- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CARACAS, Venezuela | As Col. Moammar Gadhafi finds himself increasingly isolated internationally, he still has at least a few friends far away.

Latin America’s most prominent leftists rallied early to his defense and have stayed there even as former friends, neighbors and countrymen have abandoned the embattled Libyan dictator and urged his ouster.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega have been foremost in opposing U.S. and NATO military involvement, and in suggesting that reports of atrocities by Col. Gadhafi’s troops are overblown or unproven.

“What is the United States proposing? A war, an invasion of Libya. They want Libyan oil,” Mr. Chavez said Sunday. He praised the African Union for appointing a commission of leaders to travel to Libya for talks — an effort in line with his own peace proposals.

Mr. Chavez’s calls for mediation reflect both his affinity for Col. Gadhafi and his ambition to be a global player, rallying nations against the United States.

But his critics say Mr. Chavez has no credibility to promote mediation because he has ignored abuses by Col. Gadhafi’s regime. And his stance also is uncomfortable for some of his allies and political supporters, who side with the uprising and say it’s time for Col. Gadhafi to go.

Latin America’s staunchest leftists long ago embraced Col. Gadhafi as a fellow fighter against global U.S. influence, and they instinctively reject any U.S. intervention almost anywhere.

Both Mr. Castro and Mr. Chavez repeatedly have suggested the U.S. is stirring up trouble in Libya to grab its oil and say Libyans should settle their own internal conflict.

That stance has put them at odds with some of their friends. The left-leaning governments of Argentina and Brazil have condemned Col. Gadhafi’s crackdown on opponents. And even some followers of Mr. Castro and Mr. Chavez have been recoiling from their positions.

Comments posted on Cuban government websites and some articles on the pro-Chavez website aporrea.org have objected to backing Libya’s eccentric strongman.

One article on aporrea.org titled “Neither Gadafi nor imperialism!” argued that Mr. Chavez’s government should “support the revolutionary masses of Libya” that have risen up to topple the “capitalist dictator.”

A group of Venezuelan Marxists led by writer Domingo Alberto Rangel and lawyer Jose Ramon Velasquez issued a statement last week condemning Col. Gadhafi’s “brutal repression” of the civilian population.

The government, meanwhile, released a statement backed by more than 260 artists and intellectuals in Venezuela and elsewhere opposing foreign military intervention and supporting Mr. Chavez’s mediation proposal.

Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said Mr. Chavez’s approach and “his evident lack of concern about Col. Gadhafi’s abuses owe to a combination of misplaced south-south solidarity and a desire to take a position contrary to the United States’ almost for its own sake.”

Chavez’s stance certainly gives a lot of new fodder to his many international critics,” Mr. Isacson said. “Especially among more moderate Latin American leaders, Chavez’s Libya stance increases the political cost of maintaining warm relations with him.”

The Chavez-Castro stance also is at odds with that of many Arab states. The Arab League is promoting a no-fly zone to prevent more air strikes by Col. Gadhafi’s forces.

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