Venezuela Generals Tap Businessman to Lead; Fall of Chavez Means Castro Gets No More Oil
Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Fidel Castro was snubbed and U.S. motorists caught a break as governments across the hemisphere scrambled yesterday to assess the stunning fall of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the left-wing populist ousted under military pressure Thursday after weeks of social unrest.
The new manager of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) declared that the ex-president's policy of cultivating ties with Cuba's strongman through subsidized energy trade had been revoked.
"We're not going to send a single barrel more of oil to Cuba," Edgar Paredes, head of sales and refining at the oil giant told cheering PDVSA workers.
Venezuela under Mr. Chavez had become Cuba's largest trading partner and leading diplomatic ally on the continent, shipping up to 53,000 barrels of cut-rate oil to Cuba each day.
Meanwhile, the price of crude oil staged its biggest drop in five months, falling 6.1 percent to $23.47 a barrel in New York after PDVSA workers moved to bring production and exports to full capacity.
Monopoly executive Horacio Medina estimated that operations will be back to normal within a week.
Since the South American nation supplies 13 percent of oil consumed by the United States, analysts predicted pump prices could fall as much as 10 cents in the next month.
Public reaction from many of Venezuela's neighbors was muted, despite the fact that Mr. Chavez had been repeatedly accused of cultivating ties to Marxist insurgency groups in countries such as Colombia and Peru.
Private relief at seeing Mr. Chavez go was tempered by concerns about instability in Caracas and unease about the process that removed a democratically elected leader.
"It's worrying, but we already know that in a deeply divided country, democracy falls apart," said Peru's president, Alejandro Toledo, speaking to reporters at a summit of 19 Central and South American countries in Costa Rica.
In a carefully worded statement, the Latin American leaders "condemned the interruption of constitutional order" in Venezuela, but stopped far short of calling for Mr. Chavez's restoration to power.
Both Peru and Mexico announced they would delay formal recognition of the new government in Caracas as it prepared for a promised round of elections.
"Coups do not help anyone," said Argentina President Eduardo Duhalde.
The Bush administration has made its unhappiness with Mr. Chavez increasingly clear in recent months, citing his confrontational governing style, his embrace of Cuba and his ties to fellow Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries members Libya and Iraq.
Mr. Chavez infuriated U.S. officials in October when he held up a photograph of dead Afghan children and said the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan must halt what he called "the slaughter of innocents."
He also slammed the U.S. role in the fight against narcotics traffickers in neighboring Colombia, amid continuing reports that Venezuela had established its own ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest leftist rebel group fighting the Colombian government. …