Chavez Accuses 'Empire' of Trying to Sour Regional Ties

By Leandro Prada | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT

Buenos Aires ( - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the United States of trying to sour relations between his country and Peru and Argentina, saying Washington "wants to interfere in the unity of Latin America, and the approach of our nations."

Chavez, who is on a mission to unify Latin American countries against what he calls "the empire," addressed the issue during his weekly radio program. He referred to an incident during his recent visit to Argentina, where a man linked to Venezuela's government-run oil company PDVSA was caught trying to smuggle $800,000 in cash into Buenos Aires.

Amid speculation about the source and reason for the money -- including a theory that the money may have been heading to pro-Chavez groups in Argentina -- Chavez said at the time it was merely a "police issue" and suggested that "the empire" was responsible for an attempt to damage bilateral relationships.

Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner, who is friendly to Chavez, fired an under-secretary who was present on the flight which brought the bag carrying the money, and PDVSA fired its regional manager for Argentina.

On his radio show, Chavez said the Americans "are firing at us with everything they have ... because they don't want us to get along."

Tensions also have emerged between Chavez and Peruvian President Alan Garcia, over an offer of Venezuelan humanitarian aid following the recent Peruvian earthquake, which killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands.

A conservative Peruvian newspaper, Expreso, featured a picture of a man holding a can of tuna bearing pictures of Chavez and Peruvian leftist politician, Ollanta Humala. The tag read, "Facing looting, protesting, despair and chaos [we show] solidarity with our fellow countrymen."

Humala is the man Garcia defeated in June 2006 presidential elections, following a campaign in which Chavez openly supported Humala.

In response to Chavez-Humala picture, Garcia said it was "no time to take advantage of the situation and use it for political propaganda."

The Venezuelan government has denied involvement, suggesting that the tuna cans bearing Chavez' likeness were part of a campaign to discredit him.

"I am not saying it is a lie [that the cans exist], I am saying that the true source of these cans is being concealed," said Venezuelan Minister of Information William Lara.

Chavez, a former army paratrooper commander who has been president since 1998, has used Venezuela's energy wealth to promote like-minded allies as he strives to fulfill his vision of "regional integration" as a bulwark against U.S. "imperialism."

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