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Venezuela's Ambassador Seeking Closer Ties to N.M.

( New Mexico-03/04/2003 ) Venezuela's ambassador to the United States is visiting New Mexico, a trip aimed at creating new economic and cultural ties.

Bernardo Alvarez Herrera heads a delegation that met Monday with lawmakers and Gov. Bill Richardson.

Meetings are planned later this week with representatives of the oil and gas industry, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico.

The delegation also plans to visit museums and the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Alvarez said he would talk about issues ranging from possible joint ventures between private-sector energy companies in Venezuela and New Mexico to a swap of art between the state and his country.

Heavily Hispanic New Mexico, which has some cultural commonalities with Venezuela, is a natural starting point for strengthening ties with the United States that go beyond its energy relationship, the ambassador told the state Senate.

"We would like to build a very friendly and stable relationship between our two nations," Alvarez said.

He also reiterated that his nation's oil production is recovering since coming to a virtual standstill in February because of political turmoil and strikes.

"Venezuela is coming back to full production," he said.

Venezuelan officials said last week in Washington, D.C., that the country was exporting about 1.5 million barrels a day, about half its average daily export last year.

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil producer and a major source of oil for the United States, accounting for about 14 percent of U.S. oil imports last year.

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