CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned that if U.S. troops were to invade any Latin American country, "revolutionaries" from across the region would join forces to battle the Americans.
Chavez's remark in a speech Monday night confirmed what many in Venezuela have long presumed: that his government would go to the aid of a close ally like Cuba in the hypothetical scenario of the U.S. sending troops.
Although U.S. officials often dismiss his claims as outlandish, Chavez insists his country must be on guard to face any potential U.S. military attack. Washington also has said repeatedly it has no plans to attack Cuba.
The Venezuelan leader said the U.S. "should know that if it wants or someday decides ... to invade any of our countries — be it Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, today, tomorrow or the next day — we would be there gathering together the revolutionaries to do battle with weapons in hand against U.S. imperialism."
The U.S. has accused Chavez of trying to export his socialist "revolution" to neighboring countries, saying he is a destabilizing force in the region.
Chavez has responded furiously that he poses no threat, saying the U.S. is the one with a history of invading countries from Iraq to Panama.
He also lashed out Monday against Washington's efforts to promote free trade deals with Latin American countries. "They're making deals with the devil," he said.
Chavez argues the U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas would help transnational companies grow wealthier at the expense of Latin America's poor. He has joined Cuban President Fidel Castro in proposing a "Bolivarian Alternative" trade pact based on socialist principles rather than free-market competition.
"I am convinced that in this century we will bury U.S. imperialism, sooner rather than later," Chavez said.
Chavez addressed an audience at the presidential palace after officials signed a deal for Venezuela to sell fuel under preferential terms to El Salvador cities governed by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front — a political party that in the 1980s was a rebel group fighting U.S.-backed troops.
Despite political tensions between Chavez's government and Washington, Venezuela still sells the largest share of its oil to the United States.