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Hugo Chavez's March toward Nationalized Energy Sector Poses Dire Consequences for Latin America

Washington 04.05.06 - Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14), a member of the House International Relations Committee and an outspoken critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, today said the stability of Latin America is at risk as Chavez marches closer and closer toward nationalizing his country's energy sector.

In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives Mack said:

"Mr. Speaker, around the world freedom is under attack every day, and many in this body have heard me express my strong concerns to one of freedom's greatest enemies-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"I have spoken at length about the Chavez government's systematic elimination of freedom and liberty. And recent assaults on private property-particularly the energy markets-in Venezuela serve as another reminder that Hugo Chavez is doing all he can to force his countrymen to live in a socialist state similar to his mentor Fidel Castro's Cuba.

"In recent years, Hugo Chavez has become a prime example of how high crude prices have sparked a resurgence of petro-nationalism around the world.

"He has squeezed more money out of American companies by raising taxes and royalties, imposing fines, strengthened the hand of OPEC countries by pushing for higher prices, and threatened to cut off the flow of oil to the United States.

"As Chavez continues his march toward socialism, he seems determined to wipe out free enterprise, drive out private investment, and wreck the economy in order to establish iron-fisted control of Venezuela's -- just as Fidel Castro did in Cuba.

"Venezuela and Hugo Chavez are flush with record-high oil revenues. But Chavez is threatening to kill his oil-drenched golden goose.

"Just last month, the Venezuelan oil minister showed up at two oil fields run by European companies in order to reclaim them on behalf of the Venezuelan government and Hugo Chavez. Hoisting the Venezuelan flag over the fields, he said the move symbolized the return to state control.

"This dramatic move is proof-as if more is needed-that Chavez is putting Venezuela on a path to a nationalized energy industry. These moves-and his saber-rattling, military buildup, and crackdowns on freedom at home-continue to roil the international oil markets and are enabling Chavez to help keep crude prices high.

"Venezuela supplies the United States with about 15% of our oil imports. And, few Americans probably realize that Venezuela's state oil company owns Citgo Petroleum which owns refineries that are geared to handle the heavy Venezuelan crude together with a network of thousands of independent gas stations.

"Chavez's radical strategy to nationalize his energy industry is being felt across Latin America. Just this week in Bolivia, newly elected President Evo Morales nationalized the country's natural gas industry, ordering foreign companies to give up control of fields and accept much tougher operating terms within 6 months or leave the country. Morales even ordered soldiers to commandeer many fields across the nation.

"The move solidifies Morales' role alongside Chavez and Castro in Latin America's new axis of socialism united against American interests and free people everywhere. Make no mistake, the images of soldiers toting automatic weapons outside refineries and gas fields reminiscent of military dictatorships past.

"Chavez has been promising to build a "Bolivarian axis" of like-minded anti-American governments throughout Latin America. Only recently, few people took him seriously. Not anymore. Just this past weekend, Chavez and Morales signed a free-trade agreement with Castro.

"Mr. Speaker, history has proven that no nation with a state-controlled economy can prosper, and anyone who lives in such a nation lives without with the freedom and liberty they deserve.

"A Venezuela with Hugo Chavez at the helm is a nation doomed to repeat the failures of history and a people who will be forced to live without the freedom, security, and prosperity they once had, but still deserve."



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