Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised plans for massive protests against U.S. President George W. Bush at this week's Summit of the Americas in Argentina, saying the street marches will mark the demise of the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Organizers say they hope to draw 50,000 people to a protest against Bush's policies on Friday as the Summit of the Americas begins in Mar del Plata.
"It's very important they've called that great march," Chavez told the Caracas-based TV channel Telesur in an interview late Tuesday. "I'm sure it will be peaceful, I'm sure it will be a historic event because it's the final burial of the FTAA."
Chavez, a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and a constant critic of what he calls an "imperialist" U.S. government, said Venezuela would object to any attempt to by the U.S. to revive its proposal for a hemisphere-wide free trade zone at the summit.
"They are trying to include an article (in a summit declaration) to revive the FTAA. They aren't going to revive it even if they produce a 100,000-page document," Chavez said.
He said some other South American countries wanted to recognize the FTAA effort for diplomatic reasons, but if they do, "we would object."
Chavez and Castro argue the U.S. proposal would help large U.S. companies at the expense of Latin American workers, and they have instead proposed a "Bolivarian alternative" trade pact based on socialist ideals.
Venezuela, meanwhile, has begun selling fuel under special terms from its vast oil reserves to Caribbean and Latin countries, granting low-interest loans and allowing partial payment in goods such as rice or bananas, according to the AP.
As for the FTAA, Chavez said, "the people of Latin America will bury it there in Mar del Plata."
Chavez said he had spoken by telephone to Argentine soccer star Maradona, who planned to attend the protests. Chavez said he himself would like to join the march but that his staff was "evaluating the whole security situation."