Idiot reporter

Chavez Offers Billions in Latin America

By NATALIE OBIKO PEARSON and IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writers

Laid-off Brazilian factory workers have their jobs back, Nicaraguan farmers are getting low-interest loans and Bolivian mayors can afford new health clinics, all thanks to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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. And Chavez's spending abroad doesn't come close to the overall volume of U.S. private investment and trade in Latin America.

Clay Lowery, the U.S. Treasury Department's acting undersecretary for international affairs, argues that the U.S. plays a larger role than reflected in its aid figures. The United States, for instance, drove Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank debt relief deals totaling $7.5 billion over the past three years in Latin America, he said.

"Who is the biggest financier of the IDB? The United States. Who is the biggest financier of the World Bank? The United States is. We don't count those," Lowery said. "We're basically engaged on a multilevel, multi-prong approach."

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