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2005-08-29 15:05:59

Bahamas Not Concerned About Chavez Controversy

Minister Mitchell said, 'clearly our alliances would generally line up with the United States.'

Even though international press reports speak of growing friction between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the United States, The Bahamas has no concerns at this time that it may be forced to take sides, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell indicated recently.

Mr. Chavez, whose country is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, has threatened to cut oil exports to the United States and has become one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been strained ever since a failed coup in April 2002, which Mr. Chavez accused the Americans of spearheading.

He has also accused the United States of trying to overthrow his government and plotting to assassinate him.

In late June, The Bahamas joined other countries in the region in signing the Petrocaribe oil deal, whereby Venezuela has promised to provide cheaper fuel and fuel products to help drive down energy costs.

Minister Mitchell said there is no reason for concern.

"As you know The Bahamas has no enemies," he said. "We have friendly relations with all countries, including Venezuela. We are all in the Organization of American States and so to that extent [we] work on common issues."

Minister Mitchell noted, however, "Our closest relationship is with the United States of America. If it comes down ultimately to some situation where it's U.S. against Venezuela, clearly our alliances would generally line up with the United States."

Earlier this week, American religious broadcaster Pat Robertson called for Mr. Chavez's assassination, sparking a firestorm and outrage from some in the Caribbean and Latin American region, but Minister Mitchell indicated that there was no cause for alarm on The Bahamas' end.

"The United States Government itself through a spokesman at the White House on behalf of the U.S. president disavowed any connection with the comments and that is sufficient for us," he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Robertson said, "I apologize for the statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

On Monday, he had said, "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but 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."

Mr. Chavez, meanwhile, was busy continuing to build alliances in the region. After visiting Cuba and sealing closer ties with President Fidel Castro, he headed to Jamaica where officials there signed an agreement to enact the Petrocaribe initiative.

When asked by The Bahama Journal recently what Venezuela stood to gain from the Petrocaribe initiative, Minister of Trade and Industry Leslie Miller said that the nation was only trying to help other countries in the region and he did not believe that Mr. Chavez had any ulterior motive.

On Wednesday, Minister Mitchell indicated that local officials were closely watching the Chavez controversy.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are constantly doing an analysis of all of these movements and will advise the government on what our positions would be as they unfold," he said.

Stephen Gay, The Bahama Journal

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