Zoellick hits at U.S. on trade, says Chavez's clout waning

Thu Jun 7, 2012 9:40pm EDT
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By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Outgoing World Bank chief Robert Zoellick on Thursday called for a new partnership in the Americas, criticizing the United States for insufficient leadership on trade and saying that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's political influence is waning.

In a politically pointed speech, which is unusual for the head of the global development institution, Zoellick urged strengthened ties between North and South America through more cooperation in trade, energy and security.

Chavez, a long-time antagonist of the United States, is embarking on his most challenging re-election campaign while battling cancer, with an opposition united behind his rival Henrique Capriles.

While Chavez is expected to win the October 7 election, his critics say his "revolutionary" economic policies - including waves of nationalizations - has sharply weakened the economy, fueled inflation and scared away foreign investors at a time when the country is faced with a slump in oil production.

Much criticized by the opposition are his preferential oil deals, under which foreign allies receive Venezuelan fuel at easy terms, including in exchange for food and other products.

"Chavez's days are numbered. If his subsidies to Cuba and Nicaragua are cut, those regimes will be in trouble," Zoellick said in prepared text for a speech to the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

"The democrats of Latin America - left, center, and right - should be preparing. The calls for democracy - for an end to intimidating thugs, human rights, fair elections, and rule of law - should come from all its capitals," he added.

Zoellick, who steps down as World Bank president on June 30 when his five-year term ends, said Brazil could play a greater role in global security by preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.   Continued...

World Bank President Robert Zoellick attends a news conference at the end of the Development Committee session during the semi-annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington April 21, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst