Thu, Sep 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

London's `Red Ken' strikes deal with President Chavez

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The point at which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided that London should serve as a model for services and governance in Caracas was not immediately apparent. He came in May, visited City Hall amid much controversy and fanfare, and was soon gone.

But the result of his visit is likely to be an extraordinary deal struck with London Mayor Ken Livingstone that would see Caracas benefit from the capital's expertise in policing, tourism, transport, housing and waste disposal.

London, meanwhile, would gain the most obvious asset the Venezuelans have to give: cheap oil. Possibly more than a million barrels of the stuff.

South American diesel would be supplied by Venezuela -- the world's fifth-largest oil exporter -- as fuel for some of the capital's 8,000 buses, particularly those services most utilized by the poor.

The exchange arises from the high-profile offer Chavez made to London during his visit to City Hall in May. Since then officials have been meeting in London and Caracas to bring the barter deal about.

On Tuesday Livingstone confirmed that the agreement was in the making, and finer details were being thrashed out.

"We have poor people in London. We are the richest city in Europe and yet we have the disgrace of child poverty," he said. "They have a vast population living in slums, and we have a lot of experience in terms of housing policy and all the things we know about how to take a city and make it function."

But opponents are unconvinced. Angie Bray, the leader of London's Tories, dismissed the scheme as a "propaganda fest."

She said: "Ken and the president of Venezuela should be ashamed of themselves for even contemplating such a proposal. I'm sure the Venezuelans who struggle below the poverty line, many of them critically so, would be shocked at the cynical siphoning off of their main asset to provide one of the world's most prosperous cities with cheap oil."

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