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Venezuela: The government of Hugo Chávez gives funds to the Republicans

By Gerardo Reyes, El Nuevo Herald

Whilst President Hugo Chávez is embroiled in verbal battles with officials from the Department of State, his government contributed in 2002 with the Republican Party in the United States through CITGO, Petroleum subsidiary of Venezuela (PDVSA), according to documents consulted by the New Herald.

Last month PDVSA signed two contracts of lobbying and legal consultancies with companies of Washington and in October with Patton Boggs LLC, this last one for $1,2 million.

The political contributions and the lobby campaigns are new signals of what some analysts perceive as the double speech in the relations between the United States and Venezuela.

Rhetorically, they say, is an aggressive relation, but actually it seems more pragmatic on the part of Venezuela than of the United States. “It is the duality that Chávez plays because he knows that revolutions do not live without money and he knows the weakness of Americans,'' said Maria Teresa Romero, political analyst of the School of International Studies of the Central University of Venezuela.

At the same time, it emphasized Romero, the government of the United States continues in its position of ''wait and see '' (it hopes to see what happens) imposed by the ex- ambassador John Maisto.

CITGO gave $15.000 to the National Republican Committee on the 27th of March 2.002, two weeks before an insolvent coup d'etat against Chávez in which, according to Chávez, intelligence agencies of the government of President Bush would have participated.

The registries show that CITGO, a prosperous company with seat in Oklahoma, also contributed with the Democratic Party that year with a check of $5.000, according to the registries of electoral contributions. The date of the contribution to the Republican party, CITGO’s president was ex- general Oswaldo Contreras Maza, who was appointed to that position by Chávez himself in the year 2.000.

“At that time the rhetoric [between the governments of Venezuela and the United States] was not confrontational '', explained the spokeswoman of CITGO, Kate Robbins, when asked on the justification for the contribution.

The news of the time show a different panorama though. Chávez already had expressed strong condemnations against Bush for the Iraq bombing to which the American president responded with the request that Venezuela was not to be summoned for the meeting of the Andean countries in Peru, the 23rd of March. Robinson explained that CITGO is reviewing its electoral contribution’s policy and emphasized that from 2002 onwards no funds have been given to any American political party.

In the field of lobbying and legal consulting, PDVSA contracted with the companies Shearman & Sterling LLP and Venn Strategies to intermediate in a litigation against Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC), an American governmental corporation that offers political risk policies to American companies investing overseas.

The litigation arose after the government of president Chávez cancelled a strategic alliance abruptly with the American company Science Applications International Corp (SAIC). Said corporation had under its responsibility the handling of the computer systems of PDVSA.

The reason for the breaking of relationships mentioned by the government of Chávez was that SAIC had sabotaged PDVSA’s computer systems during the strike that paralyzed the Venezuelan oil conglomerate at the end of the 2002 and beginning of 2003.

SAIC argues that the Venezuelan government expropiated company assets and for that reason it demanded the payment of $50 million by concept of non received contractual payments.

Thomas B. Wilner, of Shearman & Sterling, explained to the New Herald that the work of its company is basically legal but that it is registered as a lobbying firm because it also includes other activities such as visits to some members of the Congress. Wilner said that he does not have information on the amounts that his company has received from PDVSA.

In a preliminary decision last month, OPIC maintained that, after the experience of SAIC, it is highly probable that they will not extend policies of political risk to companies interested in investing in Venezuela.

In previous Venezuelan governments, PDVSA contributed with the Republican and Democratic parties. In 1997 it donated $30.000 to the Republican and in 1996 it gave $91.400 to Democrats and $97.050 to the republicans.

Translation by Aleksander Boyd



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