World - AP Latin America
Venezuela Chief Raps Bush on Iraq Deaths
1 hour, 47 minutes ago
By FABIOLA SANCHEZ, Associated Press Writer
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Bush is to blame for the death and violence that is going on in Iraq, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is a fierce critic of the U.S. administration.
During a speech to commemorate his return to power in the wake of short-lived 2002 coup, the leftist Chavez also accused the Bush administration of playing a key role in the failed attempt to oust him.
"Whose is to blame for the violent that has been unleashed in Iraq in the last year? Is it Saddam Hussein? Is it those who they call Islamic fundamentalists? No, the blame for all those deaths has a name: George W. Bush," Chavez told a crowd of his supporters outside Miraflores Presidential Palace on Tuesday.
One of Latin America's most outspoken critics of alleged U.S. hegemony in world affairs, Chavez accused troops led by an "imperialist" government.
Chavez accused the Bush administration of participating in the April 2002 coup that produced his brief ouster.
"The government of Mr. Bush made the decision three years ago to overthrow the Venezuelan government, only to get the surprise of the century," said Chavez, a former paratroop commander who was elected in 1998 and re-elected to a six-year term in 2000.
Venezuela's two highest ranking military commanders said earlier Tuesday they had evidence the U.S. participated in the rebellion two years ago.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the allegations.
Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of destabilizing this oil-rich South American country.
Diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington suffered after the United States initially blamed Chavez for his own downfall during the coup, which was belatedly condemned by U.S officials.
U.S. officials deny Chavez's allegations of coup-plotting, arguing the Venezuelan leader is trying to draw public attention away from opposition efforts to unseat him through the recall.
The United States is wary of Chavez's increasingly close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro (news - web sites), as well as Chavez's criticism of U.S.-led efforts to establish a free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Argentina.
Chavez has defended his ties with the leaders of "rogue" nations, including Iraq's deposed Saddam Hussein and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.