- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

MEXICO CITY — Mexico recalled its ambassador from Venezuela yesterday after Caracas said it would withdraw its top diplomat instead of apologizing after President Hugo Chavez warned Mexican leader Vicente Fox: “Don’t mess with me, sir, because you’ll get stung.”

Mr. Fox said in a television interview that he would meet with Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez to decide what to do next.

Tensions between Mr. Fox and Mr. Chavez spilled over after this month’s Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where Mr. Fox defended a U.S.-backed proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas while Mr. Chavez proclaimed the idea dead.

In an interview with CNN en Espanol, Mr. Fox promised to keep the debate with Mr. Chavez from becoming personal, but added: “We can’t allow people to offend our country.”

Mexico said earlier yesterday that it would kick out Venezuelan Ambassador Vladimir Villegas and recall its own ambassador to that country at midnight unless Mr. Chavez’s government apologized for the remarks.

But in a press conference in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, Foreign Secretary Ali Rodriguez said his country would not accept Mexico’s demands and considered the ultimatum “unjustified.”

“The immediate return of Ambassador Vladimir Villegas has been ordered,” Mr. Rodriguez said, adding that a charge d’affaires would be in charge of the embassy. “This situation is entirely the responsibility of President Fox.”

Mr. Fox responded by saying he was going to continue to fight for free trade — the topic that sparked the dispute between the two leaders.

Mr. Chavez, who is a close ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and sharp critic of President Bush, had accused Mr. Fox of attacking him and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who hosted the summit.

The Venezuelan leader also accused Mr. Fox of violating summit protocol in trying to press for an agreement on the free-trade zone when that wasn’t on the agenda.

“President Fox left bleeding from his wound,” Mr. Chavez said Sunday, echoing remarks last week in which he accused Mr. Fox of being a “puppy” of the U.S. government for supporting the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

“Don’t mess with me, sir, because you’ll get stung,” Mr. Chavez added.

A diplomatic dispute with Cuba in 2004 led Mexico to expel the Cuban ambassador and withdraw its own emissary to Havana, a freeze that lasted for several months.

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