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Hugo Chavez and the Mayor of London: a match made in heaven

By Aleksander Boyd

London 14.07.06 | Which "friend" of Carlos 'the jackal' counts on the head of the Greater London Authority to advance his image? Let me rephrase that; which third world caudillo has the Mayor of London as its main propagandist in the UK/Europe? Hint: one that has lots of oil to offer... The Miami Herald reports today that a memo, sent by 'honourable' Venezuelan Ambassador to the UK Alfredo Toro Hardy -who happens to be the same person who lied about a honorary degree that Oxford University would confer to his boss- reveals the true intentions of the oil-for-dispossesed-Londoners programme announced by Chavez during his last visit to this city: ''the cooperation provided by our government could be publicized massively [using] the fleet of buses itself.'' London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who was Chávez's host for the May visit, ''would also undertake a well-articulated program'' of publicity, ambassador Toro Hardy added.

Memo: Chávez made oil offer for publicity

BY PHIL GUNSON | Special to The Miami Herald

CARACAS - A memorandum from the Venezuelan Embassy in London suggests that President Hugo Chávez's offers of discounted oil to help the poor there and in the United States were at least partly intended to enhance his image.

The socialist Chávez has repeatedly insisted his offers, handled through social activist groups in places like Boston and other U.S. cities, were motivated purely by humanitarian concerns -- mitigating the effects of winter on the poor at a time of high heating oil prices.

At a news conference during a May 14-15 visit to London, Chávez offered to use production from two British refineries part-owned by the Venezuelan state oil corporation Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, to help the British poor as well.

''We could use those refineries as the starting point to assist in some way the neediest population in London, in Great Britain, especially when the winter comes, and if heating fuel prices rise much more,'' Chávez said.

PROPAGANDA SIDE

But a June 15 memo from the Venezuelan ambassador in London, Alfredo Toro Hardy, to Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez, suggests there's a propaganda side to the offers as well. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Miami Herald.

The memo -- whose authenticity was not disputed by the Venezuelan Embassy in London after queries from The Miami Herald -- argues that Chávez's offer was flawed, primarily because only a tiny minority of Londoners use oil-fired heating at home. Most use gas or electricity.

In proposing an alternative -- to supply diesel to London buses to facilitate fare subsidies -- the ambassador says this could provide ``a greater benefit [in terms of] image for the Venezuelan government.''

This is because, ''the cooperation provided by our government could be publicized massively [using] the fleet of buses itself.'' London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who was Chávez's host for the May visit, ''would also undertake a well-articulated program'' of publicity, the ambassador added.

NO BLAIR MEETING

Chávez's two-day visit to London aroused some controversy because he did not seek any contact with the government of Tony Blair. Livingstone, although a member of Blair's Labor Party, is on the far left of the party.

Livingstone later accepted the presidency of the Venezuela Information Centre, a London-based group that promotes solidarity with Chávez's ``Bolivarian revolution.''

The ambassador's memo noted there had been meetings on the subject of cheap fuel for buses between officials of the Greater London Authority and the embassy, and suggests that the diesel could be supplied by private oil companies such as British Petroleum, Shell, Chevron or Conoco, which have contractual relations with PDVSA. In exchange, the companies would receive similar amounts of fuel in Venezuela.

The Miami Herald contacted the authority's media office, but after several days it failed to provide any information on the subject.

The Venezuelan Embassy in London also declined to comment, referring questions to the Foreign Ministry in Caracas, saying it had ''nothing concrete'' to say. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the British office of PDVSA responded to inquiries.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORT

Saúl Ortega, a legislator from Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement who chairs the congressional foreign affairs commission, insisted the cheap-fuel offers are driven by humanitarian concerns.

Asked whether it was intended to produce positive publicity, Ortega said the revolution was already well-regarded, even in countries where it had no aid program.

It remains unclear whether the London project will go ahead in any form. According to the memo, it was due to be discussed later at a meeting in Caracas, to which Greater London Authority representatives were invited.

Source The Miami Herald



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