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Chávez Builds His Sphere Of Influence

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has long pledged to buck Washington-backed economic policies in Latin America. Now, two months after winning reelection and consolidating his hold on the country with new powers to rule by decree, he is strengthening economic ties in the region in a bid to limit U.S. influence.

Chávez recently announced that his government would build housing, a highway and an oil refinery in Nicaragua, part of an aid package that would benefit one of Washington's most tenacious Cold War adversaries, President Daniel Ortega.

Farther south, Venezuela has pledged to provide Ecuador with $1 billion in credit, a gesture that would soften the blow if that country's leftist government follows through on its threat to default on foreign debt payments. And, along with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, a foe of the Bush administration, Chávez has announced a $2 billion international investment fund for Latin America.

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