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Saturday
Lagniappe

Chávez on Tour Obama in Negative?

By Carolina Barros / Buenos Aires Herald

In the same spirit which which he spearheaded the counter-summit to George W. Bush's Americas Summit presence in Mar del Plata in October, 2005, Hugo Chávez has again chosen Argentina to start a Latin American tour in order to make amends for Barack Obama, who visited Brazil, Chile and El Salvador barely 10 days ago. Needless to say, he is also seeking to bring solace to those in the region who, like the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, felt slighted by the United States president. A generous subcontinent, which can offer the Bolivarian side of the coin.

There are differences, of course. Unlike Obama, the Venezuelan has already been to Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia (this week's itinerary with a day in each stop) any number of times it is one of the obvious advantages of having being glued to the presidential seat for the last 12 years. And unlike Obama, who came with a 1,000-strong entourage of officials and businessmen to wrap up new trade deals with Brazil and Chile (in satellite technology, energy and infrastructure), Hugo Chávez has come, above all, on a profit-taking exercise. To reap what he has sown.

It's really quite simple. Although the conflicts in the Arab world are turning 2011 into a promising year for Venezuela in terms of oil revenues (yesterday a barrel of Brent closed at 115.64 dollars when the 2010 average was 79.64 dollars), Chávez faces a double and urgent need for new cash injections for his warchest. Firstly, to re-invest in exploration since Venezuela, the continent's biggest oil producer, today has 20,000 oil-wells closed down due to deficient investment and worse administration (the recent four-billion-dollar investment agreement with China to fund exploration in the Orinoco Belt was geared in that direction). Secondly (and related to the first), Chávez urgently needs to put together as much cash as he can as soon as he can for the 2012 presidential elections and is campaigning to counter the current plunge in his image and voting intentions.

As for his entourage, apart from Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro (tersely silent in contrast to our chattering and Twittering Héctor Timerman as Maduro told this reporter some months ago: "I don't talk when I'm outside my country") and the presidential daughter Rosa Chávez (a Bolivarian counterpart of Malia and Sasha Obama, who accompanied their father on his Latin American tour), there was Rafael Ramirez, Energy Minister and president of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

Boats

According to the AVN Venezuelan news agency, in the installations of Tandanor shipping company located south of this city, the two presidents signed 12 co-operation agreements. A modest total, compared to an average of over 20 signed at previous summits. But it was the same old story Argentina importing Venezuelan fuel oil (to the tune of 4.807 million tons in the 2004-9 period just to fuel electric power plants at a cost of 1.26 billion dollars, a debt falling due this year) in exchange for cars, food and factory construction (a project dating from 2008 and later joined by Iran, in which Argentina will help to build "200 socialist factories" in the Caribbean country).

A contract for the construction of 16 tanker barges (for the sum of 83 million dollars), was also signed by Tandanor shipyards CEO Mario Fadel and Andrés Guzmán, the former head of the controversial Argentine-Paraguayan shipping company Fluviomar and now the CEO of Fluvialba, the mixed company arising from its merger with Venezuela's Albanave, a PDVSA division. As Chávez has explained more than once, Fluvialba is the Argentine-Venezuelan company which will hopefully navigate the Hidrovía waterway (the connection via the Paraná and Paraguay Rivers between the River Plate estuary, the Argentine North-west, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and southern Brazil) to transport Venezuelan oil upstream and sail back downstream with iron ore and soy coming from Bolivia and Paraguay.

Anti-climax

The anti-climax came afterwards in the Journalism Faculty of La Plata University, where Chávez received a prize for freedom of expression (contrasting with his closure of 34 radio stations) while at the same time the International Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) was sessioning to hear charges of human rights violations and attacks on the press in Venezuela. President Obama was of course mentioned and again mentioned in Chavez two-hour-long speech which expectedly ended with a "Down with Yanquee imperialism!".

The counter-tour of Chávez continues today in Uruguay, where oil and debt will again be the stars Uruguay's ANCAP state oil company will team up with PDVSA in a mixed company to exploit two "mature fields" in the Orinoco Belt. This project will imply a 200-million-dollar investment for Uruguay. As the Uruguayan opposition points out, this is to chip away at the debt of over 700 million dollars which Montevideo has run up with PDVSA. To remain true to the spirit of this counter-tour, the Chávez stay in Montevideo will overlap with a forum on the Israel-Palestine conflict organized by the United Nations, something which has already triggered protests from the Israeli Embassy.

But surely the peak of the Chávez visit will be the Plurinational State of Bolivia. The Venezuelan will be meeting host President Evo Morales tomorrow in Tiquipaya, in the heart of the Chapare coca-growing region (from which Evo hails) in order to inaugurate a plant to industrialize coca. Just a coincidence in the face of the speech on the regional perils of drug-trafficking which Barack Obama gave in El Salvador in the last leg of his Latin American tour or part of the cause of that peril?

As for cash, Hugo wants even impoverished Bolivia to cough up although in Venezuela it has been advanced that new electricity agreements will be signed with Bolivia tomorrow (a contradiction when Chávez cannot supply Venezuelans), the Evo Morales administration will be handing over 200 million dollars as part of the payment on its fuel oil debt to PDVSA. According to official sources in La Paz, the debt with Caracas is 315.2 million dollars (rather more than 10 percent of Bolivia's total foreign debt, which reaches 2.788 billion dollars).

As for Colombia, it is hoped that the Chávez visit on Friday will be more altruistic: he will be seeking to reinforce the new vibes of friendship and harmony dating from the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos last August and thanks to the intervention of a subtle Néstor Kirchner.

 

 

 

 

Carolina Barros is a columnist for the Argentinan Daily Newspaper Ambito Financiero. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Buenos Aires Herald , on April 03, 2011 . Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

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