September 21, 2007
Brazil and Venezuela agreed to forge ahead with two joint ventures between their state-run oil companies and a natural gas pipeline that would stretch across the Amazon rain forest.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez on Thursday signed a series of accords to speed the projects that had been agreed upon earlier but had gotten bogged down in bureaucracy.
''We intend to sign the contacts in December in Caracas,'' Lula da Silva said. ``With these partnerships, we are showing that South America can resolve its energy problems.''
Outlining the joint ventures between state oil companies, Chávez said one company would operate Carabobo I, an extra-heavy oil field in Venezuela's Orinoco Basin. Petróleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, will provide 60 percent of the capital for the Carabobo project, with the remainder coming from Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.
Another company would operate an oil refinery in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco with 60 percent of the capital coming from Petrobras and 40 percent from PDVSA.
In December 2005, Lula da Silva and Chávez laid the refinery's cornerstone but cooperation between the two companies stalled and Petrobras recently began talking about building it without Venezuelan help.
Chávez called the projects ''the nerve of [South American] integration,'' adding that they would ``shield [Lula da Silva] from an energy crisis.''
Earlier in the day, Chávez said Venezuela wanted to share its immense reserves of crude oil and natural gas with Brazil and other countries in the region because ''the world was entering an energy crisis'' and that Brazil only had enough natural gas reserves to last 10 more years.
Lula da Silva also said they would soon select a company to develop a project for a natural gas pipeline from Venezuela to Brazil's northeast.
Lula da Silva also said he would work to assure that Brazil's congress would ratify Venezuela as a full member of the Southern Cone Common Market, or Mercosur.
The two leaders are opponents of U.S.-backed efforts for a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would stretch from Canada to Chile. But Venezuela's bid to join Mercosur is encountering resistance from lawmakers in Brazil who must ratify the expansion.
So far, Argentina and Uruguay have ratified Venezuela's entry in the group while Brazil and Paraguay have not.
After their meeting, Lula da Silva and Chávez did not mention to reporters the idea floated by Brazil to offer its territory as neutral ground to help Chávez mediate a prisoner exchange between the Colombian government and that country's leftist rebels.
Chávez said Friday morning that the hostage release negotiations would happen in Venezuela, according to Venezuela's state-run Bolivarian News Agency, or ABN. But the Venezuelan government issued a statement saying it would be either in Venezuela or Colombia.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is refusing to allow such a meeting between Chávez and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, on Colombian soil.
Chávez expressed confidence in his ability to negotiate an exchange of imprisoned FARC guerrillas for rebel-held hostages, no matter where the meeting takes place. The hostages include three U.S. defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen.
''We will achieve it. I will move heaven and earth,'' Chávez was quoted as saying by ABN.