HAVANA – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) criticized the United States for recent remarks about his role in Latin America, saying in a Sunday broadcast from Cuba that it is the policies of the U.S. government that are harming the world, not his own.
Chavez spoke alongside Cuban President Fidel Castro (search) during his weekly television and radio show from the western tip of the island, flaunting the close ties between the two leftist leaders that U.S. leaders say are threatening democracy in the region.
"The grand destroyer of the world, and the greatest threat ... is represented by U.S. imperialism," Chavez said.
Chavez was responding to remarks Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) made on his way home from visits to Paraguay and Peru last week. Referring to social uprisings in Bolivia that have pushed out two presidents in less than two years, Rumsfeld told reporters that Venezuela and Cuba have been influencing the Andean nation "in unhelpful ways."
Uneasy about the close relationship between Castro and Chavez, Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have repeatedly said the two men are fomenting instability in Latin America. Both leaders have consistently denied the accusations.
Chavez gave a new vote of confidence to Castro's communist government Sunday, calling it a "revolutionary democracy" in which the Cuban people rule.
People "have asked me how I can support Fidel if he's a dictator," Castro said. "But Cuba doesn't have a dictatorship — it's a revolutionary democracy."
Television footage showed Chavez and Castro together in the streets of Pinar del Rio earlier in the day, standing on the back of a jeep wearing olive green military uniforms and saluting hundreds of shouting residents waving Cuban and Venezuelan flags.
During the nearly six-hour show, Castro and Chavez talked mainly about their joint social ventures, particularly in the health sector. Cuba has sent a fifth of its doctors to work in poor communities in Venezuela, in gratitude for massive shipments of Venezuelan oil under preferential terms.
The leaders praised each other throughout the show and took phone calls and messages from supporters in both countries. They also received praise from the audience, which included Castro's Cabinet members, the ex-Salvadoran guerrilla leader Shafick Handal and former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
"It is a great privilege for all of us to see you here together," said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, dressed like the other officials in a bright red shirt. "We feel like we are living a special moment, and that, in Latin America, Cuba is not alone."
The visit marked Chavez's fourth to Cuba in the last nine months. He arrived Saturday to attend the first graduation of the Latin American School of Medicine, a regional initiative launched in 1998 after two hurricanes devastated Caribbean and Central American nations.
Chavez announced he would create a second such school in Venezuela.