Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they were ready to spend billions of dollars (euros) financing projects in other countries to help thwart US domination.
The anti-US Presidents whose efforts to extend their influence have alarmed Washington met Saturday in Venezuela’s capital, the first stop on Ahmadinejad’s tour of Latin America that will also see him visit newly elected leftist leaders in Nicaragua and Ecuador.
The oil-rich nations had previously announced plans for a joint USD 2 billion fund to finance investments in Venezuela and Iran, but Chavez and Ahmadinejad said Saturday that the money would also be used for projects in friendly third countries.
“It will permit us to underpin investments ... Above all in those countries whose governments are making efforts to liberate themselves from the (US) imperialist yoke,” said Chavez.
“This fund, my brother,” Chavez said referring to Ahmadinejad, “Will become a mechanism for liberation.” “Death to US imperialism!” he said. Ahmadinejad called it a “very important” decision that would help promote “Joint cooperation in third countries,” especially in Latin American and African countries.
It was not clear if the leaders were referring to investment in infrastructure, social and energy projects - areas that the two countries have focused on until now - or other types of financing.
Before his meeting with Ahmadinejad, Chavez said in his state of the nation address that he had personally expressed hope to Thomas Shannon, head of the US State Department’s Western Hemisphere affairs bureau, for better relations between their two countries.
Chavez said he spoke with Shannon on the sidelines of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration earlier this week, saying, “We shook hands and I told him: ‘I hope that everything improves.”’ Chavez - a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro whom Washington sees as a destabilizing influence - has pledged billions of dollars (euros) of help to the region in foreign aid, bond buyouts and preferentially financed oil deals.
'Champion of struggle against imperialism'
Iran, meanwhile, is allegedly bankrolling militant groups in the Middle East like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, as well as insurgents in Iraq, in a bid to extend its influence.
Ahmadinejad’s visit Saturday - his second to Venezuela in less than four months - comes as he seeks to break international isolation over his country’s nuclear program and possibly line up new allies in Latin America.
After Venezuela, Ahmadinejad will visit newly elected leftist governments in Nicaragua and Ecuador that are also seeking to reduce Washington’s influence in the region. Bolivian President Evo Morales, another critic of US policy, said he plans to meet with Ahmadinejad while both are in Ecuador Monday.
Chavez and Ahmadinejad have been increasingly united by their deep-seated antagonism to Washington. Chavez has become a leading defender of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, accusing the United States of using the issue as a pretext to attack a regime it opposes and promising to stand with Iran.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has called Chavez “The champion of the struggle against imperialism.”
On Saturday, he congratulated Chavez on his December re-election and said the Venezuelan people were wise to choose “A person as important on the world stage, a person so wise as Hugo Chavez.”
The increasingly close relationship has alarmed some, and critics of Chavez accuse him of pursuing an alliance that does not serve Venezuela’s interests and jeopardizes its ties with the United States, the country’s top oil buyer. Venezuela is among the top five suppliers of crude to the US market.
Both countries are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Chavez said Saturday that they had agreed to back an oil production cut in the cartel in order to stem a recent fall in crude prices.
“We know today there is too much crude in the market,” Chavez said. “We have agreed to join our forces within OPEC ... To support a production cut and save the price of oil.”
The two governments, which already plan to jointly produce everything from bricks to bicycles and develop oil fields in Venezuela, signed another 11 accords Saturday to explore further opportunities for cooperation in areas like tourism, education and mining.
Ahmadinejad is set to travel to Nicaragua to meet on Sunday with Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla. On Monday, he travels to Ecuador for the inauguration of President-elect Rafael Correa, another outspoken critic of the administration of US President George W. Bush and Washington’s policies in Latin America.