During my first (of two) years working at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras in the ‘90s, electricity rationing was the norm. 12 regularly scheduled hours a day with and 12 without. I ate a lot of meals at the cafeteria in the Embassy – which had its own generators to keep the refrigerators running – and went to bed very, very early in the evenings. Sure, the climate was such – think Miami at 3000’ altitude – that I never needed heating or AC, yet it still wasn’t the most inspiring of periods (especially since I was doing “tourist” visa interviews, but that’s another story). So how does Hugo Chavez of Venezuela win new friends in this Hemisphere? Yes, there are the oil shipments, the housing bonds, the farm credits, and even tractors galore. But according to The Economist, he’s also sending four million low-energy light bulbs to the Hondurans. Obviously, he understands that having electricity, light, and energy efficiency makes a huge difference in peoples’ lives – quite at odds with the traditional U.S. development assistance approach of placing more emphasis on building characters than bridges. Will Chavez prove a long-term winner in the region? Whatever the case may be, some manufacturers somewhere are reaping the benefits of all the equipment he’s been procuring.

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