By Daniel Flynn
Reuters July 1, 2006
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on Africa on Saturday to forge closer ties with Latin America to combat what he called a threat of U.S. hegemony.
Chavez, whose repeated criticism of America has raised hackles in Washington, called on an African Union summit to cooperate with Latin America in everything from oil production to university education to counter "colonial" meddling in developing nations.
Citing the example of Venezuela and Bolivia, he urged Africa to seize greater control of its energy resources. He described the low royalty payments made by some foreign oil companies as "robbery."
"We should march together, Africa and Latin America, brother continents with the same roots ... Only together can we change the direction of the world," he told the opening day of the AU summit, to applause.
"The world is threatened by the hegemony of the North American empire," said the former paratrooper, following speeches from African leaders which had criticized colonialism.
Africa's abundant natural resources -- ranging from precious metals to iron ore and oil -- should make it a wealthy continent if it were freed from outside exploitation, Chavez said.
"Africa has everything to become a pole of world power in the 21st century. Latin America and the Caribbean are equipped to become another pole," he said.
In a nod to another outspoken opponent of U.S. foreign policy, Chavez hailed Iran's right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also attending the summit in the Gambian capital Banjul.
The Venezuelan leader called for a commission to evaluate joint energy projects between Africa and Latin America, as well as a media venture dubbed Telesur (TeleSouth) and a joint bank Banco del Sur (Bank of the South).
"In Venezuela, we were tired of all our oil going to Count Dracula," said Chavez, referring his government's decision to raise taxes on U.S. oil companies. "Now Venezuela is free and we have recovered control over our oil."
Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter.