General: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Signs Multiple Regional Agreements

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Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez toured Latin America in August signing energy and other cooperation agreements with several governments. Chavez made a similar tour of the region earlier in 2007 to counter US President George W. Bush's effort to show that the US was not neglecting Latin America (see NotiCen, 2007-03-15) and to promote his Alternativa Bolivariana de las Americas (ALBA), a funding and integration effort that seeks to give governments of the region a development alternative to neoliberal financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Argentina: energy-security treaty

Chavez sought to expand his petrodollar influence in South America as he launched a four-nation tour Aug. 6 to promote his country's entry into a regional trade bloc and to offer energy and financial deals to allies. Reporters describe Chavez's effort as one that would leverage Venezuela's vast oil reserves and create a "grand South American alliance" to counter US dominance.

Chavez met with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner after signaling Venezuela's plans to acquire up to US$1 billion in Argentine bonds in installments--the latest in a series of deals cementing ties between the allies. "This is an important deal, highly important for our political and geopolitical ties," Chavez said.

Chavez later joined Kirchner for a televised ceremony in Buenos Aires in which the leaders agreed to a treaty on energy security. Governments in Ecuador and Uruguay also signed the Tratado de Seguridad Energetica (TSE), which was worked out at the first South American Energy Summit (I Cumbre Energetica Suramericana) in April.

The agreement calls for cooperation on energy initiatives including the supply and distribution of natural gas through pipelines, joint oil-refining projects, and coordinated efforts on distributing power and alternative fuels. Countries in the Southern Cone like Argentina and Chile have suffered from energy and gas shortages (see NotiCen, 2004-04-30).

Chavez said his government would invest in a regasification plant for liquid natural gas (LNG) for Argentina, which is weathering a multiyear energy crisis. He said the plant could be completed within two years.

Chavez offered few details, but local reports said construction at a still-to-be-determined site would require at least US$400 million.

A prior proposal to build a natural-gas megapipeline that would span the continent (see NotiSur, 2006-03-03) "has been frozen" because of a lack of interest among participating countries, said Chavez.

Kirchner responded to criticism regarding Argentina's sporadic natural-gas and other energy shortfalls by pinning the shortages on robust economic growth after the country rebounded from a deep 2002 economic tailspin. "Argentina is growing and therefore it requires more energy," he said.

Kirchner also said he strongly supports Chavez's bid to make Venezuela a full member of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), joining Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay (see NotiSur, 2007-08-17).

Argentine and Uruguayan lawmakers have approved Venezuela's entry into MERCOSUR, but legislators in Paraguay and Brazil have yet to sign off amid controversy regarding Chavez's confrontation with an opposition-aligned television station (see NotiSur, 2007-06-15).

Chavez also met with Kirchner's wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is running to replace her husband in Oct. 28 presidential elections (see NotiSur, 2007-07-20). "Even the stones in Argentina and Venezuela shout out that Cristina Kirchner will be president," Chavez said.

"Chavez's frenetic petrodiplomacy is back in full swing," said Michael Shifter at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington, DC. "His purchase of Argentine bonds makes sense for both him and the Kirchner government right now. Chavez wants to keep inflationary pressures in Venezuela in check and try to further extend his political influence in South America. …