Monday, November 14, 2005

Mexico threatens to pull diplomat from Venezuela

Apology demanded after Chavez's remarks on Fox

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Mexico said it will withdraw its ambassador and sever relations with Venezuela's government if the South American country doesn't apologize Monday after President Hugo Chavez's warned Mexican leader Vicente Fox: "Don't mess with me."

In a statement late Sunday, Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said that because Chavez's comments "strike at the dignity of the Mexican people and government, Mexico demands a formal apology from Venezuela's government."

If one doesn't come by midnight Monday, Fox's government will "ask for the immediate withdrawal of Venezuela's ambassador and a recall of the Mexican ambassador in that country."

At his Monday morning briefing, Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said Mexico has told the Venezuelan ambassador to Mexico, Vladimir Villegas, that he needs to be ready to leave the country after midnight.

Aguilar said Mexico was demanding an apology after "an absence of reason and President Chavez's lack of respect for the people of Mexico and the institution of our country's presidency."

But he was quick to add that expelling Venezuela's ambassador and calling Mexico's home would not mean this country was severing its ties completely with Venezuela because business and cultural relations would remain intact.

Tensions between Fox and Chavez spilled over after this month's Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where Fox defended a U.S.-backed proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas while Chavez proclaimed the idea dead. (Full story)

"President Fox left bleeding from his wound," Chavez said Sunday during his weekly radio and TV show, echoing remarks last week in which he accused Fox of being a "puppy" of the U.S. government for supporting its plans for the free-trade zone.

Chavez then warned Fox: "Don't mess with me, sir, because you'll get stung."

A diplomatic dispute with Cuba in 2004 led Mexico to expel the Cuban ambassador and withdraw its own emissary to Havana, a freeze that lasted for several months. Venezuela is a close ally of Cuba's.

Chavez has proclaimed the recent summit a victory, noting Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay raised opposition to the free-trade pact.

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

The Venezuelan president 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.

Chavez's comments reignited a dispute that flared late last week but appeared to cool during the weekend.

On Friday, Aguilar demanded a satisfactory explanation from Venezuela for Chavez's "puppy" comment and said this country would take "appropriate steps" if it didn't get one.

But Mexico's Foreign Relations department released a statement a day later saying Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez and his Venezuelan counterpart, Ali Rodriguez, had a "cordial and productive" talk and that the countries were moving closer to a resolution of the dispute that would strengthen their bilateral relationship.

The dispute with Venezuela arose just as Argentina and Mexico had declared resolved a similar rift caused by an exchange of harsh words between Fox and Kirchner stemming from disagreements over the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which aims to create the world's largest free-trade zone stretching from Alaska to Argentina.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.