Venezuela's Chavez Says He Expects 'beautiful' Debate With U.S. President Bush at Summit

By Ian James Associated Press Writer
Published: Oct 30, 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he expects a spirited debate this week as he, U.S. President George W. Bush and other leaders meet in Argentina for the Summit of the Americas.

The U.S. government's efforts to revive its proposal for a hemisphere-wide "free trade" zone are doomed to failure, Chavez said Sunday during his weekly television and radio program "Hello President."

Chavez has said he looks forward to sitting at the same table with his archrival Bush during the summit at the seaside resort of Mar del Plata.

"The debate in Mar del Plata will be beautiful. I imagine it will be, because the gentleman Bush is going to keep making his point," Chavez said.

"It seems they're trying to revive the FTAA," Chavez said referring to the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. "The FTAA is dead. It will have to be buried. The people of this continent will bury it, and another model of integration will emerge."

As Bush attends the summit Friday and Saturday, a separate "People's Summit" is planned at a nearby stadium, bringing together leftist activists, students, indigenous leaders and union leaders.

"In the streets, there is a Latin American fervor. We'll see each other there to defend our model," Chavez said.

Chavez and his close ally Cuban President Fidel Castro say the U.S. proposal of eliminating trade barriers across the Americas would benefit large American companies at the expense of poor Latin American and Caribbean countries.

They have instead proposed a "Bolivarian Alternative" trade pact based on socialist principles and named after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar. As a step toward that, Chavez's government is starting to directly sell fuel from its vast oil reserves to Caribbean countries under special terms granting low-interest loans and allowing partial payment in services and goods such as rice or bananas.

The president held his weekly program at a newly built university campus in the eastern city of Maturin.

"Our mission is socialist because it puts social aspects first," Chavez said. "Capitalists put capital first."

Chavez's social "revolution" also extends to the cultural, and he urged Venezuelan parents not to dress up their children for Halloween, calling it a "gringa" - or North American - custom that has no place in the South American country's cultural traditions.

"Families go and begin to disguise their children as witches," Chavez said. "That is contrary to our ways."

Venezuelans are sharply divided over Chavez's tough-talking style and his calls for change, with his supporters tending to be poorer and his opponents including many wealthier people.

The former army paratroop commander took office in 1999 and is up for re-election next year. "We are going to win by a knockout," he said.