CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that he saw U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming tour to Latin America as a diplomatic offensive aimed at isolating his leftist government.
Chavez said that Bush's planned trip was "without a doubt" aimed at dividing the region and containing Venezuela's influence.
"But it's too late. I think the U.S. president now has nothing to find in Latin America. It is an offensive destined to the abyss of failure," Chavez told a news conference.
Chavez said he respected the decision by other Latin American nations to "receive this little gentleman," but in Venezuela, "we will never receive him. Never. Because we know what he is. This is nothing personal."
Chavez has become one of Washington's fiercest critics and regularly blames U.S.-style capitalism for poverty and inequality in the region.
"The strategy of the U.S. government has always been ... to divide Latin America," he said, including Bush's last visit to Argentina for the 2005 Summit of the Americas when the U.S. leader tried unsuccessfully to promote a hemisphere-wide free trade area.
"I saw him leave with his tail between his legs — the imperialist superpower," he said.
The March 8-14 tour, which will take Bush to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, is the most extensive to the region since the U.S. leader to office six years ago and is being seen in the region as an attempt to reverse years of neglect, as well as counter Chavez's influence
Chavez is a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro who has spread his country's oil wealth to ideological allies like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador in the form of preferential oil deals and loans.
The White House has said Bush's trip is aimed at underlining the U.S. government's commitment to the region and advancing democracy and its benefits, including health, education and economic opportunities.