Caracas, 20 September (Argus) — Several key governments allied with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez appear to be hedging their bets ahead of the much-anticipated 7 October election, in which the long-serving president will face his most formidable opponent since taking power in 1999.
Since the start of August, the governments of China, Russia, Cuba, Spain, Italy and France have initiated direct contact with opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Those countries are all home to several key energy company partners of Venezuelan state-owned oil company PdV.
The ambassador-level contacts with China and Russia have taken place in Caracas. Last week three representatives of Capriles also met in Havana with Cuban president Raul Castro, first vice-president Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and an unnamed senior Cuban army official to discuss future bilateral relations.
Contacts between Capriles´ team and the governments of Spain, Italy and France run deeper, with informal meetings between technical working groups on health care, education and other issues, according to Capriles' campaign officials.
Chinese and Russian companies as well as Spain´s Repsol, Italy´s Eni and France´s Total have joint ventures with PdV. Cuba is a strong political and economic ally of the Chavez regime.
Capriles met in Bogota yesterday with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, at the latter's official invitation, to discuss bilateral relations between the countries. During that meeting, Colombian foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin relayed to Capriles an invitation from Brazil's foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, to meet president Dilma Rousseff and members of her government in Brasilia before the election.
PdV has a tentative agreement with Brazil´s state-controlled Petrobras to take a 40pc stake in the 230,000 b/d Abreu e Lima refinery currently under construction in Brazil´s Pernambuco state. The deal hinges on PdV´s ability to secure financial guarantees that have been long-delayed, and the Venezuelan company has missed several deadlines for payment to Brazil over the years.
An aide to Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said today that Chavez is aware of the contacts between his political opponent and some of his closest longtime international allies.
The meetings take place amid preliminary indications that Capriles may be narrowing the gap with Chavez, and perhaps even pulling ahead, although local polling can be unreliable.
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