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Venezuela hails Latin American 'axis' against US
( 2004-01-16 09:13) (Agencies)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday his country was forging an alliance with Argentina and Brazil to lead Latin America's opposition to U.S. free trade plans for the region.

"Clearly, an axis can be seen ... -- and it's not an axis of evil as some people say -- .. that passes from Caracas, through Brasilia and reaches Buenos Aires," the left-wing Venezuelan leader said in a state of the nation speech to parliament.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addresses the National Assembly in Caracas, January 15, 2003.   [Reuters]
Chavez spoke a day after returning from a summit of regional leaders in Monterrey, Mexico in which he, President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sharply criticized Washington's plans for a hemisphere-wide free trade zone.

U.S. President Bush tried to rally Latin American support at the summit for the U.S. project to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas by Jan. 1, 2005.

Chavez, an outspoken former paratrooper elected in 1998, on Thursday hailed Kirchner and Lula as like-minded leaders spearheading a Latin American continent that is increasingly shying away from U.S. polices.

"There is a new America present, a new voice," he said.

He has campaigned vehemently against the proposed FTAA, arguing that Latin America's weaker economies cannot compete with powerful U.S. corporations. He says the region should first strengthen its own trade ties.

Chavez, who held talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on the way back from Mexico, also called for communist-run Cuba to be allowed to participate in any future Summit of the Americas.

Castro is barred from these summits because the United States shuns his one-party government as undemocratic.

"I think it would be good if we consulted all the countries of Latin America about whether it's right that Cuba should be excluded. Yes or no?" Chavez said.

The Venezuelan president said the growing cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela, in which more than 10,000 Cuban doctors are participating in Venezuelan government health projects, was a model of social and economic collaboration.

"Yes, we are de-stabilizers ... Fidel and Chavez ... against death, against injustice, against hunger, sickness and inequality," Chavez said. He faces a bid by foes to hold a referendum this year to try to vote him out of office.

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