US President George W. Bush on Wednesday accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of backing "terrorists" in neighboring Colombia and fueling an anti-American campaign with his country's oil wealth.
"As it tries to expand its influence in Latin America, the regime claims to promote social justice. In truth its agenda amounts to little more than empty promises and a thirst for power," Bush said in a speech.
"It has squandered its oil wealth in an effort to promote its hostile anti-American vision, it has left its own citizens to face food shortages while it threatens its neighbors," the US president charged.
Bush's sharp criticisms of Chavez came as the White House tried to portray stalled passage of a US-Colombia free trade agreement as critical to curbing the influence of Chavez throughout Latin America.
Bush sharply criticized Chavez's reaction to a March 1 Colombian raid on a rebel camp inside Ecuador that killed a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leftist rebel group.
"The president of Venezuela praised the terrorist leader as a good revolutionary and ordered his troops to the Colombian border," the US president said.
"This is the latest step in a disturbing pattern of provocative behavior by the regime in Caracas. He has also called for FARC terrorists to be recognized as a legitimate army, senior regime officials have met with FARC leaders in Venezuela," said Bush.
Chavez had deployed 10 army battalions to the Colombian border in the wake of the raid, which had prompted Quito and Caracas to suspend relations with Bogota.
The three countries resolved the dispute at a Latin American summit in Santo Domingo Friday, with Colombia promising never to repeat such raid again.
To general surprise, Chavez, who only days earlier had been stoking the fires, intervened during the summit to ease regional tensions and set himself up as the agent of peace.
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