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In London and Caracas: scoundrels at work

By Gustavo Coronel

August 18, 2006 | Venezuela has a GDP per capita of some $6,000. The city of London has a GDP per capita of $40,000 and the inner city of London a GDP per capita of almost $50,000. And yet, bureaucrats from the London Mayor's office and the Chávez government have been meeting in London to discuss a subsidy involving significant volumes of Venezuelan diesel oil to the London bus transport system. The question immediately becomes: How can a country, where poverty afflicts 85% of the population, afford to give such an enormous handout to a country enjoying of the highest indexes of quality of life in the world? The answer is: it cannot. The handout is being ordered by Hugo Chávez as part of a worldwide political strategy designed to establish a global political base for his socialist revolution. So far, this strategy is costing Venezuelans well over US$25 billion of national money. This money has been generated by the sale of petroleum, a non-renewable resource that, once taken out of the ground, can never be replaced. The use of petroleum revenues for political manipulations, to satisfy the personal ambitions of a authoritarian, ideologically obsolete leader, is one of the biggest crimes Hugo Chávez is committing against the Venezuelan people, now with the complicity of red Ken, the Mayor of London.

The planning of the crime is detailed in a memorandum sent last June 15 by the Chávez representative in the U.K., Alfredo Toro Hardy, to Venezuelan Minister of Petroleum and also president of the state-owned petroleum company, Rafael Ramirez.

This memorandum starts by acknowledging that the plan is being developed "in accordance to instructions received by the President of the Republic [Hugo Chavez]." The attendees to the two meetings described in the memo include members of the Venezuelan embassy in London and managers of PDVSA, U.K. for the Venezuelan side and the second man in the Mayor's office, the Director for Transport, the Director for Economic policy, the chief of Cabinet of the Mayor, the Commissioner of Transport of the City of London, the Director of Operations of the London buses and the Director of Public Relations of the office of the mayor, for the London government side.

The objective of the meetings was "to analyze the two alternatives for cooperation between the Mayor of London and the Venezuelan government," namely: the supply of heating oil to poor homes, public schools in marginal zones and old age homes; and the subsidy of diesel for the public transport system (buses) of the city of London.

The analysis discarded the first alternative because "Natural gas and not heating oil is the fuel of choice in the U.K., because the negotiations with the public receiving the subsidy would be complex and because the mild winter temperatures in the U.K. would not allow for a sufficient public impact of the program."

The last reason offers the first glimpse of the real motivation behind the subsidy. It is not generosity but the desire to create a "public impact." If giving heating oil to the poor will not create sufficient public impact, forget it. In line with this motivation the memorandum went on to endorse the second alternative for the following reasons: "easy to negotiate, greater visibility and public impact of the program, giving the [Venezuelan] government a higher profile." The fleet of buses claims the memorandum, "could make massive propaganda to the cooperation of the [Venezuelan] government. Such propaganda can be installed both inside and outside the buses. In addition the Mayor's office would develop a well articulated campaign to disseminate the cooperation given [by the Venezuelan government]."

The memorandum goes on to describe how the 8,000 buses of the city of London, although privately owned, are under the control of the Mayor's office that "determines the routing, the tariffs, the subsidies that can be applied and… would coordinate the supply of the diesel."

The memorandum leaves no doubt that the main objective of the subsidy is not the alleviation of human poverty. If that were the case the money involved in the significant handouts would stay in Venezuela, where it is most needed, given the tragic poverty prevailing in the country. The memorandum, clearly not meant for third parties, makes an explicit case for public impact and image creation as the main reasons for the massive handout. From a Venezuelan perspective this constitutes a crime. The petroleum being given away belongs to the Venezuelan people and should be used for the benefit of the nation. Foreign aid should be the object of a pre- established program and should be authorized by the people, cannot be the object of the whims of one man. The reasons for the subsidies are corrupt, having to do with propaganda for an undemocratic ideology and with political benefits for a man, Hugo Chávez. In the case of the London bureaucrats it will be the people of London that will have to decide. On a purely ethical basis it sounds incredible that in one of the world's cradles of democracy, London, the buses would carry propaganda extolling the virtues of a despot, Hugo Chávez, a man not very different in values and attitudes to Mugabe, Castro, Ghadafi, Kim Jong-il or Ahmadinejad.

The main actors behind this criminal act are quite similar. Ken Livingstone is anti-Semitic, aggressive and populist. He was suspended for one month from his duties as Mayor of London, after insulting a Jewish reporter. He claims that Sharon "is a criminal" and that "the Saudi Royal family" should be hanged, the type of stupid remark we associate with Pat Robertson. Chávez is also anti-Semitic, claiming, "The ones who killed Jesus are the ones robbing Venezuelans of their money." He has called Bush a "donkey, a drunkard and a coward" on national television, while calling Mugabe 'a dear freedom fighter." Tony Blair has said that he has not heard insults such as Chávez's since he was in elementary school.

The secondary actors in this soap opera are mostly unknown beyond their immediate surroundings, except for Alfredo Toro Hardy, the person signing the memo. He is quite a bright intellectual who served as an Ambassador to democratic presidents but later decided that London is better than principles.

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