WASHINGTON — The United States rejected Friday accusations from several leftwing-ruled Latin American countries that its massive military deployment to quake-hit Haiti amounted to an "occupation."
"Haiti is a sovereign country, everybody respects Haiti's sovereign country, the United States respects Haiti's sovereignty," said Arturo Valenzuela, the US assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs.
"We are there because the Haitians invited us... and we have a moral obligation," he told reporters here.
His comments came after Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua -- all three led by anti-US governments -- claimed Washington was using the international relief operation in Haiti as cover for a military takeover.
"It is misguided criticism that perhaps ignores the reality on the ground," added Valenzuela.
Earlier, Maria Otero, an official in charge of international affairs at the US State Department said in La Paz that the US presence in Haiti was in response to a request from Haitian President Rene Preval.
It "also is based on the work of the United Nations," said the Otero, who was in La Paz to attend the inauguration Friday of Bolivian President Evo Morales to a second term.
Valenzuela said the number of US troops in Haiti, from Sunday, would rise to 20,000, working closely with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), while rescue and recovery plans are being run by the Haitian government.
The United States has sent one of its biggest aircraft carriers to Haiti, along with other navy and coast guard vessels.
Some 11,000 US military personnel are deployed to the region and another 4,000 are due to arrive Saturday. US servicemen have also taken control of Haiti's international airport.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has charged, however, that "the empire (meaning, the United States) is taking hold of Haiti over the bodies and tears of its people."
He added: "They brazenly occupied Haiti without consulting the UN or the OAS (Organization of American States)."
Bolivia's Morales said Wednesday he would request an emergency UN meeting "to repudiate and reject this military occupation of the United States in Haiti."
"It's not right that the United States should use this natural disaster to invade and militarily occupy Haiti," he told a press conference.
"If you have all these problems with the injured and the dead from the earthquake, you have to go there to save lives, and you don't do that from a military standpoint," he added.
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