Venezuela's opposition wants to scrap preferential oil deals
PUERTO LA CRUZ, Venezuela
PUERTO LA CRUZ, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Wednesday he would scrap preferential oil deals with foreign allies if he defeats socialist President Hugo Chavez in an October election to lead the South American OPEC member.
Chavez has sought to boost his influence abroad by offering crude deals to nations in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean -- Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA was not paid directly for almost half the crude it pumped last year.
In Capriles' first major speech on his future oil policy, the 40-year-old said stopping Chavez's deals for crude on credit or in exchange for other goods would save $6.7 billion annually, which would be invested in new social programs.
"To have a friend, you don't need to buy him," Capriles said during a campaign stop a few kilometers from the Puerto La Cruz refinery. "From ... 2013, not a single free barrel of oil will leave to other countries."
The youthful former state governor named Belarus, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Argentina as countries that would stop receiving oil on preferential terms.
In 2011, PDVSA -- the fiscal motor of Chavez's socialist policies -- was not paid directly for 43 percent of its barrels of crude and oil products, rising from 36.5 percent in 2010 and 32 percent in 2009.
Many of the agreements are criticized by his opponents, especially those signed over the last decade with China, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, and the more than a dozen countries that are members of Venezuela's Petrocaribe supply program.
Chavez -- who underwent three operations for cancer over the last year -- is seeking re-election for a third term on October 7 to extend his self-styled socialist "revolution" and is spending heavily to beat Capriles.
Most opinion polls give him a double-digit lead.
'NO LEGAL CHANGES PLANNED'
Capriles is seeking to tap into pent-up frustration among many voters weary of high crime, inefficient public services and high prices. He has been on a months-long "house-by-house tour" through Venezuela meant to win over Chavez supporters and draw a comparison with the recovering president.
Capriles -- who frequently cites Norway as an example of a nation that has used its oil wealth properly to diversify the economy -- said he planned no legal changes to the oil industry, although there would be more supervision of the activities of public and private companies that are partners of PDVSA.
Chavez ordered the nationalization of dozens of crude projects in 2006 and 2007, but Venezuela has still managed to attract partners from Russia, Vietnam, Belarus and Malaysia to join PDVSA-led projects.
Companies including U.S. major Chevron, Spain's Repsol and Italy's ENI have also been drawn by the world's biggest crude reserves, which are mostly located in the Andean country's Orinoco Belt.
Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of Venezuela's exports.
Capriles promised to use the extra resources from stopping preferential deals, plus money from a planned doubling of production between 2013 and 2020, to fund programs such as raising benefits for pensioners, scholarships for mothers of handicapped children, and education.
"Where will all these resources go? Not to tanks, not to a hospital in Nicaragua, not as donations," Capriles said.