Chavez readying ‘artillery’ for Americas summit

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is preparing diplomatic “artillery” for a summit next month that could produce the first encounter between the anti-Washington leader and US President Barack Obama.

Socialist Chavez suggested he will use April’s Summit of the Americas to pressure the United States to drop a trade embargo it imposed on Cuba more than four decades ago.

“What Obama will bring, I don’t know, we’ll see,” Chavez said during a televised Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“We are preparing for this summit, getting our artillery ready … I reckon the cannons will heard from here,” he said without elaborating.

The meeting between presidents from throughout the Americas will be held April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation that lies just a few miles off the Venezuelan coast.

Chavez has broad influence among leftist governments in the region and has frequently used summits attended by supportive counterparts to harangue arch-foe the United States.

Chavez made headlines for his colourful repeated criticism of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. He has called for warmer relations with the new administration, but also responded to criticism from Washington by saying Obama has the same stench as Bush.

Obama and Chavez are both due to attend the Organization of American States’ summit but it is no known whether the two men will meet.

More than a dozen Caribbean nations have already called on Obama to end the trade embargo on Cuba, and a Cuban-American lobby group this week said that the president had not gone far enough to loosen travel restrictions to the communist island.

“It is not only a blockade against Cuba, it’s an aggression against all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Chavez, a close friend of former Cuban President, Fidel Castro.

Venezuela helped the island recover after the Soviet Union collapsed with sales of cheap oil.

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