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Venezuela's Chavez Slams Bush Ethanol Plan

Venezuela April 12, 2007
CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday slammed US President George W. Bush's plan to substitute fuel ethanol for gasoline, joining a growing debate on the continent over use of the biofuel.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro recently called the Bush ethanol project a "genocidal" plan that would spawn world hunger, though Brazil's left-leaning government has agreed with the Bush administration to help boost the global use of ethanol.

The United States produces ethanol from corn and Brazil makes the fuel from sugar cane. The two countries intend to promote their products in developing countries.

"Substituting the consumption of gasoline with ethanol, produced from corn -- it's true madness," said Chavez during a speech on Tuesday, accompanied by top Cuban officials.

"To produce the ethanol necessary to substitute the gasoline consumed only the US, it would be necessary to cultivate nearly all the arable land on this continent," he said.

Like Castro, Chavez insists planting corn and sugar to produce fuel will waste land and water resources that could otherwise be used to grow food.

Ethanol has become an attractive fuel alternative due to the soaring price of crude oil, and even Venezuela -- which supplies around 9 percent of US oil imports -- has promoted ethanol as a substitute for lead additives in gasoline.

The criticisms by Chavez, a self-styled revolutionary and sworn enemy of Washington, appeared to put him at odds with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who has said ethanol can revolutionize the global energy business.

Brazil has the world's most advanced biofuels market after it started powering cars with ethanol three decades ago. In recent months, a global craze for renewable alternatives to gasoline has attracted big investors.

Chavez insisted he was not confronting Lula, and instead accused the US "empire" of seeking to stir up conflict between the nations.

The firebrand Chavez, whose influence has grown due to his nation's expanding oil wealth, often vies with the market-friendly Lula for influence over the continent's increasingly left-leaning governments.

Latin American leaders, including Lula and Bolivian President Evo Morales, are slated to meet next week in Venezuela to discuss energy integration plans, most of which have been promoted by Venezuela.

Chavez on Tuesday urged fellow Latin American governments to shun ethanol and instead rely on Venezuela's reserves of oil and gas for their energy needs.

"Latin America should not worry about its energy supply, because all the oil and fuel it needs is here in Venezuela," he said.

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