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White House weighing harder line against Venezuela as Rice flies to Brazil

V Headline | April 27 2005

Prensa Latina reports from New York that, according to the New York Times, as Condoleeza Rice starts her first Latin American tour, in her position as US State Secretary, Tuesday, the White House is weighing a harsher line against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

A high-ranking Republican congressional aide who works on Latin America policy told the daily that they were moving to a more confrontational approach.

US officials told The New York Times that Venezuela's oil reserves and the high price they now fetch on the market has eliminated the need for US loans and other aid Washington could have used as leverage on Chavez" government.

A multi-agency task force in Washington has been developing a new approach that top-level policy makers said would likely adopt a harder line towards Venezuela, which is a major oil producer.

Measures under consideration include increasing US support to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela and to urge Venezuela's neighbors to distance themselves from Chavez, who next year could be reelected to another six-year term in office.

US officials have admitted that Venezuela's oil reserves and economic surge has eliminated the need for US loans and other aid Washington could use as leverage to influence or exert pressure on Chavez' government, thus Caracas is pursuing a more independent policy, domestically and internationally.

Venezuela and the United States have had strained relations in the past years. President Chavez has accused US military officials accredited in Caracas of involvement in a coup that removed him from office for 48 hours in April 2002. Evidence of that was made public.

Over the weekend Chavez ended a 35-year joint military program with the United States; he has established new energy agreements with China; has expanded trade with other countries, and is pursuing a policy of integration of Latin America outside the US-sponsored Free Trade Agreement, seen in the region as only benefiting the US.

Chavez, who is a follower of the ideas of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, has also pursued a social policy to fight poverty and improve the living conditions for all Venezuelans.

Such an independent policy is not well seen in Washington.

The Venezuelan leader has also accused the United States of wanting to kill him to gain control of his country's huge oil reserves. Venezuela, the world's number-five exporter of crude, exports 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the United States.

Chavez has reiterated Caracas will always abide by its agreements to supply oil to the US, unless Washington attacks his country.
According to the New York Times, a high-ranking official commented that as one of the US' top four foreign providers of oil, "you can't write him off ... he's sitting on an energy source that's critical to us."

The NY daily reminds that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to raise concerns about Venezuela during her four-country tour this week of Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador.