Tony Blair is not pleased. London is about to play host to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, who has described the prime minister as the “main ally of Hitler”.
Mr Chávez, whose mention of Hitler is thought to be a reference to President George W. Bush, will be visiting the capital from May 14 to 16, when he will meet Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, leaders of the Trades Union Congress and a group of Labour MPs.
“I will be delighted to host a lunch for President Chávez,” said Mr Livingstone. “There are many areas where we can benefit from the Venezuelan experience,” he added, citing energy and environmental policies, democratic participation and education and free health care.
The visit, which is classed as a private one, is a sign of the Venezuelan leader’s growing confidence at a time when the oil that fuels his economy is at record prices, and the number of sympathetic leftwing governments in Latin America is rising.
This week, Bolivia – a country now allied with Venezuela – announced it was nationalising its reserves of natural gas, after president Evo Morales conferred with Mr Chávez and Fidel Castro, Cuba’s president.
Mr Chávez made his decision to visit the UK after Mr Blair called on Venezuela in February to “abide by the rules of the international community” and criticised his alliance with Cuba. In response, the president called Mr Blair “a pawn of imperialism, trying now to attack us from Europe”.
Alfredo Toro Hardy, ambassador to the UK, said: “The purpose of the trip is basically to thank the different sectors of British society that have supported the government of Venezuela.” Mr Chávez was grateful for Mr Livingstone’s “continual support”, and the backing of Labour MPs and the TUC, which last year congratulated the Venezuelan government on reforms benefiting workers and the poor.
Mr Toro Hardy added that invitations for the mayor’s lunch had been extended to Harold Pinter, the Nobel prize-winning playwright and anti-American polemicist; Bianca Jagger, the anti-war campaigner; and Bono, the singer and aid activist.