* Opposition target Chavez’s preferential energy deals
* Polls show agreements unpopular with many Venezuelans
By Diego Ore
CARACAS, Nov 10 (Reuters) - A leading opposition candidate hoping to challenge Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez at next year’s presidential election would revise preferential oil deals with Cuba and other Central American nations if he wins.
Pablo Perez, governor of the oil-rich western state of Zulia, is one of three front-runners who will take part in an opposition primary in February to pick a unity candidate to take on Chavez at the main vote in October. [ID:nN1E7A00MM]
Chavez has closely allied himself and his socialist “revolution” with communist-led Cuba.
“Venezuela is losing $8 billion (a year) because of gifts that are given out by the government. With that money we can generate 1.1 million jobs,” Perez told Reuters this week after a walking tour of Caracas’s upmarket Chacao district.
The 42-year-old lawyer did not elaborate, but the opposition frequently bash what they say are overly-generous oil deals that the Chavez government has made with political allies including Cuba and some Central American states.
If an opposition candidate defeats Chavez next year and ends the former soldier’s 13 years in power, they would all be expected to review these deals. The majority of the agreements are unpopular with Venezuelans, according to opinion polls.
Venezuela sends about 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil to Cuba. In exchange, thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and teachers work in Venezuela, including in projects such as President Chavez’s signature socialist “missions” in slums.
Cuba’s struggling economy is closely intertwined with that of Venezuela, which as well as supplying about two-thirds of Cuba’s oil needs is also refurbishing the island’s antiquated refineries and planning to build a new one.
The OPEC member also makes about 185,000 bpd available to Caribbean countries on preferential terms under its Petrocaribe energy alliance. Such deals buy Chavez political influence, but the opposition accuses him of squandering national resources.
The president says his rivals want to reverse his social policies in the country’s poorest areas and to rid the nation of Cuban workers. For full coverage, click on: [ID:nCHAVEZ] (Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Anthony Boadle)