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Kerry rips Chavez

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CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has attacked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a dubious democrat hostile to U.S. interests, delivering a slap in the face to the leftist leader who had portrayed Kerry as a potential friend.


The Kerry statement on his Web site made front-page news in Venezuela on Monday, nearly two weeks after Chavez had publicly praised the Democrat contender, hailing his health care plans and likening him to assassinated U.S. President John Kennedy.


In his declaration dated March 19, the Massachusetts senator accused Chavez of undermining Venezuela's democracy, supporting Colombian rebels and "narco-terrorists" and trying to torpedo a constitutional bid by foes to hold a referendum on his rule.


Condemning Chavez's policies as "detrimental to our interests," Kerry said the United States should lead international pressure to persuade him to allow a recall vote.


Venezuelan officials did not immediately respond.


Political analysts said the harsh condemnation of the populist Venezuelan leader aimed to tell him he should not consider Kerry an ideological soul mate united through their opposition to U.S. President George W. Bush.


"This gives no reassurance to Chavez. I don't think he's going to find a lot of sympathy from Kerry and the statement makes that clear," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.


Relations between Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, and its main petroleum client have been strained by Bush administration criticism of Chavez's self-styled "revolution," his friendship with Cuba's Communist President Fidel Castro and his resistance to the referendum challenge.


Chavez, a former paratrooper elected in 1998, has repeatedly condemned Bush's trade and foreign policies as "imperialist" and accused the U.S. government of trying to topple him, a charge denied by Washington.


'Mixed signals'

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jesus Perez said in an interview published on Monday his country's relations with the United States could not be worse and would improve if Bush lost the November election.


Perez told El Universal newspaper Bush was to blame for the tense ties "because of his hostile statements."


But Kerry's declaration firmly quashed Chavez's apparent hopes of a more friendly U.S. policy if Kerry won in November.


"It separates his image from that of Chavez, and it's not just a distancing, it's a clear break," said Venezuelan political analyst and author Alberto Garrido.


Analysts said Kerry's criticism went well beyond a U.S. campaign tactic to win votes in key states like Florida, where anti-Castro and anti-Chavez sentiment is strong among exiled Cubans and Venezuelans.

Kerry said Chavez's "close relationship with Fidel Castro has raised serious questions about his commitment to leading a truly democratic government."


But his statement also chided the Bush administration for sending "mixed signals by supporting undemocratic processes in our own hemisphere," saying it had "acquiesced" to a brief 2002 coup against Chavez. Washington denies it was involved in the coup.


"Kerry is saying there is a lot at stake in Venezuela and that we need to be engaged and firm. He's trying to show he's not a wimpy democrat, that he's a tough-minded, hard-headed guy," Shifter said.


Too bad Bush cant paint his as being a communist sympathizer now. I know he wanted to.

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Guest Juanky

Yeah, rip him all you want. Will you do anything about it if you are elected? No. I'm sick of people talking crap about latin america and doing absolutely nothing.

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