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Venezuela proud of ties to Wisconsin By Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Venezuela proud of ties to Wisconsin

Posted: Sept. 9, 2007

Venezuela is among the top five oil exporting countries, and our crude oil reserves will soon be certified at 316 billion barrels, making us the largest holder of such reserves in the world, surpassing even Saudi Arabia.

Without a doubt, energy is the engine of the Venezuelan economy, and we fully realize that the current and future well-being of our people depends on the revenue from a vibrant and growing Venezuelan energy sector. Our country is committed to that growth and serving the needs of all of its energy customers, including the United States.

But whereas in the past, our oil riches benefited only the elites in our country, our fundamental priority is to assure that our natural resources are managed to provide the maximum benefit for our citizens. For the first time in our history, we are putting oil revenue to work for our people to create a new societal model to eliminate the economic inequalities and the abject poverty that has characterized our country for far too long.

Much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done. More than 14 million Venezuelans who previously never had access to health care now do; 1.5 million Venezuelans who were illiterate can now read and write; and millions of Venezuelans who could not continue their schooling beyond elementary school are now going on to high school and college.

The poverty rate has decreased from 43.9% in 1999 to 30.4% today; unemployment has decreased from 15% in 1999 to 8.3% today; Venezuela's economy, among the fastest-growing in the world, grew at a 10.3% rate last year.

Venezuela has become the U.S.' second-largest trading partner in Latin America. Venezuela is Wisconsin's 11th-largest foreign trading partner. Exports from Milwaukee alone to Venezuela have increased almost 500% between 2004 and 2006, from a value of $28.6 million to
$132.9 million last year.

The vision for our country is based on a straightforward premise. All Venezuelans are part of a community working together so all of our citizens have the opportunity and the means to live a life of dignity and to develop to their fullest potential.

This vision of inclusion encompasses people beyond our borders as well. Working together with the people of the U.S., the cause of social justice and economic gain can be advanced not only in our country but in the hemisphere as a whole.

We are proud of the role Citgo Petroleum Corp., the wholly owned subsidiary of our national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., has played in distributing more than 1.58 million gallons of home heating oil to low-income households in Milwaukee last winter that benefited more than 10,000 families in the area, resulting in cost savings for these families of more than $2.5 million.

We are proud of our providing affordable energy to countries in the Caribbean.

We are proud of our commitment to energy conservation and the need to address the perils of global warming in both big and small ways. "Changing a light; change Wisconsin" is a program, for example, that has its exact counterpart in Venezuela.

We are proud that Carora is Milwaukee's sister city in Venezuela.

Venezuela is undergoing dynamic change. Although the means are uniquely our own, the values that underpin our efforts are, in many respects, little different from the values that spurred the storied progressive movement of which Wisconsin is justifiably proud.

On the basis of such shared values, we hope to engage the people of Wisconsin, and the entire U.S., to achieve a greater understanding between our two countries to the benefit of each.
Bernardo Alvarez is Venezuela's ambassador to the United States.

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