more conservative candidate in Peru’s April elections, President Alejandro Toledo blasted Chavez on local radio for trying to destabilize the region, an echo of Washington’s portrayal of the socialist leader as a threat to stability.

“My friend Toledo reminded me of the song that goes ‘You are so like Bush, you can’t trick me,'” Chavez said, briefly breaking out in song as he addressed the National Assembly in a state-of-the-nation speech.

“In any case Toledo doesn’t have much time left. I wish him luck. I would have liked to have worked with him,” he said.

Flush with cash from soaring oil prices, Chavez has riled Washington by pushing his socialist revolution and close ties with Cuba to counter U.S. influence in South America.

The Venezuelan leader, who often calls Bush “Mr. Danger,” took the political brawl onto U.S. soil this winter by subsidizing costly home-heating oil for poor Americans in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

Washington portrays Chavez as a strongman who tramples over Venezuela’s democracy and threatens the region by using his country’s oil wealth to back subversive groups, a charge he rejects as propaganda.

The diplomatic split with Peru came just months after Venezuela and Mexico clashed when Chavez called Mexican President Vicente Fox a “lapdog” of U.S. imperialism for supporting U.S. free-trade proposals for the region.

Venezuela had said the spat with Peru was resolved, but Chavez revived the row this week by criticizing conservative, pro-market Peruvian candidate Lourdes Flores as a representative of “Peru’s oligarchy.”

“Let it be clear, Hugo Chavez is not the president of Latin America,” Toledo said on Wednesday. “He can have all the petrodollars he wants but that doesn’t give him the right to destabilize the region.”

See our last updates on Venezuela and Peru.