Chavez dares United States to put Venezuela on the list of nations supporting terrorism

CARACAS, Venezuela &

President Hugo Chavez dared the U.S. on Friday to put Venezuela on a list of countries accused of supporting terrorism, calling it one more attempt by Washington to undermine him for political reasons.

Chavez said the "threat to include us on the terrorist list" is Washington's response to his government's successes in the region.

U.S. lawmakers including Reps. Connie Mack and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Florida Republicans, have called for the State Department to add Venezuela to its list of terror sponsors, which includes North Korea, Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba. They have expressed concerns about what they call Chavez's close ties to Colombia's leftist rebels.

"Let them make that list and shove it in their pocket," Chavez said in a televised speech.

"We shouldn't forget for an instant that we're in a battle against North American imperialism," Chavez said. "On this continent, they have us as enemy No. 1."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday during a visit to Brazil that all U.N. nations, including Venezuela, have an obligation to go after terrorists and keep them from operating within their borders.

The comment was largely a warning for Chavez, who U.S. officials suspect has lent support to Colombian rebels. In recent days, Rice and President Bush have sharpened their rhetoric against Chavez while praising Colombia and other Latin American allies.

Chavez said Rice's visit to Brazil and Chile this week is aimed at mounting "pressures" against "our government and against me."

Chavez also responded to barbs from Bush, who on Wednesday accused Venezuela of squandering its oil wealth internationally "to promote its hostile, anti-American vision."

The heated exchanges with the U.S. came as Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe pledged to smooth over differences after their worst-ever diplomatic spat, provoked by a deadly Colombian attack on a rebel camp in Ecuador.

Chavez said he called Uribe on Thursday in part "because the statements (against Venezuela) continue," and because the U.S. "keeps trying to make us fight."

He said he told Uribe he wants to rebuild relations after the March — cross-border strike, which killed 25 people including a rebel leader.

After Colombia's assault in Ecuador, Chavez and Ecuadorean leader Rafael Correa sent troops to their borders. Colombia released documents found on rebel laptops, saying they link Chavez and Correa's administrations to leftist Colombian rebels.

Correa on Thursday delivered an angry response to Bush's strong support for Colombia in the wake of the raid, challenging the U.S. president to send troops to Ecuador's border with Colombia.

"Bring your soldiers Mr. Bush," Correa said in the speech. "Let it be your soldiers who die along the southern border with Colombia. We'll see if the Americans, the citizens of the United States, will accept tremendous atrocity.

"If not, shut your mouth and understand what is happening in Latin America."

Ecuadorean authorities are still angry over the Colombian raid and have delayed restoring diplomatic relations until at least the end of the month.

Meanwhile on Friday, three Mexican students in their late 20s were confirmed killed in Ecuador during Colombia's raid on the rebel camp.

Five Mexicans &

three men and two women &

apparently were at the camp near the border with Colombia during the attack.

Mexican student Lucia Morett Alvarez, 26, was wounded but survived, and parents of another missing Mexican woman were awaiting forensic tests.

Fellow students in Mexico have described the victims as activists who sympathized with Latin America's radical left, which has gained some backing on college campuses in Mexico.

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