Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Chavez calls for downfall of US' `dangerous empire'

AFP , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez fired a blistering verbal attack on Washington and flaunted the US thirst for Venezuelan oil as he launched his re-election campaign on Saturday.

Chavez spoke to thousands of red-clad supporters who thronged downtown Caracas rallying for "ten million votes" to re-elect their populist leader for six more years in December.

"Let us defeat imperialism and contribute to saving the planet, overthrowing this dangerous empire that threatens the entire world," Chavez thundered.

"It is our responsibility, together with other countries in the Americas and progressive groups in the United States," he said. "We are up against the most powerful, immoral, cynical, deadly empire in all of history -- our true enemy."

Chavez meanwhile flaunted US dependency on Venezuelan oil, saying it would "cost him nothing" to shut down Citgo, a US-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, and hawk his oil elsewhere.

Venezuela sells about 1.5 million barrels of oil daily to its powerful northern neighbor and, through Citgo, has three refineries and close to 14,000 petrol filling stations in the US.

"If the government of the United States wants to break ties with Venezuela, it's up to them. It would cost me nothing to shut the refineries we have in the United States. We'll see how much oil will go for, or a gallon of gas," he said.

US-Venezuela relations are at tense new depths after Washington ordered a Venezuelan diplomat expelled in retaliation for Caracas's move to kick out a US naval attache on espionage charges.

Chavez said Venezuelan authorities had infiltrated a group of military officers from the US embassy who he alleged had been spying on his government and preparing operations to arrest him.

In his speech on Saturday Chavez read aloud what he said were emails proving that John Correa, the US embassy's naval attache, had obtained secret military information from Venezuelan collaborators.

Chavez ordered Correa out of the country on Thursday. The US denied the accusation, and in a retaliatory move gave Venezuelan diplomat Jenny Figueredo Frias 72 hours to leave the US.

The administration of US President George W. Bush has regularly expressed concern about Chavez's influence in Latin America, particularly his close alliance with Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro.

And while Washington often derides Chavez for excessive and provocative rhetoric, the Americans have kept up their end of the war of words with a country that still supplies 13 percent of their oil needs.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday likened Chavez' rise to power to that of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Chavez shot back on Saturday.

"The imperialist elite of the United States put Hitler in power, armed Saddam Hussein so he could attack the Islamic revolution of Iran, armed Bin Laden to fight the USSR, enabled the grand dictators that attacked the peoples of Latin America for a hundred years," he said.

Prior to Chavez's speech, his supporters marched through the capital in a giant demonstration that also marked the 14th anniversary of the failed coup attempt he led in 1992 and his seven years of government.

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