Peru-Venezuela’s relations further sour

Peru's relations with Venezuela further soured after officials from the South American countries traded barbs and a Peruvian presidential candidate accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of financing his rival's campaign.

The two South American nations have been in an escalating diplomatic row over Chavez's endorsement of Ollanta Humala in an upcoming presidential runoff and his criticism of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo's free-trade pact with the United States.

On Saturday, Peru withdrew its ambassador from Venezuela to protest what it called Chavez's "persistent and flagrant" interference in its presidential election.

Toledo warned Monday that he will seek the ouster of Venezuela's ambassador from Peru if Chavez's government continues a stream of insults aimed at his administration and Peru's presidential candidates.

"My government already recalled the Peruvian ambassador from Venezuela, but if they continue ... I will ask the Venezuelan ambassador to leave Peru," Toledo told reporters.

Earlier, Venezuela's Information Minister Willian Lara's called Toledo an "office boy" for U.S. President George W. Bush after the Peruvian leader urged Chavez to "learn to govern in democracy."

Former President Alan Garcia, who will likely face Humala in the presidential runoff election in late May or early June, on Monday suggested Chavez was financing the Humala campaign and called on Peru's government to investigate.

Garcia, who Chavez described last week as a "thief," told Radioprogramas that Humala has been quiet on the diplomatic spat with Venezuela because "functionaries" from Chavez's government are funding his campaign.

"He cannot say, 'No Mr. Chavez, do not interfere here,' because he already has interfered. He interfered with envelops of cash," Garcia said.

For months, Humala's campaign has denied suggestions that it has received funding from Chavez's government, which would be a violation of Peruvian election law.

Garcia, 56, is remembered for a disastrous 1985-90 administration marked by hyperinflation, food shortages and guerrilla violence.

Humala, a 43-year-old former army officer, has pledged to increase state intervention in Peru's free-market economy and radically redistribute Peru's wealth. Humala has denied allegations that he oversaw human rights abuses when he commanded a counterinsurgency base in Peru's northern jungle in the early 1990s, reports the AP.

I.L.