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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez new protegé of Don King

By Alexandra Beech,

In yet another sign of the surreal events surrounding Venezuela, Boxing promoter Don King this week endorsed the government of President Hugo Chavez. According to the Associated Press, Don King swooned: ``You are a president of the people, for the people and by the people and your magic lies in your people ties. You are the one concerned about the poor.” King, who is better equipped to negotiate contracts for Julio Cesar Chavez than Hugo Chavez, years ago faced charges of wire fraud and falsification of documents which resulted in a hung jury with him facing a retrial. Since little else is happening in Venezuela, this story was covered by the New York Times and Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal offers an article titled “For Aging Castro, Chavez Emerges as a Vital Crutch” by Alexei Barrionuevo and Jose de Cordoba, who report that “Fidel Castro has found a key benefactor and heir apparent to the cause of derailing the U.S.'s agenda in Latin America: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.” In fact, “Venezuela's left-leaning government has become the biggest financial supporter of Cuba since the Soviet Union pulled the plug on Mr. Castro more than a decade ago”. In addition, “Cuba has run up a massive debt of $752 million for oil shipped by Venezuela's state oil company, according to people close to the company and internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal,” which reveal that “the debt is piling up and that the government has made little effort to collect. This makes the shipments a crucial subsidy that is helping keep the island nation's economy afloat as it struggles with the impact of endemic mismanagement, declining sugar sales and longstanding U.S. sanctions.” This debt “underlines the growing strategic alliance between Venezuela's Mr. Chávez, a populist former coup plotter elected in 1998, and Cuba's Mr. Castro. At a time of rising anti-American and anti-free-trade sentiments, U.S. officials fear that the combination of Venezuela's oil billions and Mr. Castro's well-honed political skills could cause trouble for the U.S. throughout a restless Latin America.”

To add insult to injury, concerns “have grown since Indian and radical groups forced Bolivia's President Gonzalo Sanchéz de Lozada to resign last October. Evo Morales, head of Bolivia's coca-growing farmers and one of the architects of Mr. Sanchéz de Lozada's downfall, has close ties to both Mr. Chávez and Mr. Castro.” In addition, Castro and Chavez “are working actively to sink U.S. plans for a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas -- which would exclude Cuba -- and are preaching an antiglobalization message throughout Latin America,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “More than 1,000 peasant, labor-union and student activists met last week in Havana to draw up plans for hemisphere-wide protests against the FTAA.”

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