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US welcomes anti-Chavez backlash at OAS meeting

Written by: Staff

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, June 5 (Reuters) The United States welcomed friction between Venezuela and some of its regional neighbors on the opening day of a meeting of the Western Hemisphere's top diplomatic body.

''It is encouraging that democracies in Latin American feel that Venezuela has been infringing on their own democratic process are speaking up on their own,'' US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters yesterday.

''This is not only Peru but Nicaragua and others,'' he said.

Zoellick's comments were his first to the media since he arrived in the Dominican capital for a three-day annual meeting of the Organization of American States.

He spoke after Peruvian Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua told a news conference he had vigorously denounced alleged Venezuelan meddling in Peru's electoral process during a meeting of OAS foreign ministers, and heads of delegations with OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza.

Maurtua said he had voiced Peru's ''formal and categorical rejection of interventionist acts by President Hugo Chavez in Peru's internal politics.'' Peruvian ex-army commander Ollanta Humala won vocal support from Chavez in the run-up to Sunday's elections.

But former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who Chavez has openly derided as ''corrupt,'' appeared headed toward an easy victory late yesterday based on unofficial counts.

Maurtua, referring to what some are calling a growing anti-Chavez backlash across Latin America, suggested that Garcia had benefited handsomely from Chavez's support of Humala. It flew in the face of a jealously-guarded Latin American tradition of nonintervention, he said.

Garcia openly used Chavez's support for his opponent on the campaign trial, saying Peru threatened to become a virtual colony of Venezuela if Humala won power.

Chavez said in April that Venezuela would sever ties with Peru if Garcia won and the two countries have already withdrawn their respective ambassadors.

Nicaragua is also expected to complain about Chavez interfering in its upcoming presidential elections.

In defense of Chavez, meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said he had only ''responded to a personal attack'' in heaping scorn on Garcia during Peru's electoral contest.

Saying there was no clear evidence that Chavez had actually intervened in Peruvian politics, he added: ''The people of Peru are a sovereign people.'' Reuters PDS VP0720

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