Chavez withdraws envoy from Peru after it gives his rival asylum

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez, showing uncustomary restraint, recalled his ambassador to Peru late Monday night in protest after Peru offered political asylum to Chavez's political rival, Manuel Rosales.

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry issued an angry statement, however, saying that Peru's decision "constitutes a mockery of international law, a tough blow to the fight against corruption and an insult to the people of Venezuela."

The Chavez government had asked Peru to arrest Rosales and return him to Venezuela to face charges that he's failed to account for why his declared worth in 2000 was $68,000 less than what his bank accounts showed in 2004, when he was the governor of Zulia state.

Rosales is now the mayor of Maracaibo, Zulia's capital and Venezuela's second biggest city. He was Chavez's opponent in the 2006 presidential election.

Rosales has said he earned the money from a ranch that he owns and reported this in his income tax returns. He's said he sought asylum in Peru because he'd become a victim of "political persecution" by Chavez.

Peruvian Defense Minister Antero Flores Araoz said Tuesday that it wasn't an "unfriendly" decision. Peru has granted asylum to two other Chavez opponents, one a former state governor and the other a prominent union leader.

Chavez could have booted out Peru's ambassador to Venezuela, which would have provoked Peru to expel Venezuela's envoy.

Chavez ousted Colombia's ambassador last year as well as the Israeli and U.S. envoys, after a series of unrelated incidents. Venezuela and Colombia later agreed to return their respective ambassadors.

"It was a strong expression of unhappiness, but it's nothing that can't be undone quickly," said Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Peru.

Herbert Koeneke, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, said he thought that Chavez was trying to soften his reputation in Latin America, "because he knows that he does not have a good reputation outside of Venezuela."

Chavez and Peruvian President Alan Garcia have had testy relations, although they had a cordial meeting with fellow leaders last year in Lima.

Chavez openly supported Garcia's opponent in Peru's 2006 presidential race, leftist retired Col. Ollanta Humala. Garcia said repeatedly that Humala would be a Chavez puppet. Pollsters said these attacks helped Garcia by capitalizing on Chavez's unpopularity in Peru.


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