Mon, Jan 28, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Pull funds out of US, Chavez advizes

LOOK SOUTH Speaking at a summit in Caracas, the Venezuelan president said US 'imperialism is entering into a crisis' and Latin America should invest in its own region

AP , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged his closest Latin American allies to begin withdrawing billions of dollars in international reserves from US banks, warning of a looming US economic crisis.

Chavez made the suggestion Saturday as he hosted a summit aimed at boosting Latin American integration and countering US influence.

"We should start to bring our reserves here," Chavez said. "Why does that money have to be in the north? ... You can't put all your eggs in one basket."

To help pool resources within the region, Chavez and other leaders launched a new development bank at the summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, or ALBA.

The left-leaning regional alliance supported by Chavez is intended to offer an alternative, socialist path to integration while snubbing US-backed free-trade deals. Its acronym means "dawn" in Spanish.

Chavez warned that US "imperialism is entering into a crisis that can affect all of us" and said Latin America "will save itself alone."

He also called for allies to help end US domination internationally.

"We have to do everything possible so that in the coming years the US empire falls," Chavez said at the closing ceremony. "Down with US imperialism!"

Chavez noted that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Colombia in recent days, saying "that has to do with this summit."

"The empire doesn't accept alternatives," Chavez told the gathering, which was attended by the presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and other leaders.

Rice left Colombia on Friday after a trip aimed at reviving a free trade deal that has stalled in the US Congress. She sidestepped an opportunity to confront Chavez, who accused Colombia and the US of plotting "military aggression" against Venezuela.

The leaders signed a series of accords at the end of the summit pledging cooperation in areas from energy to agriculture, plus a document denouncing "the warlike attitude of the US government and its attacks against our governments."

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Caracas rejected that characterization.

"A door is always open to dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual concern," Robin Holzhauer said.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega joined Chavez in criticizing US-style capitalism, saying "the dictatorship of global capitalism ... has lost control."

Three days earlier, Ortega had shouted "Long live the US government" as he inaugurated a US-financed section of highway.

Chavez welcomed the Caribbean island of Dominica as a new ALBA member, joining Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba.

Attending the summit as observers were the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with officials from Ecuador, Uruguay, Honduras, Haiti and St. Kitts and Nevis.

The ALBA Bank was launched with about US$1 billion in startup capital, Venezuelan Finance Minister Rafael Isea said.

Venezuela, with its plentiful oil earnings, is expected to be the leading financier. Funds are to go toward social programs and other projects including oil ventures.

The nations agreed to form a joint energy company for oil, natural gas and geothermal projects. Chavez said Venezuela also is setting aside an area for oil exploration by ALBA countries in the lucrative Orinoco River basin.

Iran has also offered financial support in Latin America, and Chavez said a fund created by Venezuela and Iran to support projects in third countries would be linked to the ALBA Bank.

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