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Chavez Decrees Takeover of Foreign Oil

President Hugo Chavez ordered by decree on Monday the takeover of oil projects run by foreign oil companies in Venezuela's Orinoco River region.

Chavez had previously announced the government's intention to take a majority stake by May 1 in four heavy oil-upgrading projects run by British Petroleum (nyse: BP - news - people ) PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. (nyse: XOM - news - people ), Chevron (nyse: CVX - news - people ) Corp., ConocoPhillips (nyse: COP - news - people ) Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA (nyse: STO - news - people ).

He said Monday that has decreed a law to proceed with the nationalizations that will see state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, taking at least a 60 percent stake in the projects.

"The privatization of oil in Venezuela has come to an end," he said on his weekday radio show, "Hello, President." "This marks the true nationalization of oil in Venezuela."

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Venezuela's Chavez accuses U.S. of plan to sabotage economy

President Hugo Chavez warned Thursday that the U.S. government, allegedly frustrated by failed assassination plots against him, was now planning to sabotage the oil-producing country's economy.

Chavez, speaking on his newly scheduled prime-time TV talk show, predicted that "one of the fiercest battle fronts" was coming ahead as Washington readied to destroy Venezuela economically.

He said that recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accusing Chavez of "destroying" his country's economy meant that "the imperialist plan of the moment" had turned to economic sabotage.

"(That's) one of the plans. The other is assassination," he said, reiterating past claims that the U.S. government is plotting to kill him.

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Venezuela Rivals U.S. in Aid to Bolivia

To understand Venezuela’s growing influence here, consider that more than two dozen ambassadors are in this capital city, including those of Bolivia’s leading trading partners like Brazil, the United States and Argentina. Yet none enjoy the direct conduit that the Venezuelan ambassador, Julio Montes, has established with President Evo Morales.

Mr. Montes often accompanies Mr. Morales on domestic and international trips on executive jets provided by Venezuela’s national oil company, say officials who have seen them traveling together. On many days Mr. Montes, who arrived in La Paz a year ago, can be found at the presidential palace huddled in meetings with Mr. Morales or the president’s top aides.

Since Mr. Morales became president little more than a year ago, Venezuela has quickly come to rival the United States as Bolivia’s main patron. It has provided assistance for the army, cattle ranches, soybean cultivation, microfinance projects, urban sanitation companies and the oil industry.

Perhaps most important to Washington, despite its opposition, Venezuelan financial assistance has helped Bolivia push ahead with plans to increase exports of its industrial production of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine.

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Chávez Builds His Sphere Of Influence

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has long pledged to buck Washington-backed economic policies in Latin America. Now, two months after winning reelection and consolidating his hold on the country with new powers to rule by decree, he is strengthening economic ties in the region in a bid to limit U.S. influence.

Chávez recently announced that his government would build housing, a highway and an oil refinery in Nicaragua, part of an aid package that would benefit one of Washington's most tenacious Cold War adversaries, President Daniel Ortega.

Farther south, Venezuela has pledged to provide Ecuador with $1 billion in credit, a gesture that would soften the blow if that country's leftist government follows through on its threat to default on foreign debt payments. And, along with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, a foe of the Bush administration, Chávez has announced a $2 billion international investment fund for Latin America.

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Mayor signs Venezuelan oil deal

Ken Livingstone has signed an oil deal with Venezuela - providing cheap fuel for London's buses and giving cut price travel for those on benefits.

The mayor of London said the agreement will help provide half-price bus and tram travel to some 250,000 Londoners on income support.

The deal follows discussions between Mr Livingstone and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr Livingstone signed the deal at a ceremony in City Hall.

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Expanding Power Puts Family of Venezuelan President Under Increasing Scrutiny

SABANETA, Venezuela, Feb. 13 — At the entrance to this dusty town where Hugo Chávez was born in 1954, a billboard welcomes visitors with a gleaming image of Mr. Chávez, the president, and the words, “Cradle of the Revolution.”

Other billboards and posters throughout Sabaneta show Mr. Chávez embracing his younger brother Aníbal, Sabaneta’s mayor, and his father, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, the governor of Barinas, the surrounding state. Such reminders of the power amassed by Mr. Chávez’s family have been ubiquitous here since he ascended to the presidency eight years ago.

From a humble start in a dirt-floored adobe home that was bulldozed to make way for a hamburger stand, the family’s widening political clout has been increasingly scrutinized as critics call attention to abuses of power and corruption charges throughout the institutions now controlled by Mr. Chávez, including the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the federal bureaucracy. Revelations of corruption under his family’s watch in Barinas and accusations of nepotism have dogged Mr. Chávez even as he makes combating such irregularities one of the priorities of his government.

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Chávez Threatens to Jail Price Control Violators

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 16 — Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls.

Food producers and economists say the measures announced late Thursday night, which include removing three zeroes from the denomination of Venezuela’s currency, are likely to backfire and generate even more acute shortages and higher prices for consumers. Inflation climbed to an annual rate of 18.4 percent a year in January, the highest in Latin America and far above the official target of 10 to 12 percent.

