Venezuelan Leader Visits Belarus, Decries 'U.S. Imperialism'

By Reuters

MINSK -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has vowed to work with Belarus, an ex-Soviet state long at odds with Washington, to defeat "hegemonistic" U.S. imperialism.

Chavez, a self-styled socialist revolutionary, was making his third visit to Belarus in as many years after overseeing energy deals in Russia that consolidated his country's relations with Moscow.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, described by Chavez as a "brother," has long railed against the influence of the United States in world affairs. Western nations accuse him of flouting freedom of speech and assembly in 14 years in power.

"We are struggling against the same adversary -- U.S. imperialism, against countries which serve as lackeys of that imperialism," Chavez said after receiving the "Friendship of Nations" award from the Belarusian leader. "We are winning, but a long battle still lies ahead. The hegemonist aims have collapsed. American imperialism will continue to fall."

Lukashenka was more reserved during the ceremony in a square named after Latin American revolutionary hero Simon Bolivar, praising Belarus's alliance with Venezuela and calling for the creation of a "multipolar" world.

"No president of any other country has done as much as this man has done for our country since our independence," he said of Chavez. "No one deserves this award more than you, Hugo. Please look after yourself."

In Moscow earlier, Chavez said he hoped to purchase Russian arms to meet what he calls a U.S. threat to his country.

Venezuelan Oil

Belarus last year quarrelled with Russia over energy prices and has since begun seeking alternative sources of supply, including extraction of oil in Venezuela.

The venture, together with Venezuelan state company PDVSA, is expected to produce 640,000 tons of oil this year, and a memorandum signed during Chavez's visit provided it with three new deposits. Plans had originally called for the enterprise to produce 900,000 tons annually from 2008.

"All issues should be resolved within two months and capacity will be doubled," Deputy Belarusian Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka said during the talks.

Lukashenka is barred from the United States and European Union on grounds that he rigged his reelection in 2006.

Belarus is particularly aggrieved at U.S. sanctions against oil firm Belneftekhim and earlier this year urged the U.S. ambassador to leave Minsk and ordered cuts in the size of Washington's embassy.