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With Enemies Like This


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With Enemies Like This [/font]

Hugo Chavez has a new weapon in his battle against the Bush administration: low-priced oil for U.S. cities.

By Joseph Contreras and John Barry


Dec. 19, 2005 issue - Applause and cheers welcomed the Citgo truck as it pulled up at a South Bronx curbside one icy morning last week. The 9,500-gallon tanker was on a mission for one of the Bush administration's most stubborn adversaries in the Western Hemisphere, but the crowd didn't seem to mind. The big thing was that Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chavez, was making good on his promise to help some of New York's poorest residents get through a winter of record-setting oil prices. The Venezuelan firm Citgo has agreed to supply 8 million gallons of heating oil to 75 low-income apartment buildings at a 40 percent discount—and the nonprofit landlords have agreed to pass on the savings to their tenants. "Some have tried to read politics into this outreach program," said Bernardo Alvarez, Caracas's ambassador to Washington. "But they should not do so. This is a humanitarian gesture on the part of the Venezuelan people to our neighbors in need."

Right. Chavez, a close personal friend of Fidel Castro's, has spent the past five years trading insults with the Bush administration. Senior U.S. aides view him as a dictator in the making and warn that he could destabilize the region. In return, the Venezuelan leader takes Bush to task for the invasion of Iraq, for collateral damage in Afghanistan and—closer to home—for tacitly endorsing the failed coup that briefly removed Chavez from power in 2002. Pat Robertson hardly improved relations last August by declaring that "our Special Forces should take him out." (The "700 Club" televangelist later apologized.) Lately Chavez has discovered a resonant new theme: the growing gulf between rich and poor in the United States.

Cheap oil is a perfect medium for Chavez's message. After all, his country has the largest proven crude reserves outside the Middle East, and Venezuela is the third largest exporter of oil and petroleum products to the United States. And who can argue with cut-rate fuel? Support for Chavez's new philanthropy is rising among some U.S. politicians. When the first Venezuelan cheap-oil program was unveiled at a press conference last month in a working-class Boston suburb, Democratic Congressmen William Delahunt and Edward Markey took starring roles. Their Bronx colleague Jose Serrano did the same last week in New York. Now Citgo is offering Chicago a discount on diesel for its public buses. (Few apartment buildings use oil heat in the Windy City.)

Finding the right response to Chavez has always been tough for the Bush administration. "There has been a deer-in-the-headlights quality about it," says Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a D.C.-based policy-research group. "Sometimes confrontational, sometimes conciliatory. They've seemed at a loss." Career diplomat Donna Hrinak says Washington takes Chavez's bluster too seriously. "We should consider the source and let it go," she says. At the same time, the administration ought to remember one thing about Chavez, says Delahunt, who has known him for years: "Whether we like it or not, he has been democratically elected."

Not everyone in Venezuela appreciates Chavez's save-the-Yanquis campaign. Per capita income in his country is only $5,800 a year, against roughly $40,000 in the United States. "Solidarity with the poor is a perfectly valid concept," says Humberto Calderon Berti, a former Energy minister, "but one has a prior obligation to the poor in one's own country." All the same, a little domestic grumbling doesn't make much difference to Chavez. Thanks to an opposition boycott of Venezuela's legislative elections last week, his party and its allies now hold all 167 seats in the National Assembly. He's expected a year from now to run for a third term as president, and no one can name a serious challenger. If Chavez wants to make life easier in the United States, there's no one to stop him. We'll just have to bear up somehow.

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Why couldn't the Bush Family have made a gesture like this with part of the huge windfall they must of have made from the post Katrina oil revenues?

Because they hate black people :silly:

(Just so people don't throw a hissy fit, it was a comment in jest based on the Katrina/West comment)

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Why couldn't the Bush Family have made a gesture like this with part of the huge windfall they must of have made from the post Katrina oil revenues?

Or the Kennedys... who own stakes in oil interests. Naaaawwww... easier to stay quiet, keep the profits, and continue to bash Bush every chance the drunken sot gets.

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