Lat Am Round-Up: Leaders Play Game of Libyan Hot Potato

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What do Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and Fidel Castro have in common? Berets, cigars, military fatigues, state-controlled economies... Errr... scratch that. This could take too long.

Anyway, all three Latin American leaders have close ties to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The North African strongman lent Ortega a plane, gave Chavez a bedouin tent, and awarded Castro with a human rights prize back in 1998.

But the looming civil war in Libya is testing those ties, putting some Latin American lefties in an awkward position.

Chavez, the de facto leader of Latin America's leftward tilt, has long enjoyed a close relationship with Gaddafi. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Venezuelan president once gave his Libyan counterpart a jewel-encrusted sword and compared him to South American liberator Simon Bolivar. The two nations recently signed a $1 billion economic agreement.

But violence in Libya has left Chavez stammering for ways to hedge his support for Gaddafi, while using the uprising to bash the United States.

At first, Chavez vigorously defended Gaddafi, tweeting: "Viva Libya and its independence. Kadafi is facing a civil war!!!"

Yesterday, Chavez said on Venezuelan state TV that Gaddafi "has been my friend... for a long time." Then, however, he seemed to back off a bit, before taking a jab at the US.

"We must be cautious. We know what our policy is: We do not support invasions, or massacres, or anything, no matter who does it," Chavez said. "But there is no doubt that, regarding Libya, a campaign of lies is being woven -- the same that has been woven about Venezuela for a long time."

Castro, who was the first recipient of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights -- its slogan, believe it or not, is "As the sun shines for everyone, freedom is a right for everyone" -- also suspects American involvement in the unrest.

"What for me is absolutely clear is that the U.S. government is not concerned with absolute peace in Libya and will not hesitate to give NATO the order to invade this rich country, perhaps within hours or very short days," Castro wrote last week.

Ortega, meanwhile, has gone whole hog for Gaddafi. According to the Journal, he has called the Libyan leader several times since skirmishes broke out in the east of the country. "How many battles has Gadhafi had to fight," Ortega told supporters in Managua. "I transmitted to him the solidarity of the Nicaraguan people."

So how long will it take for Latin America's Left to condemn Gaddafi's brutal crackdowns? Who knows. After all, it took the U.S. nearly a month in Egypt, and by then, it didn't matter anymore.

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