June 21, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Thursday to punish European countries that apply controversial new rules for deporting illegal immigrants by denying them oil and blocking their investments.
The EU Parliament passed new guidelines Wednesday seeking to standardize the process by which member nations deport illegal migrants. While the rules do not lay the groundwork for workplace raids like in the United States, they contain contentious measures such as providing for long detention periods.
Chavez said in a televised speech that the measure shows "signs of fascism," and predicted that countries would have to "build concentration camps" to hold millions of immigrants.
"Our oil shouldn't go to those countries" that adopt the policy, he said.
Venezuela sells most of its oil to the United States despite political tensions between the two nations, but is only a minor supplier to Europe. Some European companies operate in Venezuela, including France's Total and Norway's Statoil.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg laughed off the threat.
"As far as I know, Venezuela supplies oil mostly to the U.S. ... so it would not be that much of a deal," he told journalists at an EU summit.
Chavez also warned that if a European country were to lock up Colombians, Paraguayans, Bolivians or Ecuadoreans, companies from that nation doing business in Venezuela would come under scrutiny.
"We aren't going to take anyone prisoner, but the company would have to take its investments back there," he said.
Until now, there has been no common EU policy on deporting illegal immigrants, and detention periods varied from 32 days in France to indefinite custody in Britain, the Netherlands and five other countries.
The new guidelines allow migrants to be held in specialized detention centers - not jails - for up to 18 months before being expelled. It also mandates that detained migrants are provided basic rights such as access to free legal advice, and that unaccompanied children or families with children should be held only as a last resort.
Chavez noted that Venezuela has good relations with many European countries, such as France, and said it has "turned the page" with Spain after a flap over its king telling him to shut up at a summit last year.
But if Europe pursues this course on immigration, he said, "why have more summits with the European Union?"