CARACAS Socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez mocked George W. Bush as a "comrade" on Wednesday, saying the U.S. president was a hard-line leftist for his government's intervention of major private banks in the U.S. financial crisis.
Chavez, who calls capitalism an evil and ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro his mentor, ridiculed Bush for his plan for the federal government to take equity in American banks despite the U.S. right-wing's criticism of Venezuelan nationalizations.
"Bush is to the left of me now," Chavez told an audience of international intellectuals debating the benefits of socialism. "Comrade Bush announced he will buy shares in private banks."
Chavez, who has insulted Bush in the past as a drunkard or the devil, called him clueless on Wednesday. He accused him of simply parroting the words of his aides without understanding the new policies that rely on heavy state intervention.
"I am convinced he has got no idea what's going on," said Chavez, who has nationalized swaths of the OPEC nation's economy in recent years and is in negotiations to take over a Spanish bank in Venezuela.
Chavez lauds his nationalizations for allowing the state to refocus companies' activities on helping the poor rather than creating value for their shareholders.
The Bush administration, which has promoted free-market policies throughout Latin America, resisted taking equity in banks for weeks. But, faced with a spiraling financial crisis, it reversed course this week with a $250 billion plan.
Chavez, who the United States labels an autocrat, is popular among his supporters at home for criticizing Bush and sometimes wins praise abroad for voicing anti-U.S. opinions.
Despite the ideological differences between the two governments and the diplomatic sparring that led weeks ago to the countries expelling each other's ambassador, Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States.
(Reporting by Patricia Rondon; Writing by Saul Hudson; Editing by Anthony Boadle)