CARACAS/LIMA Venezuela's leftist government on Monday called Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski a "coward" and a "dog" servile to the United States, leading Peru to respond by sending a protest note and calling in its ambassador for consultations.
Kuczynski, a 78-year-old former Wall Street investment banker who won election last year, has been one of the most vocal critics in the region of Venezuela's ruling "Chavismo" movement named for late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
He particularly irked President Nicolas Maduro's government with a recent speech in the United States where he said Latin America was in general like a well-behaved dog on the carpet except for Venezuela which was "a big problem."
Maduro called for an apology over the weekend, and his feisty Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez followed up on Monday with a blistering attack at an event in honour of Chavez.
"He goes round, poor thing, with my respect because he is an elderly man, (like) a good dog who wags its tail at the empire and asks for an intervention in Venezuela. He's alone, going round like a crazy man, with no one paying attention," she said.
Rodriguez also accused the Peruvian leader of insulting Chavez's memory during a recent summit in Colombia.
"I also rose and told him, 'look, mister, you are a coward, and I repeat it here, Mr. Kuczynski, you are a coward who dared to tarnish the memory of our commander Hugo Chavez."
Peru's foreign ministry said in a statement it was calling back its envoy in Caracas in response.
"Such expressions are unacceptable between two states that maintain diplomatic relations," the statement said.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna said Kuczynski had employed "an idiomatic and metaphorical expression used in academic circles" meant to describe Latin America's lack of conflicts rather than "demonize" the region.
With recent moves to the right in Brazil and Argentina as well, Venezuela's government has lost support in Latin America, although it retains strong links with fellow leftist-led nations Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and James Dalgleish)