PORLAMAR, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi signed a declaration Monday night decrying what they call attempts by powerful Western countries to equate struggles against colonialism with terrorism.
In the declaration, Venezuela and Libya "reject intentions to link the legitimate struggle of the people for liberty and self-determination" with terrorism, but also adds that they "reiterate the importance of countering terrorism in all its forms."
Neither of the two leaders commented publicly on the document. It does not specifically name any Western country, but Gadhafi mentioned both the United States and Britain during a speech after the signing.
During many of his 40 years in power, Gadhafi was accused of harboring terrorists and hosting militant training camps while sponsoring terrorist attacks. But the Libyan leader has taken steps in recent years to mend relations with the West, and says his government renounces terrorism and rejects being labeled as a sponsor of terrorist acts.
Chavez, meanwhile, has been accused by Colombia and the United States of supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been seeking to overthrow governments in Bogota for 45 years.
The Venezuelan leader denies aiding the FARC. He claims the United States is using Colombia as part of a broader plan to portray him as a supporter of terrorist groups to provide justification for a U.S. military invasion of Venezuela.
Cheered on by hundreds of supporters at a rally held for the signing, Chavez praised Gadhafi, comparing him to Venezuela's most revered founding father – 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar. He presented his guest with a gold-plated replica of a sword that once belonged to Bolivar.
"I'm not exaggerating at all. What Simon Bolivar is for the Venezuelan people, Moammar Gadhafi is for the Libyan people. He's the Liberator of Libya," Chavez said, prompting applause from the crowd gathered in Porlamar, a Caribbean resort city.
"This is a great honor that I have received," Gadhafi said through an interpreter.
Chavez and Gadhafi are strengthening their relationship and finding common ground in their efforts to challenge what they contend is the "imperialism" of wealthy nations and to take on the role of spokesmen for poor nations. Before the rally in Porlamar, they led a weekend summit where South American and African leaders pledged to deepen links between their continents.
Gadhafi, who is making his first visit to Latin America, said at the summit that the two regions should unite to wield more influence and form a defense alliance, a "NATO for the South" – calling it "SATO."
"Those who were betting on NATO, we now say to them that we're going to bet on SATO," Gadhafi said during the summit. "We're going to have our treaty, too."
Chavez, a former army paratroop commander, says the United States poses the greatest potential threat to Venezuela and has raised the idea of a South Atlantic defense bloc with other allies in the past.
"South-South" cooperation was a buzzword at the summit, which brought together the African Union and the South American bloc Unasur.
Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya since he seized power in a 1969 coup, has sought a higher profile internationally in recent years and is currently chairman of the African Union.
During his speech at the rally Monday night, he criticized the "imperialism" of some wealthy countries, singling out the United States and Britain, and he repeated his denunciation of last week calling the U.N. Security Council an elite club where nations such as Libya have no voice.
"They do not give any importance to the (U.N.) General Assembly," Gadhafi said. They think they are above all the nations of the world."
Gadhafi also condemned the war in Afghanistan, predicting a defeat for NATO forces.
"Now they are waging wars in Afghanistan. We are totally against terrorism, without any doubt," he said. "Are they going to conquer in Afghanistan? It's impossible. Until the Day of Reckoning, they will never conquer."