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Giving the U.S. bad rep by giving billions

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks at the National Assembly in Caracas.

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Tess Vigeland: Dale Carnegie's 1936 classic "How to Make Friends and Influence People" lists six ways to do just that. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent the last several months adding a seventh method to win friends and influence around Latin America: Throw oil money around.

Today, the Associated Press decided to add up his largess. This year alone, it came to $8.8 billion. Makes the $3 billion the U.S. gives look kinda paltry, doesn't it?

From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech takes a peek behind the numbers.


Dan Grech: Health clinics in Bolivia. Electricity plants in Haiti. AIDS treatment in Nicaragua.

Adam Isacson: It does sound like Chavez is going around the region like Santa Claus, promising everything.

Adam Isacson's with the Center for International Policy. He says the fact that Venezuela has pledged its neighbors $9 billion is shocking.

Isacson: But more shocking is how little aid the United States gives in Latin America. It's much stingier and it's gone down significantly in constant dollar terms since the end of the Cold War. Latin America is really off the map.

Bruce Bagley: Chavez has used these monies to show-up the United States.

That's Bruce Bagley with the University of Miami. He says the U.S. offers military funding, debt relief and small-business loans. Meanwhile, Chavez offers free eye surgery to poor people.

Bagley: Chavez has been far more effective than our public diplomacy. He's certainly made inroads, and has continued to chip away at the United States' reputation throughout the region.

U.S. policymakers say Venezuela can't keep all of its aid promises.And the U.S. has learned over the years that Chavez-style handouts simply don't work.

Susan Kaufman Purcell directs the Center for Hemispheric Studies in Miami:

Susan Kaufman Purcell: Part of it is the whole argument that you can give a guy a fish, or you can teach him how to fish. The U.S. side says we're trying to teach them how to fish.

But impoverished Latin Americans feel like they're drowning, and a fishing pole doesn't float.

I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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