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Chavez: Venezuela not US's backyard

The United States "must break away from the concept of viewing us as its backyard," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday.

The socialist Venezuelan leader made the remark at one of the plenary sessions on second day of the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

Noting that the governments in the region must promote the necessary changes for a new relationship, President Chavez said, "Let's push the changes. If we do not change, we will die. Change or death, let's not lose time."

Praising US President Obama for "responding to some of the questions we have," Chavez pointed to a need for shaping a plan to increase social investment in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Calling for the reinstatement of communist Cuba into the Inter-American system, the socialist Venezuelan leader said, "I am going to propose something mischievous, let's hold the next Summit of the Americas in Havana."

He noted that all the countries of South America are friends of Cuba,"we all love Cuba and we hope the United States also will."

In other developments, Chavez expressed optimism that the rocky relations between the United States and Latin America are set to change, but held firm to his threat to veto the final declaration of the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

Chavez, an outspoken critic of the United States, and his other 11 colleagues from the Union of South American Nations, known as Unasur in Spanish, met yesterday with US President Barack Obama.

Addressing Friday's opening session of the Summit, the US leader pledged to reshape his country's ties with Latin America and the Caribbean along a path of "equal partnership."

Shortly before the encounter, Chavez presented the US president with a copy of a book authored by Uruguay's Eduardo Galeano and entitled "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent." This gift followed the Chavez-Obama ground breaking handshake on Friday as both men met face to face for the first time. (See story on Page 15)

He said the US relationship of respect for Cuba soon must be consolidated.

"It is time that we have the true beginning of a new history, that there is equilibrium, that there is an end to mechanisms of domination," he added.

US-Venezuelan relations have been at an all-time low since September last year when Chavez expelled the US ambassador to Venezuela and immediately recalled his ambassador from Washington.

Yesterday, Chavez, whose country is a major oil supplier to the United States, signalled the possibility that his government might consider relaunching diplomatic ties with the United States and appointing a new ambassador in Washington.

"It's possible that we begin evaluating the designation of our ambassador in the United States. We want to move in that direction. We take Obama at his word, of course with the differences we have. We are socialists," said the Venezuelan leader, a staunch ally of Cuba.

Chavez, who also met briefly with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said working meetings soon may be held with the Obama administration.

"I believe that soon there could be working meetings. I spoke with Hillary Clinton on the topic of Haiti, because we spoke with her husband (former President Bill Clinton), and she told me that he continues to work for Haiti, to which I said: Let's work (together) and she told me she is willing," said Chavez.

Turning to the issue of the draft declaration that the 34 leaders attending the Summit are expected to subscribe to today, the Venezuelan president reiterated that he would not sign the document which addresses economic, security and environmental issues.

"We have a very firm position. I do not believe that there is time to change the document. We would have liked to discuss it, but since there is no time, we are not going to sign it. I can speak for Venezuela and for ALBA," he said.

ALBA, the Spanish acronym for Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, is a Venezuelan initiative to the stalled US-endorsed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). ALBA members met in Cumana, Venezuela last Thursday and signed a joint statement that described the Draft Declaration as "unacceptable" for failing to address the world financial crisis and "unfairly" excluding Cuba from the Summit in Port of Spain.

ALBA members are Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the Grenadines (which was accepted to the fold last Thursday) and Venezuela.