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Bolstered by windfall oil profits, Chavez’s government is now offering more direct state funding to Latin America and the Caribbean than the United States. A tally by The Associated Press shows Venezuela has pledged more than $8.8 billion in aid, financing and energy funding so far this year.
While the most recent figures available from Washington show $3 billion in U.S. grants and loans reached the region in 2005, it isn’t known how much of the Venezuelan money has actually been delivered.
Opponents say Chavez is spending haphazardly on "giveaways" abroad at a time when more than a quarter of Venezuelans still live on less than $3 a day. They question how long he can sustain it since government revenues are highly dependent on fluctuating oil prices.
Chavez argues much of the funding brings benefits back to Venezuela, including oil-related investments and other cooperative exchanges. He says billions more are being spent within Venezuela, and cites social programs credited with helping to reduce poverty.
Most of the funding — $6.3 billion — involves energy projects, some of which directly benefit Venezuela's oil industry, such as a $3.5 billion refinery to be built in Nicaragua. That also includes funding for electricity plants in Haiti and Bolivia, and an estimated $1.6 billion in fuel financing to at least 17 nations.