Cruisin' for a Bruisin' with Hugo


Saturday, November 29, 2003

Greg Palast in Caracas.

Hugo Chavez has an attitude problem. Only last April the Venezuelan president escaped a kidnapping by the Chairman of the nation's Chamber of Commerce. This weekend, Chavez is facing a recall petition by the angry rich of Venezuela. He also faces the wrath of an angry rich American president who does not appreciate Chavez' bad attitude toward globalization a la Rumsfeld.

Annoying the moneyed and the powerful is Chavez' gift. And this week, at the meeting of the Congress of Andean Parliaments, he unwrapped a special surprise, a renewed proposal for PetroSur, functionally, a Latin American OPEC.

Venezuela, not Saudi Arabia, has long been the USA's largest supplier of foreign oil. By combining Venezuela's huge state-owned oil company with Ecuador's, Brazil's and Trinadad's (all nations now headed by elected leftists), Chavez could create a bargaining hammer for hemispheric trade talks which, up to now, have been mostly a one-way lecture from the USA.

"If Exxon and Mobil can combine, and Texaco and Phillips, why not PetroBrasil and PdVSA?" Chavez asks, referring to the Brazilian and Venezuelan government operators.

Well, Hugo, you KNOW why not. I remember the story of Ferdinand Marcos' proposal to the Shah of Iran some years back. The Philippines dictator suggested to the Iranian despot that Iran go around the US oil giants and ship directly to the Philippines for refining and sale. The Shah pointed to his personal jet which brought him to Manila. "Do you see the plane that brought me here? Do you know who paid for it? And what do you think would happen to that plane if I were to adopt your suggestion?"

A proposal for a Latin OPEC is an invitation for a bullet. But that's Chavez' style. His assassins don't have to hunt him down; he looks for THEM. His attitude is, "take your best shot." And, as if to make the point, I'd noted he left the several bullet holes in the windows of the Presidential Palace from the last coup attempt (the one where he was held hostage under orders of a wannabe dictator, Pedro Carmona, chief of the nation's business confederation).

If creating a Latin OPEC is possible, Chavez is the man to pull it off. During Venezuela's recent turn at the Presidency of OPEC, Chavez successfully raised the world price of crude to $20 a barrel from $10.

This year Chavez successfully rebuilt Venezuela's oil company after a devastating management strike and campaign of widespread sabotage at PdVSA plants and pumps. It has to infuriate Bush's oil patch buddies that Chavez restored Venezuela's output from near zero to 2-1/2 million barrels a day while, after the same eight month period, Generalissimo Paul Bremer still can't pump enough oil out of Iraq to fill a Humvee.
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Greg Palast, the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, is in Caracas on assignment for Rolling Stone Magazine. At www.GregPalast.com find photos from Venezuela and Palast's other reports.

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