Romney in SoCal promotes energy independence |

Romney in SoCal promotes energy independence

Associated Press Writer

Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, smiles during an interview with The Associated Press in Washington, Thursday, June 7, 2007.

CORONA, Calif. – GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Monday the United States must cultivate allies in Latin America and strive for energy independence so foreign leaders can’t use their oil wealth against this country.

The former Massachusetts governor made the remarks to reporters before a private fundraising luncheon at a golf club in Corona, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

He was expected to campaign in Southern California for several days and attend a private fundraiser Monday night in the wealthy Orange County community of Dana Point.

Romney said the U.S. needed to work more closely with countries such as Colombia – which is fighting to snuff out the illicit drug trade – because those nations could be influenced by growing communist sentiment in Latin America.

“I think what we’re going to have to do is focus again on Latin America and realize that we need to have friends in our own hemisphere, and the growth of (Fidel) Castro’s influence by virtue of Hugo Chavez’s wealth is of real concern,” he said of the Cuban and Venezuelan leaders.

Romney also said the United States needed to strive for energy independence so leaders of nations with oil wealth, including Chavez, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, can’t dictate policy in other areas.

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Romney has chided Bush for meeting with Putin, who has been critical of U.S. efforts to install a missile defense shield in Europe.

Romney, however, stopped short of criticizing the Bush administration’s approach to Latin American policy.