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Originally published August 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 21, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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Cans of tuna taste of Chávez, Garcia rancor

The appearance of donated cans of tuna with labels bearing the image of Venezuelan President Hugo Ch... and a condemnation of the...

Los Angeles Times

LIMA, Peru — The appearance of donated cans of tuna with labels bearing the image of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and a condemnation of the Peruvian government as "heartless" caused a political storm here Monday amid an already controversial earthquake-relief effort.

"One has to ask who is behind this," President Alan Garcia said after a Lima newspaper reported the polemical tins were being distributed in the quake-ravaged region south of the capital. "This is not the moment to take advantage of the circumstances to make electoral propaganda."

The Venezuelan ambassador in Peru denied his government was to blame and charged that the entire affair was likely part of a campaign to discredit the fiery socialist leader.

"This is a damaging manipulation, a vile manipulation because Venezuela has brought humanitarian aid, not party politics," Ambassador Jose Armando Laguna said in Lima.

Venezuela and other Latin American nations have shipped tons of food, medical supplies and other relief to Peru, where Wednesday's quake left more than 500 dead and tens of thousands homeless.

Garcia publicly thanked Chávez despite the two leaders' well-known mutual antipathy.

There was no indication how many cans of the tuna had been handed out.

Garcia, a strong ally of Washington, is at the forefront of a U.S.-backed bloc cool to the Venezuelan leader.

Garcia was elected president last year in a runoff against Ollanta Humala, an ex-colonel whom Garcia repeatedly branded a Chávez lackey.

The text on the tuna cans' labels acclaimed the "solidarity" of Chávez and Humala with quake victims, while bemoaning the "looting, road blockages, desperation and chaos" in Peru, according to the right-wing Lima daily Expreso, which published a photo of a can and the text of a label.

"The Peruvian government acts in an inefficient, slow and heartless manner, notwithstanding the pain of the victims, leaving them to the mercy of hunger, thirst and delinquency," the label said, according to the newspaper.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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