Reuters Edge

Left behind by the U.S., Honduras turns to Chavez

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras, a longtime ally of the United States in Central America, says a lack of international support to tackle chronic poverty has forced it to seek aid from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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On Monday, Honduras joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA, an alliance of leftist leaders in Latin America headed by Chavez, a staunch U.S. foe.

President Manuel Zelaya, a logging magnate seen as a moderate liberal, told Reuters that oil-rich Venezuela’s offer to double international aid to the country, one of the poorest in Latin America, is unrivaled.

“I have been looking for projects from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Europe and I have received very moderate offers ... that forces us to find other forms of financing like ALBA,” Zelaya said in an interview at his presidential palace.

Chavez, a self-styled socialist who wants to build up opposition to U.S. influence in Latin America by offering oil and cash to poor countries, pledged $400 million a year in aid to tiny Honduras.

In a suit and cowboy boots, Zelaya spoke just hours after Chavez, flanked by other Latin American leftist leaders, told a cheering crowd of thousands on Monday that Honduras would have energy security “for the next 100 years.”

Honduras was a Cold War ally of the United States and allowed U.S.-backed “Contra” rebels from Nicaragua to operate from its soil in the 1980s. Honduras still hosts U.S. troops at one of its military bases.

“Our decades-long relationship of dominance by the United States has not benefited all Hondurans,” Zelaya said.

“The war between communists and right-wingers is over, and if what we have now is not giving results, we have to turn to alternatives like ALBA,” which also includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica, he said.

Honduran businessmen are against Zelaya’s move, afraid it will hurt relations with the United States, the country’s principal trading partner.

Honduras is a member of a free trade pact between Central America and the United States, and sends the bulk of its coffee, bananas and manufactured goods exports to the U.S. market.

Editing by Kieran Murray