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Venezuela's Chavez Named Chairman of Andean Community

Hugo Chavez, left, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, center, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe wave during photo opportunity at XVI Andean Presidential Council
Andean leaders have appointed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez the new head of the Andean Community of Nations, a regional trade bloc. Mr. Chavez will serve as chairman of the Andean Community for a term of one year. He succeeds Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo as the head of the community.

The group is made up of the nations of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and other Latin American nations also attended the summit.

After accepting the post Monday, Mr. Chavez called for greater involvement of Andean Pact nations in projects relating to energy. Venezuela is the world's fifth largest exporter of oil and has been actively seeking new trade partners in the region and beyond.

At the start of the summit in Peru's capital, Lima, President Toledo called on Andean nations and others in Latin America to work together to fight against social problems like drugs and poverty.

"Our enemies are not beyond our frontiers, they are within our borders and they are a concern to all of us," Mr. Toledo said.

While the Venezuelan president has fostered strong ties with much of Latin America since assuming office in 1998, he is an ardent critic of the United States and the Bush administration.

The White House accuses the Mr. Chavez of trying to create a Cuba-style authoritarian state in Venezuela. In turn, the Venezuelan president says that the United States is meddling in his nation's affairs. He accuses the United States of backing an unsuccessful effort to remove him from office in 2002. U.S. officials deny that accusation.