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Venezuelan faces fines for satire

Comedian Laureano Marquez has poked fun at politicians for decades without getting into trouble with the law, so he didn't think twice about writing a tongue-in-cheek newspaper editorial based on a dialogue between President Hugo Chávez and his 9-year-old daughter.

But Marquez and a publishing company that printed the column in the Tal Cual newspaper now face fines imposed by a local court for ``violating the honor, reputation and private life'' of Rosines Chávez Rodriguez, Chávez's youngest daughter.

Marquez -- one of Venezuela's leading humorists -- denies any wrongdoing and argues the $18,600 fine imposed on the Mosca Analfabeta publisher is part of a government initiative in which pro-Chávez prosecutors and judges are being used to silence critics. Marquez must separately pay a fine of a yet-to-be-determined amount.

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Venezuela to chop 3 zeros off currency bills

President Hugo Chavez said he will chop three zeros off new bolivar currency bills to bolster Venezuelans' perception of a strong currency in a bid to curb inflation, which is now highest in Latin America.

But an ex-central bank director said the measure may have the opposite effect because it could give people the idea they have more buying power and businesses may round up their calculations so that consumers will pay a little extra.

The bolivar, named after Chavez's 19th century hero Simon Bolivar, trades above 4,000 bolivars to the dollar on the parallel market, around double the official fixed exchange rate is 2,150 bolivars.

Chavez said he wants to alter the bills so that for example, a 1,000 bolivar note would be a one bolivar coin.

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Venezuela to beef up security after al Qaeda threat

Venezuela's defense minister said Thursday that the nation would reinforce security measures after a branch of al Qaeda called for attacks on suppliers of oil to the United States.

Venezuela provides around 11 percent of U.S. oil imports despite diplomatic tensions between Caracas and Washington over leftist President Hugo Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution.

Gen. Raul Baduel told reporters that security and intelligence agencies would "take actions and implement previously established security plans, but reinforce them with the goal of guaranteeing security."

He called for calm and said Chavez would provide further instructions about how to deal with the threat.

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Professionals Exit Venezuela

Oil-rich Venezuela has experienced the kind of economic boom in recent years that should be flush with job opportunities. But an increasing number of professionals, many of them from the oil industry, are looking abroad for work, driven away by President Hugo Chávez's effort to extend state control over the economy, and by inflation verging on 20%.

Since his re-election in December, Mr. Chávez has pursued an agenda of "21st Century Socialism," painting a future of "communal cities" and state-run cooperatives dedicated to production, not profit.

"Chavez's electoral triumph and the radicalized discourse has increased the desire to emigrate," said Luis Vicente Leon, the head of Datanalisis, a Caracas polling firm.

Not everyone is dissatisfied. Mr. Chávez, who first took office in 1999, has gained a broad base of popular support among Venezuela's poor, largely by spending billions of dollars on social programs. And a newly rich class of Venezuelans with close connections to the government is likely to stick around as long as they can continue to profit from Mr. Chávez's rise.

Still, at the U.S. Embassy call center for visas in Caracas, the lines have been jammed since Mr. Chávez announced in early January the nationalization of the electricity industry and Venezuela's largest telecommunications firm. "It doubled practically overnight," said a U.S. diplomat.

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Congressman Accuses Joe Kennedy of 'Shameless Support' For Chavez

One of Congress's most outspoken critics of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez Monday called on former Massachusetts lawmaker Joe Kennedy to stop airing television advertisements that give "shameless support" to "the most dangerous man in the Western Hemisphere."

Calling Chavez "a sworn enemy of the United States," Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) wrote in a letter to Kennedy that "there is absolutely no excuse for you to be praising him in television commercials and media interviews for any reason whatsoever."

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Venezuela to buy Verizon's stake in CANTV

President Hugo Chavez continues nationalization efforts with $572 million acquisition of Verizon's 28.5 percent stake in telecommunications firm.

Venezuela will buy U.S.-based Verizon Communications' 28.5 percent stake in the country's No. 1 telecommunications company, CANTV, for $572 million as part of a nationalization drive.

The government of President Hugo Chavez, who accuses CANTV of tapping his conversations, said the price represented $17.85 per American Depositary Share - more than $100 million less than Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim offered Verizon last year.

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Halliburton says committed to Venezuela market

Oilfield services company Halliburton Co. said on Sunday it is committed to doing business in Venezuela, in an effort to clarify some comments its chief financial officer made earlier to investors.

"Halliburton is proud of its more than 60-year history in Venezuela, and is committed to continuing to build upon a strong reputation and operations in the country," the company said in a statement released via e-mail. "We will continue working closely with PDVSA (Venezuela's state oil company) to ensure our operations are aligned with its business objectives and to demonstrate our commitment to its future programs."

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Takeover of EDC Buoys Venezuela Markets

Venezuelan investors were cheered Friday by the government's deal to buy out the country's top electricity company from U.S.-based AES Corp., lifting hopes that President Hugo Chavez's government may fairly compensate other companies it nationalizes.

