At the end of a Texas tour here in Houston, ambassador Bernardo Alvarez made it clear that in general, trade with the United States, and Texas specifically, is very profitable and an important part of both county's economies. But he says because of new political realities in Venezuela, including the re-election of president Hugo Chavez in late 2006, the United States must accept change when it comes to the country's energy policy.
"When people ask me, what would you advise the U.S., I'd say, just adjust your vision. Try to see that what is going on there is not an accident, is not a threat, is not the end of the world. It is the result of a social, political and economic process."
Since his reelection, Chavez has moved quickly to nationalize the country's oil industry, including taking control of many foreign oil operations in Venezuela. Last month, Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Dallas-area based Exxon Mobil opted to walk away from operations in Venezuela rather than have them taken over by the government. Alvarez says for too long the balance of the oil business in Venezuela has been tilted to the advantage of foreign companies. He says things are changing.
"It's not a threat. It's an expression of the new times. I really want to convey that we might not agree, but please understand that there is a new era and we have to adjust our vision to understand, to interpret and to work together with this new era and take advantage of the possibilities."
Although the ambassador's trip to the United States was not directly related to the oil issue, he spent the majority of his time at a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon addressing the frosty relationship between President Chavez and new energy policies that have angered the Bush administration. Port of Houston Authority Chairman Jim Edmonds says the message is clear.
"He's right. The president has been elected and reelected and he's going to be there for some period of time and I guess his challenge to us is to accept who we are and work with us. They're kind of at the top of the food chain when it comes to heavy crude in the world, and so I suppose as a consuming nation we have to look at that and look at our needs and determine whether or not we want to access that resource."
Venezuela has a gross domestic product of $186 million and was an early member of OPEC. It has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.