Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico, on Thursday delivered a salvo against the leftwing policies of Venezuela and Bolivia, warning that protectionism and nationalisation could damage the prospects of Latin America as a whole.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he made a thinly veiled attack on Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, and Evo Morales, his Bolivian counterpart, who recently moved to nationalise the gas industry.

“I respect the opinions of other presidents and do not want to interfere in their decisions,” Mr Fox said, when asked about the rise of economic nationalism in the region. “But, yes, I can say if something has not worked well in Latin America, it’s precisely populism, demagoguery, deception, which only hurt the process of development and impoverish people even more.”

Mr Fox added that he would on Friday ask for a first-hand account from Mr Morales on how the country’s plans for gas nationalisation would affect co-operation with Mexico.

“I want to hear from him . . . not to interfere but because of how it might affect what we have worked on,” he said. “I want to hear from President Morales what his position is.” Mexico has invited Bolivia and other states to compete for a long-term contract to supply it with natural gas.

Speaking in Vienna on the eve of a Latin American European Union summit, Mr Fox said the region needed instead to show that it was open for business.

“I hope Latin American countries reaffirm our willingness to open up markets for trade and investment,” he said, adding that the meeting needed to “draw to Europe’s attention that not everything that glitters is gold in China, in Asia or India. Today we are in a global arena where no one can decide not to participate, otherwise they lose opportunities.”

But, following Mr Morales’ latest declarations on limiting compensation to foreign investors in the gas sector, the summit may well disappoint Mr Fox’s hopes.

Despite the attendance on Friday of leaders such as Tony Blair, British prime minister; Jacques Chirac, French president; and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spanish prime minister, the Austrian officials organising the event found it hard to foresee concrete results the summit might produce.

Mr Fox also played down the success of the left in Latin America, describing elections as “a pendulum that goes first one way then the other”. Recent polls in Mexico’s own presidential race, to be held in July, indicate that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist candidate, might have lost the lead after rival candidates associated him with Mr Chávez. In line with Mexico’s constitution, Mr Fox is not running again.

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