Chavez triggered a selloff in local stocks last month when he announced the nationalization of Electricidad de Caracas, or EDC, and other companies as part of his plans to bring key industries under state control.

But the government on Thursday signed an agreement with Arlington, Virginia-based AES to purchase its 82-percent stake in EDC for US$739.3 million (euro569.3 million), a deal analysts said appeared to fairly compensate AES shareholders.

"It turns out very well for the American investors," said Luis Gustavo Richard, financial analyst with local brokerage InterAcciones Casa de Bolsa CA.

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Venezuela draft decree lets government take control of supermarkets

President Hugo Chavez's government has drafted a decree allowing officials to take control of food distribution chains, including supermarkets and storage depots, if services are interrupted, officials said Sunday.

Industry and Commerce Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias said the decree would help curb supply problems that have caused severe shortages of meats, milk and sugar in recent weeks.
Industry officials blame the shortages on price controls that oblige retailers to sell at a loss, while the government says the fault lies with unscrupulous speculators, including supermarket owners and distributors, who hoard food or boost prices.

The National Assembly, which is entirely controlled by a coalition of pro-Chavez parties, approved legislation last month granting the Venezuelan leader authority to enact sweeping measures by presidential decree as his government steers the poverty-stricken South American country toward socialism.

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Venezuela's loan to aid Bolivia's coca factories

Venezuela has loaned Bolivia about $250,000 to build two coca-processing plants that will transform cocaine's raw ingredient into an invigorating and legal tea.

Jorge Alvarado, trade attaché at the Bolivian Embassy in Caracas, said Thursday that Venezuela has extended between $200,000 and $250,000 in credits to Bolivian producers to build two plants in Chapare and Las Yungas.

Coca is the base ingredient for cocaine, but the leaves also have medicinal properties and other traditional uses.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is seeking to process and commercialize coca into legal products such as coca tea, coca flour, coca-flavored liquor and coca toothpaste.

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U.S. Investment in Venezuela Down in '06

U.S. investment in Venezuela likely plummeted last year because of mistrust in changes being imposed on the economy by President Hugo Chavez's leftist government, the head of a local business chamber said in remarks published Thursday.

Edmond Saade, president of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was quoted by the El Universal newspaper as saying that annual U.S. investment in Venezuela has ranged between US$600 million (euro462 million at current exchange rates) to US$1 billion (euro777 million) in recent years.

But at the end of September, U.S. investment had only reached US$25.3 million (euro19.4 million) and was expected to have ended 2006 at around US$30 million (euro23 million), "about 4 or 5 percent of the normal volume," Saade told the paper.

Saade attributed the drop to investors' "mistrust" about the state of Venezuela's economy caused in part by a lack of "clear, defined rules of the game."

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Chavez as Castro? It's not that simple in Venezuela

Alarm bells are sounding in Washington, on Wall Street and around the world over President Hugo Chavez's latest moves to consolidate his Bolivarian Revolution in oil-rich Venezuela. He is — we are told — shutting down a television station, creating a single-party state, nationalizing key industries including some major oil projects, threatening perpetual re-election and vowing to impose "21st century socialism."

On the surface, it seems to Chavez's critics that he is finally doing what they have long predicted — creating a totalitarian state in the image of his mentor, Fidel Castro. But the situation in Venezuela is a little more complex than what many in the media and the establishment make it out to be. Take, for example, Chavez's decision not to renew the license of RCTV television network when it expires in May.

At first blush, this would certainly seem to be reason for alarm — a government shutting down a television station because it doesn't like its editorial bent. But RCTV is not exactly your average television station. In April 2002, it promoted and participated in a coup against Chavez in which a democratically elected president was overthrown by military rebels and disappeared for two days until large street protests and a counter-coup returned him to power.

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Venezuela claims major oil stake

The Venezuelan government will take majority control of oil projects in the Orinoco River basin by May 1 and any foreign oil company that resists can leave, President Hugo Chavez said Thursday as he elaborated on his sweeping nationalization plans.

Chavez told a news conference that his government is "not posing any conflict" to oil companies British Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Total SA and Statoil ASA that are upgrading heavy oil in the Orinoco.

Chavez, who a day earlier was given power by congress to issue laws by decree in energy and other areas, said he was ready to sign a decree for the nationalization of the four Orinoco projects by May 1. He said that state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, would take a stake of "no less than 60 percent."

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Venezuela Inflation Rate Rises Sharply

Venezuela's inflation rate rose sharply in January despite government efforts to control prices that climbed faster than in any other Latin American country last year.

The 2 percent jump in January far exceeded the 0.8 percent rise registered during the same month last year, according to central bank figures released Thursday. Prices rose by 1.8 percent in December, the bank said.

Near-record public spending by the oil-rich government of President Hugo Chavez has helped stoke inflation. The leftist government has spent billions on social programs that include subsidized food for the poor and cash benefits for single mothers.

Experts say that despite strong growth, the economy is not generating enough goods and services to soak up the excess liquidity.

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