CARACAS, Venezuela – CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday and called on Latin America and the Arab world to fight what he called America's imperialist and capitalist interests abroad.
During a meeting at Venezuela's presidential palace, Chavez told Assad it was an honor to host the Syrian leader on his first visit to Latin America. Chavez presented Assad with a gold-plated replica of a sword that once belonged to South American independence hero Simon Bolivar — the inspiration for his "Bolivarian Revolution."
The two leaders signed an agreement to create a $100 million trade and development fund.
"Arab civilization and our civilization, the Latin American one, are being summoned in this new century to play the fundamental role of liberating the world, saving the world from the imperialism and capitalist hegemony that threaten the human species," Chavez said. "Syria and Venezuela are at the vanguard of this struggle."
Assad praised Chavez for standing up to the United States and supporting the Palestinian struggle.
"There are few politicians who are courageous to speak out when it's necessary," he said through an interpreter. "Chavez has projected the image of a resistant Venezuela."
Assad strongly criticized Israel, calling the Jewish state's government "extremist" and condemning its blockade of Gaza.
"The resistance must be supported," he said.
Chavez is perhaps Latin's America's most outspoken critic of the United States, lashing out at the U.S. government for purportedly conspiring against him and meddling in the region's affairs. U.S. officials, in turn, have raised concerns that Chavez is becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Chavez also took a dig at the U.S. soccer team, celebrating Ghana's 2-0 victory of the Americans in a decisive World Cup match earlier on Saturday. "What a blast! Ghana won, Ghana defeated the United States," he said.
Assad said all nations, including Iran, "have the right to develop nuclear energy."
Chavez has built close diplomatic relations with Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries while severing Venezuela's ties to Israel. Last year, the socialist leader visited Syria, where he called Israel an imperialist nation that annihilates its neighbors and accused its government of doing Washington's bidding by trying to divide the Middle East.