BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday attacked U.S. President George W. Bush’s anti-poverty and energy plans for Latin America, as the two ideological opponents embarked on rival tours in the region.
“He’s a symbol of domination and we are a cry of rebellion against the domination ... he’s trying to trick our people to divide us,” Chavez told reporters before he met with fellow leftist President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina.
Chavez, Washington’s leading critic in the region, plans to lead thousands of supporters on Friday evening in a soccer stadium rally in Buenos Aires coinciding with Bush’s arrival in neighboring Uruguay.
Chavez continues his two-country tour on Saturday in Bolivia, where he has pledged millions of dollars in aid after extensive flooding and where President Evo Morales is one of his closest ideological allies.
Bush, who was met by violent protests in Brazil in the first leg of his tour aimed at making friends in the region, will continue to Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico after a weekend visit to Uruguay, where he hopes to strengthen trade ties.
Bush’s trip is seen by many as an attempt to counter the growing influence of Chavez in a region where anti-American sentiment is strong, especially among the legions of poor.
Chavez said Bush’s drive to promote ethanol production in Brazil and other Latin American countries is “irrational and unethical.”
Bush promoted ethanol cooperation in Brazil aimed at boosting the export market for the biofuel and reducing dependence on oil in the region, which could counteract Chavez’s spreading of his own petrodollars.
Chavez said Bush’s anti-poverty plans for the region were a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and poked fun at the U.S. leader’s $75 million initiative to help Latin American youth learn English and study in the United States.
“We don’t need tips from the empire,” he told Argentina’s state-owned television Channel 7.
Argentina’s Kirchner steers clear of anti-Bush rhetoric, but also questions Washington-backed free-market policies.
Some opposition leaders criticized the government for giving Chavez a platform.
“Either the government doesn’t know how to control Chavez when he is here, which shows a lack of power. Or the government thinks the same as Chavez and is scared to say so openly, which shows weakness,” center-left presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna said in a statement.
Venezuela has purchased billions of dollars in Argentine debt and Chavez has lead two anti-Bush rallies in 2005 and 2006 in Argentina and some Argentines said enough is enough.
Carlos Tapia, a 45-year-old building superintendent, said he supported an anti-Bush demonstration — but not led by Chavez.
“If there are people who are against Bush, they need a leader, but a leader from within the country,” Tapia said. “Chavez wants all the attention.”
Additional reporting by Hilary Burke, Lucas Bergman