Exxon vs. Chavez vs. Bush
Hugo Chavez is at it again, railing against "Mr. Danger" (President Bush) in retaliation for a legal move by the Exxon Corporation. Last year the Venezuelan government had nationalized oil drilling properties, and a U.S. Federal court just issued an order freezing $12 billion of assets owned by the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA. Chavez claims that the valuation is grossly exaggerated, saying that the properties are worth no more than $1.2 billion. It is unclear why Chavez thinks Bush had anything to do with this, but it may reflect his lack of awareness of the concept of separation of powers. (He never let a thing like that stop him from doing what he wanted to.) To show that he is serious, Chavez threatened to declare an embargo on Venezuelan oil exports to the United States, which is one of the reasons for the recent spike in gasoline prices.
In the past few days, Venezuela has reached compensation settlements with all of the foreign oil firms other than Exxon that were subject to expropriation: Total of France, Statoil of Norway and ENI of Italy. That puts the U.S. company in a negotiating bind, and they may have to back down if they want to get anything. See BBC.
This dispute represents a major escalation in the long anti-imperialist crusade by Chavez, one with the potential for devastating consequences around the world. It is an echo of the diplomatic clashes over the nationalizations by Peru and other Latin American countries during the 1960s and 1970s. (The more things change...) Even though Venezuela would certainly suffer more than the United States in the event of a cessation of oil exports, that probably doesn't matter to someone as vainglorious and spite-prone as Chavez is.