Bush Snubs Venezuela's Cheap Oil Offer
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Bush Snubs Venezuela's Cheap Oil Offer

Financial Times | September 2, 2005
By Andy Webb-Vidal

A new political hurricane is sweeping up through the Caribbean and under the radar screen into the US from Venezuela: Hurricane Hugo,Andy Webb-Vidal reports from Caracas.

Or so it would seem, asHugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, brandishes oil as an increasingly bold diplomatic weapon to poke a stick at President George W. Bush and the US administration.

Rarely a day goes by without Mr Chávez, the radical militaristic leader of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, offering a cheap oil deal to a nation somewhere in South America, central America or the Caribbean.

But this week Mr Chávez took the offer one stage further, saying he would supply discount heating fuel to benefit as many 8m poor citizens of the US this winter.

Such an offer may be more a gesture than a realisable option, analysts say, but it is a smart political move.

Mr Chávez has often been at loggerheads with the Bush administration over its foreign policy, and the offer of cheap oil appears designed to curry favour with ''the people'' in the US at the expense of Mr Bush.

But as oil prices climb tonew highs after the hurricane, Mr Chávez is becoming ever bolder in his strategy and rhetoric.

On Wednesday, while offeringto assist the US in clearing up the damage left by Hurricane Katrina, he sharply criticisedMr Bush's handling of the disaster, describing the US president's attitude as that of a ''cowboy''.

''There he was, the king on holiday, there on his ranch, and he said the people only needed to run away.''

But analysts said Mr Chávez's offer of cheap oil around the continent was unlikely to be fulfilled.

''He's not going to sacrifice income for giving charity to other countries; he has to maximise income for his own state,'' said Fareed Mohamedi, chief economist at PFC Energy,a consultancy based in Washington.

''The Venezuelans also have a limited amount of oil to give.''

Venezuela is producing about 2.6m barrels of oil per day, below its quota agreed with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

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