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Daily Telegraph: Chavez offers cheap oil to Britain's poor

Chavez offers cheap oil to Britain's poor
By Tom Burgis
(Filed: 16/05/2006)

Hugo Chavez leaves Britain today after a controversial visit that saw him enhance his status as a ringmaster of international oil politics.

The Venezuelan president, who sits astride the world's fifth largest oil reserves, used a press conference with Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, to make an extraordinary offer to supply cheap fuel direct to poor Britons who face soaring energy bills.

Hugo Chavez and Ken Livingstone
Hugo Chavez with Ken Livingstone yesterday

“We have two refineries here, one in the north, one in the south,” said Mr Chavez, who also met trade unionists, Labour MPs and supporters of his socialist project – though notably not Tony Blair – during his two-day visit.

“These refineries would be used to help the most needy people in London, in Great Britain, especially in the winter. If prices continue to rise, people will not be able to afford them. People will die.”

Mr Chavez has used similar schemes to supply bargain fuel to neighbouring countries and even to poor communities in the United States – much to the ire of those in Washington who regard him as a dangerous populist.

Mr Livingstone – who later hosted a lunch for Mr Chavez and 100 luminaries of the British Left, as well as Peter Voser, the chief financial officer of Shell International – said his officials were discussing the logistics of the scheme.

“Anything that could be done by the president to ease the oil-cost burden of a world city would be welcome,” said the mayor. In exchange, London would offer Caracas the benefit of its expertise in “traffic management schemes”.

Mr Chavez, foremost in a new generation of Left-wing radicals in Latin America, also took the opportunity to return to his favourite subject: the policies of the American president.

Describing George W Bush as “the worst criminal in the human race”, he counselled Britain and Europe to prevent the “madness” of escalating tension with Iran, warning that military action would send oil prices through the roof, crippling London.

Though his proclamations were greeted with applause in the Greater London Assembly's council chamber, others were displeased. Bob Niell, the leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, said Mr Chavez's cheap-oil ruse was no more than a “political bribe”.

He claimed that he and six Venezuelan dissidents were denied access to the GLA building yesterday morning on “security grounds”.

He added: “Any questions of relations between Venezuela and Britain should be negotiated through the Government. Mr Livingstone is not some sort of alternative foreign secretary.”

Ann Robinson, the director of consumer policy at the energy price comparison company uSwitch, said Britons faced with energy bills that topped £1,000 a year for the first time in February might be glad of some assistance from overseas.

Mr Chavez also sought to court investment from British business in a speech at the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall last night, a task made more difficult by his decision last month to double taxes imposed on foreign oil companies operating in Venezuela, including BP.

He also attended a meeting of the Friends of Venezuela group of MPs at Parliament. The group is chaired by Colin Burgon, the Labour MP for Elmet, who claimed that Mr Chavez's popularity stemmed from his frequent attacks on Mr Bush.

“We in Britain are in danger of subcontracting out most of our foreign policy to Washington. Chavez is the antidote to that,” he said.

14 May 2006: Vienna digs out its Che Guevara T-shirt for Chavez
12 May 2006: British Left lines up to salute Chavez
10 May 2006: Chavez poised to double tax on oil firms to fund anti-US stand
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