Chavez says Obama "lost in space" on Latin America

Sun Aug 16, 2009 5:50pm EDT

* Calls on U.S. to close bases in Honduras, Cuba

* Plans to buy Russian tanks to prepare for "attack"

CARACAS Aug 16 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is "lost in the Andromeda" galaxy on Latin American policy, his chief critic in the region, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, said on Sunday, while demanding the closure of U.S. military bases.

Last week Obama said critics of U.S. involvement in Latin America who are now asking Washington to do more to restore the ousted president of Honduras "can't have it both ways."

"We are not asking you to intervene in Honduras, Obama. On the contrary, we are asking that "the empire" get its hands off Honduras and get its claws out of Latin America," Chavez said in a rambling weekly television and radio show.

"President Obama is lost in the Andromeda Nebula, he has lost his bearings, he doesn't get it," he said.

Chavez repeated an accusation that the United States had prior knowledge of the coup that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on June 28 and the military plane that flew Zelaya out of the country had used a U.S. base in Honduras.

Despite Chavez's frequent tirades against U.S. imperialism, the United States remains the main client for Venezuelan oil, though the OPEC country is gradually increasing sales to other countries, especially China.

Chavez, who expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela at the end of the Bush administration but allowed him back when Obama took office, said he still believes Obama has good intentions.

Obama has promised to improve U.S. relations with Latin America. U.S. officials say his administration will put more effort into ties with the region to counter Chavez's growing influence.

The leftist Venezuelan leader is furious, however, at a U.S. security agreement with Colombia that will give the Pentagon access to seven Colombian military bases. Chavez has cut trade with his neighbor as a reprisal.

The United States and Colombia say the deal is an expansion of an existing accord and will help fight drug traffickers and guerrillas involved in the Colombian cocaine trade. Chavez says a larger U.S. troop presence risks sparking war in the region.

Venezuela is planning to beef up its army by buying tanks and other weapons from Russia, Chavez said, adding that his country needs to be prepared for an attack.

Chavez claims the United States wants to control Venezuela's huge oil reserves as well as the Amazon region.

"This is just the start of an imperial military expansion," Chavez said of the U.S.-Colombian security arrangement.

Chavez asked Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from the Palmerola air base in Honduras (also known as Soto Cano) and from Guantanamo Bay which the U.S. Navy has used as a base in in Cuba for over a century.

"Until when? Get with it, Obama. Get with it, brother," Chavez said. (Reporting by Patricia Rondon; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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