Saturday, February 9, 2008

Welcome to the big leagues

Angry rhetoric is probably not going to help Venezuela prevail in the legal battle over its seizure of Exxon Mobil assets in the South American nation. But fiery talk, a hallmark of the Hugo Chavez era, was offered Friday when Venezuela's oil minister accused the U.S. oil company of "legal terrorism" for winning court orders freezing $12 billion of the country's assets. The minister, Rafael Ramirez, said Exxon Mobil "aims to subject us to a situation of judicial terrorism, of legal terrorism," according to the Reuters international news service. "We are not going to back down, we are going to beat them in this battle," Ramirez said in Caracas. Exxon Mobil sought the freeze after Venezuela expropriated assets the company refused to sell last year when the country embarked on a campaign to gain more control over its natural resources. Other companies capitulated to Venezuela's demands. With arbitration pending, Exxon won court orders in Britain, the Netherlands and the Caribbean freezing up to $12 billion in assets controlled by state-run oil company PDVSA and another order in New York freezing $315 million in funds at a U.S. bank. A U.S. court will hear arguments on the order on Wednesday in New York, and a London court will hold a hearing on Feb. 22. Ramirez said Exxon Mobil was acting on behalf of the United States in an effort to destabilize the Chavez government, which has engaged in rhetorical battles with Washington on a number of subjects. Chavez called President Bush "the devil" in a speech at the United Nations. A U.S. government spokesman in Washington said the battle was between Venezuela and Exxon Mobil and that the Bush administration was not involved. The United States is Venezuela's biggest oil customer.

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