Venezuela Seeks Puerto Rican Partnership

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The head of Puerto Rico's state-owned power company welcomed a Venezuelan delegation to the U.S. territory on Tuesday, downplaying verbal assaults by their leader who has called the American president the devil.

Jorge Rodriguez, the top official with the Electric Energy Authority, said tensions that Caracas might have with Washington did not carry over into discussions about trade and energy with the Caribbean island.

"That doesn't stop us from having a relationship" with Venezuela, Rodriguez said. "The meeting was very good, very fruitful."

Venezuela wants to strengthen economic and political ties with the self-governing, Spanish-speaking island, said Jorge Valero, the South American country's ambassador to the Organization of American States.

He said delegates promised to introduce Puerto Rican mayors to Venezuelan educational and health programs, inviting some to visit Venezuela to establish sister-city agreements.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has rallied opposition to U.S. policies throughout the hemisphere and frequently ridiculed President George W. Bush, calling him "the devil" in a speech last year at the United Nations.

Asked Monday if Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. commonwealth would dissuade increased cooperation, Valero said Chavez wants to begin a "new era" in diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. territory.

A message left Tuesday with a spokesman for the State Department, which has responsibility for the island's external affairs, was not immediately returned.