Venezuela's Chavez tells Mexico's Fox: 'Don't mess with me'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Mexican leader Vicente Fox on Sunday of disrespecting him and his close ally the Argentine president, warning Fox: "Don't mess with me."

Tensions between Fox and Chavez spilled over after this month's Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where Fox sought to defend a U.S.-backed proposal for a free trade zone while Chavez proclaimed the idea dead.

"President Fox left bleeding from his wound," Chavez said during his weekly radio and TV show, echoing remarks days ago in which he accused Fox of being a "puppy" of the U.S. government for supporting its plans for the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Chavez recalled a folk song from Venezuela's cattle-raising plains about a thorn, saying it seems appropriate for Fox since "you're a man of horses." After reciting the lyrics, Chavez said: "Don't mess with me, sir, because you'll come out pricked."

The Venezuelan leader has proclaimed the recent summit a victory, noting Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay brought up opposition to the free trade pact.

Fox, apparently irked by the resistance of Chavez and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, said after the summit that "there we have some presidents, fortunately a minority, who blame other countries for all their problems."

Chavez accused Fox of "attacking" him and Kirchner, and of violating summit protocol in trying to press for an agreement on the free trade zone when that wasn't on the agenda.

"The only very hard response I've given to any president was... to President Fox. He disrespected me," Chavez said, adding that by responding he was simply defending his country.

Chavez's stinging accusations against Fox on Wednesday sparked a diplomatic response, with Mexico demanding a "satisfactory explanation."

Venezuela has offered no apologies while top diplomats have held talks on the matter. Chavez's latest accusations showed he had no intention of backing down.

He said Fox and other leaders who sought to back the free trade plan "weren't able to achieve their plan" at the summit.

The U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which aims to create the world's largest free trade zone, was first proposed in 1994 and was supposed to have been finalized in January but has been stalled amid deep divisions in Latin America.

Chavez argues the plan would help big U.S. companies at the expense of Latin America's poor and has instead proposed a "Bolivarian Alternative" pact based on socialist principles.

The Venezuelan leader said U.S. President George W. Bush left the summit "with his tail between his legs." He called Bush "Mr. Danger" and said he stands for "false democracy, democracy of the elites."

In a program that lasted about six hours, Chavez also replayed videos of debates in the summit and criticized Peru, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago for favoring the free trade pact.

He said Venezuela, though a member of the Andean Community, "has nothing to look for" in that organization since its members aim to join the FTAA, and is instead looking to join like-minded nations such as Brazil and Argentina in the Mercosur trade bloc.

Chavez called for applause on his program as he replayed videos from the summit, praising Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay for opposing the U.S. plan. He also said Venezuela, though a member of the Andean Community, "has nothing to look for" in that organization since its members aim to join the free trade zone.

Playful as usual, Chavez sang lyrics from folk songs and replayed a video of Bush tepidly applauding and looking on blankly, saying leaders' expressions "speak a world" about what they wanted to say but didn't.

As for Trinidadian Prime Minister Patrick Manning, "he has a world vision very different from ours," Chavez said, noting that Trinidad hopes to host the FTAA headquarters.

Chavez says he is leading Venezuela away from U.S.-style capitalism and toward socialism _ a mission he says Jesus would have approved of because he spoke for the poor. Chavez recalled telling Manning: "Remember Jesus.", AP reported. V.A.

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