Chavez says Colombian candidate would pose threat

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez is hurling harsh words at the leading presidential candidate in neighboring Colombia, saying he would pose a threat to Venezuela and its allies if he is elected.

Chavez complained about the leading candidate to succeed Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Monday night while he denounced U.S. meddling in Latin America. Chavez was hosting a summit of allies ranging from Cuba's Raul Castro to Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Chavez warned that Colombia would become a serious threat to its neighbors if former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos wins the presidential elections. Voting will be held on May 30, and a second-round runoff is likely between the top two candidates.

"Now he wants to be president. This is a threat to all of us, especially for Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua," Chavez said.

Chavez said he is convinced that Santos would be willing to launch cross-border raids or bombardments if Colombian authorities suspect rebel groups are seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

In Colombia, Santos told Radio Viva of Pasto on Tuesday that Chavez's remarks "clearly indicate that he wants to interfere in the election."

Colombia's war against Marxist guerrillas has spilled over into neighboring countries, leading to regional antagonism toward Bogota, especially since March 1, 2008, when Colombian warplanes wiped out a rebel camp in Ecuador. Chavez along with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa remain fiercely critical of Uribe.

Chavez warned Colombian leaders against trying anything similar, saying that "an aggression against any country" among his close allies "would be an aggression against Venezuela."

Chavez also criticized Colombia's agreement for the U.S. military to use more bases there and said Santos and others "feel supported by the Yankees."

Correa, who also attended Monday's summit, said his government is still "trying to patch up our bilateral relations" with Bogota. He warned against another military raid on Ecuadorean territory, saying: "We will know how to respond."

Colombian leaders accuse Chavez of collaborating with the rebels and allowing them refuge in Venezuela, and have complained that Ecuador had done too little to deny them shelter before the 2008 raid.