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Chavez Casts Himself as the Anti-Bush

After soundly defeating his domestic opposition in a recall referendum last August, and flush with soaring profits from record-high global oil prices, Chavez has increasingly been making deals with countries in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, positioning himself as something of an anti-Bush.

In a recent interview on al-Jazeera, Chavez called for developing nations to unite against U.S. political and economic policies. "What can we do regarding the imperialist power of the United States? We have no choice but to unite," he said. Venezuela's energy alliances with nations such as Cuba, which receives cheap oil, are an example of how "we use oil in our war against neoliberalism," he said.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, left, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held a joint news conference on Friday near Caracas. (Jorge Silva -- Reuters)

Or, as he put it on another occasion, "We have invaded the United States, but with our oil."

Izarra, in the interview, accused the United States of "systematic attacks and aggressions" against Chavez, repeating allegations that the United States was involved in a failed 2002 coup against Chavez and a crippling 2002-03 oil strike. Rice and other U.S. officials have repeatedly denied those allegations.

Chavez has saved some of his most biting sarcasm for Rice, whom he refers to as "Condolencia," which means "condolence." In speeches, he has called her "pathetic" and illiterate and made oblique sexual references to her. "I cannot marry Condolencia, because I am much too busy," he said in a recent speech. "I have been told that she dreams about me," he said on another occasion.

Chavez asserted on television last month that Castro had warned him that Bush was planning an assassination attempt. U.S. officials called this ridiculous. But Chavez said that if he were killed, the United States "can forget Venezuelan oil," threatening to cut off the fourth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Chavez's government has begun exploring the sale of parts of Citgo, the Venezuela-owned retailer in the United States.

Many here say they believe Chavez dreams of the day he can cut off the United States and sell to countries he considers more friendly. Chavez visited Beijing in December and signed trade deals for oil and gas exploration, farm support and construction. He even reached agreement with Chinese leaders to launch a telecommunications satellite.

When Chavez visited India last week, the two countries signed an energy cooperation agreement and Chavez said Venezuela wanted to become a "secure, long-term" petroleum supplier to India. On his way home, Chavez stopped in Paris and reached agreement with President Jacques Chirac for more French investment in the Venezuelan oil industry.

Some of the gasoline that Venezuela ships to the United States comes from El Palito, a refinery about 200 miles west of Caracas. People who live next to the refinery in a little cluster of brightly colored beachfront homes said they did not believe Chavez would ever cut off exports to the United States. But in a country bitterly divided over Chavez's rule, they agreed on little else.

"He's destroying the country," said Carlos Rodriguez, a shopkeeper. "Oil prices are higher than ever, but there's more poverty and more crime. Then he flies off to other countries and offers them things he doesn't offer to us."

But a few yards away on the beach, Jaime Mendez, a fisherman, said: "We are all with Chavez because he helps the humble people. He doesn't want problems with the United States. He is just trying to do things, but they won't let him work."

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