Relations between Venezuela and conservative-led Peru have spiraled downward amid President Hugo Chavez's repeated endorsement of a leftist Peruvian presidential candidate and references to his opponent as a thief.
Venezuela said on Sunday it would not match Peru's decision to immediately recall its ambassador. Peru's government complained of Chavez's "persistent and flagrant" interference in its internal affairs ahead of a presidential runoff election likely to be held late this month or early next month.
"We have given instructions to our ambassador to stay in Lima," Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez told Venezuela's state TV broadcaster, but he said the envoy was told to be wary of further "provocations."
Peru's Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua on Sunday said his country was left with no choice following Chavez's remarks.
taking a stand
"It's a shame, but a stand of this nature had to be taken," Maurtua told RPP radio.
Maurtua said Peru was not breaking diplomatic relations with Venezuela, but that the withdrawal of its ambassador was a "very serious" expression of repudiation of Chavez's remarks.
The escalating spat comes as Chavez, flush with petrodollars, has increasingly championed ideological allies in other nations' elections while trying to increase his influence in the region and reduce that of Washington.
Chavez has pledged to use the wealth of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter to eliminate poverty and social injustice -- a "revolution" beginning at home but intended to spread across Latin America, whose misfortunes he frequently blames on US "imperialism."
Chavez's emphatic support of nationalist Peruvian candidate Ollanta Humala had already caused a diplomatic flap with Peru, which briefly recalled its ambassador in January after Chavez praised Humala and called the then front-runner, Lourdes Flores, "the candidate of Peru's oligarchy."
Humala's likely rival in a runoff, Alan Garcia, last week called Chavez a spoiled child for criticizing Lima's signing of a free-trade pact with Washington.
Chavez responded by calling Garcia a "thief," threatened to withdraw Venezuela's ambassador if Garcia is elected and added, "Long live Ollanta Humala!"
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo issued a protest, but Chavez kept up his criticism on Saturday in Cuba, where he signed a trade pact with Bolivia and Cuba.
Chavez referred to Toledo and Garcia as "alligators from the same water hole."
Garcia on Sunday attributed Chavez's recent comments to "perhaps an excess of alcohol."
Garcia said he was not taking issue with Chavez's governing style, which he indicated was inept and corrupt, but that he simply wanted the Venezuelan leader "not to meddle any more in our affairs."