For many months now, energy stability has been a hot topic in Washington. Local government officials, Congressmen, and even the President have raised the issue with as much fervor as they do the “war on terror”, suggesting that securing accessible energy for its citizens is of maximum importance. But recent actions and statements by the Bush Administration signal that this may not be altogether true, especially when stability means working with nations that have chosen a different path to economic development.

Today, just 90 miles south of our southern US border, Caribbean countries are working to support each other’s energy needs by participating in a program initiated by the Venezuelan government. Known as Petrocaribe, this program has for the first time brought affordable energy to the region. Financing costly oil imports is a continuous problem for most Caribbean nations who face higher prices due to oil access coming primarily through international trade, which requires payment of an additional premium.

In response to this, the Venezuelan government established Petrocaribe last year. Specifically, it was set up to ease the energy burden on the Caribbean by eliminating the middleman and directly providing countries with oil at market prices, made affordable through the use of beneficial financing terms. This financing arrangement helps to ensure the energy security of member countries and stimulates their economic and social development. Currently, most Caribbean countries are members of Petrocaribe with the exception of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

A significant part of the Venezuelan initiative is aimed at developing the energy infrastructure of the region, diversifying member countries’ energy sources, and increasing efficiency. There are also plans to use the savings produced from the beneficial financing agreements to foster economic and social development in each participating country, creating a viable way to attack poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and inadequate health care.

While this program has been reported on from time to time in the press, what is less well known is the somewhat similar energy assistance that Venezuela has provided to the U.S. despite the Bush administration’s openly hostile attitude toward the Chavez administration.

Hoping to contribute to U.S. energy stability in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a series of energy offers to the United States. In early September of 2005 the Citgo Corporation, the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state owned oil company PDVSA, pledged $25,000 toward relief efforts and donated another $1 Million to the American Red Cross. The Venezuelan government also offered two mobile hospital units, each capable of assisting 300 people, 120 specialists in search and rescue operations, 10 water purifying plants, 18 electricity generators, 20 tons of bottled water, and 50 tons of canned food to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. To offset the rising gas prices, Venezuela further offered to infuse the market with two and a half million extra barrels of oil at market price. In the aftermath of the storm, this increase in market supply would decrease prices and make energy affordable again to the region.

But the Americans rejected the vast majority of these offers, accepting only the market-value oil. And while Venezuela demonstrated that even in a crisis it would be a reliable source of energy for the United States, it was prevented from providing humanitarian assistance to those who direly needed it. This assistance, along with countless other energy agreements that could be initiated if only the Bush administration was willing, no doubt could have saved lives and contributed to our nation’s energy stability during a critical time.

Although Venezuela couldn’t directly aid the Louisiana poor during this tragedy, it was able to extend its humanitarian efforts to other Americans in need through a discounted heating oil program in the northeast. This program ended up serving more than 150,000 families and many homeless shelters last winter.

With all the political talk these days about reducing energy dependence on the Middle East, finding a viable partner in the hemisphere that we can depend on seems like a logical solution. Venezuela is the answer. Unfortunately to the detriment of the average American, this partnership continues to be impeded by the Bush administration’s adversarial relationship with Venezuela and her political and economic aspirations. Just last week, Washington announced that it would assign a “mission manager” to coordinate intelligence gathering on Venezuela and Cuba. Currently only North Korea and Iran have such high-level intelligence managers, signaling that the administration will continue its hostile stance toward the Venezuelan government.

Every nation has the right to pursue its own political and economic path to development even if it differs from the neo-liberal, free trade model touted by Washington. Supported by the vast majority of Venezuelans who have elected President Chavez, Venezuela has chosen a form of direct democracy and endogenous development that best serves its people. Nevertheless, despite the U.S.’ unwillingness to respect this sovereign decision, Venezuela continues to offer energy, development, and humanitarian assistance to low-income Americans. In fact, this winter Venezuela plans to provide free eye surgery to needy Americans suffering from cataracts and glaucoma, and will double the amount of discounted heating oil delivered to needy communities throughout the United States.

With Venezuela’s presidential elections drawing near in December and all polls showing that Chavez will likely win by a wide margin once more, respecting the will of the Venezuelan people and their democratically elected president is the best way for America to secure energy stability far into the future. If the Bush administration really wants to provide affordable energy for Americans, fostering respectful and cooperative relations with Venezuela must be a priority.

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