Jack Chang / Knight Ridder & Associated Press – 2005-08-27 00:03:05
Jack Chang / Knight Ridder Newspapers
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (August 24, 2005) — While Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez can spark rancor within his own country and prompted US evangelist Pat Robertson’s call Monday for his assassination, South American countries have a less malevolent view of their oil-rich neighbor.
Venezuela’s money has won Chavez friends in the region. He’s purchased hundreds of millions of dollars in Ecuadorian and Argentine bonds and sold oil to Cuba and Jamaica at below-market prices.
He’s also advocated stronger political and economic ties among South American countries. Earlier this month, he raced through Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina to negotiate trade agreements and lend political support to beleaguered Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who’s fighting charges of corruption in his administration and political party.
“He’s seen as someone whose semi-authoritarian style of government is a little out of fashion but who is helping countries in the region economically and who is stepping forward to criticize U.S. foreign policy,” said Sonia de Camargo, an international relations professor at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
“He is expressing a regional desire for a more democratic US foreign policy.”
Robertson apologized Wednesday for his remarks, which came Monday during his “The 700 Club” television show. “If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” the evangelist said Monday. “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.”
Robertson said Wednesday that he shouldn’t have said that. “Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him.”
But the apology hardly mollified Chavez’s representatives, who labeled the comments as “terrorist” statements.
“This public call to assassinate a head of state, considered a crime by all modern legislation, is prosecutable by its very nature,” Venezuela’s government said in a statement Wednesday. “That is what the civilized world is expecting of US authorities.”
The Bush administration called the remarks “inappropriate” and said there were no plans to overthrow Chavez. But the remarks, coming from a prominent Christian conservative who supported Bush’s re-election, focused new attention on the enmity that’s grown between the Bush administration and Chavez during the seven tumultuous years that the former army colonel has been in office.
Heading the world’s fifth-largest oil-exporting country at a time of record energy prices, critics charge, Chavez is using his wealth to destabilize poor neighboring countries and extend his anti-American agenda throughout the hemisphere. He is a close friend of Fidel Castro, earning him the scorn of many Cuban-Americans.
During visits to Paraguay and Peru last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he had evidence that Chavez and Castro had aided the Bolivian protesters who were responsible for ousting two presidents in the last two years, including Carlos Mesa in June.
“The US doesn’t like to have so much oil in someone like that’s hands,” said Peter Hakim, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research center that specializes in Western Hemisphere issues. “Among Cubans and people who worry about Cuba, there’s no question that Chavez’s support for Fidel Castro has given Castro a second wind.
“Chavez is seen as having inherited the mantle of Fidel Castro.”
Since he was first elected in 1998, the former paratroop lieutenant colonel has polarized his country with his brash manner and self-proclaimed revolution of social programs and wealth redistribution.
He’s highly popular with the country’s poor but resented by many in the upper classes. Recent polls show him receiving about 70 percent support from Venezuelans.
To US observers, his warm relations with Castro and his regular criticism of US actions and policies such as the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan have been worrisome.
He regularly warns against what he calls the United States’ imperialist policy and threatens to use Venezuela’s oil money to counter northern influence.
For many South Americans, however, Chavez is little more than a colorful president who’s feuding with the world’s superpower.
The region’s governments, many of them left-leaning, have been trying to strike a balance and maintain good relations with both Chavez and the United States, said Argentine political analyst Rosendo Fraga.
“His disputes with the United States are not that important here,” Fraga said. “Argentina is just trying to keep political ties with Chavez.”
Since winning a 2000 election mandated by a new constitution that he championed, Chavez has survived a series of attempts to topple his government.
He was ousted from power briefly in an April 2002 coup d’etat, survived a prolonged oil-industry strike that began later that year and easily won a recall vote last year.
Along the way, he’s traded countless barbs with U.S. officials, accusing them of masterminding his attempted ouster and plotting his assassination.
The exchanges peaked in January 2004 when he called now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a “true illiterate” after she accused him of undermining Venezuelan democracy.
Jamaica Signs on to Venezuela’s Caribbean Oil PlanAssociated Press
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (August 24, 2005) — Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to finalize an agreement with Venezuela on a new plan for the South American nation to supply oil to countries throughout the region under below-market terms.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson emerged from a private meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez late Tuesday to announce the details of Jamaica’s participation in the Petrocaribe initiative — a plan to offer oil at flexible terms to 13 Caribbean nations.
Chavez announced the Petrocaribe project in June, though he disclosed few of the details. He and his close ally Cuban leader Fidel Castro have said the plan would lead toward greater solidarity for small nations as oil prices continue to rise.
Chavez and Castro see themselves as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region, even as Venezuela supplies 1.3 million barrels of oil a day to the United States — 8 percent of the total supply.
Under the agreement with Jamaica, Venezuela will provide oil at a discounted rate of $40 per barrel, compared to the more than $60 it now costs on the world market, Patterson said.
The deal, which takes effect June 29, will initially involve about 22,000 barrels per day, the prime minister said.
Jamaica will be able to pay Venezuela in goods and services as well as through low-interest, long-term loans, he said. ”Much has been accomplished by strengthening the relationship between Venezuela and Jamaica,” the prime minister said at a news conference that ended after midnight in the resort city of Montego Bay.
Chavez, who noted that ”the era of cheap oil is over,” said that Venezuela is providing assistance superior to what has been offered by lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. ”Don’t thank us. It is the call of conscience,” Chavez said.
Petrocaribe extends and improves financing arrangements under past oil deals and calls for an expanded fleet of Venezuelan tankers to deliver fuel directly to bypass costly intermediaries.
Chavez and Patterson also signed a bilateral agreement committing Venezuela to upgrading a refinery’s production capacity from 30,000 barrels a day to 50,000 barrels a day. Venezuela has also agreed to contribute $60 million to a fund for socio-economic projects in Jamaica.
Venezuelan officials have been touring several Caribbean countries to follow up on the Petrocaribe agreement signed in June.
Venezuela is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter and the biggest in the Western Hemisphere.
Chavez has extended preferential oil deals to countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, and to some as far away as China, seeking to strengthen political alliances as he moves to line up alternate oil markets aside from the United States, which he often criticizes as ”The Empire.”
© 2005 Associated Press
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