Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's socialist President, started off to Uruguay Wednesday seeking stronger political ties while offering energy aid from one of largest oil producers in the world.
Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez and Chavez discussed ways to help Uruguay expand its lone oil refinery and to guarantee access to Venezuela's continent-leading oil and gas reserves at time of growing regional concern about security access to underground reserves.
Uruguay, a nation of 3.5 million, enjoys both sweetheart terms for Venezuelan crude and warm ties with Washington.
But efforts to sell more beef and textiles to the United States, its biggest trading partner, have been complicated by Uruguayan membership in the leading South American trade bloc, Mercosur.
On a four-nation tour, Chavez plans to make similar pitches for a "grand South American alliance" to Ecuador and Bolivia this week, spreading energy and financial deals that leverage Venezuela's vast oil and natural gas reserves. On Tuesday in Argentina, he announced Venezuela will buy a total of US$1 billion (EUR 720 million) in bonds this year, half immediately.
When U.S. President George W. Bush visited Uruguay five months ago during a Latin American tour, Chavez appeared at a soccer stadium rally in neighboring Argentina to shout, "Gringo, go home!"
The Venezuelan leader denounced U.S.-style capitalism, claiming it harms hundreds of millions of poor on the continent, and haunted Bush on a parallel tour across Latin America.
He took up that theme anew Wednesday, blaming the United States for seeking to dominate the world's limited energy resources while leaving many countries poor and struggling.
"The empire of the north is a real assassin, a genocidal killer," he declared at a televised news conference with Vazquez in which he bashed Bush for war in Iraq and called him "the Dracula of the world."
Chavez even took aim at America's penchant for big cars: "This is savage capitalism when everyone wants to drive a vehicle and a luxury vehicle at that. This kind of capitalism is unsustainable."