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Chávez, Lula clash over ethanol at energy summit

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil (left) and Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez yesterday. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil (left) and Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez yesterday. (LESLIE MAZOCH/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

PORLAMAR, Venezuela -- South America's political heavyweights clashed over ethanol, exposing a rift yesterday at the start of an energy summit that host Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez hoped would cement anti-US unity.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the leader of the continent's largest economy who has moved closer to President Bush of the United States over ethanol output, swiped at Chávez, rejecting his fellow leftist's criticism of their plan.

Chávez, who wins political influence with the OPEC nation's subsidized energy exports to its neighbors, denounced Bush's project to promote ethanol production in developing countries as a sure-fire way to increase hunger by lifting food prices.

But Lula, who has cultivated ties with both Bush and his antagonist Chávez, said there was sufficient arable land in South America.

"We have a huge territory, not only in Brazil, but in all South American countries, and Africa, which can easily produce oil seeds for biodiesel, sugar cane for ethanol, and food at the same time," Lula said on his weekly radio show before arriving at the two-day, 12-nation summit.

Venezuela, the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the United States, has urged Latin America to pass over ethanol and rely on its vast oil reserves and cooperate in developing ways to reduce energy consumption.

Aides to Lula say ethanol is his obsession despite being labeled genocidal by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Chávez's political mentor.

In public, Chávez and Lula shared hugs, smiles and mutual congratulations for their leadership on a tour of a Brazilian-Venezuelan petrochemical project.

But they also said they expected to discuss ethanol at a later closed-door meeting of the almost dozen presidents.

Security is tight at the summit.