- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez left Britain yesterday after a visit during which he enhanced his status as a ringmaster of international oil politics.

The Venezuelan populist, who sits astride the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves, used a press conference with London Mayor Ken Livingstone to make an extraordinary offer to supply cheap fuel directly to poor Britons facing soaring energy bills.

“We have two refineries here, one in the north, one in the south,” said Mr. Chavez, who also met trade unionists and Labor Party lawmakers, although not Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, during his two-day visit.

“These refineries would be used to help the neediest people in London, in Great Britain, especially in the winter,” Mr. Chavez said. “If prices continue to rise, people will not be able to afford them. People will die.”

The Venezuelan has used similar schemes to supply bargain fuel to neighboring countries and even to poor communities in the United States — much to the ire of those in Washington who regard him as a dangerous populist.

Mr. Livingstone — who later hosted a lunch for Mr. Chavez, 100 luminaries of the British political left and Peter Voser, the chief financial officer of oil giant Shell International — said his officials were discussing the logistics of the idea.

“Anything that could be done by the president to ease the oil cost burden of a world city would be welcome,” said the mayor.

In exchange, London would offer Caracas the benefit of its expertise in “traffic management schemes.”

Mr. Chavez, a central figure in the new generation of leftist leaders in Latin America, also took the opportunity to return to a favorite subject: the policies of the U.S. president.

Describing President Bush as “the worst criminal in the human race.” Mr. Chavez urged Britain and Europe to prevent the “madness” of an escalating confrontation with Iran, warning that military action would send oil prices through the roof.

Though his proclamations were greeted with applause in the council chamber of the London Assembly, others were displeased. Bob Neill, leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, said Mr. Chavez’s cheap-oil offer was no more than a “political bribe.”

Mr. Neill said he and six Venezuelan dissidents were denied access to the assembly building yesterday morning on “security grounds.”

He added, “Any questions of relations between Venezuela and Britain should be negotiated through the government. Mr. Livingstone is not some sort of alternative foreign secretary.”

Mr. Chavez also attended a meeting of the “Friends of Venezuela” group of lawmakers at Parliament.

The group is chaired by Labor member Colin Burgon, who said Mr. Chavez’s popularity stemmed from his frequent attacks on Mr. Bush.

“We in Britain are in danger of subcontracting out most of our foreign policy to Washington. Chavez is the antidote to that,” Mr. Burgon said.

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