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Ortega Inauguration Draws Attention to Venezuela's Chavez

Observers of Latin American politics have their eyes on Managua, Nicaragua, where several regional leaders have gathered for the inauguration of Nicaragua's new president, Daniel Ortega - who returns to office 17 years after his Sandinista Party lost power. But as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the fiery president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, may steal the spotlight.

The latest controversy provoked by President Chavez occurred Monday in Caracas when the outspoken leftist leader complained in public about a call by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza for the Venezuelan leader to reconsider an order that would shut down a Venezuelan television station. The station had broadcast news items and commentary that were critical of Chavez. Insulza warned shutting down the station would be a blow against freedom of the press.

But Mr. Chavez responded by calling the OAS secretary-general an idiot and worse.

President Chavez used a colorful Spanish word which politely translates into English as "jerk" in referring to Mr. Insulza. He also accused the secretary-general of doing the bidding of the United States, which he referred to as the empire, and said he should resign.

Reaction from ambassadors to the OAS was decidedly in favor of Mr. Insulza. Honduran ambassador Carlos Sosa decried the type of language Chavez used.

He said the Chavez statement had offended not just the secretary-general, but all the representatives and leaders of all the nations of the Organization of American States.

Both Mr. Chavez and Mr. Insulza are in Managua for the Ortega inauguration, along with leaders of several other nations who have experienced some degree of friction with Mr. Chavez. Mexican President Felipe Calderon is one of them.

Speaking to members of the Mexican foreign relations secretariat on the eve of his journey, President Calderon said he will not accept offense or humiliation on the part of Mexico, but, at the same time, he has no dispute with anyone.

In last year's disputed Mexican presidential election, Mr. Chavez took the side of leftist groups that claimed there had been fraud and said he would refuse to recognize Mr. Calderon as president. A ruling by Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal dismissed the charges of fraud in August and President Calderon took the oath of office before a divided and somewhat raucous session of Congress on December 1.

Mr. Chavez is likely to be warmly received by Nicaragua's new president, who is widely seen as part of the leftist drift in the region that the Venezuelan leader has promoted.

While in Managua, Mr. Chavez is expected to sign an agreement with Mr. Ortega to provide Nicaragua with financial assistance for infrastructure, health, education and the construction of 200,000 houses. Venezuelan officials say Nicaragua could soon surpass Cuba and Bolivia as an aid recipient benefiting from Venezuela's petroleum sector earnings.