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Chavez responds to harsh words, offers oil

By ANDREA R. MIHAILESCU, UPI Energy Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered cheap oil to poor U.S. communities following calls by U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson for his assassination.

"We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to poor communities in the United States," Chavez said at the end of a visit to Cuba Tuesday.

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Tensions have escalated between the United States and Venezuela following Robertson's remarks calling for the assassination of the leader of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.

In a TV broadcast Monday, Robertson said: "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Although he apologized, Robertson initially said his comments were misinterpreted and what he meant to say that kidnapping Chavez might be a better idea.

"I said our special forces could take him out," Robertson said. "Take him out could be a number of things, including kidnapping."

"Is it right to call for assassination?" Robertson said. "No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

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Robertson's comments immediately sparked a reaction out of Venezuela.

"Mr. Robertson has been one of this president's staunchest allies," Venezuela's ambassador to the United States Bernardo Alvarez said. "His statement demands the strongest condemnation by the White House."

While looking to distancing itself from the religious broadcaster without alienating the Christian community, Bush administration officials responded by stating assassination is not part of U.S. government policy. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Robertson is "a private citizen. Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."

Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said the Venezuelan government is considering legal action against Robertson.

The Venezuelan government has asked for assurances from the U.S. government that Chavez will be adequately protected during his visit to New York for a special session of the United Nations in September.

Last year, Chavez warned Washington that if it made an attempt at invading Venezuela or assassinating him, he would cease oil supplies to the United States. Chavez has repeatedly accused the United of plotting to assassinate him. But assassination of foreign leaders is expressly verboten by U.S. law.

Venezuela supplies some 1.3 million barrels of oil per day to the United States. Venezuelan oil supply and refineries account for approximately 7 percent of the U.S. gasoline market.

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While traveling throughout the Western Hemisphere, Chavez has offered preferential oil deals, barters and loans to governments leaning toward the left. In the last month, Venezuela forged a number deals with governments leaning left. In June, 13 Caribbean countries signed an agreement for cheap oil with Chavez.

Cuba is receiving all of its oil supplies from Venezuela in a swap for doctors and teachers.

Chavez said the United States will have little relief from rising oil prices while predicting the price of a barrel to hit $100 by 2012.

Chavez has not disclosed his plan for how poor U.S. communities will benefit from the cheap oil offer.

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